Subscribe to Newsletter
Monthly Newsletter: Join more than 5,000 African literature enthusiasts!
Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our "Guide to African Novels."

LOST IN AFRICA: Hegel

SHARE THIS

T he first time I had a copy of Hegel’s writing on Africa in my hands and read it, I was struck by how short it was. A few pages only. Clearly, Hegel did not want to think of Africa for much longer than he needed to. One can’t really fault him. He had his eyes on a much grander project. And there was Africa blocking his vision. He saw Africa as an impediment that had to be cleared away to make space for an idea he helped invent: the idea of world history.  Hegel wanted to erect a magnificent world-historical edifice that would run from ancient Asian civilizations all the way up to Europe.

But if this edifice is so big, why did Hegel not just find a way to fit everyone in? Why did he have to place someone outside and why did that someone have to Africa? The first question is easiest. Hegel had no choice but to leave someone out. It is a rule of thought that Hegel did not make himself but inherited from an old philosophical tradition. Take for instance the simple idea of a house. A house is a house to the extent that it can keep somethings and some people inside while keeping other things and other people outside. A house is defined by exclusivity or by its ability to exclude whatever it believes to be the outside. If we think of Hegel’s world history as a kind of edifice, we can kind of see why for him to preserve the integrity of the whole set up, he just could not include everything and everyone. Someone just had to get bounced. Photographs behave in a similar way. As we all know from having been photographed, cameras always have a frame. Frames are great because they put things in focus, but they can do that only because they leave stuff out. Africa, in a sense, is the stuff Hegel’s world historical camera refuses to enframe so that it can frame a world history. But the good thing is that, as I hope to show in a series of posts, this process of exclusion is not the only way to do history.

Why Africa? As a Nigerian might say, this question is the koko. It is the heart of the matter. For this reason, my response would be drawn out over several blog posts and would take different forms. I want to draw a picture of Hegel’s Africa framing History as the picture of the world. I want also to think of those who over time have tried to think with and against Hegel. Hegel and his Africa are certainly ghostly in the sense that they have simply refused to die a complete death despite the passing of time. They haunt writings from diverse fields of African thought. Strange bed fellows like Conrad and Achebe and the Negritude Philosophers and Soyinka’s Ogun were all trying in their own unique way to converse with Hegel, whose claims about Africa they found both astonishing and displeasing.

The puzzle continues….

 

Photo: indusladies.com

Tags: , , , ,

Ainehi Edoro is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches African literature. She received her doctorate at Duke University. She is the founder and editor of Brittle Paper and series editor of Ohio University Press’s Modern African Writer’s imprint.

4 Responses to “LOST IN AFRICA: Hegel” Subscribe

  1. Iretomiwa February 7, 2012 at 4:03 am #

    “Hegel had no choice but to leave someone out.”?

    As per world history, Hegel sees Africa’s “cultural development” as totally primitive or almost non-existent and he provides evidence to buttress his arguments. I’m hoping in your series of posts, you’ll be able to shed some light on some “cultural developments” (an African philosophy or ideology? a religion like Islam, Buddhism? a scientific invention? etc) that originated here prior to European colonization.

    Nice blog! I’ll be looking forward to those posts.

  2. Ainehi Edoro February 9, 2012 at 6:22 am #

    Iretomiwa,

    Thanks so much for visiting Brittle Paper. Your comment is insightful. The other posts on Hegel and Africa may not be what you are looking for, but it’ll be interesting nonetheless.

  3. Fabbeyond January 3, 2019 at 9:04 am #

    Actually Hegel is speaking about southern Saharan Africa aka black Africans (negroid morphological southern Saharan Africans )

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. POW! WOW!: How Do You Imagine Africa? | Brittle Paper - June 1, 2012

    […] Hegel was a German philosopher writing mostly in the early 19th century. When he said that Africa was a savage place, he was way out of his depth. He had in mind a weird mix of things he’d read about Africa from Herodotus to Pliny to medieval travel stories, 16th century encyclopedias, and some very shady anthropological studies of his day. He put all these together and came up with an Africa of beastly humans. Hegel’s Africa, as frightful as it is, is a magical nowhere. (For more on Hegel’s removal of Africa from world history, read HERE). […]

Leave a Reply

Welcome to Brittle Paper, your go-to site for African writing and literary culture. We bring you all the latest news and juicy updates on publications, authors, events, prizes, and lifestyle. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram (@brittlepaper) and sign up for our "I love African Literature" newsletter.

Monthly Newsletter!

Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our
"Guide to African Novels."

Archives

Petina Gappah to Write Play About the Censorship History of Dambudzo Marechera’s Novel Black Sunlight

Untitled design

Petina Gappah recently announced that she was writing a play that focuses on “the 1982 banning and unbanning” of Dambudzo […]

Oh, Blessed Bri’Land | Jedah Mayberry | Fiction

fiction brittle paper Jedah Mayberry

Bri’Land glistened at me, her brilliant display of pink sand shimmering in delight.  It would seem that I had finally, […]

Books That Go with Wine and Books That Don’t

literary lifestyle wine and books

The beverages most associated with reading are tea and coffee. But many readers love to cozy up in bed with […]

In This House | Inok Rosemary | Poetry

poetry brittle paper inok rosemary

  In this house, we sift our words, Never letting the walls hear what they shouldn’t. The fear of their […]

Statement: African Authors Sans Frontieres in Solidarity with African-Americans

Untitled design - 2020-06-02T091026.887

As African writers without borders who are connected beyond  geography with those who live in the United States of America […]

#SaveLambdaLiterary | Leading LGBTQ Literary Organization Needs Your Help

save lambda literary (1)

Lambda Literary is struggling under the devastating financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. On April 17, the organization launched a […]

Thanks for signing up!

Never miss out on new posts. Subscribe to a digest, too:

No thanks, I only want the monthly newsletter.