Inspiration is drawn from too many sources to list here, so I will only feature a few. You will get a better idea of the wells from which I draw water by looking over my “Family!” (list of links) and from the posts themselves. The inspirations that appear below are presented only in alphabetical order, not in order of importance. I chose to place here those that have had the longest influence on my thinking, or those that have had the greatest personal impact.
Frantz Fanon (1925-1961), from Martinique, was a revolutionary, a veteran soldier of World War II, a psychiatrist, a philosopher and author motivated by an intense disgust with colonial racism and he wrote extensively about the psychopathology of colonialism. He was a friend and supporter of Aimé Césaire. He worked in Algeria as a psychiatrist, developing a therapy for those suffering from the ills of a radically divided world under French colonial domination. He joined the National Liberation Front and later the Army of National Liberation in Tunisia. His works have had a profound international impact on anti-colonial, anti-racist, and independence struggles around the world. His main works were:
Black Skin, White Masks
A Dying Colonialism
The Wretched of the Earth
Toward the African Revolution
For more about the work and life of Frantz Fanon, see this page, from which the following was extracted:
To overcome the binary system in which black is bad and white is good, Fanon argues that an entirely new world must come into being. This utopian desire, to be absolutely free of the past, requires total revolution, “absolute violence” (37). Violence purifies, destroying not only the category of white, but that of black too. According to Fanon, true revolution in Africa can only come from the peasants, or “fellaheen.” Putting peasants at the vanguard of the revolution reveals the influence of the FLN, who based their operations in the countryside, on Fanon’s thinking. Furthermore, this emphasis on the rural underclass highlights Fanon’s disgust with the greed and politicking of the comprador bourgeoisie in new African nations. The brand of nationalism espoused by these classes, and even by the urban proletariat, is insufficient for total revolution because such classes benefit from the economic structures of imperialism. Fanon claims that non-agrarian revolutions end when urban classes consolidate their own power, without remaking the entire system. In his faith in the African peasantry as well as his emphasis on language, Fanon anticipates the work of Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, who finds revolutionary artistic power among the peasants.
You can read some of his work online at the Frantz Fanon Archive.
I don’t know where to begin with this entry. Roi is someone who touched me very deeply, whose passing left a big gaping hole, whose presence I had taken for granted, collaborating and corresponding online for several years. I had fallen behind in my replies to his emails, not knowing how sick he was and that he was in his last months. So even after he passed away, I insisted on sending him one last email message. What I present below is culled from a variety of obituaries, websites and newspaper articles about Roi, which makes it easier to present something about him.
I choose the medium of poetry conscious of the power that the spoken word commands, recognizing the damage done via our miseducation . . . conscious of the lost and subsequent refertilization of our language(s). (Interview with Prof. Lauri Ramey, Dept. of English, California State University)
Throughout the six sections of Whether Or Not [collection of poetry], we see the continuing motif of how language is used aesthetically and politically — for purposes of appropriation, disenfranchisement, construction (and deprivation) of identity, the agony of erasure and marginalisation, the insistent shout for recognition, and the exuberant joys of sensuosity. — Dr. Lauri Ramey
Roi Kwabena’s is celebratory poetry. He celebrates not only himself and the spirit of the time, the joy of being now and alive to the pulsating rhythm of the imagination, he salutes ‘geographical’ wonders and emotions, places and feelings that evoke/provoke memory in new ways of seeing the familiar. His is also a lyricism of re-naming, re-claiming, valorizing, putting the common-place in a proper (and literary) perspective; the true baptism. — Lennox Raphael
Dr. Roi Ankhkara Kwabena was born on the Caribbean island of Trinidad in 1956 and died of lung cancer on January 9, 2008. He wass a cultural anthropologist, a public intellectual, who worked with all age ranges in Europe, Africa, Latin-America and the Caribbean for over thirty years. In commemoration of the UN’s International Literacy Year 1990 he was “Writer In Residence” at the Trinidad’s Public Library. Roi was also appointed the sixth Poet Laureate for the UK’s second city of Birmingham (2001-2002). He hosted numerous readings by writers and actively promoted literature development for over thirty years internationally. His poetry was commissioned for diverse purposes. He lectured and performed at many schools, universities, cultural and social venues. In the mid 1990s he served as a Senator in the Parliament of his home country, Trinidad and Tobago. He was also a Senior Advisor to the Department of Education in Anguilla, B.W.I. Roi’s affirmative advocacy ensured his suitability for a variety of specialist projects addressing wide ranging issues such as functional and Cultural literacy, therapeutic harvesting of Memories by elders and young people (including cross generational dialogue) Anti-Racism, Community Cohesion, Social Inclusion, Cultural Diversity, redefining the Heritages of Indigenous peoples plus confidence building for prisoners, excluded and traumatized students, Refugees, etc. Dr Kwabena was renowned for using critical analysis to examine the historical roots of racism and to assess the direct relevance this has on our lives today.
Roi Kwabena, one of history’s 50 greatest “Black Achievers.”
Obituary to Roi Kwabena on the BBC.
See: Roi Kwabena’s page on Postcolonial Web: Literature of the Caribbean
See: An Interview with Roi Kwabena, by Eric Doumerc, University of Toulouse-Le Mirail, France.
Some of Roi Kwabena’s publications:
About the Caribbean. Tamara Productions, 1986. Later editions published by Raka Publications.
Manifestations. Selected Poems (1985-1995) Afroets Press and Fachschaft Anglistik, University of Augsburg, 1995. Student publication.
Nubian Saints of Krstianity: A comprehensive listing with profiles and authentic excerpts of ancient nubic and sacred texts. Raka Publications, 1996.
Kush Reclaimed. Raka Publications, 1997. (poetry)
A Job for the Hangman. Raka Publications, 1997. (poetry)
Never Trouble, Trouble. Raka Publications, 2001. (stories and poetry for children)
An Equal Opportunity. Raka Publications? nd (Selected excerpts of speeches, parliamentary debates, essays, and lectures)
Making of Ta-Meri-Ka Black Woman in Time. Raka Publications? nd (women’s history)
George Orwell (1903-1950) was born Eric Arthur Blair in India to a British family. Orwell took many paths in life, from policeman to vagabond to teacher to journalist, essayist, novelist, and even a fighter in the Spanish Civil War, beginning as a self-described “Tory anarchist” and ending as an independent socialist. The most pronounced of all of Orwell’s paths was that of anti-authoritarian/anti-totalitarian radical democrat. In his essay, “Why I Write,” an obvious inspiration for this site, he explained:
In a peaceful age I might have written ornate or merely descriptive books, and might have remained almost unaware of my political loyalties. As it is I have been forced into becoming a sort of pamphleteer. First I spent five years in an unsuitable profession (the Indian Imperial Police, in Burma), and then I underwent poverty and the sense of failure. This increased my natural hatred of authority and made me for the first time fully aware of the existence of the working classes, and the job in Burma had given me some understanding of the nature of imperialism: but these experiences were not enough to give me an accurate political orientation. Then came Hitler, the Spanish Civil War, etc. By the end of 1935 I had still failed to reach a firm decision.
Continuing in words that marked him forever in my mind as one of the most memorable writers and activists of all time, Orwell says:
The Spanish war and other events in 1936-37 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, AGAINST totalitarianism and FOR democratic socialism, as I understand it. It seems to me nonsense, in a period like our own, to think that one can avoid writing of such subjects. Everyone writes of them in one guise or another. It is simply a question of which side one takes and what approach one follows. And the more one is conscious of one’s political bias, the more chance one has of acting politically without sacrificing one’s aesthetic and intellectual integrity.
As with many of his other readers today, his two most important novels for me are Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949).
Today many of Orwell’s works, if not all, are available online as copyright-free, open access materials. I recommend:
See the GEORGE ORWELL DIARIES (blog)
Ashis Nandy was born in India in 1937 and has made an international mark as an academic and public intellectual, named one of the world’s Top 100 Public Intellectuals by Foreign Policy magazine. Nandy is a Fellow at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, in Delhi, and Chairperson of the Committee for Cultural Choices and Global Futures, also in Delhi. He is also a member of the Executive Councils of the World Futures Studies Federation, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, the International Network for Cultural Alternatives to Development, and the People’s Union for Civil Liberties. Nandy lists his research interests as: “political psychology, mass violence, cultures and politics of knowledge, utopias and visions.” He has also written on the history of science and technology, the post-colonial state, alternatives to “development,” alternative politics, religion, and cricket in India. His works have been translated into Chinese, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Malayalam, Polish, Russian, and Spanish (and most of the languages of the Indian subcontinent). Nandy has distinguished himself in crossing sociology with clinical psychology, which has marked his treatments of political psychology, the psychopathology of colonialism, mass violence, and nationalism. Nandy’s philosophy of tradition and change draws heavily on the thinking of Gandhi. Nandy earned all of his degrees at Indian universities.
My writings seem to arouse more hostility when they coincide, accidentally or otherwise, with something that a large number of political analysts feel tempted to say by the insistent empirical realities of life but do not, for reasons of political correctness. Because they have to fight within themselves the conclusions they have reluctantly drawn, they feel disturbed, guilty and complicit when someone else brings them to the fore. Many criticisms of my writings, whether by worthy scions of metropolitan India or by living symbols of academic respectability elsewhere, act mainly as forms of exorcism…
Any talk of nonmodern or traditional forms of knowledge in public life arouses the fear that such knowledge might lead to large-scale displacement or uprooting in the world of knowledge, that the familiar world of knowledge might shrink, if not collapse and, in the new world that might come into being, there will be less space for the likes of us. What Sigmund Freud says about the inescapable human fantasy of immortality – our inability to visualise a world without us – applies in this instance, too. Many of us are haunted by the question: ‘What will be my place in a non-secular or nonmodern world?’ We cannot conceive of good society without our ideas and ourselves at its helm. (source)
His books include:
Alternative Sciences: Creativity and Authenticity in Two Indian Scientists (First published 1980; 2nd Edition New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1995).
At the Edge of Psychology: Essays on Politics and Culture (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1980, paperback, 1990).
The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self Under Colonialism (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1983, paperback, 1988).
The Savage Freud and Other Essays in Possible and Retrievable Selves (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1995, and Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1995).
Time Warps: The Insistent Politics of Silent and Evasive Pasts (New Delhi: Permanent Black, London: C. Hurst and Co., New York: Rutgers University Press, 2002).
The Future of Knowledge and Culture; A Twenty-First Century Dictionary (ed. with Vinay Lal), (New Delhi: Penguin, 2005).
Walter Rodney (1942-1980) was born in Georgetown, Guyana. Rodney was a scholar and activist whose presence in the political and intellectual landscapes of Guyana, Jamaica, and Tanzania is remembered to this day. With growing unrest in the post-independence Caribbean, Rodney propelled a strong vision of social justice and transformation and Pan-Africanism, which led to his being banned entry into Jamaica, which in turn led to the bloody “Rodney Riots” of late 1968. In 1966 Rodney graduated with a Ph.D. with Honours in African History from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London. He previously graduated from the University of the West Indies’ Mona campus in Jamaica. He returned to UWI which in the late 1960s and 1970s was a hotbed for radical thinking and activism. Rodney also taught at the University of Michigan and the State University of New York at Binghamton. Rodney was assassinated in Georgetown on June 13, 1980.
His classic from 1973 is available online, full text for free: How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.
Immanuel Wallerstein was a former teacher of mine while I was a student at the State University of New York at Binghamton, from 1994 to 1997. I took classes with him, and with his colleagues, Giovanni Arrighi and Anthony King. Wallerstein was born in New York in 1930 and for the first decades of his life as an academic, first at McGill University in Montreal, and then later at Binghamton and now Yale, Wallerstein was primarily interested in African affairs, switching later to the development of a macroscopic understanding of the world as a whole. He has become the leading spokesperson for world-systems analysis, a paradigm born of the critique of modernization, the anti-colonial movement, and dependency. Wallerstein, with colleagues such as Arrighi, the late Terence Hopkins (who also taught at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad for a while), and others, proposed that the world be analyzed as a single socio-economic system divided between core and periphery, with a single division of labour that accumulated capital in the core and away from the periphery. This capitalist world system has its own geoculture as well, the culture of liberalism (liberalism understood properly as the ideology of capitalism and individualism, and not in the U.S. media distortion of it as some euphemism for “leftist” ideas). Wallerstein has predicted the imminent demise of U.S. hegemony, and the likely undoing of the global capitalist system by 2050. He has published an immense number of books and a vast number of articles, too many to even provide an adequate sample listing here — those that have had the greatest influence on me include:
The Modern World-System, vol. I: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century. New York/London: Academic Press, 1974.
The Capitalist World-Economy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979.
The Modern World-System, vol. II: Mercantilism and the Consolidation of the European World-Economy, 1600-1750. New York: Academic Press, 1980.
(with Terence K. Hopkins et al.): World-Systems Analysis: Theory and Methodology. Beverly Hills: Sage, 1982.
Historical Capitalism. London: Verso, 1983.
The Politics of the World-Economy. The States, the Movements and the Civilizations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.
The Modern World-System, vol. III: The Second Great Expansion of the Capitalist World-Economy, 1730-1840s. San Diego: Academic Press, 1989.
(with Giovanni Arrighi and Terence K. Hopkins): Antisystemic Movements. London: Verso, 1989
(with Étienne Balibar): Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities. London: Verso, 1991.
Geopolitics and Geoculture: Essays on the Changing World-System. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Unthinking Social Science: The Limits of Nineteenth Century Paradigms. Cambridge: Polity, 1991.
After Liberalism. New York: New Press, 1995.
Utopistics: Or, Historical Choices of the Twenty-first Century. New York: New Press, 1998.
The End of the World As We Know It: Social Science for the Twenty-first Century. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999.
The Uncertainties of Knowledge. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2004.
European Universalism: The Rhetoric of Power. New York: New Press, 2006.