Defense and illustration of the “horizontal universal”, with

The Senegalese philosopher Souleymane Bachir Diagne published this year his autobiography, “Le fagot de ma mémoire”. He develops his favorite themes, which range from postcolonial to critical thinking in Islam, including African philosophies. Since 2008, the author has taught at Columbia University in New York, where he heads the Institute of African Studies. Here is the second part of the column that Tirthankar Chanda dedicates to this famous thinker and researcher.

When we ask Souleymane Bachir Diagne how his taste for philosophical thinking was born, he refers to his reading of The Koran, which was the first text he learned to read and recite, like most Muslim children. He tells how, as a little boy, when he woke up in the morning, he listened to his father sing passages from the holy book of Islam. He retains fond memories of this privileged moment, especially since he had the impression of meeting angels who, according to tradition, “come to listen to those who have worn themselves out from the sweetness of sleep, at dawn., To invoke God by repeating his words ”?

It is an unusual course, the one for Souleymane Bachir Diagne. Raised in Senegal in the family tradition of rational and Sufi Islam, the first Senegalese philosophical association, specially trained by Louis Althusser and Jacques Derrida in the purest Western analytical and critical tradition at the École Normale Supérieure de la rue d’Ulm in Paris, professor today at Columbia University of New York, Souleymane Bachir Diagne is one of the most respected voices in contemporary philosophy.

Althusserian and SufiThe man is also a researcher whose work leads the three continents in dialogue. He is the author of about twenty books which, among other things, deal with philosophical and critical thoughts in Islam, the influence of Bergson’s thought on Serer. Senghor and the Indo-Muslim Mohammed Iqbal, or the relationship between Africa and the West. The author is happy to recall that it was under friendly pressure from his editor, Philippe Rey, that he wrote last year, with the benefit of containment, a short autobiography, soberly labeled Le fagot de ma mémoire, where he looks back on his unique journey as an althusserian and Sufi, to quote his philosophical friends.

“Prison, which was linked to humanity discovering its own vulnerability,” explains Souleymane Bachir Diagne, “favored the work of returning to oneself. I was in an atmosphere of meditation, which basically contributes to this type of writing. You were had to be in mind accessibility, which was easier to achieve because of this availability in time that the containment brought with it. ”

Why do people write their memoirs at 66? According to the philosopher, the main purpose of writing this autobiography was to try to understand and clarify why and how he had basically left a philosopher in a very technical field, which was algebra. And logic, to this figure of postcolonial thinking and the Islamic question that he has become today.

Provincialize EuropeHowever, it will be necessary to wait almost for the last pages of the book for Souleymane Bashir Diagne to address the issue. “postcolonialityof which he has become one of the most eager excuses. He calls for the decolonization of the senses and the fantasies and intervenes in the hot intellectual debates that this theme always arouses and opposes the euro centers against the decolonials.

What do you think is postcolonial, Souleymane Bachir Diagne?

“I admit that I do not know what the postcolonial is,” replies the philosopher. Like everyone else, I have my own definition of this concept. I would say that it is linked to the idea of ​​an intellectual decolonization, which follows the political decolonization, which is being achieved today to a great extent. In my mind, I identify the postcolonial with a pluralization of the world. What was basically colonial dominance? It stemmed from the idea that a region of the world, in this case Europe, saw itself quite naturally as the bearer of a universal that would be part of its mission to give love to humanity. She had arrogated for herself this unreasonable privilege of representing man in his universality. But since then, the majority of the world has sprung onto the stage of history and put Europe in its place: a region among others. Admittedly, an important region, which explains why the world continues to Europeanize. It is also Africanised at the same time, for example in art, in science, in creativity. It is crossed by several flows, it has become numerous and is no longer centered in Europe. To me, it’s postcolonial. It is synonymous with the decentering of the world. ”

Souleymane Bachir Diagne’s interest in postcolonialism is not from today. Let us not forget that this man was born in 1955, the year of the Bandung Conference, in Indonesia, during which the representatives of the colonized and newly independent countries reminded the colonization of Europe that no people had the right to colonize other peoples. The independence cascade that followed in the wake, especially in Africa, created the conditions under which the generation of Souleymane Bachir Diagne grew up, and drowned out the thoughts of an Aimé Césaire and a Frantz Fanon that made it possible to end complex relations between Africa and the West.

For the person concerned, the fateful date in this area was probably the year 2008. It is the year when, after studying the history of ideas in the Islamic world for more than 30 years, in Dakar, then in Chicago, he went to Columbia University, New York. . It turns out that this university is world famous for its particularly dynamic postcolonial department of study, created by the mythical tandem of the Palestinians Edouard Saïd and the Indian Gayatri Spivak. This duo made the defense of pluralism the common intellectual horizon in a world too long European-centered.

I am human and nothing human is foreign to me“If postcolonialism were a religion, perhaps Columbia would be its first temple,” writes philosopher Souleymane Bachir Diagne. In line with the true lineage of his new alma mater, the latter eagerly defends the postcolonial theses of “world decentralization” and “provincialization of Europe”. However, he does not renounce his ideal of universality, demands to “make common humanity”, to make his own concepts of “horizontal universality”, borrowed from the French philosopher Merleau -Ponty and “pluriversality” – a neologism that mixes “Plural” and ” universal ”, which we owe to the Argentine semiologist Walter Mignolo.

“The old humanistic proverb, ‘I am human and nothing human is foreign to me’, if we do not have a feeling that this word must continue to guide our thinking, we are in a compilation of special humanities, the thinker argues . This fragmented world is not the world we have to live in and I also believe that the challenges we face, ecological challenges, health challenges, remind us of how urgent it is to become a common humanity, to live on earth together, whose fragility and vulnerability we have discovered. “

To create a dialogue between cultures and civilizations, to “make humanity together and inhabit the earth together”. It is also the meaning of the word ubuntu, borrowed from African thinking, words that end the essential Le fagot de ma mémoire by Souleymane Bachir Diagne. This stimulating and rich book is an invitation to imagine the universal that is to come, a universal that promises to be rich in every detail.

Read Souleymane Bachir Diagne: the 5 essentials

►Léopold Sédar Senghor: African Art as Philosophy (Riveneuve, 2007)

► Postcolonial Bergson. The vital driving force in the thought of Léopold Sédar Senghor and Mohamed Iqbal (CNRS, 2011)

► Researchers’ ink. Reflections on Philosophy in Africa (Présence Africaine / Codesria, 2013)

►Hunting for Africa (s). Universalism and Decolonial Thinking, with Jean-Loup Amselle (Albin Michel, 2018)

►My Memory Bundle (Philippe Rey, 2021)


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