„Language constantly yields a familiar world“, Macamo [i] said and this statement caught my interest and kept me busy for a while. What I was especially wondering, was, if to stop „monologuing with the familiar“, would it really need “a radical break with the familiar” or could “radical silence” help to escape the box? The former seemed not achievable from my current point of view, the latter I also considered little convincing, as keeping quiet is a resistance strategy that only works in those very particular situations where there already is an awaiting audience. In most cases there will be just louder people who fill the gap without hesitating.
To find any first approach to this concept, I decided to focus on listening during the winterschool. I could not always manage consequently, but what I noticed, is that listening is not keeping still, but being in communication, where the listener constantly gives feedback, possibly by asking or commenting, but more likely by less visible signals of agreement or disagreement, validation, recognition or irritation.
And listening is not keeping still, as the listeners beliefs, perceptions, imaginations and even concepts of language and words are constantly challenged, constantly moving. As soon as we listen, we not only „have to abandon the idea, that we live in a familiar world“, as Macamo says, but also have to abandon the idea that we were even equipped with a solid set of familiar vocabulary, steady mental representations or a constant mindset. I think it is then, when we start to disinvent boundaries.
Listening is not keeping still, though it can be rather quiet at times, and very engaging at others. It surely requires attentiveness, patience and interest. As well as the courage to let an imprecisely defined part of that world enter your consciousness, while subtly assisting with the creation of a space for someone to let their contents of consciousness enter another part of that world.
(At this point, I could chose to reflect why I used the word “space” instead of place. But I leave the space for someone else to elaborate on it, as right now I need to move to another important point.)
Somehow, what I´m doing here is postcolonial theorizing. And what I definitely internalized during the last weeks, is that postcolonial theory is western intellectuals getting stuck in colonialism and endlessly reflecting on their own role in the countless ways “the native informant is simultaneously created and destroyed” [ii].
But on the flipside of the coin, it simply is not possible to not reflect on it, when doing anthropological research. And I dare to say, especially when doing anthropological research in any kind of African context as a European researcher. The predicament, I think, cannot be explained better than by Spivak:
“As for the receiver, we must ask who is “the real receiver” of an “insurgency”? The historian, transforming “insurgency” into “text for knowledge” is only one “receiver” of any collectively intended social act. With no possibility of nostalgia for that lost origin, the historian must suspend (as far as possible) the clamor of his or her own consciousness [...], so that the elaboration of the insurgency, packaged with an insurgent-consciousness, does not freeze into an “object of investigation”, or, worse, yet, a model for imitation. “The subject”, implied by the texts of insurgency can only serve as a counterpossibility for the narrative sanctions granted to the colonial subject in the dominant groups. The postcolonial intellectual learn that their privilege is their loss. In this they are a paradigm of the intellectuals.” [iii]
And while the European Africanists apparently get entangled even further in this conflict, it is exactly this predicament which creates space for discussing on Spivak, listening to a talk by Macamo just to go home and trace some of his ideas back through Wittgenstein, just to find the answers in Texts by Nyamnjoh and Mbembe, feeling a bit slow, while only then, suddenly understanding why they are persistently concerned with interconnectedness, incompleteness and the accessibility to science. It also creates space for vivid exchange with African Scientist without any need of being constantly aware who was born where, while at the same moment being grateful that every single one of us comes with a very different background. And at times being overwhelmed with the thoughts that emerge out of this brainstorming and sharing of ideas, while at the same time carefully listening, in the urge not to miss to much of it. Should we label this Hybridity now? Can we call it Afropolitanism? Or better use the world “Cosmopolitanism” in this context? I´m not sure yet and maybe it´s just splitting hairs and we should reject both terms due to its flavor of neoliberal-elitist lifestyle. (Well, or better then confess to it?)
But what I know, is that for me the winterschool impressively showed, why reflecting on listening and subjectivity is not reduced to any kind of European subject or even African Studies context (suddenly understanding what it means to regard “African Studies as a research on social science methodology”). I realized when reading the poem “Weathering”by Nyachiro Lydia Kasese during the session on female voices.
Maybe listening is not “suspending enough of the clamor of my consciousness”, and although I didn´t find a way out yet, I still improved my listening skills during the last ten days. And I don´t know yet, where I will need them. It might be, to do fieldwork in Africa, it might be, to do some other kind of research. Or I might rather take them outside of uni into some- other- kind of political context, into my regular work or just into my everyday life. And thereby create some kind of spaces for some kind of conversations at some place. For the last ten days I used them to learn a lot about language, African languages, knowledge production, power constitution, feminism, African literature, translation, representation and other things I might remember when I need them.
And while I think about it, a [very postcolonial] part of me feels quite selfish and guilty, as I seemingly was not able to contribute any substantial topic to the exchange above, as I suddenly understand.
[i] Macamo, E., 2020. Decoloniality And Radical Silence In African Studies, Lecture at University of Leipzig, 22 January, unpublished
[ii] Maggio, J., 2007. “Can the subaltern be heard?”: Political theory, translation, representation, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Alternatives, 32(4), p. 419
[iii] Spivak, G. C., 1988. “Can the subaltern speak?”. Nelson, C. (ed.): Marxism and the interpretation of culture. Urbana: Univ of Illinois Press, p. 287