Ecologies of Knowledges: Roundtables on Emancipation

Felwine Sarr


Type: Lab

Ecologies of Knowledges hosted two roundtable discussions around the idea of emancipation, inviting visiting speakers to re-read the work of Léopold Sédar Senghor and Suzanne Césaire in the contemporary moment.

Re-Reading Senghor

October 20, 2023
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"Re-reading Senghor" is the first event for ECOLOGIES OF KNOWLEDGES, a part of The Entanglement Project, a multi-stranded initiative at the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute focused on race, health, and climate.

Scholars Souleymane Bachir Diagne (Professor of French and of Philosophy, and Director of the Institute of African Studies at Columbia University), Fatoumata Seck (Assistant Professor of French and Italian at Stanford University), Beata Stawarska (Professor of Philosophy at University of Oregon), and Cheikh A. Thiam (Professor of English and Black Studies at Amherst College) gathered for a roundtable discussion on the themes of culture, emancipation, vital impulse, and political philosophy in Senghor's work that examined why we re-read Senghor today and how his thought can help us to rethink critical contemporary issues. 


Souleymane Bachir Diagne, "On the Civilization of the Universal"

I will examine the genealogy in Senghor's thinking of the concept of a "civilization of the universal", which gives his philosophical work its orientation. I will analyze the connection between that concept and those of "cosmopolitical federalism", "humanist socialism" and "planetization". Doing that, I will evoke the authors with whom Léopold Sédar Senghor builds his concept of the “civilization of the universal”.

Fatoumata Seck, "Senghorian Negritude as Ideological Independence"

This talk examines how Senghor redefined Negritude as a means of achieving ideological independence during the Global Sixties. It shows how, in the face of mounting domestic and international criticism against his regime and his philosophy, Senghor attempted to transform Negritude into an alternative perspective amidst the polarizing ideological landscape of the Cold War and its impact on the Global South. Through this process, he underscored the imperative for a renewed political and cultural imagination among his detractors who were advocating for revolutionary decolonization.

Beata Stawarska, "Senghor's Relational Ontology"

In my talk, I will interpret selected untranslated writings by Senghor to track the influence of animism and existentialism on his vitalism. I will propose that Senghor’s philosophy is best captured by a relational ontology due to the non-hierarchical and reciprocal interplay of vital forces. Senghor’s philosophy therefore construed social and political relations differently from the Belgian Bantu Philosophy with which it is often associated.

Cheikh A. Thiam, "Negritude, Endogeneity, and Decolonial African Studies"

The history of Senghorian criticism has always vacillated between a reading of Négritude as a positive, inclusive reappraisal of the experience of people of African descent, or as an essentialist representation of the being of the "Black Man".  In both cases, Négritude appears as a "reaction" to the colonial epistemic and political project. It does not escape the coloniality of knowledge, in that it reaffirms the centrality of the modern Western subject. The reading of Senghor's life and work that I propose here shows, however, that his intellectual production is not necessarily dependent on the Western colonial project.  My objectives in this exercise are twofold. First, I attempt to focus on the African sources of Senghor's philosophical thought. Secondly, and in the same vein, I explore how a rereading of Senghorian philosophy from an African perspective can clarify, nuance or even push further important reflections in our discipline, in this case, Edouard Glissant's theory of Créolisation and Paul Gilroy's theory of the Black Atlantic. On the one hand, my intervention has the potential to center Africa in the discipline of francophone studies, which unfortunately tends to center the French intellectual tradition by emphasizing, if not white French academics, by highlighting, if not white French academics, at least black academics who are steeped in French culture. On the other hand, my presentation has the potential to include, in the discipline of African studies strongly dominated by Anglophones, voices from non-Anglophone intellectual traditions that offer perspectives that the latter "ignore" in order to think Africa in its pluriversality.

Re-Visiting Suzanne Césaire's Intellectual Legacy

November 17, 2023
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ENTANGLEMENT: ECOLOGIES OF KNOWLEDGES brought together filmmaker/artist Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich(link opens in a new window/tab), Assistant Professor of French and Francophone Studies Corine Labridy (link opens in a new window/tab)(University of Pennsylvania), and John Spencer Bassett Associate Professor of Romance Studies Annette Joseph-Gabriel(link opens in a new window/tab) (Duke University) for "Re-Visiting Suzanne Césaire's Intellectual Legacy." The seminar discussed the work and thought of Suzanne Césaire by analyzing her political dissidence, her vision of Black and Caribbean identities, her analytical and poetic work in the revue Tropiques, and her intellectual legacy in Africana literature, art, and philosophy.


Annette Joseph-Gabriel, "A World Yet to Come: Suzanne Césaire’s Poetics of Liberation"

Suzanne Césaire’s legacy in Caribbean literature is characterized by an uneasy combination of absence and presence. To the growing body of scholarship on her published works, this talk adds an exploration of her unpublished writings. Examining Césaire’s thought from the vantage point of so-called “minor” genres reveals her prescient vision of Caribbean identity that was far ahead of its time. Césaire espoused a poetics of liberation that envisioned Black art forms as sites of anti-colonial resistance, and as the very expression of freedom.

Corine Labridy, "Reading (with) Suzanne Césaire in the 21st Century"

Two fundamental interrelated objectives underpin Suzanne Césaire’s essays in Tropiques: the search for a faithful poetic expression of Antillean culture and the denunciation of the untenable material conditions of colonial life. Even as (or perhaps because) she theorized these preoccupations during particularly dystopian times, Césaire imagined the most luminous futures where poetry would purify ‘colonial idiocies,’ and humans could grow and live in archipelagic harmony. The conceptual apparatus she developed in those somber years is well worth re-visiting today because, once more, Black Antillean futurity must be imagined anew, swept up as it is by the centripetal force of France’s capitalist brand of colorblind universalism and the centrifugal pressures of globalization. What kind of literature can hold its ground in this storm? What are our new archipelagoes? What grammar can we use to think through these questions? After what some scholars considered a “stalled time” in the progression of writing in the French Caribbean, young authors and artists are emerging. We have entered the post-Créolité era and it is exciting once again to read and write about the Antilles. Who better to read with than Césaire? In this intervention, I read some new works as Césaire might have, but I also locate in them traces of the “homme-plante” and the “grand camouflage,” among other vital concepts. 

Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich, "The Ballad of Suzanne Césaire"

Filmmaker Madeline Hunt-Ehrlich discusses her forthcoming film The Ballad of Suzanne Césaire.