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