Big reading week: Nkrumah and Said
This week has actually been pretty massive for reading. Not one but two important works entered my field of vision this week – Representations of an Intellectual by Edward Said and Dark Days in Ghana by Kwame Nkrumah. The latter, I’ve been planning to read for almost two months, the former came my way through my assigned reading list for one of my lectures. Both are extremely fascinating treatises, set in extremely different contexts but both of which have a lot to say for who is or isn’t an intellectual.
Dark Days in Ghana was written by Kwame Nkrumah after his government had been deposed while he was on official duty in China. It’s really fascinating that I read this book last night because I attended a lecture by a lady who claims to have uncovered the link between aid, development or underdevelopment and Africa, and the whole time she was talking I was thinking to myself, this woman has very little idea of what she’s talking about. But not Kwame Nkrumah. Nkrumah is the quintessential African intellectual, having not only ideological knowledge of his country but also practical knowledge. He reads everything from economics, to politics to science, and the diversity of his background comes to bear when you consider the sheer range of the material that he’s writing about. He knows Ghana. He knows politics. And he knows the international “imperialist” establishment well enough to call them out on their crap. Dark Days in Ghana is fascinating because a lot of the things that Nkrumah talks about are actually still valid in Africa today, and even more pertinent than what this pseud0-academic was talking about yesterday. Sample quote:
“The problems we faced at independence were similar to those which confront most states emerging from colonialism. A once dependent territory if it is to survive in the modern world must try to accomplish in a single generation what it has taken developed nations 300 years or more to achieve. There is a need for radical change in practically every department of national life.” Nkrumah
How distressing is it that this evaluation is stil valid today? With people expecting Africa to accomplish in a single generation what has taken the US 300 plus years so to accomplish (and only a decade to unravel, but that’s another story for another day)? Why the push for mad-rush development when we all know that true development is a slow and systematic process? I recommend this book highly to anyone who wants to understand the other side of the post-independence African crisis. It’s really, really prescient.
Edward Said’s is a brilliant mind. I would say was given his untimely death, but I think a lot of his ideas and opinions continue to shape the way “non-western” cultures continue to envision themselves in relation to the “West”. I haven’t read “Orientalism” yet but i’s very much next on my list. Representations of the Intellectual was Said’s contribution to the Reith Lectures, an annual lecture series in which prominent thinkers are invited to lecture on a variety of issues. Said wanted to talk about the intellectual tradition in general, and the book links all sorts of trains – from Sartre, to Foucault, to Turnov, Flaubert and other writers, in order to build up a composite picture of the intellectual as an exile, as destined to stand out and be cast out, but also as a necessary and integral part of society. Said’s picture of the intellectual is saddening and heartening, maddening and encouraging, frightening and invigorating. It’s just a reminder that the road towards enlightenment is never easy or free of discomfort, but greater rewards for the whole society lie in helping those who would follow this path.
The central fact for me is, I think, that the intellectual is an individual endowed with a faculty for representing, embodying, articulating a message, a view, an attitude, philosophy or opinion to, as well as for, a public. And this role has an edge to it, and cannot be played without a sense of being someone whose place it is publically to raise embarrassing questions, to confront orthodoxy and dogma (rather than to produce them), to be someone who cannot easily be co-opted by governments or corporations, and whose raison d’etre is to represent all those people and issues that are routinely forgotten or swept under the rug.
It’s an extremely short book – it took me about two hours to read and make notes from it. I highly, highly recommend it to anyone who is even thinking about going into politics or social commentary. Elucidating, illuminating, inspiring and altogether fascinating.
It’s nice to be ensconced in the fold of true intellectuals after the brutal assault of pseud0-intellectualism last night!!