The Subject in Africa: In Foucault's Footsteps
How can the world be an object of knowledge and at the same time a testing place for the subject?
Michel Foucault, L’herméneutique du sujet
Following the path traced by Michel Foucault, Achille Mbembe (in “African Modes of Self-Writing,” Public Culture 14 [winter 2002]: 239–73) takes us into a properly iconoclastic reflection on practices of the self in relation to Africa. It is on purpose that I write “in relation to Africa”: Mbembe refuses to deal with the subject whose particular quality is that of being “African.” That is a quality imposed upon the subject—sometimes self-imposed—either by virtue of his or her continent of “origin”1 or by virtue of invention by the Other, who vis-à-vis the subject is then affirmed as anything but African. An image taken from the Austrian writer Robert Musil can underscore the fundamental characteristic of this position: Mbembe deals with a subject without (particular) qualities—at the risk of being accused of false consciousness by all who identify him according to the color of his skin.
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- The term origin is understood here in the contemporary African sense of a way to describe a person in terms of the pre-“modern” place of birth of his or her male ancestor: thus, the village in relation to the city; Africa in relation to the West.