A Brief Look at Sri Lanka and the UAE through Ngũgĩ’s “Globalectics”

To start writing a commentary on Ngũgĩ’s book, Globalectics, is no easy task because he has such profound ideas that he really gives the reader a lot to think about. Published in 2012, Ngũgĩ’s book is about the theory and politics behind knowledge and knowing (for all you IB folks, this is a TOK moment). In the most basic sense, Ngũgĩ discusses the problems with language and writing that both enters and exits African literature from a colonial point of view. He speaks of how colonialism led to the production but also the distortion of knowledge. Most memorably he comments on how “the colonial process dislocates the traveler’s mind from the place he or she already knows to a foreign starting point…. It is a process of continuous alienation from the base” (39). One therefore is always looking at oneself through the eyes of another. He relates this specifically to African literature, however his arguments can be applied to almost any former colony.

I grew up in Sri Lanka, and the notion of pride or patriotism is a surprisingly difficult concept to discuss. Outside the craziness and extreme pride people feel over the national cricket team, it is very rare that there is a sense of ‘Lankan pride’. I bring this up because so often we’re used to putting down our own country by beginning to say things like, “Oh yeah, the UK was amazing, not like here because….” I even went to a local school for a large portion of my academic life, and there was never an attempt to really emphasize how special Sri Lanka truly is, not even from a historical standpoint. Like seriously, so many amazing people journeyed to Sri Lanka (Pablo Neruda, Che Guevara, Marco Polo) and some even spent a great deal of their lives there (Arthur C. Clarke), but if you point this out to people the most common question in response is “Why?” And I’ll admit I’m guilty of this too, having been extremely surprised that artists like Lionel Wendt and authors like Michael Ondaatje are actually Sri Lanka (emphasis on the ‘actually’). I really think this lack of pride has something to do with our colonial past, but this is a discussion for another day. Point is, I think we’re so often used to seeing ourselves from an outsider’s perspective, and more often than not we hear the negatives rather than the positives.

What’s so interesting and profound about Ngũgĩ’s work is his concept of ‘globalectics’. He tries to define this concept as having been “derived from the shape of the globe…. The mutual containment of hereness and thereness in time and space” (60). In globalectics, there are no power struggles. It is essentially about being connected with one another, “breaking open the prison house of imagination built by theories and outlooks” that limit the view of the world and its inhabitants (61). Ngũgĩ, towards the end of his book particularly, discusses the role of art (dance, performance, etc.) and how it connects to this idea of globalectics. It is so interesting to think about Abu Dhabi (since I live here) in this sense and the kinds of work that is produced because of the population makeup of the United Arab Emirates. Only 10% of the population are local Emiratis, and everyone else really comes from all over the place. So there’s always the question of what does national identity mean within the UAE. The UAE has transformed over such a short time in so many ways, that it is a testament to the idea that identity is not a fixed concept but one that is constantly evolving.

Works Cited:
Wa Thiong’o, Ngũgĩ. Globalectics: Theory and the Politics of Knowing. New York: Columbia UP, 2012. Print.


One comment

  1. hk1772 · November 1, 2015

    “Dear Harshini,

    First of all, I love the title of your blog. Echoing N’gugi, it feels
    like you are framing theater as a journey and a place of discovery.
    In your first Globalectics post, it would be helpful if you, in the
    first two sentences unpacked the idea of Globalectics and when you
    offhandedly write to some readers using an acronym like TOK – it would
    be helpful to unpack that to the audience who feels left out of the
    interpellation. For Globalectics is not merely a “book about the
    theory and the politics behind knowledge and knowing” – it connects
    how dominant pedagogies and formations of knowledge have supported
    colonial power structures and then, what he proceeds to do is offer
    the methods in which he understands how one can “undo” this
    power/knowledge pairing – by decentering knowledge production from the
    center of colonial power and decolonizing one’s own mind by choosing
    other systems of culture that are more inclusive of language and
    embodied performance. At the end of your first paragraph you get that
    the colonial process alienate the subject from how they are emplaced
    and embodied – but why is this a problem?! Don’t just pull the quote
    out from the book and explain that “one is always looking at oneself
    through the eyes of another.” Why is this form of alienation a
    problem for the individual subject? For social formations?

    You then move to offer an experiential affirmation of what colonialism
    can do to subjects who now cannot appreciate or feel pride in their
    sense of place and culture. So the example as a case study is great –
    really great. But then do the next thing and connect N’gugi’s
    analysis to the experience you narrate. The connections are implicit
    – when you begin to write more posts and use ideas and theory to apply
    to a case study of performance (or sometimes it could be the other way
    around), don’t lose the theoretical text. Write an example – like
    your story the denial of your country’s influence on Chilean and
    American writers and follow the why – how is it that kind of
    diffidence and humiliation is sustained? How do certain modes of
    teaching, how does a privelging of certain kinds of material
    contribute to a higher valuation of other cultures than your own?
    Allow the theory to help you make the connections and do more
    analytical work – the conclusions using the story alone are not as
    self-evident for the reader as you think they are.

    Your third paragraph in the essay should be moved up to the first, and
    again, you need to unpack the quotes that define the theory of
    Globalectics -why are the reconfigurations of time and space more
    democratic and inclusive? And don’t just tell me that N’gugi
    discusses the role of art and performance in this – this is a
    performance class! This should be front and center to the post. You
    then move to the question of the UAE and give some facts, but then
    leap to a conjecture without analysis. Don’t overreach. Stay with
    one or two ideas and go deeper into the analysis. You have shown
    yourself so capable of doing so – don’t spread your focus to too many

    In the Schechner response its sweet that you give information about
    Schechner as a founder of the field of performance studies, but
    connect that to the topic – make the information mean something. If
    you hadn’t thought about the concepts he offered in which to
    understand the critical components of performance, then bring those
    two discoveries together in a much more profound manner. How is it
    that the definition of a script as a pattern of doing changes what you
    think about performance? You do well reiterating the distinctions
    between drama, script, theater and performance. And you then label
    Toshi’s show a performance – but how can you find the other elements
    in it? Earlier you noted that the smaller components operate in the
    constellation but you then don’t take that into the analysis. Go
    further! Again connect the theory to what you see, make then talk to
    one another. You do a great job in the final piece of writing making
    the argument for the supplement – you unpack the term well and argue
    how Toshi’s work functions in that regard. In that piece of writing,
    you seem to come into your own.

    You have a fantastic eye, a beautiful sense of rich description and
    you will end up being an amazing writer. Don’t take on too much,
    unpack critical terms and find how the performance becomes the
    realization of those ideas – an then supplements them too.”

    -Debra Levine
    Assistant Professor of Theatre, NYU Abu Dhabi


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