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the future of criticism

September 21, 2009
Scores of text sits throughout West Africa, uncatalouged, unanalyzed, unacknowledged

Scores of text sits throughout West Africa, uncatalouged, unanalyzed, unacknowledged

I had a few beers this evening with an Anthropologist at the American University in Cairo. He, like me, has spent some timein Senegal, specifically in Kaolack, the holy city of the followers of Ibrahima Niasse. Joe wrote his dissertation on Niasse and the Islamic movement that he started in that Sahelian town. We both know the intrepid Dr. Viola Vaughn and her dynamic work with NGO 10,000 girls that recently warranted her attentiona as a CNN hero.

Our conversation did something very important. Since being hear, I have started to forget the very deep foundations of the reason why I am hear, to uncover the intellectual heritage of sub-saharan Africa through the Arabic language. Joe has written extensively on the topic, so I did not have to explain anything to him. But with other people, I have to explain so much that I started to question if I was in the right place. But he helped me remember that I was.

More importantly, our conversation exposed a fruitful area of inquiry that I could develop a lifetime of scholarship too. There is an absolute abundance of African literature in Arabic and African languages in of Arabic script. There are also countless distinct communication modes distinctive to the West African situation. Namely, the prevalence of the paradox. This is a troupe that I would suggest without a significant of research is akin to Henry Louis Gate’s and Houston Baker’s construction of “Signifyin.‘” But even if it isn’t, an investigation into that and other discourses in this literature could be as groundbreaking as the Signifyin’ Monkey.

And as the Sanskrit-reading philosopher in our company, this area Afro-Arab literature is the future of comparative literature. South Asia has had its turn, so has Latin America and the Arab world proper. This area is wide open and I could easily make a career out of it.

This area of writing is what originally capitvated my imagination as an underclassman history major. I was using primary source documents that were always orginally written in Arabic, often by black writers. The intellectual centers of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai towered in my imagination as the source of a validation of African and by extension my humanity. The volumes of writing that to this day that sit in the semi-desert of Mali and Niger was why I had to go to francophone West Africa. Now, I’m finally getting back to it.

Sankore, an institution of higher learning of the middle ages

Sankore, an institution of higher learning of the middle ages

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One Comment leave one →
  1. September 21, 2009 6:01 pm

    Dr. John Hunwick did a TON of work on this stuff…there used to be whole classes at Northwestern devoted to philogical work with Arabic texts in Africa….I am not sure where the best place to learn this specialized skill is, but Northwestern has a GREAT library for this kind of thing. Also I have a colleague here who just returned from Senegal and worked on some Arabic texts done by the Tijaniyya tariqah.

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