War machines: the economy of violence unveiled

Get Complete Project Material File(s) Now! »

The Western subject and the construction of the African subject

In the dawn of Western modernity that, by and large, is the rapture moment of the colonial encounter, there came the Western subject. According to Neill (2008), the notion of the Western subject is cogito grounded on the canonical reading of René Descartes. This is the self as searching, and in a moment of constant skepticism. Descartes with the notion of ‘cogito ergo sum’—that is, ‘I think; therefore I am’ constitutes the basis of the Western subject, the ‘Other’ who is the lacking subject. As Mudimbe (2013: 245) notes, ‘[t]he cogito is a machine, quasi-literally, that is very Cartersian’. According to Neill (2008: 326), ‘[t]he cogito advances a notion of the self as located in thought’. This then brings the question of what features in is thought—more so, about the African subject. The ontology of the Western subject comes into being simply because it is the ontology of the rational being, the being that engages in the continuum of thought through self-doubt, it seems though, indefinitely. In short, the Western subject is defined by rationality and is the master of reason.

On subjectivity: the voyage and canon formation

The education system that Mbembe received is the French education system. Due to the colonial system, even in the period of independence that has been the everlasting legacy of France in Cameroon. The education of France, the very nervous system of colonialism, was such that the idea of ‘France the Great’ was a propaganda form that paved way for many in the colony to migrate from the colony to the metropolis, Paris. As Bjornson (1992) notes, African subjects undergo double alienation wherein the French doctrine of assimilation is implemented in them and at the same time they are rejected as fully French. The idea of France the Great was such that school children romanticise France and demonise Africa and, as Thomas (2007: 47) states, they ‘were motivated toward a forced complicity in the dissemination of colonial propaganda ideology’. The whole idea of this propaganda is that the African subject should see the idea of France as the standard of civilisation—the very essence of modernity and to entrench the colonial practice in that those of the colony needs to accept, if not complicit to it.

The tri-continental move: still in search for the Black Atlantic ‘self’?

What is Mbembe’s thought in relation to Africa, and in particular, how has the tri-continental move impact on his thought? The tri-continental move is what Zeleza (2005: 36) refers to as ‘the triangual systems of Africa, the Americas, and Europe that make up the Atlantic world’. The tri-continental move in this case, with reference to Mbembe of course, is the move from Cameroon to Paris, then New York to Dakar, then Cape Town to Johannesburg—the latter which Mbembe regards as his centre of gravity, the watchtower, also including New York through that he looks at the world. The tri-continental move is not just a move, but the move that constitutes the intellectual agenda, the subjectivity of the subject in mobility. In this move, the subject assumes the identity of the wandering subject, the subject that has no unique form or content, but that wich change constantly depending on life events (Mbembe 2003b). As Gilroy (1993: 2) states, ‘modern subjectivities and the movements they articulated have been left behind’. This is simply because the power of such a move in the world as powerfully grown, with the African subject at the centre of this move.

Brief notes on the difference: postcoloniality is not decoloniality

It is important to highlight that there is often confusion between postcoloniality and decoloniality. Also because Mbembe is a postcolonial theorist not a decolonial one. Though both critique the colonial condition, this is done differently and both do not share the same genealogy, trajectory and horison— and thus, they do not have the same understanding of the colonial condition. Mignolo (2011a: xxiii) amplifies thus: ‘[A]lthough both projects drink from the same fountain they are grounded in a different genealogy of thoughts and different existentia’. The distinction will be done briefly on three accounts of genealogy, trajectory and horison. The genealogy of postcoloniality can be traced from the canonical works of Edward Said, Homi Bhabha and Gayatri Spivak who still remain prominent even though the trajectory of postcoloniality varies (Ashcroft et al. 2006). In elucidating this point, De la Campa (2008: 438-439) states that ‘Edward Said, Homi Bhabha and Gayatri Spivak, though widely different in theory approaches, fashioned a long-award deconstruction of AngloAmerican hegemony in their own terms’.

READ  Mechanism of ice accretion on insulator surface 

Notes on methodology: decolonial critical analysis

Decolonial critical analysis will be deployed as foreground methodological interventions of this study. This intervention will then be applied to explain, examine and contrast concepts and main arguments in this thesis. Decolonial critical analysis is relevant to this thesis as it is thematically structured to engage Mbembe’s political thought. The themes of this thesis, namely modes of selfwriting, power in the postcolony, the politics of violence in Africa, the political thought of Frantz Fanon and the idea of South Africa will be analysed through decolonial critical analysis which is is rooted in decolonial epistemic perspective and it is intended to confront and grapple with power issues in their sense of complexity. Its key concepts are coloniality of power, coloniality of knowledge and coloniality of being—also to include the synthetic de-colonial turn—which will be weaved in the relevant parts of the aforementioned themes in order to enable a closer reading of Mbembe’s ouvre.


  • Declaration
  • Abstract
  • Dedication
  • Acknowledgements
  • Glossary of terms
  • Chapter one: Introducing the self: Mbembe’s subject formation
    • Introduction
    • Locating the subject
    • The Western subject and the construction of the African subject
    • On subjectivity: the voyage and the positionality of canonism
    • The tri-continental move: still in search for the Black Atlantic “self”
    • Brief notes on difference: postcoloniality is not decoloniality
    • Notes on methodology: decolonial critical analysis
    • Relevance and contribution of the study
    • Limitations of the study
  • Chapter organisation
  • Chapter two: Decolonial epistemic perspective: a theoretical intervention
    • Introduction
    • Charting the terrain: decolonial epistemic perspective
    • Coloniality of power
    • Coloniality of knowledge
    • Coloniality of being
    • Towards a de-colonial turn
    • Conclusion
  • Chapter three: Mbembe and the modes of self-writing
    • Introduction
    • In defense of populism
    • The politics of naming and vulgarity
    • The politics of commendation and criticism
    • On the geography of writing: cosmopolitanism and
    • Afropolitanism
    • Africanity: the mode of writing as necessity
    • Conclusion
  • Chapter four: Mbembe on power in the postcolony
    • Introduction
    • Performativity of power in the postcolony
    • The autocrat and fetishism
    • Politics of eatery and the zone of accumulation
    • The national project and character of the African state
    • Mutual zombification unmasked
    • Conclusion
  • Chapter five: Mbembe on the politics of violence
    • Introduction
    • Libidinal economy: sadistic trope of pain and pleasure
    • Necropower: unthinking empire and sovereignty
    • On the obsolete ontology
    • Deathscapes: ways of dying and a ‘life in death’
    • War machines: the economy of violence unveiled
    • On martyrdom: body on body war
    • Conclusion
  • Chapter six: Mbembe on Fanon
    • Introduction
    • Fanon and the now: the spectre still haunts
    • Fanon as a philosopher of existence
    • The fact of (anti-)blackness
    • The long night of structural violence
    • The mask of humanism
    • The end of the world
    • Conclusion
  • Chapter seven: Mbembe and the idea of South Africa
    • Introduction
    • Nongqawuse as an alibi
    • The falsity of the radical break
    • The racial phase of “frontier accumulation”
    • The Native Club and the silent scandal
    • Race still matters: on two defensive logics of race
    • Conclusion
  • Chapter eight: By way of conclusion
    • On reflective restatements
    • Restatement of contribution and future research inroads
    • Bibliography


Related Posts