Please I would love it if someone could explain the role played by Senghor's epistemological theory in the development of African Philosophy.


You might find some clues in the extract below from Michael J. C. Echeruo, 'Negritude and History: Senghor's Argument with Frobenius', Research in African Literatures, Vol. 24, No. 4, Special Issue in Memory of Josaphat Bekunuru Kubayanda (Winter, 1993), pp. 1-13 :

The "influence" of Frobenius is one that Leopold S. Senghor himself has acknowledged in rather profuse terms. "Et nous portons encore, dans notre esprit et dans notre ame, les marques du maitre, comme des tatouages executes aux ceremonies d'initiation dans le bois sacre" ("Les Lecons" 398). [And we still carry the mark of the master in our minds and spirits, like a form of tattooing carried out in the initiation ceremonies in the sacred grove ("Lessons" vii).] This acknowledgment has usually been read as a gesture of dependence; as positive proof of the incorporation of Senghor into the totality of Western discourse. V. Y. Mudimbe, especially in The Invention of Africa, has tried to both show how earnestly Senghor adopted what Mudimbe calls the "Western ratio" and to explain how, in the process, Senghor's Negritude has become a text constructed on the body of a larger Western discourse, and liable to collapse outside it (Invention 93ff.). Senghor is thus quite simply the efficient practitioner of a Western performance; his own contribution being to give a local turn to a grand European dance. Whence the suggestion, always, that Senghor is either parrot or protester: parrot to the extent that he propagates a view/system which is ultimately exterior to his own being, and therefore (for all its sense), meaningless in his context; and protester, secondly, since his desire is obviously to save his racial/cultural being from the agony of indifference and denigration that had dogged it as "[n-word]".

Frobenius is Senghor's weapon of opportunity within Western discourse, the text that exposes the vulnerable heel of that mighty Achilles. As if from a farce, Senghor is able to joke his way into victory by as it were masking with the enemy: "We let ourselves be seduced by Leo Frobenius's brilliant thesis according to which the Negro soul and the German soul were sisters" ("Message" 83-84; qtd. in Hymans 64-65). The underlying argument in these positions is that those African discourses which are contingent on those of the West are always and necessarily dominated or "colonized." The colonial library is the school from which every post- or ex-colonial African subject graduates. Frobenius's Destiny of Civilizations thus becomes another canonical text, "parmi les livres sacres," Senghor says, "de toute une generation d'etudiants noirs" ("Negritude" 13) [among the sacred texts of a whole generation of black students]. "From the perspective of the twentieth-century humanism, few pages have convinced me as thoroughly as those in Frobenius's Destiny of Civilization" ("Revolution" 87).

I want to re-read Senghor on Frobenius with a view to showing that these assumptions concerning how "Others" read and use Western discourses may need serious revision; and that Senghor's apparently generous appropriations of the West, far from being evidence of subordination, point to a common African discursive practice of "accommodation," a mode for negating that kind of obsessive concern for difference which is so central to European thought and (justifiably) to the Foucauldian method adopted by Mudimbe in his effort to "unmask" the Western ratio in the African literary canon" (Diawara 80). This African mode substitutes the concept for ANOTHER for ONE and OTHER, thence creating the ALL, the concept of the "universal" which is Senghor's challenge to Western discourse. And this is not to contradict the point of Abiola Irele's conclusion (in The African Experience) that Senghor's Negritude "lies outside the historical process. It is first and foremost a distinctive mode of being and of existence, particular to the black man, which can be deduced from his way of life-and which constitutes his identity, in the original sense of the word" (Irele 70-71). It is rather to argue that a European concept of "difference" rooted in the idea of the absolute "Other" is, in Senghor's text, replaced with a different concept of difference based on a necessary seriality of identities. Because there is ONE, there is ANOTHER; hence OTHERS. The UNIVERSAL is ALL. There is no more telling reminder of this accommodationist approach and of the particular acuity of Senghor's responses than a comparison with the comment of Nnamdi Azikiwe in My Odyssey: "By delving into various schools of philosophy" under the tutelage of Alain Locke, Azikiwe recalls:

...I was convinced that although the western system was more systematic than the African, nevertheless African philosophy was practical in the sense that people did not waste time on logic and frivolous arguments. Their philosophy was more pragmatic in that it was related to the practical problems of everyday life which they solved by adapting themselves to the logic of reason and experience. (120)

Mudimbe has drawn attention to one complication arising from the fact of African indebtedness to European ideas, namely that we fail to appreciate the nature of the "Africanization" of foreign ideas which results. In Mudimbe's view, those critics (especially African critics) are wrong who see Senghor as a promoter of "some famous oppositions which, out of context, could appear to embrace perspectives proper to certain racist theoreticians" including Frobenius (94). But Mudimbe equates Senghor's "use" of Western thinkers with an appropriation of them; and so constructs an immense conflict between method and theory; for instance, between Marxism as method and Marxism as a "theory of knowledge":

It is one thing to use [Marxism's] schemes for analyzing and understanding the complexity of social formations, and another to accept the idea that social complexities universally fit into the concept of the class struggle and express the need to deny religion. (94)

For to consolidate this opposition is to seek to harmonize the totality of one view into the totality of the other; to harmonize theory and method, European and African in another imperial order. Senghor's debt to Marx, as to Frobenius, is fraternal, contingent, and parallel: "We are socialists because we accept Marx and Engels and believe in the usefulness of their analysis of societies" (qtd. in Mudimbe 93).

Hence, there is an African view of discourse according to which all primary texts (alpha-discourses) are "fraternal," that is, they are related to one another across time and culture; with each one sustaining a crucial element of the total "inheritance" of the benevolent father, the symbolic ALL. Every Other is Another-a serial rather than an oppositional moment of difference. Senghor's "Universal" text is, thus, not the imperial, colonizing, dominating impulse which absorbs other texts into its own particular being, but a quilt of adjacent and related texts, texts which make sense because, together, they "accommodate"-make room for-themseselves and others. This concept, by virtue of which all texts are are expropriable, is alien to the kind of totalizing which informs the European discourse mode. (pp. 1-3.)

I have allowed myself a more than usual amount of quotation because the article from which the material has been taken may be dificult to obtain.


Frobenius, Leo. Le Destin des Civilisations. Paris: Gallimard, 1940.

Frobenius, Leo., Histoire de la Civilisation Africaine. Paris: Gallimard, 1936.

Azikiwe, Nnamdi. My Odyssey: An Autobiography. London: C. Hurst, 1970.

Hymans, Jacques Louis. Leopold Sedar Senghor: An Intellectual Biography. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 1971.

Mudimbe, V. Y. The Invention of Africa: Gnosis, Philosophy, and the Order of Knowledge. Bloomington, IN: Indiana UP; London: James Curry, 1988.

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