Why is European philosophy “philosophy”, but African philosophy ethnophilosophy, the way Indian music is ethnomusic – an ethnographic logic that is based on the very same reasoning that if you were to go to the New York Museum of Natural History (popularised in Shawn Levy’s Night at the Museum ), you only see animals and non-white peoples and their cultures featured inside glass cages, but no cage is in sight for white people and their cultures – they just get to stroll through the isles and enjoy the power and ability of looking at taxidermic Yaks, cave dwellers, elephants, Eskimos, buffalo, Native Americans, etc, all in a single winding row. — Hamid Dabashi, Can Non-Europeans Think?
I agree with this statement in fighting spirit — indeed, don’t get me started on the incredibly ignorant genre title of “world music” — in regards to my research on Afrofuturism, which argues for the consideration of other forms of knowledge as “philosophy.” Specifically, I campaign for forms of thinking that are otherwise excluded from an increasingly professionalized philosophical discourse; and forms of thinking that are materialized in different ways other than argued essays and books. What is philosophy? Here’s a provisional phrase: philosophy is a working form of thinking through thought, of considering the balance of nearly unanswerable questions, of probing deep into uncertainties and impossibilities. This need not occur through its elaboration in scripted forms of writing, and certainly not in peer-reviewed journals and other sites of careerist discourse. It is for all these reasons that I argue for Afrofuturism, or rather, for exophilosophy in general: for all the approaches that ascertain thought through ways that are otherwise in the “margins of philosophy.” Graffiti, rhyme, movement, gesture, beats, art, sampling…
But is this all philosophy? Should it all be flattened to philosophy? Is philosophy still the signifier to be retained? Or should it not be historicized and geographically delimited for a reason?
For philosophy is philosophy. It is not “European philosophy” and “African philosophy” but philosophy. This is not Eurocentrist; it is to respect the Greek origins of the name “philo-sophia.” The signifier of philosophy names a certain history. To argue for philosophy means also to argue with this history. If this is Eurocentrist, it is historically so. Playing with philosophy means respecting its roots.
In this respect, Dabashi is entirely on point when he critiques the postulate that only Europeans think — as if, in short, philosophy is the only form of thinking. For me this is the stronger argument. Not that there are different philosophies measured against Philosophy (which is what Dabashi critiques) but neither that all is philosophy (which is what Dabashi suggests). Rather, that there are different forms of thinking materialized in different ways. The Greek tradition of philosophia, from which not only Europe inherits but a huge part of the world (thanks to empire, colonialism, etc., but also trades of thought, intellectual spin-offs, exchanges of ideas, and so forth), is philosophy. But exterior to philosophy are other domains of thought just as powerful which claim universalities of application insofar as they advance the question of the question, the principle of the principle, the reflection of the reflection. Yet they need not be wrapped into philosophy, collapsed to its discourse, its rules, its convention, its history — and above all its signifier, meaning, at base, the “love of wisdom.” Other names abound that could mean something else than a love for wisdom: a distaste of unthought, for example; a longing for the alien; a thought of the uncertain.
Delightfully, Dabashi sustains the principle of the universal to begin with, which is also what I like about his argument: that all persons in all cultures have the ability to think in such a self-centred fashion that they consider themselves yardsticks of globality (to paraphrase from this essay). Whereas Dabashi sees this as the universality of philosophy, I see this as the universality of thought from which “philosophy” is but a variant, a stream from the spring.
There are other barriers to break down. Damashi’s article maintains a weak bias toward naming professionalized intellectuals in other countries than Europe as exemplary of philosophy’s globalization. Of course I support this move, insofar as he is critiquing the perennial go-to of European and North American “public intellectuals.” But why should the go-tos also be of the same class of thought? So, despite his attack not only on Eurocentrism, he (perhaps unwittingly) maintains that philosophy solely operates within certain strictures of academia. In this respect, he is correct: it is but philosophy, a discourse of the tradition of the discourse. But there are other forms of potent thought lurking beyond the campus walls. They rap into place, form beats about space… and perhaps today have more to say about the changes of life actually throwing down.