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Ovi Symposium; Thirty-seventh Meeting Ovi Symposium; Thirty-seventh Meeting
by The Ovi Symposium
2014-10-23 11:24:59
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Ovi Symposium:

“A Philosophical Conversation on the Nature of Art within Modernity
and the Envisioning of a New Humanism”

between Ms Abigail George, Drs. Paolozzi, Paparella and Mr. Rywalt
Thirty-sevenh Meeting: 23 October 2014

symposium01

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Symposium's regular participants (in alphabetical order)

abigailAbigail George is an African activist for human rights, a feminist, writer and poet. She has received writing grants from the National Arts Council, Centre for the Book, and ECPACC (Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council). She is not purely devoted to poetry but to pursuing writing fulltime. She has written two volumes of poetry, and her latest book is titled Winter in Johannesburg. Storytelling for her has always been a phenomenal way of communicating and making a connection with other people. All About My Mother (a collection of short stories) was published by Ovi magazine in July 2012.

enDr.Ernesto Paolozzi teaches history of contemporary philosophy at the University Suor Orsola Benincasa of Naples. A Croce scholar and an expert on historicism, he has written widely and published several books, especially on aesthetics and liberalism vis a vis science. His book Benedetto Croce: The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom was printed as an e-book in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

papDr. Emanuel Paparella has a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism with a dissertation on Giambattista Vico from Yale University. He currently teaches philosophy at Barry University and Broward College in Florida, USA. One of his books is titled Hermeneutics in the Philosophy of G. Vico, Mellen Press. His latest e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers was printed in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

rywaltEdwin Rywalt is a computer specialist living in Pennsylvania with his family. He is a talented and accomplished pianist with a college education from Columbia University and a life---long scholarly interest in the nexus between science, technology, and the liberal arts. Beginning in May 2014 he will be offering pro bono services to the Ovi Symposium with typo correction editing and other useful suggestions aiming at improving the overall format of the twice a month section of Ovi magazine. Perhaps in the future, if his commitments allow it, he may decide to join the Symposium’s ongoing dialogue.

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Subtheme of session 37: The nature of the Western philosophical canon vis a vis Africa and Asia.

Indirect Participants within the Great Conversation across the ages: Michelis, Kant, Meiners, Tannamann, Hegel, Alexander, Moultones, Ficino, Adam, Noah, Moses, Broom, Robinson, Dart, Cesaire, Biko, Paton.

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Table of Contents for the 37th Session of the Ovi Symposium (23 October 2014)

Preamble by the Symposium’s coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

Section 1: “On Cultural Colonialism and Imperialism: Is the Eurocentric Academic Philosophy Canon Based on Universal or Imperialistic  Principles rooted in Exclusion and Bias?” A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella.

Section 2: A Response to Emanuel L. Paparella’s Presentation by Abigail George followed by a short comment by Emanuel L. Paparella.

Section 3: “The Tip of the Iceberg of Black Consciousness.” A Presentation by Abigail George.

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 Preamble by the Symposium’s Coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

In the 19th meeting of the Symposium we examined Eurocentric Art vis a vis Afrocentric Art within the philosophical problematic of universal and the particular. In this 37th meeting we explore the problem of Eurocentric philosophy. We begin with a presentation by yours truly in section one examining in some detail a recent book by a professor of Historical Studies, and then attempt an answer on whether or not the  canon of philosophy in the West is truly universal, as it is generally claimed in Western academic circles, or is it biased and exclusive of African and Asian texts? What has made the book controversial is the accusation of cultural imperialism redolent of racism. No firm conclusion is reached in the symposium. Perhaps the issue, not unlike the issue of anti-Semitism in Heidegger’s philosophy which we have also briefly examined in the symposium, needs further exploration and analysis for a satisfactory explanation of the above mentioned exclusion before considering a thorough academic revision of the canon. After all, exclusion and universalism when joined together form an oxymoron. 

In section two George offers a response to Paparella’s presentation. She suggests that in confronting Eurocentrism and its claim of universality and superiority, African culture’s primary response needs to be an exploration of origins. Given that we as the human species existentially originated from the African continent, and then populated the earth after endless peregrinations, her suggestion makes eminent sense. We need to reflect on the reality of origins. Not to do so we run the risk of arbitrarily decoupling knowledge from life-experience, thus rendering knowledge itself sterile and useless. As T.S. Eliot aptly puts it: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

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1

On Cultural Colonialism and Imperialism:
Is the Eurocentric Academic Philosophy Canon Based on
Universal, or Imperialistic Principles rooted in Exclusion and Bias?

A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella

“No Asian people has lifted itself to the heights of the free human contemplation,
from which philosophy issues; philosophy is the fruit of the Hellenic spirit.”

                                    --Friedrich Michelis (in The History of Philosophy,1865)

 sym35

There is a book making the rounds of academic philosophy departments, on both sides of the Atlantic ocean, which has once again raised the issue of universalism/regionalism in the Eurocentric philosophy canon. The book is titled Africa, Asia, and the History of Philosophy: Racism in the Formation of the Philosophical Canon, 1780-1830 (SUNY Press, 2013); its author is Peter K.J. Park, a professor of historical studies at the University of Texas at Dallas. To be sure the concept of Eurocentrism and universalism joined together has always appeared to some scholars as an oxymoron of sort; more so to those who have been excluded from the canon of the history of philosophy as generally taught in the West.

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Professor Peter K.J. Park,
author of Africa, Asia and the History of Philosophy

To mention the word racism in the very title of a book, is to ensure a spirited debate, if not an outright controversy. For indeed, most philosophy professors (usually teaching philosophy in Western institutions of higher learning) will hold as legitimate the claim that philosophy is  Eurocentric by its very nature. They also claim that there is precious little philosophy outside of Europe and North America. What you are likely to find outside the West are religions parading as philosophy, or perhaps regional cultural studies that do not rise to the level of universally applicable principles, or even worse, bad imitations of what is included in the Western philosophical canon. All that one has to do to prove this point is to look at the accepted canon of philosophy in most philosophy departments. But obviously this line of reasoning is rather circular: it declares the canon universal and Eurocentric simply because Westerner philosophy experts (mainly Europeans and North Americans) have declared it so.

Park however challenges the notion of a self-revealing Euro-centrism and universalism and claims that Asian and African texts have been purposefully excluded from the canon of the history of philosophy, hence the word “racism” found in the title. It’s a sort of intellectual racism, or as Park prefers to call it “an enlightened racism.” It might have been more tolerable for the intellectual sensibility of most cultural anthropologists to bring into play the Western history of imperialism or colonialism, but the accusation of racism against a revered academic canon, in place for close to three centuries now, is sure to raise academic eyebrows.

Park begins his argument in the 18th and early 19th century Germany where a new watershed or a radical understanding of the history of philosophy took place. A particular scholar (Christoph Meiners, who was a philosophy professor at the University of Gottingen in the 18th century) is identified  as being largely responsible for conducting a veritable campaign to have Asia and Africa excluded from the canon of the history of philosophy. What he was promoting is a Kantian approach which required the history of philosophy to be an a priori, autonomous field of knowledge that could be explored apart from any empirical data.

 sym37

Christoph Meiners (1747-1810)

 He was followed in this effort by luminaries such as Wilhelm Tennemann (a renowned Kantian historian) and none other than Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. They observed that real philosophy, that is to say, philosophy as a science and a discipline began in Greece, it sprang from the Hellenic spirit and spread throughout the Roman Empire, persisting in Europe even after the fall of the Empire, while at the same time becoming global and universal. The spread of Hellenic culture in Asia via Alexander the Great was a first important step for the encounter of East and West and the spread of universal values, but did not count much per se, for it did not last very long and therefore it could not establish any permanent deep roots.

 sym38

The Roman Empire at the height of its expansion in 117 AD

An exclusionary Eurocentric canon was thus created: one that excluded people (mostly from Asia and Africa) who were deemed too primitive, and in fact incapable of philosophy. This canon took all but for granted a Greco-Roman origin of philosophy needing no justification for the exclusion of non-Europeans. It was self-evident. Wherever Western civilization spread its philosophical canon based on universal principles followed. Had the architect of such a canon bothered to question non European scholars about it, they might have found out that it did not appear so evident to them; rather, it was evident that even in books in English of World Literature such as Richard Green Moulton’s World Literature and its Place in General Culture (1911), Chinese and Japanese literature were completely excluded with no explanation given for the exclusion. To those non-European scholars it appeared that the enlightenement had still to enlighten itself.

 sym39

Christopher Columbus unintentionally discovers the Americas

Hegel went as far as declaring the African mind-set as inviting slavery. Such an unenlightened observation appears to have all the signs of a latent racism, or perhaps, in more psychological terms,  a latent guilt for the colonial and imperialistic history of the West in Africa and Asia. Not to mention the embarrassing footnote in an essay by Hume titled “Of National Characters” where it is clearly stated that non-whites are inferior to whites, and, so as not to appear too racist, blaming the hot climate for such a state of affairs. It appeared to Hume that a dry cold climate promoted scholarship and progress. The further south one journeyed the less scholarship, documented history and science one found. The people down south were dabbling with myths and legends which are the first most primitive developments on humankind’s culture. Such a bizarre observation, not worthy of Hume’s mind, appears almost ridiculous nowadays. Then there is the famous joke by Kant appearing in one of his writings where he tells of a European religious missionary’s attempt to persuade a native African that it was unethical to beat his wife and the native responding that the white man by not beating his wife allowed her to dominate his life, to which Kant’s comment is “and what can you expect from someone who is black from head to foot?” Hard to believe, but the joke was put in writing by one who, in most scholars’ estimation, is considered the most eminent of modern Western philosophers.

There is no such attitude to be found in the Italian Renaissance at the times of Marsilio Ficino in the 15th century. Then historians of philosophy began their history, not with the Greeks but with Adam, Noah, Moses, the Egyptians, the Zoroaster, the Chaldeans, Only in the late 18th century the notion that philosophy proper begins with the Greeks, begins to appear and is firmly established by the 19th century, the time of the apotheosis of science promoted by positivism. That is to say, philosophy wants desperately to appear “scientific” and respectable in academic circles, so that Friedrich Michelis could declare in his history of philosophy that “No Asian people has lifted itself to the heights of free human contemplation, from which philosophy issues; philosophy is the fruit of the Hellenic spirit.” This is a radical pivot which is still with us, alas. It has a double bias: the bias of science toward religion and philosophy in general known as positivism and producing the clash of the two cultures (liberal arts vs. scientific culture), and the corollary bias of the Western Eurocentric philosophical canon toward non Western philosophical text.

Throughout the book, armed with the above mentioned evidence of sheer bias and exclusion Park suggests that perhaps the time has come in our 21st century to rethink all those false assumptions of the Enlightenment era (the 18 century age of reason, so called) and the 19th century colonial and imperialistic era (the age of Romanticism). In the light of Park’s book we ought at the very least investigate the possibility that the exclusion of Africa and Asia from the canon might have had little to do with universal principles of scholarship and more to do with misguided notions of the superiority of the Caucasian or White race over all other races. After all, did not such a notion surface in its full strength in Germany at the very height of the age of positivism in the 20th century? Let’s muse on that historical reality for a while. Perhaps then Park’s challenge will appear worthy of further explorations.

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2

Comments by Abigail George on Emanuel Paparella’s Presentation

Where to begin? With this commentary, I will start with a tourist destination. The Cradle of Humankind is a World Heritage Site first named by UNESCO in 1999, about 50 kilometers northwest of Johannesburg, South Africa in the Gauteng province. This site currently occupies 47,000 hectares (180 sq. mi); it contains a complex of limestone caves, including the Sterkfontein Caves, where the 2.3-million year-old fossil Australopithecus Africanus (nicknamed "Mrs. Ples") was found in 1947 by Dr. Robert Broom and John T. Robinson. The find helped corroborate the 1924 discovery of the juvenile Australopithecus africanus skull, "Taung Child", by Raymond Dart, at Taung in the North West Province of South Africa, where
excavations continue.

The name “Cradle of Humankind” reflects the fact that the site has produced a large number, as well as some of the oldest, hominin fossils ever found, some dating back as far as 3.5 million years ago. Sterkfontein alone has produced more than a third of early hominid fossils ever found prior to 2010.
What I am really trying to say is that Africa is where humanity came into being millions of years ago and humanity and human nature followed a predetermined course projected through the choices they made and the consequences that followed.

We have heard of shamans in the Native American culture but since time immemorial, Sangomas have also existed in Southern Africa. Could their choices, lifestyle, the culture that they lived in and their culture, their background, their education be likened to a philosophy?

Sangomas (traditional healers/shamans) hold an esteemed and powerful position in southern African societies. Their role is that of physician, counselor, psychiatrist, and priest. The World Health Organization (WHO) and other official groups acknowledge the potential effectiveness of traditional healers as primary health givers and their importance in the fight against HIV and AIDS. WHO also supports the integration of western medicine and traditional healing, encouraging referrals between the two groups. In southern Africa, the Traditional Healers Organization (THO) is recognized by the government and WHO as professional specialists, promoting quality indigenous systems of health care in the rural areas.

African people share a common understanding of the importance of ancestors in daily life. When they have lost touch with their ancestors, illness may result or bad luck. Then a traditional healer, or sangoma, is sought out who may prescribe herbs, changes in lifestyle, a career change, or changes in relationships. The client may also be told to perform a ceremony or purification ritual to appease the ancestors.

Africa has always had this knowledge for centuries (just like the Native Americans in North America). It has remained sacred knowledge and this indigenous knowledge system has been taught through oral
history and traditions passed down from one generation to another (kind of like philosophy). But why isn't it in the 'proper’ history books?

A short observation by Paparella on the above comments by George

Abigail, thank you for the insightful comments. That final paragraph and its final question seems crucial to me, if we are to avoid the eco-chamber of Eurocentrism. It echoes Professor Park’s question in his controversial book. It would appear that even in abstract, intellectual, scholarly transactions, the Machiavellian “might makes right,” holds sway in the 21st century. In fact, as Gramsci has well taught us too from a fascist jail, from time immemorial, those who produce and disseminate culture with imperialistic criteria decide what the canons of that culture ought to be. This taken for granted assumption is what we attempt to challenge in this exploratory session of our symposium.

It is indeed timely to be reminded that existentially the cradle of humankind is not in Europe but in Africa and that without that cradle there would be no humankind either. Originative thinking is just that: a return to origins. The Old Testament in the Bible begins with three words: “In the beginning,” and John’s prologue in the New Testament also begins with “In the beginning.” The return to origins is undoubtedly an incipient philosophy. Socrates said that philosophy begins in wonder which includes the contemplation of origins.

Indeed, the mistake of  “enlightened racists” of all stripes dwelling in the intellectual heights of academia which turn out to be intellectual caves parading as places for the exchange and debate of ideas, is that often, in their alleged  enlightenment, they end up throwing out the baby with the bathwater, or better, the cradle with the baby, to then proceed to create a rather sterile and unromantic concept of civilization based on the juxtaposition of “low culture” (i.e., primitive) and “high culture” (i.e., philosophical and elite) to which only the few and the privileged may hope to attain entrance. But every civilization, even the most primitive, in as much as it is human, begins with the synthesis of the natural world which we share with animals, and the intelligible realm which is appropriate to the unique nature of the human animal. Language which is a system of symbols, points to it, but it is also apparent, if one takes a close look at the cradle of humankind, or even a bit closer to our times, to the cave paintings of a mere 50 thousand years ago in Europe, or in Asia (recently discovered). The ones in Altamira were declared by Picasso more aesthetically authentic and powerfully expressive of man’s life than much of modern insipid decorative art neglectful of the very concept of Beauty.

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3

The Tip of the Iceberg of Black Consciousness
A Presentation by Abigail George

I

Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: ... How does it feel to be a problem? ... One ever feels his two-ness,–an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder ... He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.”

                                                                                 —Du Bois, "Strivings of the Negro People", 1897

 sym40

In response to the above, Aime Cesaire described himself as “negro, negro from the bottom of the sky immemorial”. And so through the looking glass identity, psyche, the super-ego in post-apartheid South Africa is illuminated, is imagined quixotically by the minorities, psychologically by the media, and philosophically by the hearts and minds of the majority.

 sym41

Can Steve Biko be likened to being a philosopher, shaping the global proportions of history, and the cultures that exist in the traumatized society still today in a post-apartheid South Africa? Racial violence (xenophobia), corruption doesn’t discriminate. No one is immune to it. Everyone is fair game whether you’re connected to a high ranking politician or a powerful family or working in local government. Miners working under deplorable conditions is nothing new. Alan Paton wrote about that in, Cry the Beloved Country and this engrossing book has now been around for decades. It is now part of school curriculums.

The mines in South Africa have been part of the fabric of the consciousness, the landscape of this country since the inner workings of apartheid were put into motion. Nothing has changed and yet it seems on the surface that everything has. You hear about these stories every day and you become so desensitized to it and at the end of the day you realize that there is nothing really that you can do constructively, except keep the faith that things will gradually move off by itself in the direction from the worst of conditions to the better.

Of course, my heart bleeds for them, those miners. They’re only human. They have families, wives and children. But that’s not the first things people see when they open up a newspaper in the morning with their coffee. To them, the miners, employment is employment is employment (they see it as nothing else) and that is why education is so important. It shouldn’t be addressed or implemented as a ‘just cause’.

The sensitive and emotionally mature amongst us will not shy away from issues of the day that have to be addressed, not just for the sake of addressing them. To change anything today is a revolutionary mission but it is one that begins with clarity of vision, equality, respect and recognition of communities at the grass roots level slipping into being.

No and I must say this with huge emphasis. Service delivery in the rural areas, the townships where unemployment is high, skills development is low, is non-existent and so far nothing is forthcoming from the government of the day except it seems empty promises when local government elections roll around. There is crime, criminal syndicates operating in the major cities. Clean, running tap water, sanitation, waste removal and electricity should be high on the priority list because it concerns the poorest of the poor; the majority of the population is living in squalor, slums, raising their children, families literally on bread and water. What kind of society treats its most vulnerable citizens in such an unjust way? Children are raising children. Sisters and brothers are playing the role of the absent parent in their younger siblings' lives and that is the travesty, the legacy of HIV/AIDS has left behind in its wake.

 sym42

Xenophobia is a large scale diabolical injustice in South Africa. It is pure evil what the human race is capable of doing physically, emotionally and mentally to one another. It is unnatural and disturbing to see this level of poverty, crime and death in the aftermath of the 'Rainbow Nation' and ‘African Renaissance'. People are selfish, self-absorbed and self-indulgent but what they don't realize is that the world doesn't owe them anything. We are so consumed by money, cars, employment, visions of glory and wealth and personal success. You have to make your own way in this world even though mountains like punishment and stage fright are staring you down, at every turn, every corner with snake eyes.

The world we are living in today is a world filled with madness, wide-open despair and it is like a fire tugging at your heartstrings, the pathways of nerves that connect to your consciousness; the effects, the black head of depression and mental illness are everywhere to see. Its existence can no longer be furiously hidden away from view and denied. On the outside everything glitters but inside there is still urgency for bittersweet freedom and a living, breathing self-awareness. I feel, for this nation.

I didn’t deliberately set out to leave apartheid out or not write about it. In the end, it just happened that way. It wasn’t a conscious decision. Only when I began this conversation with you, did I realize just how much of a role I played as a ‘witness’ to this/these heinous crime/s committed, in the name of the law of the land of this country, at the time when apartheid was what people were thinking was triumphing over the weak, the infirm, the destitute at its peak.

Apartheid deserves a book all of its own. One subject under the sun that I feel I will take on as I mature more and more as a writer. It will be challenging. There is so much rage, sorrow, a visceral disconnect between people who were the ‘privileged minority’ during apartheid and then there were the ‘shamed minority’ living stuck in the trenches of poverty and death. There are a lot of things, themes of the South Africa that I knew as a child that I left out of it (the poetry book Africa Where Art Thou), when I look back on the book in retrospect. Yes, you’re right. So much more could have been said. Perhaps I should have spoken about it; the life experience of a majority living in a case of perpetual state of feeling anxious, humiliated to the core, self-conscious and apartheid closed in on me, every facet, aspect and abstract of my childhood, adolescence and youth. Not just me but an entire country. On the one hand it was flourishing and on the other it was a complete paradigm shift; in other words, infinite good on the one side versus resident evil. I did not want to state the negative, the negative, the negative over and over again because it was omnipresent in every sphere, realm, empire, castle wall, ivory tower that apartheid was built on. If I had a book of hellish negatives (as a writer you can’t work in that oppressive and claustrophobic realm, I mean, I can’t deliver what I feel to be my very best work) how would people be drawn to it, was what I asked myself over and over again?

Thinking about it I am glad I did not pay any sort of ‘homage’ to apartheid in my first book. The market here (South Africa) is saturated with books on that subject. No one talks about Africa, the continent, the people, the inhabitants in a way that I feel I do in my first book. I’m happy with the book but can any writer or poet really say that they’re completely happy or that they feel it’s finished-ish? You always want to go back and change something and there is always something you’re not happy with in the end, but in a way it is also liberating to feel that way. And in conclusion, I cry for this beloved nation but most of all I cry for the youth of this beloved country of mine. The near wasted generation. Orphaned, maladjusted, traumatized and vulnerable youth damaged beyond repair or recompense. We need a Biko now to rise out of the ashes like a smoldering phoenix. We are in dire straits. We are in need of phoenixes.

 II

 Creative Writing
Biko

 sym43

“Once we were told: Be worthy and fit and the ways are open. Today the avenues of advancement in the army, navy, and civil service, and even in business and professional life, are continually closed to black applicants of proven fitness, simply on the bald excuse of race and color.”

                                                              —Du Bois, Address at Fourth Niagara conference", 1908

“It is time”, they said amongst themselves. “Bring him in.” these men do not search for a feeling of peace. What they experience is best left unsaid. It leaves their hearts racing. What the ring leader said was to beat the detainee up and leave no marks or scratches on his face. No proof or else there would be consequences. They all pretended they didn’t know this man they had brought in for questioning. Everyone was talking about him even the international press. Some even called him a ‘visionary’ because the depth of his intellect, his strength came in numbers, he did not come alone. He was loved. He was a father and husband but he came into this mad thing called apartheid that held no love; that radiated no self-respect, only broken pieces that could not be made whole again.

He accepted this challenge. Please do not bring God into it, into this mess up with men who were nothing but stooges and barbarians to begin with. Steve Biko prayed under his breath. ‘So Steve, tell us what this Black Consciousness thing is really about. Isn’t it just a front for a bunch of Commies? Your Black Consciousness this thing you talk about won’t save you from what we’re about to do to you. It’s our turn now. All you have to do is sit there and listen because we’ve just about had enough, enough I said, did you hear me and you can just wash that little smirk off your face. This is where you have to face up to your responsibilities. Are you a man? Can you be a man when you are chained, when you are locked up in a cell or sitting in solitary fed water and bread.

 sym44

Can you be a man now faced with all of us? You are going nowhere. It says here you are married and you have children. But we don’t care about that. Tell us and I won’t ask again, are you a Commie. The first thing I wanted to say to my comrades was search him. He knew he was going to be picked up. He would be carrying some sought of weapon on him. A knife crudely made to put up some show; to defend himself against the South African Defence Force. Do you know who we are? Do you know what we do to thugs like you? Wait and see. Wait and see. We have many things to show you. We know how to get people like you to talk. We have our ways and you have yours but we get things done. How do I sleep at night? He speaks, comrade, he speaks. I sleep well. I close my eyes. I dream. You’re losing time.

Time is ticking away. They thought, those Blacks, that you would be some sought of Saviour for them; that you were the one who came to save them with this nonsense of Black Consciousness. Tell us all about it, Communist. We come from the blood of pioneers and your blood? Do you know your mother? Do you know your father? Black men know nothing about what responsibility means.

They leave their homes in the rural areas, go to work on the mines, take to drinking cheap wine to drown their sorrows of leaving behind a wife, children and so they take to other women’s snaking hips in the shebeens. Are we responsible for that? Are we responsible for creating bastards, the illegitimate bastards of women who are you are married and you have children. But we don’t care about that. Tell us and I won’t ask again, are you a Commie. The first thing I wanted to say to my comrades was search him. He knew he was going to be picked up. He would be carrying some sought of weapon on him. A knife crudely made to put up some show; to defend himself against the South African Defence Force. Do you know who we are? Do you know what we do to thugs like you? Wait and see. Wait and see. We have many things to show you. We know how to get people like you to talk. We have our ways and you have yours but we get things done. How do I sleep at night? He speaks, comrade, he speaks. I sleep well. I close my eyes. I dream. You’re losing time.

Time is ticking away. They thought, those Blacks, that you would be some sought of Saviour for them; that you were the one who came to save them with this nonsense of Black Consciousness. Tell us all about it, Communist. We come from the blood of pioneers and your blood? Do you know your mother? Do you know your father? Black men know nothing about what responsibility means. They leave their homes in the rural areas, go to work on the mines, take to drinking cheap wine to drown their sorrows of leaving behind a wife, children and so they take to other women’s snaking hips in the shebeens. Are we responsible for that? Are we responsible for creating bastards, the illegitimate bastards of women who are nothing but whores and cheap prostitutes that give themselves freely to men for next to nothing, for hard liquor?

When we’re finished with you today then you’ll shut up. You will find you have nothing else to say about the White man with his blue eyes, his blonde hair and his fair skin. My race is pure. Look, see, white. You’re black. I think we’ve been very patient with you. We haven’t touched you. Not yet. We just wanted to talk to you. I forgive you, he says. Don’t go all soft on me now, Steve Biko. Next you’ll be shaking my hand and we all will be calling it a day but we have other plans for you. Plans you might not like. The international papers out there might not like. We are not about to make you a martyr because that would not reflect very well on my superiors or this country’s government. You will pay for what you’ve said.

This is not your country, African. We’ll shatter you. Every bone in your body and you will still be alive when we do this. Who will save you then? But first we have these rituals we have to go through. I have to speak to you face to face. We must act as if we are friends. Can we pretend for a minute here that we are friends? I like you, Biko but you resent me. Are you a bitter man? Why? We are only doing what we were told to do. We are following orders, man. I’m sorry about this but we had to pick you up because we are tired of what you are up to. If you stopped it sooner maybe we could have ignored you and you could have gone on with your life, watched your children grow up, and grown old with the woman you created those children with. It must be torture thinking you will never see them again.

Give the man a drink of water. Drink it, Biko. It’s not poison. Why would we want to poison you and make a martyr of you? Tomorrow the headlines will read, Steve Biko was picked up by the Special Branch Unit of the South African Police force. If you think you are famous now, forget it. In death you will be a celebrity. ’

It seems to me as if you have not been listening to a word of what I am saying and I wish you would because that would save you because pardon me, you look kind of silly there with that dazed outlook on your face, smiling at me. Are you smiling or laughing because I think you should be nervous. I think you should be sweating like a pig or do you like my face? I serve my country with honour. How do you serve this country with that trash you believe in?

Where are all you the people you’ve converted now? It’s a hot day, Biko, drink your water and be a good boy. Cooperate with us and we will make it easy on you. What I meant to say was we will go easy on you. Listen to me. We can send you to jail and jail is not a nice place although it’s an island. You can’t see much. You can’t see shit. Life there is made by the rules of the wardens. You’ll be up against much more of me out there. In here it’s only little old me begging you to accept what I am trying to tell you. You don’t have much time left.  I think you’re a coward. I want you to talk now. I want us to engage in an engaging conversation. Perhaps my English is not as fluent, as polished as yours. You’re an educated darkie. Ah, I see I shouldn’t have said that. Am I making you nervous now? I read too you know.

The book I am most fond of is the Bible and I read it for pleasure, my new friend. I know you like to read otherwise your English wouldn’t be so good. It’s a hot day and I am sweating like a pig. You see, I can see you’re a gentleman. You’re proud, you’re too proud. Maybe there has been a misunderstanding between the two of us. I won’t set those other goons on you yet. I’ll let you in on a little secret. Those goons are supposed to beat you up. But if you talk and tell us what we want to know maybe we’ll just lock you up, detain you and put you in detention. You look as if you need some toughening up. Biko, the man of letters toughened up on a strict diet of vegetables and porridge. What will your liberal friends think of you then? You will be held in even higher esteem. We don’t want that. There is only one place to go after this. You won’t be alone. Your comrades will be there only you won’t be able to communicate with them. We think of everything here. We are always, Biko, always, two steps ahead of you. You can be guaranteed that.

There’s no need to get worried about your family. They will miss you but soon you’ll be home. You look at me now as if I am lying through my teeth. We just want to give you some instructions. Those instructions are for your friends. Our intent is not to kill you. You think we’re cruel but we have orders. Some have been lucky. They have got out of this hellhole alive, survived, their skulls, and whole limbs intact and when questioned by family, by comrades; you people love that word comrades I don’t know why, does it mean family? Others for our own amusement have gone mad. They had to be institutionalised. Does mental illness run in your family, Biko? I have to ask. It has to go in your file.

Biko is a name on every Black and Coloured tongue at that Bush University. Internationally your praises are sung. You people have been creating trouble for us so now it comes to this. We have to put a stop to it. It is nothing personal. Are we friends? You are right. We are living in changing times but they won’t change fast enough for you. We have you pinned down. Your great public will follow. Already now other Special Branches have been alerted. People are being picked up. No, no, don’t get me wrong. They are not being persecuted for what they believe in. All we want to do is talk. All your people want is to talk. Only Biko does not want to talk. You have put on a brave front long enough now. I think I time will soon be coming to an end. Their fists will do the talking. My English is not so good. Did you understand what I said? I am just the host. Are you still at a loss for words, Biko or simply parched? In the morning you won’t remember their faces. Your eyes will be so swollen and shut that you think you are blind but this morning won’t go uncelebrated. You have made it alive. You have played your role and my unit has played theirs. Don’t forget the welcome I gave you and the feeling of contentment I left you with. Secretly, I might not be as educated as you. So, I’m flawed. But you seem to be this perfect creature, a vision worthy of being alive. Perfect in every way and the question on our minds was how to we break him. English is not my first language. I know it is not your first language as well. Well, what do you know? We have something in common. What do you think of that?

 sym45

Steve Biko (1946-1977)

Are you comfortable yet, Biko? I mean, you see comfortable yet to talk to us but none of that rubbish of Black Consciousness. You see we don’t believe in that but we believe that a lot of Blacks do and Coloureds. You seemed to have infiltrated campuses all over South Africa. How can one man do this we ask? He must be working with exceptionally well-trained people, army people and gangs of terrorists like the ANC, PAC, Umkonto We Sizwa, Azania, the unrest at the campuses. These people are in China, Russia, Tanzania, all over bloody Africa.  He must have relationships, I say, this Biko with people all over the place and quite high up and people who are corrupt, who are spies. He must even have connections I tell myself with police spies. He must have contacts all over the place; perhaps even all over Africa. He could be working with the CIA. See this. This is the file we have on you. We have been tracking your every move. You’re just trash, Biko; trash of the worst kind. Worm.

You’re a thorn in our side, a crown of thorns. You’re nothing but a sticky worm. If you don’t understand Afrikaans I’d like to thrash you myself but I was ordered not to. I feel I can speak freely now. Trust me, I’ve done worse, I’ve seen worse but I can tell you are trying to read my mind. You’re in your early thirties. So am I. So am I. Well what do you know; that’s one, which makes it two. Two things we have in common.’ Now if you’ll excuse me for now our interview is done. We’re going to move on to the interrogation. Stay put. You’re not going anywhere soon.

There won’t be any stick fighting. These men are trained for armed combat with terrorists and since you said nothing in your defence we must assume you are a terrorist waiting for his demise or are you as innocent as you look right now. I doubt it. You know perhaps you’re the Nazi, not me, boy did you think of that?  Biko, that fucking educated native who kept mum, still is smiling as if he has won; perhaps if we could have conversed in your mother tongue maybe things would have ended up quite differently.’

He would be rid of his family, his clothes and shoes were soon found on the ground. The song in his head was like a wind chime. He bit his teeth into it; into its cauldron. He smelled something like smoke in the room, something was burning. The air smelt of firecrackers. He was a man on fire. He heard someone in the room scream. It sounded like a tortured animal crying out for compassion. They had set him alight. No, it only felt like that. The indescribable pain came from the lit cigarette pressed into his wrist. Steve began to see his life in ordinary frames as if he was at the pictures eating roasted peanuts from a bag and sharing it with a pal of his. He was a young boy again. Not yet wandering around the countryside without a country or a warm family life. Reality here in this room was a distant sun; blurry, a wound slow to heal. He knew tomorrow there would be a lot of wounds that would burn, that would be slow to heal.

That felt like the blade of a knife in his chest or was it because they; these vultures had ambushed him. They were making carrion out of him. He couldn’t breathe. He had taken one to the chest. It was only a boot that felt like the blade of a knife cutting, slicing through the air nearer and nearer to his skull. ‘Stand up! Stand up!’ He spitted something out of his mouth that tasted like blood. Now he got it. They were going to break him. There was only one place to get to; the other side which was a mixture of heaven, paradise and freedom. Steve could see it with such clarity now. There would be talk of an accident. The coroner would sign the papers. What the hell did it matter? He was only another native and so many things happen. The facts didn’t have to add up. His body prepared for burial would speak for itself. Washed clean, the scars that were underneath the removed bandages not yet healed would reveal all to the outside world. Even dying. In death he did it exceptionally well.

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 END  OF 37th SESSION OF THE  OVI  SYMPOSIUM (23/10/2014)

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Intro - P. 1 - P. 2 

2nd Meeting - 3rd Meeting - 4th Meeting - 5th Meeting - 6th Meeting - 7th Meeting - 8th Meeting -

9th Meeting - 10th Meting - 11th Meeting - 12th Meeting - 13th Meeting - 14th Meeting - 15th Meeting -

16th Meeting - 17th Meeting - 18th Meeting - 19th Meeting - 20th Meeting - 21st Meeting -

22nd Meeting -23rd Meeting - 24th Meeting - 25th Meeting - 26th Meeting - 27th Meeting -

28th Meeting -29th Meeting - 30th Meeting - 31st Meeting - 32nd Meeting - 33rd Meeting -

34th Meeting -35th Meeting - 36th Meeting - 37th Meeting -

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Emanuel Paparella2014-10-23 12:06:35
By way of a footnote to the above presentations: eighteenth-century white European intellectuals by and large believed that Africans were mentally inferior, as stated by David Hume in 1753 for example, “I am apt to suspect the negroes, and in general all the other species of men to be naturally inferior to the whites. There never was a civilized nation of any other complexion other than white”. If that is not a racially tainted statement I don’t know what is.


Emanuel Paparella2014-10-23 12:31:40
P.S.S. That canons can be wrong can be proven even from within the same Western canon of philosophy. For example, it took many years before first rate philosophers like Vico and to a lesser extent Croce were accepted as part of the canon in the cultural world and they have still not been accepted completely in academia where one can peruse volumes on the history of philosophy and see those two philosophers relegated to a footnote, often not even mentioned.


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