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Harmattan: A Philosophical Fiction

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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    We all experience qualms and anxieties when we move from the known to the unknown. Though our fulfillment in life may depend on testing limits, our faintheartedness is a reminder of our need for security and our awareness of the risks of venturing into alien worlds.

    Evoking the hot, dust-filled Harmattan winds that blow from the Sahara to the Gulf of Guinea, this book creatively explores what it means to be buffeted by the unforeseen and the unknown. Celebrating the life-giving potential of people, places, and powers that lie beyond our established worlds,Harmattanconnects existential vitality to the act of resisting prescribed customs and questioning received notions of truth. At the book's heart is the fictional story of Tom Lannon, a graduate student from Cambridge University, who remains ambivalent about pursuing a conventional life. After traveling to Sierra Leone in the aftermath of its devastating civil war, Tom meets a writer who helps him explore the possibilities of renewal. Illustrating the fact that certain aspects of human existence are common to all people regardless of culture and history,Harmattanremakes the distinction between home and world and the relationship between knowledge and life.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53905-0
    Subjects: Anthropology, History, Language & Literature, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[xii])
  3. Part One Limitrophes
    (pp. 1-44)

    For many years I was convinced that a clear line should be drawn between documentation and invention, particularly in ethnographic writing, where one’s first obligation is to do justice to the experience of those who welcomed or tolerated one’s presence in their communities. It is all very well borrowing narrative conventions, figurative language, and montage from fiction, poetry, and cinema in order to give life to a text and counteract the deadening effects of academic jargon and abstraction—something I had done in several ethnographic books written for a general rather than specifically academic readership.¹ But such experimentation, I believed,...

  4. Part Two Harmattan
    (pp. 45-174)

    For many years I’ve been trying to track down a phrase I originally associated with Thucydides-“stories happen to people with stories to tell.” The closest I got was a line from the last volume of Paul Auster’sNew York Trilogy—“stories only happen to those who are able to tell them.” I would not mind if the phrase I had carried in my head for twenty years beforeThe New York Trilogywas published turned out to be a garbled version of something Paul Auster wrote, for his preoccupation with shape-shifting was also mine—the curious way in which individuals...

  5. Back Matter
    (pp. 175-182)