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On the Postcolony

On the Postcolony

Achille Mbembe
Copyright Date: May 2001
Edition: 1
Pages: 274
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  • Book Info
    On the Postcolony
    Book Description:

    Achille Mbembe is one of the most brilliant theorists of postcolonial studies writing today. In On the Postcolony he profoundly renews our understanding of power and subjectivity in Africa. In a series of provocative essays, Mbembe contests diehard Africanist and nativist perspectives as well as some of the key assumptions of postcolonial theory. This thought-provoking and groundbreaking collection of essays-his first book to be published in English-develops and extends debates first ignited by his well-known 1992 article "Provisional Notes on the Postcolony," in which he developed his notion of the "banality of power" in contemporary Africa. Mbembe reinterprets the meanings of death, utopia, and the divine libido as part of the new theoretical perspectives he offers on the constitution of power. He works with the complex registers of bodily subjectivity - violence, wonder, and laughter - to profoundly contest categories of oppression and resistance, autonomy and subjection, and state and civil society that marked the social theory of the late twentieth century. This provocative book will surely attract attention with its signal contribution to the rich interdisciplinary arena of scholarship on colonial and postcolonial discourse, history, anthropology, philosophy, political science, psychoanalysis, and literary criticism.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-91753-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. INTRODUCTION: Time on the Move
    (pp. 1-23)

    Speaking rationally about Africa is not something that has ever come naturally. Doing so, at this cusp between millenia, comes even less so.² It is for all the world as if the most radical critique of the most obtuse and cynical prejudices about Africa were being made against the background of an impossibility, the impossibility of getting over and done “with something without running the risk of repeating it and perpetuating it under some other guise.”³ What is going on?

    First, the African human experience constantly appears in the discourse of our times as an experience that can only be...

  4. CHAPTER 1 Of Commandement
    (pp. 24-65)

    This chapter has two aims. One is to reflect broadly on the types of rationality used to rule men and ensure the provision of goods and things in sub-Saharan Africa since the end of direct colonization. The second is to ask questions about the circumstances in which the activity of “regulating human behaviour in a state framework and with state instruments” (in other words, the activity of governing) has recently fallen from the hands of those supposed to be exercising it, paving the way not for some sort of revolution but for a situation of extreme material scarcity, uncertainty, and...

  5. CHAPTER 2 On Private Indirect Government
    (pp. 66-101)

    This chapter will examine another aspect of the processes described in chapter one, an aspect that the fuss over transitions to democracy and multi-partyism in Africa has overshadowed. These processes do not move in a closed orbit; they are neither smooth nor unilinear, but point in several directions at once. Further, they are occurring at different speeds and on different time-scales, and take the form of fluctuations and destabilizations (sometimes very sharp ones), periods of inertia and spurts that appear quite random but actually combine several regimes of change: stationary, dynamic, chaotic, even catastrophic.

    This other aspect could be summed...

  6. CHAPTER 3 The Aesthetics of Vulgarity
    (pp. 102-141)

    In this chapter, I shall examine the banality of power in the postcolony. Banality of power does not simply refer to the way bureaucratic formalities or arbitrary rules, implicit or explicit, have been multiplied, nor am I simply concerned with what has become routine—though certainly “banality” implies the predictability of routine, if only because routine is made up of repeated daily actions and gestures. Instead, I refer here to those elements of the obscene and the grotesque that Mikhail Bakhtin claims to have located in “non-official” cultures but that, in fact, are intrinsic to all systems of domination and...

  7. CHAPTER 4 The Thing and Its Doubles
    (pp. 142-172)

    It is well known that the relationship between a graphic sign and a linguistic sign is not simply a matter of taxonomy.¹ It is of course true that, in contrast to “language” in its sense of “arbitrary signifier,” drawings, illustrations, images, reproductions, designs, and pictures can be understood as signs that, somewhere and somewhat paradoxically, claim not to be signs at all Yet, in spite of its claim to represent presence, immediacy, and facticity, what is special about an image is its “likeness”—that is, its ability to annex and mime what it represents, while, in the very act of...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Out of the World
    (pp. 173-211)

    In this chapter, I shall consider the phenomenology of violence. Or, more precisely, I shall reflect on that state of deprivation or apparent non-actuality called death. By focusing on the violence of death, I want to look at the forms through which it is accomplished, the manner in which it embraces all substantiality—indeed, to the point where it has penetrated almost everywhere and virtually nothing escapes it, since to a large extent, it has become the normal state of things.

    In regard to the violence of death, it is present-day Africa that I have in mind, not because Africa...

  9. CHAPTER 6 God’s Phallus
    (pp. 212-234)

    In this study, I shall focus on the theme of the divine libido as expressed in three apparently separate forms: (1) belief in a god that is One, (2) the god’s death and resurrection, and (3) the phenomenon of conversion. The term “god” will be used in the masculine, and the god(s) studied have some masculine attributes, in accord with the dominant notions traditional to the particular religions considered during the periods under consideration. By libido is meant, here, the emanation of a bio-psychic energy located primarily in the area of sexuality.² The goal of this flowing energy, of this...

  10. CONCLUSION: The Final Manner
    (pp. 235-244)

    Who is a slave, if not the person who, everywhere and always, possesses life, property, and body as if they were alien things? Possessing life and body as alien things presupposes that they are like external matter to the person who bears them, who serves as their scaffolding. In such case, the slave’s body, life, and work may be attacked. The violence thus perpetrated is not supposed to affect the slave directly, as something real and present. Thus, “slave” is the forename we must give to a man or woman whose body can be degraded, whose life can be mutilated,...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 245-270)
  12. Index
    (pp. 271-274)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 275-275)