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  • Dekoloniales Philosophieren. Versuch über philosophische Verantwortung und Kritik im Horizont der europäischen Expansion by Rolf Elberfeld
  • Ady Van den Stock (bio)
Dekoloniales Philosophieren. Versuch über philosophische Verantwortung und Kritik im Horizont der europäischen Expansion. By Rolf Elberfeld. Hildesheim: Universitätsverlag Hildesheim; Hildesheim, Zürich, New York: Georg Olms Verlag, 2021. Pp. 244. Paperback €19.80, isbn 978-3-487-16042-9.

Calls for the decolonization of knowledge have come to resound far beyond the walls of institutes of higher education in recent years and are tied up with a much broader quest for social justice in various domains of social life. If to decolonize presupposes taking a stance in relation to the history and ongoing effects of colonialism in different societies across the globe, decolonizing the academic discipline of philosophy would first of all involve dragging it out of the safety of its conventional epistemic and institutional confines in order to face up to past and present realities usually considered to be tangential to its primary concerns and interests.

In taking its cue from the historical entwinement of (modern Western) philosophy with colonial practices and experiences of colonization, Rolf Elberfeld's Decolonial Philosophizing: Toward Philosophical Responsibility and Critique in the Horizon of the European Expansion approaches this "negative history" (Negativgeschichte, p. 14) as belying the categorical separation between genesis and validity, which the author sees as being at the heart of the analytical tradition dominating academic philosophy in Germany and beyond (pp. 11, 19–20). For Elberfeld, philosophy in general has tended to "immunize" itself against its own entanglement (Verstrickung) with the historical reality of colonialism. In his view, a prevailing disavowal of the latter's relevance for philosophical practice has made it hard, if not impossible, to come to terms with phenomena of exclusion, discrimination, and marginalization in the history of philosophy and has prevented us from subjecting these "blind spots" to a thoroughly reflexive critique (pp. 11–18).

As a result, the kind of justifiable anger expressed by Aimé Césaire in his Discourse on Colonialism (1950) when he writes that colonialism has effectively made European civilization "untenable" (quoted on p. 13) cannot be taken as seriously as it deserves, insofar as it is seen as merely being of "historical" (or worse: "anecdotal") instead of properly "philosophical" relevance. By contrast, in Elberfeld's view, the historical entanglement of philosophy and colonialism is not merely, to paraphrase Adorno, a shameful "splinter in our eye" with the [End Page 1] somewhat limited function of provoking moral outrage or a blanket condemnation of all things "Western" (see pp. 14, 40, 83), but can also serve as a "magnifying glass"1 allowing philosophers to come to a better understanding of the history of their own discipline and thus break new ground. He argues that it is only by taking Césaire's pronouncement seriously, that is to say, by first of all patiently listening to (pp. 12, 219, 221) and thinking through such indictments, that the (European-all-too-European?) project of the Enlightenment can be salvaged and carried further. For Elberfeld, "Enlightenment" (Aufklärung) must now both recognize and arise from within its historically entangled (verstrickungsgeschichtliche) nature. Instead of unilaterally declaring its independence from history, it must now become, as the delightful but quasi-untranslatable German expression goes, verstrickungsgeschichtliche Aufklärung (pp. 9, 17, 209–218). If, then, the project of "decolonial philosophizing" is more than mere virtue-signaling, this is because it allows us to "know better," that is to say, enhances our capacity for assuming "epistemic responsibility."2

Despite the complexity and contentious nature of its subject matter, Rolf Elberfeld has succeeded in producing an eminently readable and highly nuanced book which can serve as a good introduction to some of the most important topics and problems relevant to what has been dubbed the "decolonial turn" in philosophy and the humanities more broadly speaking. In twelve relatively brief chapters, the reader is taken on a journey across several continents and cultures through a period roughly spanning the symbolic date of 1492—which the author, following Enrique Dussel, sees as marking the birth of "modernity" (pp. 25–26)—up to the present day. Reflecting the basic...