- An Apology for Postcolonial Reason
Following his death in 2007, responses to Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze's posthumously published On Reason: Rationality in a World of Cultural Conflict and Racism had a memorializing tone, and took place around spaces devoted to Africana Philosophy.1 This was appropriate, given Eze's contributions through the establishment of the journal Philosophia Africana; through editing the field-mapping Post-Colonial African Philosophy: A Critical Reader and On African Philosophy: An Anthology (collections whose Prefaces define Africana philosophy inclusively and extensively as including the diaspora and its engagements over time, in part because diasporic thought has returned to inform intellectual movements); and through a series of works that argued for the ongoing need to mark and counter the racism that Eze identifies as "coloring thought" within Enlightenment philosophy and its legacies. It would be unfortunate, however, if On Reason were not engaged more widely within philosophical circles, for while the book claims to have "quite modest" intentions (p. xi), its implications for philosophy in the "Postcolonial Age" are potentially far-reaching.
Eze makes a compelling if largely implicit case that the figure of "Africa" in history as a multi-sourced crossroads of thought, and as a generative site of postcolonial philosophy, necessitates a rethinking of the often East-West coordinates of philosophy as a discipline. In the process, On Reason offers subtle reflections on Africana philosophy; on the question of how and where Africana philosophy's difference among the family of philosophical traditions might be located (in what "nonaccidental" forms of kindred thought [p. 137]); and on the persistent and irrational power of race to infiltrate thought in areas ranging from legal to pedagogical to medical ethics to the question of what constitutes philosophy. But Eze approaches these questions, purposively, from what seems the long way around: suggestions about how reason can be reconstructed for postcolonial thought follow from a thorough and technical breakdown of ideas about the constituent components of reason and rationality, and then a reconstruction through and against analyses of conceptions of reason that underwrite versions of colonial and postcolonial philosophy, including the Negritude movement.
Against what he sees as the grandiose assumptions informing these lines of thought, Eze proposes a model of reason based on minor, vernacular, everyday, or ordinary experience, and conceived of as provisionally distinct from politics and [End Page 574] religion. On Reason moves in alliance with postcolonial work like Gayatri Spivak's A Critique of Postcolonial Reason (which it never references): both Eze and Spivak maintain that Kant "foreclose[s] the aboriginal" and Hegel "put[s] the other of Europe in a pattern of normative deviations"; that postcolonial thought works within the danger zone of its cooptation by a diverse range of political projects; and that a new comparativism, cautious about re-inscribing ethnocentric bias, must nourish the idea of a planetary Commons based on respect for the diversity of languages of thought.2 However, On Reason holds that a genuinely philosophical approach to reason should avoid the pre-positioning or Marxist /feminist a priori of much cultural studies work, and concern itself more with resituating the postcolonial subject tactilely in history as a reasoning agent. Flatly rejecting the classical and continental heritage in this process, or skirting the need to justify its own method, would amount to an evasion of philosophy. Rather, to the degree that Enlightenment ideals underwrote colonial reason, postcolonial philosophy should wind back its premises and compose new modes of reckoning with time. As signaled by the book's title/subtitle, the classical concerns of philosophy ("on reason") must meet and answer to the postcolonial condition (a "world of cultural conflict and racism") at the level of concepts.
In framing his project in the Preface, "What is Rationality?" and Introduction, "Diversity and the Social Questions of Reason," Eze seeks to engage the central philosophical problematic of the relation of particular and universal, and of the position of individuals within society. In ways that resist the description of African philosophy as a struggle to be recognized as a...