Theory and the Politics of Knowing

Ngugi wa Thiong'o is one of the most influential and read postcolonial literary critics. His Decolonizing the Mind (1986) is essential reading. He has also penned many works of fiction and theatre, as well as other non-fiction works. The following are some notes from his 2012 Globalectics: Theory and the Politics of Knowing (which is drawn from four talks given in the Wellek Library Lectures in Critical Theory.

"Poor theory may simply remind us that density of words is not the same thing as complexity of thought; that such density, sometimes, can obscure clarity of thought. I like Taoism because the thought carried in the deceptively simple writing is anything but simple or static. I would like to think of poor theory as the Taoism of theory. Like Taoism, poor theory need not be static." (p. 3)

"Globalectics is derived from the shape of the globe. On its surface there is no one center; any point is equally a center. As for the internal center of the globe, all points on the surface are equidistant to it—like the spokes of a bicycle wheel that meet at the hub. Globalectics combines the global and the dialectical to describe a mutually affecting dialogue, or multi-logue, in the phenomena of nature and nurture in a global space that's rapidly transcending that of the artificially bounded, as nation and region." (p. 8)

"The use of knowledge to obscure reality and force a certain perception of reality as the norm is not a matter of parables in philosophy, theater, and fiction. During the era of slave trade and plantation slavery, there were tons of publications that rationalized it as the norm, so much so that later, in the American Declaration of Independence, the word people clearly did not include African Americans, indigenous peoples, or women." (p. 30)

"That is precisely the point. It is less the content of what's taught or even how it is taught than the power relationship" (p. 38).

"It is a process of continuous alienation from the base, a continuous process of looking at oneself from the outside of self or with the lenses of a stranger. One may end up identifying with the foreign base as the starting point toward self, that is from another self toward one self, rather than the local being the starting point, from self to other selves." (p. 39)

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