‘Aan deze zijde van de utopie’ ~ De wijsgerige antropologie van Helmuth Plessner

PlessnerWie een thuis zoekt, een vaderland, geborgenheid, moet zich uitleveren aan het geloof. Maar wie vasthoudt aan de geest, keert niet terug. Telkens weer zijn andere ogen nodig om op een andere manier zichtbaar te maken wat allang gezien, maar niet bewaard kon blijven. ~ Helmuth Plessner

De afgelopen decennia laten een groeiende belangstelling zien voor het werk van de Duitse bioloog, filosoof en socioloog Helmuth Plessner (1892–1985). De organisatoren van het eerste Internationale Plessner Congress, dat in 2000 in Freiburg plaatsvond, durfden zelfs te spreken van een Plessner Renaissance. Misschien is dat enigszins ongelukkig uitgedrukt, omdat eigenlijk alleen van een wedergeboorte gesproken kan worden in Duitsland en Nederland, de twee landen waarin hij werkzaam is geweest. Buiten deze beide landen is het werk van Plessner tijdens diens leven vrijwel onopgemerkt gebleven, zodat daar eerder gesproken moet worden van een late geboorte van een Plessner-receptie. En zelfs in Duitsland en Nederland, waar Plessner een zekere bekendheid verwierf als een van de grondleggers en belangrijkste vertegenwoordigers van de twintigste-eeuwse wijsgerige antropologie en ook als een scherpzinnig interpreet van de ideeënhistorische wortels van het nationaalsocialisme, heeft zijn werk altijd in de schaduw gestaan van zijn tijdgenoot Martin Heidegger (1889-1976).

Voor het aanvankelijk uitblijven van een omvangrijke werkingsgeschiedenis van Plessners gedachtegoed zijn meerdere redenen te noemen. In de eerste plaats is er nog maar weinig vertaald van zijn omvangrijke oeuvre, waarvan een substantieel deel tussen 1980 en 1985 door Suhrkamp is uitgebracht onder de titel Gesammelte Schriften in 10 Bänden.[i] Bovendien zijn, met uitzondering van de Nederlandse, de meeste van deze vertalingen (in het Italiaans, Nederlands, Engels, Spaans, Frans, Pools en Russisch) van recente datum, en dan gaat het voornamelijk om artikelen en andere kleine geschriften.[ii] Zijn omvangrijke filosofische hoofdwerk, Die Stufen des Organischen und der Mensch (1928), is tot op heden onvertaald gebleven (hoewel er al enige tijd een Engelse vertaling in de maak is).

Dat zijn omvangrijke oeuvre tot dusver te weinig aandacht heeft gekregen, komt ook doordat Plessner na de machtsovername door Hitler als Halbjude zijn universitaire lesbevoegdheid in Duitsland verloor en van 1933 tot 1952 – met uitzondering van de jaren tussen 1943 en 1945, waarin hij als onderduiker op verschillende adressen in Utrecht en Amsterdam verbleef – werkzaam was in Groningen, eerst als buitengewoon hoogleraar sociologie en later als hoogleraar filosofie. Deze bijzondere omstandigheden hebben ertoe bijgedragen dat hij aanvankelijk nauwelijks school heeft gemaakt. En voor zover Plessner zelf deel uitmaakte van een filosofische ‘school’ – die van de wijsgerige antropologie[iii] – werd de praktische samenwerking met de twee belangrijkste mederepresentanten, Max Scheler (1874-1928) en Arnold Gehlen (1904-1976), verhinderd door respectievelijk een verstoorde persoonlijke verhouding en een tegengestelde politieke ideologie.
Met dat laatste hangt wellicht de derde reden samen voor de vertraagde receptie van Plessners werk. Zijn bereidheid om zijn eigen denken altijd weer kritisch te blijven bezien, viel op een weinig vruchtbare bodem in een eeuw die bijzonder vatbaar was voor totalitaire verleiding. Waar tijdgenoten als Heidegger en Gehlen de totalitaire ideologie van het nationaalsocialisme omarmden, belichaamt Plessners werk een radicale scepsis ten aanzien van iedere totalitaire ideologie.

Een dergelijke scepsis heeft ook aan het begin van de eenentwintigste eeuw nog niets aan betekenis verloren. In dat licht bezien komt de historische biografie van Carola Dietze als geroepen. Plessners persoonlijkheid, biografie en werk zijn namelijk nauw met elkaar verbonden. Het duidelijkst komt dat tot uitdrukking in zijn politiek gemotiveerde geschriften. Zijn pleidooi voor een open pluralistische samenleving in Grenzen der Gemeinschaft: Eine Kritik des sozialen Radikalismus (1924) vormt een reactie op de overspannen utopische gemeenschapsidealen die in de Weimar-republiek zowel door rechts – de national-völkische beweging – als links – de communisten – werden uitgedragen. En in het in Groningen geschreven en in Zürich gepubliceerde Das Schicksal deutschen Geistes im Ausgang seiner bürgerlichen Epoche (1935, in 1959 in een uitgebreidere editie heruitgegeven onder de titel Die Verspätete Nation: Über die politische Verführbarkeit bürgerlichen Geistes) analyseert hij de religieuze, sociale en filosofische wortels van het nationaalsocialisme, de beweging die hem veroordeelde tot het bestaan van politiek vluchteling. Read more

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Decolonizing Knowledge And The Question Of The Archive & Podcast ~ Decolonizing The University

Photo: www.ru.ac.za

Achille Mbembe  www.ru.ac.za

This document was deliberately written as a spoken text. It forms the basis of a series of public lectures given at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER), University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg), at conversations with the Rhodes Must Fall Movement at the University of Cape Town and the Indexing the Human Project, Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Stellenbosch. The nature of the events unfolding in South Africa, the type of audience that attended the lectures, the nature of the political and intellectual questions at stake required an entirely different mode of address – one that could speak both to reason and to affect.

Twenty one years after freedom, we have now fully entered what looks like a negative moment. This is a moment most African postcolonial societies have experienced. Like theirs in the late 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, ours is gray and almost murky. It lacks clarity.

Today many want to finally bring white supremacy to its knees. But the same seem to go missing when it comes to publically condemning the extra-judicial executions of fellow Africans on the streets of our cities and in our townships. As Fanon intimated, they see no contradiction between wanting to topple white supremacy and being anti-racist while succumbing to the sirens of isolationism and national-chauvinism. Many still consider whites as “settlers” who, once in a while, will attempt to masquerade as “natives”. And yet, with the advent of democracy and the new constitutional State, there are no longer settlers or natives. There are only citizens. If we repudiate democracy, what will we replace it with?

Our white compatriots might be fencing off their privileges. They might be “enclaving” them and “off-shoring” them but they are certainly going nowhere. And yet they cannot keep living in our midst with whiteness’ old clothes. Fencing off one’s privileges, off-shoring them, living in enclaves does not in itself secure full recognition and survival. Meanwhile, “blackness” is fracturing. “Black consciousness” today is more and more thought of in fractions. A negative moment is a moment when new antagonisms emerge while old ones remain unresolved.

It is a moment when contradictory forces – inchoate, fractured, fragmented – are at work but what might come out of their interaction is anything but certain.
It is also a moment when multiple old and recent unresolved crises seem to be on the path towards a collision.
Such a collision might happen – or maybe not. It might take the form of outbursts that end up petering out. Whether the collision actually happens or not, the age of innocence and complacency is over. When it comes to questions concerning the decolonization of the university – and of knowledge – in South Africa now, there are a number of clear-cut political and moral issues – which are also issues of fairness and decency – many of us can easily agree upon.

Demythologizing whiteness 
One such issue has just been dealt with – and successfully – at the University of Cape Town. To those who are still in denial, it might be worth reiterating that Cecil Rhodes belonged to the race of men who were convinced that to be black is a liability.
During his time and life in Southern Africa, he used his considerable power – political and financial – to make black people all over Southern Africa pay a bloody price for his beliefs. His statue – and those of countless others who shared the same conviction – has nothing to do on a public university campus 20 years after freedom.

The debate therefore should have never been about whether or not it should be brought down. All along, the debate should have been about why did it take so long to do so.
To bring Rhodes’ statue down is far from erasing history, and nobody should be asking us to be eternally indebted to Rhodes for having “donated” his money and for having bequeathed “his” land to the University. If anything, we should be asking how did he acquire the land in the first instance.
Arguably other options were available and could have been considered, including that which was put forward late in the process by retired Judge Albie Sachs whose contribution to the symbolic remaking of what is today Constitution Hill is well recognized.

But bringing Rhodes’ statue down is one of the many legitimate ways in which we can, today in South Africa, demythologize that history and put it to rest – which is precisely the work memory properly understood is supposed to accomplish.
For memory to fulfill this function long after the Truth and Reconciliation paradigm has run out of steam, the demythologizing of certain versions of history must go hand in hand with the demythologizing of whiteness. This is not because whiteness is the same as history. Human history, by definition, is history beyond whiteness.

Human history is about the future. Whiteness is about entrapment. Whiteness is at its best when it turns into a myth. It is the most corrosive and the most lethal when it makes us believe that it is everywhere; that everything originates from it and it has no outside. We are therefore calling for the demythologization of whiteness because democracy in South Africa will either be built on the ruins of those versions of whiteness that produced Rhodes or it will fail.

Read more (PDF-file): http://wiser.wits.ac.za/AchilleMbembe

Podcast: https://archive.org/details/AchilleMbembeDecolonizingTheUniversity

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How Can Gov. McCrory’s Proposal Work? Preliminary Thoughts And Policy Considerations

Map: www.secretary.state.nc.us

Map: www.secretary.state.nc.us

On Monday, March 30, the Winston-Salem Journal published a piece titled “Economic development bill stalls in Senate” starting with Gov. McCrory’s proposal to “recruit an automobile manufacturer and create thousands of jobs and scores of companies”. This is really an interesting development proposal that can boost production growth in North Carolina. The article [i] seeks to discuss the developmental and industrial dimensions of this proposal and to offer policy considerations deemed absolutely necessary for the successful implementation of such an ambitious plan.

The Present Context
There has been much talk and debate on the recent economic downfall of the United States. Causes for concern include persistent fluctuations in output, job creation and productivity; massive federal budget and trade account deficits; and issues associated with “capital flight” and industrial decline (U.S. National Economic Accounts, various years). These fluctuations are closely linked to unutilized labor force, lost output, and social problems. Furthermore, the economic effects of the recent financial crisis are complicated and far-reaching because of simultaneous shocks in the housing, stock, and labor markets. Actual spending, unemployment, home equity, well-being, emotional and physical health, and expectations about the future have all been affected by a significant slowdown in endogenous productive activity and various problems associated with financial markets. Hence, it is argued here that three important themes need to come to the center stage:
1. A discourse on the “appropriate” policy interventions,
2. The importance of adopting a long-term perspective, and
3. Emphasis on strengthening local production lines.

An Alternative Development Paradigm
The US model of a pluralist market economy is strongly consumer and short-term oriented. Its strength is dynamism and flexibility; its dominant philosophy is private sector competition and minimal government. As a result, industrial policy has not been developed in a systematic or coherent fashion as an important piece of policy making, and the country has not generally seen itself as being involved in the promotion of specific sectors. Read more

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To Be A Man Is Not Easy ~ Stories From Ghanaian Emigrants. Contents & Introduction

BosmanCoverTable of contents

Introduction – see below
1. The good samaritan who follows where the money is. Interview with Owusu Agyeman
2. Dollars in the wall. Interview with Mr. Babbs Haruna from Nkoranza
3. A scar reminds me of the day I wept. Interview with Kwame Baffo
4. My hotel! Interview with Michael Sarpong
5. The boys of the band. Interview with Akosua Asantewaah
6. Peace of mind or success? I want it both. Interview with Kojo Apiah Kubi. (Brian Osanhene Duako in Chicago)
7. It is love for one another that makes us continue. Interview with Kojo Sampson
8. I saw dead people covered in dust. passport on top. Interview with Mr. Darko from Nkoranza
9. No other treats than daily fresh insults. Interview with Yaw Charles from Nkoranza
10. I want to get a life but I can’t because I am waiting. Interview with Richard Kwasi Ntim
11. Mercy, the girl with the red leggings
12. Education, solidarity and being able to say no. Interview with Matthew Essieh
13. Caught between two worlds. Interview with Samuel Oteng
14. The conference participant. Interview with Osei Takyi

Introduction
Why this book? It all started with Kwame Baffoe, the guy who only wept once. Kwame was the hospital driver at the time that I worked as a tropical doctor at Nkoranza Hospital. One day Baffoe disappeared. After two weeks his relatives came to ask for his end of service benefit. I was then the medical director as well as the administrator and I had to say No, he vacated his post so sorry, no. But where for God’s sake is Baffoe? They silently left. This was in the mid-eighties. Read more

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To Be A Man Is Not Easy ~ The Good Samaritan Who Follows Where The Money Is. Interview With Owusu Agyeman

BosmanCoverI am Owusu Agyeman and I come from from Akropong in the Nkoranza district. I live here in Nkoranza town where I have my well known Ash-foam business. I sell pillows and mattresses. As you may know, my father is a chief.

I decided to go to Libya because there is no work in Ghana. Let me correct myself and say it this way: there is work in Ghana but it doesn’t fetch any money. Take farming for example. I may use two million Cedis to prepare and sow the land and when I harvest my corn I may get 1,5 million in return. What does it mean? It means I lost. I have lost money because the market prices are bad. That is why I went abroad, to get enough money to start a business in Ghana.

At the time when I left Ghana I was no longer a young boy, I was thirty eight years old and had a wife and three children. My wife agreed that I should go in order to provide for the family. So then we had to prepare for such a journey which is both costly and dangerous. Danger is everywhere along the way but the walking, which we call footing, through the desert, that is the greatest risk! I will tell you the story of my journey. I started here in Nkoranza in Ghana and traveled in an ordinary lorry to the border at Bawku.
I then took a car across the border to Burkino Faso and then on to Mali. Finally I went deep into Niger where you reach the desert and then another chapter starts! Those days when I traveled there, there was no such thing as group transport with Ghanaians all the way to Libya. Not at that time. Now that has changed.

Africans need no visa on the West-African continent so I had all I needed which was my passport, my vaccination card and enough money. The last one is the hardest! At border crossings I of course never tell my real plans of going to Libya for they would send me right back. So at the Ghana border I say I go to Burkina Faso to work and from Burkina Faso I say I go to work at Mali. I have a profession. I am a mechanic. So that’s what I say: I am going to work there as a mechanic. Once in Mali they ask me where I am going and I say to Niamey in Niger. I went to Niamey and then to the second biggest city which is called Agadez. I did all this with ordinary local passenger cars. It is at Agadez that the story changes!

Here you have reached the desert. Here we sit and rest along the roadside and we wait. We wait for other people who are on their way to Libya. Once there are enough people to fill a car then you go across the desert. The cars are land-cruisers, pick-ups.

Niger is a poorer country than Ghana, no jobs. There are men there in Agadez who make a living out of assembling people and organizing a car for them. There are other men who make it their job to cross the desert with us and bring us to Libya. Two of these men sit in the cabin in front and all of us travelers are packed in the back of the pickup. In my case they took us, 90 to 100 persons, into two cars. At that time, 1997, they let us pay 20,000 CFA, which is about 50 dollar per person. We were packed like maize bags, sometimes they even got more than 50 people in one land-cruiser. Read more

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The Postman Only Had To Ring Once

mailusWhat a beautiful public love letter to an art that appears to be lost, but not quite. This writer, sharing his thoughts with who knows who, also longs for the intimacy of the exchange of words between two. What strikes me most about this essay are the words: “The day I lost one of J.’s illustrated postcards in the subway on my way home, I was as distraught as I would be now if my hard disk crashed.”

No, I would not say like “my hard disk” crashing. Not that at all. That least of all. That is an anxiety unique to this age of data-exchange, the reduction of all words, whether committed to hard-drive with care or hastily-strung-together, to an assemblage of giga-bytes. That feeling is equivalent to the boss berating you for losing an “important document”, no matter how important to you this hard-drive may be.

I have kept letters that are close to my heart, letters that mark milestones in my life and recollect those in the lives of those for whom I care, those who I remember, whether or not they remember me. I have lost some of these, in the jumble of our “modern” state of statelessness, placelessness. With each loss I knew I had lost a marker. Not that the object itself was a loss it itself. It was a loss because it has meaning in and of itself. The words, which were written with care and thought, sometimes in friendship, at times in love, are irreplaceable in a way that a hard-drive could never be. Letters brought more than news, or, rather, they defined a notion of news that many no longer regard as relevant. The postman only had to ring once.

Dropping these fragments in the subway would mean losing a piece of the dialogue that once existed, a fragment that could not have been spoken in words, and which cannot ever be committed to memory in the way that we can store passwords to social media sites, the literary equivalent of fifty shades of grey. Not even the spoken word can “reveal” itself in the immediacy of dialogue. We need to filter the maelstrom of spoken intonations, throw away thoughts, carelessly aimed barbs, fluff. In other words, we need to “process”, in the pseudo lingo of the day, as if the spoken word is something to receive like a legal brief, rather than to share in a collective act of interpretation.

So perhaps it is not only the written word that is fading, the medium for committing our most intimate thoughts. With that loss we risk losing the art of listening, rather than merely hearing as one does in a noisy room. We have turned listening into hearing, the ear into a portal to matter, and that extraordinary matter into a measurement of our relative sanity. Who has not heard the claim that we use perhaps 12-15% of our brains, “on average”? What better measure of our language of median lines. In this age of brain science thought, itself is losing its tragic quality, as we learn that the biological organ with which we think is also the locus of our deepest emotions, and we again take refuge in “spirit” to quell a fear inspired by our eternal finitude. Hang onto those letters and postcards. The brain has a sell-by date. The words it shapes into a personal declaration between two people do not.

About the author
Prof.dr. Anthony Court – Researcher, Genocide Studies, University of South Africa

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