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Cooperation: "Mudimbe's Order of Things" with Jean-Pierre Bekolo in Attendance


Info   http://www.arsenal-berlin.de/berlinale-forum/news.html


Forum Expanded will be hosting the premiere of Jean-Pierre Bekolo's new documentary "Mudimbe's Order of Things", a portrait of one of Africa's most important still living philosophers with director Jean-Pierre Bekolo in attendance and followed by a conversation with Marie-Hélène Gutberlet. AfricAvenir is a media partner.

Jean Pierre Bekolo’s documentary film consists of an autobiographical interview of one of Africa’s living most profound and versatile philosophers, Valentin Yves Mudimbe. Born in 1941 in Likasi, in the Kasai region of today's Democratic Republic of Congo, Mudimbe's early education destines him for Benedictine priesthood. He does not eventually join priesthood, but his Benedictine background prepares him for a disciplined and focused lifestyle that contributes immensely to his intellectual acumen. Even though faithful to some of his Benedictine principles and lifestyle, Mudimbe is an eclectic scholar that sails above fixations of any kind. His earnest quest for knowledge will enable him straddle across different modes of belief, disciplinary boundaries, languages, cultures, or intellectual currents to which his oeuvre could be aligned. A philosopher and philologist by training, his contributions to history, literature, anthropology and even a field like psychiatry need not be overemphasized. More so, Mudimbe is versed in at least four African languages, key Romance and Germanic languages and classic languages like Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic and Latin.

Due to his uncompromising commitment to the defence of human rights and dignity in a context of dictatorship and ethnic feuds, Mudimbe is finally forced into exile by the regime of Mobutu Sese Seko. It is from this exilic space turned into home in the interstices of multiple cultures, that Mudimbe shares his perspectives on the cultural, social and political (r)evolutions of his time. Bekolo's documentary film is entirely cast in this home with doors always open to the stranger, a real and figurative space that one finds very intriguing in relation to the worldview of this uncommon thinker. This archive-home is not a settled space of identitarian essentialism as conventional notions of "home" would supposed, but rather a syncretic cohabitation of multiple cultural imaginaries belonging to different times and spaces. Mudimbe's home is a lively labyrinth in which books commingle with a collection of artifacts, relics, statues, carvings, portraits, paintings, photographs, maps, documents, medals that are collected, purchased by or offered to Mudimbe as presents and awards by friends and institutions as proof of lasting friendships as well as intellectual achievements. Behind this exchange of artifacts, lie an even profound dialectic transaction of ideas with other worldviews, schools of thoughts at the individual as well as the institutional level. As such, the questions that bother Mudimbe are not restricted to Africa, but speaking from the margins, he casts a critical view of the universal questions and to imperialist epistemologies, in the spirit of what Enrique Dussel qualifies as "transmodernism," a deconstruction of Western (post)modernism and the opening up of spaces for other stories, other altern(arr)atives.

One of Mudimbe's constant quests is to understand the trajectories of the African Diasporas in the Americas and their cultural resilience as they grapple with a terrible history of physical and psychological displacement and resentment dating back to the slave trade era. Exile and displacement become not a cause for a pernicious longing for lost home and origins, but a condition whose endless perplexity can be rechanneled into a creative impulse and an unsettling disposition capable of interrogating exclusivist politics and cultures. By making a home in exile, the subject casts a critical gaze at his origin and engages in a subversion of stable meanings of identity. In this figurative sense, exile becomes an essential fate of the intellectual at odds with orthodoxies as insinuated by Edwards Said in his autobiography with the telling title - Out of Place (2000).

Mudimbe delves deep into the paradoxes that accompany the history of the partition of Africa and its ramifications on the continent. Specifically, he gives a personal narrative of the conflicts in the Great Lakes Region and the colonial racist policies practiced by both the German and Belgian colonial administrations. In a similar line of thought with Mahmood Mamdani’s consideration of the ideological proximity between colonialism as practiced elsewhere in Africa with the South African Apartheid Mudimbe situates the responsibility for these conflicts within the colonial policies of divide and rule and their replication by the postcolonial political class(see Mamdani's When Victims Become Killers- Colonialism, Nativism and Genocide in Rwanda (2002) and Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism(1996)). In the case of Rwanda, where Mudimbe undertook part of his seminary studies, the different ethnicities were gradually converted through divisive colonial policies into distinct races with a hierarchical mindset that needed just the least spark in order to explode into internecine conflicts.

In this interactive documentary, Jean Pierre Bekolo and Mudimbe bring philosophy home to the common person by punctuating complex views on burning political occurrences and rigorous philosophical issues with narratives on Mudimbe's personal life. Most often the transitions between the personal and the philosophical takes the viewer by surprise. This approach fits quite well with Mudimbe’s approach to "the philosophy of everyday life," redolent of Michel de Certeau who underlines the fact that our supposedly benign daily actions are underlined by deep philosophical concepts. The sudden bursts of laughter concerning intriguing moments in his life cohabit with the visible remorse that Mudimbe feels towards the loaded histories of his country and continent even as he analyzes with the relative sobriety typical of philosophers. One underlying idea in Mudimbe's views, anecdotally captured in his perspectives on the disciplinary practices of history and anthropology, is that every form of discourse has a body, a home, or a space of elocution, as insinuated in the works of deconstructionist philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche, Michel Foucault, and Enrique Dussel. History and anthropology, disciplines which flourished during Enlightenment and its colonial enterprise, is underlined by a “will to power” and a Hegelian denial of the difference of the "other." His argument is that history is in itself historical and the social scientists deserve great measure of self-reflexivity if they would contribute to knowledge exchange in a globalised world. The necessity to accept and respect difference and the singularity of the “other” should inform our retrospective understanding of the bloodbaths in the Congo, South Africa, Rwanda but also at the heart of Western culture - the extermination camps of Auschwitz.

Mundimbe’s story is told through a juxtaposition of voice, image and silence. The serene voice narrates the story of an eventful life that equally gives us access into the trajectory of entire communities in a context where individual fate and of communal history interweave and inform one another. The unexpected pauses and silences speak of the tragic sense of grief in the face of violence and loss against which words are rendered powerless. The gallery of photos that line his corridor equally leads us into the corridors of other lives and intersected memories of his fellow friends, family members, mentors and students. These are not mere faces but rather dense lives with their dreams, hopes and visions, the outcome of which offer insights into twists of fate, paradox of existence, but also some happy endings. In portraying a life that is shared with others in papal precincts, academic conference rooms, family settings but also behind detention walls in Lubumbashi, this documentary is a testimony not only of intellectual accomplishment, but also the prerogative of Mitsein (Being With), an ethical obligation to the face of the other, in a typically Lavinasian sense. Apart from the faces on the wall to which Mudimbe constantly points, the future paths for Jean Pierre Bekolo and his colleagues in the film industry comes out clearly through constant reference or pointing to other African intellectuals like Eboussi Boulaga and Joseph Ki-Zerbo amongst others. There is certainly more work ahead but this film is a tremendous threshold in this direction.

a Jean-Pierre Bekolo Film
followed by a conversation with Marie-Hélène Gutberlet

AfricAvenir is a media partner.

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