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Obenga and Amselle: two recent appraisals of Wim van Binsbergen's stance on Afrocentrism / Obenga et Amselle: deux 関aluations r閏entes de la position de Wim van Binsbergen sur l'Afrocentrisme







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Bien r閏emment, deux auteurs francophones prominent (Th閛phile Obenga et Jean-Loup Amselle) ont 関alu?la position de Wim van Binsbergen sur l'Afrocentrisme et le d閎at sur Black Athena. Vous trouverez leur opinions ci-bas, avec des notes biographiques et bibliographiques. L'inclusion de ces 関aluations n'implique point que Wim van Binsbergen soit d'accord avec elles.   Very recently, two prominent francophone authors (Th閛phile Obenga et Jean-Loup Amselle) have assessed Wim van Binsbergen's stance on Afrocentrism and the Black Athena debate. Their appraisals appear below in full, with biographical and bibliographical notes. The inclusion of these appraisals here does not imply that Wim van Binsbergen agrees with them.

 

Obenga, T., 2001, Le sens de la lutte contre l’afrocentrisme eurocentriste, Gif-sur-Yvette (Cedex)/ Paris: Khepera/ L’Harmattan.
(fran鏰is)   (English; translation WvB)

[ p. 23 ] ‘De toutes les contributions ? l’ouvrage collectif de Fauvelle-Aymar et alii, c’est l’article de Wim van Binsbergen qui est seul objectif: ‘‘Dans le troisi鑝e mill閚aire avec ‘Black Athena’?’’, pp. 127 - 150. L’ouvrage de Bernal a mis ?plat l’eurocentrisme et l’hell閚omanie. C’est l’un des grands d閒is intellectuels de notre temps. Notre futur global doit en tenir compte, et 閘argir en questionnements le travail exceptionnel inaugur?par Bernal. Je partage l’espoir de van Binsbergen, esprit sagace et ouvert ?la vari閠?culturelle humaine, sans r閒lexe colonisateur, sans m閜ris africaniste, sans racisme eurocentriste.’
 
[ p. 23 ] ‘Of all contributions in the collective volume of Fauvelle-Aymar et alii, only the article by Wim van Binsbergen is objective: ‘‘Into the third millennium with ‘Black Athena’?’’, pp. 127 - 150. Bernal’s book has dealt a fatal blow to Eurocentrism and Hellenomania. It constitutes one of the great intellectual challenges of our time. Our global future has to take it into account, broadening into specific research questions the exceptional work which Bernal has initiated. I share van Binsbergen’s hope, and recognize in the latter a fine mind open to the cultural variety of mankind, -- a mind free of colonial instincts, free of Africanist contempt, free of Eurocentrist racism.’

Th閛phile Obenga est Chef du D閜artement des 蓆udes africaines, Universit?d’蓆at de Californie, San Francisco. Pendant ces trente ann閑s, il s’est revendiqu?comme le principal interpr鑤e, et puis succ閐eur, de Cheikh Anta Diop. Les m閠hodes historiques et notamment linguistiques d’Obenga ont 閠?attaqu閑s par plusiers contributeurs au livre collective de Fauvelle c.s. -- d’une fa鏾n factuelle et d閠ach閑 de la par de l’間yptologue Vernus, d’une fa鏾n plus passionnante de la part du linguiste Tourneux, et d’une fa鏾n sarcastique et 閏rasante de la part de l’historien Chr閠ien, un des directeurs de l’ouvrage. Obenga 2001 is une contre-attaque aveuglement furieuse, alternant entre des points fins de d閠ail linguistique, et des accusations trop g閚閞ales de racisme. Je suis heureux d’avoir survi l’auto-da-f?d’Obenga; le bref passage cit?ci-haut est le seul traitant de moi dans le livre entier. N閍nmoins j'aurais pr閒閞?un traitement plus civil de mes co-collaborateurs.(WvB)
 
Th閛phile Obenga is Head of the Department of African Studies, State University of California, San Francisco. Over the past thirty years, he has articulated himself as the main African interpreter and subsequently successor of Cheikh Anta Diop. Obenga’s historical and especially linguistic methods came under detailed attack from several contributors to the Fauvelle c.s. book -- in a factual and detached manner from the part of the Egyptologist Vernus, in a more spirited way by the linguist Tourneux, and in a devastatingly sarcastic way by the historian Chr閠ien, one of the editors of the book. Obenga 2001 is a blindly furious counter-attack, alternating between fine points of linguistic detail, and sweeping accusations of racialism. I am happy to have escaped Obenga’s auto-da-f? the short passage cited above is the only one devoted to me in the entire book. Yet I would have preferred a more civil treatment for my fellow-contributors. (WvB)

cf.
Bernal, M., 1987, Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, Vol. I, The Fabrication of Ancient Greece 1787-1987, London: Free Association Books/ New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press
Bernal, M., 1991, Black Athena: The Afro-Asiatic Roots of Classical Civilization. II, The Archaeological and Documentary Evidence. London: Free Association Books; New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.
Fauvelle-Aymar, F.-X., Chr閠ien, J.-P., & Perrot, C.-H., 2000, eds., Afrocentrismes: L’histoire des Africains entre 蒰ypte et Am閞ique, Paris: Karthala
van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 2000, ‘Dans le troisi鑝e mill閚aire avec Black Athena?’, in: Fauvelle-Aymar, F.-X., Chr閠ien, J.-P., & Perrot, C.-H., Afrocentrismes: L’histoire des Africains entre 蒰ypte et Am閞ique, Paris: Karthala, pp. 127-150(WvB)

Amselle, J.-L., 2001, Branchements: Anthropologie de l’universalit?des cultures, Paris: Flammarion:

[p. 98 ] ‘Bien qu’il s’en d閒ende, c’est 間alement dans le cadre d’une probl閙atique essentialiste et hyperdiffusionniste que l’anthropologue hollandais Wim Van Binsbergen se fait le d閒enseur de l’afrocentrisme en g閚閞al et de l’oeuvre de Bernal en particulier (...). Il loue en effet chez l’auteur de Black Athena le fait pour un Blanc d’avoir su se montrer sensible aux id閑s afrocentristes et d閜lore sym閠riquement que les africanistes - pour la plupart des Blancs de l’Atlantique Nord (North Atlantic Whites), si prompts ?d閎usquer l’id閛logie chez les autres, soient si peu enclins ?balayer devant leur propre porte.’
 
[ p. 98 ] ‘Although he defends himself against such an allegation, it is likewise [ like in the case of Bernal ] in the framework of an essentialistic and hyperdiffusionist framework that the Dutch anthropologist Wim van Binsbergen poses as the defender of Afrocentrism in general and of Bernal’s work in particular. In fact, he praises the author of Black Athena for his capability (as a White man) of demonstrating sensitivity to Afrocentrist ideas, and by the same token he deplores the fact that Africanists -- in majority ‘‘North Atlantic Whites’’, who are so keen to detect the ideology in others, are so little inclined to sweep their own street.’

[ 104 ] ‘En adoptant la posture afrocentriste, Van Binsbergen suppose du m阭e coup, ?la mani鑢e d’Edward Sa飀 dans son livre c閘鑒re, L’Orientalisme (...), une posture sym閠rique et inverse ‘‘eurocentriste’’, notion qui 閠ait sans doute l間itime au XVIIIe et au XIXe si鑓le alors que l’Afrique et les Africains 閠aient l’objet d’un d閚igrement quasi g閚閞al mais qui, aujourd’hui, est loin de correspondre ?la diversit?des points de vue adopt閟 par les anthropologues africanistes non africains que Van Binsbergen qualifie de ‘‘North Atlantic Whites’’.’
 
[ 104 ] ‘While adopting the Afrocentrist stance, Van Binsbergen -- much like Edward Sa飀 in his famous book Orientalism (...) -- assumes the existence [ in others ] of a complementary, inverse ‘‘Eurocentrist’’ stance. Such an assumption was no doubt legitimate in the XVIIIth and XIXth century when Africa and the Africans were nearly universally painted in the darkest and most contemptuous colours, but today that assumption scarcely does justice to the diversity of vioewpoints adopted by non-African Africanist anthropologists, whom Van Binsbergen characterises as ‘‘North Atlantic Whites’’.’

[ 107 ] ‘Le privil鑗e accord?par certaines universit閟 nord-am閞icaines ?un recrutement ethnique ou communautaire de m阭e que la volont?de certains Africains d’acc閐er, au nom de leur origine africaine, ?des postes dans l’enseignement sup閞ieur europ閑n constituent 関idemment une menace directe ?la perp閠uation de certaines disciplines comme l’histoire ancienne (...) ou l’africanisme, disciplines qui pretendent ?une objectivit?absolue ind閜endamment de la qualit?de leurs repr閟entants.’
 
[ 107 ] ‘The privilege accorded by certain North American universities to recruiting along ethnic or communal lines, as well as the wish among certain Africans to take up, in the name of their African origin, appointments in European university education, obviously constitute a direct threat to the perpetuation of centain disciplines such as ancient history or African Studies, -- disciplines which claim an absolute objectivity independent from the characteristics of their representatives [ in terms of ethnic or continental origin, or somatic traits ] .’

[ 108 ] ‘La recherche des ‘‘survivances’’ ou des ‘‘origines’’ constitue d’ailleurs le fond de commerce de I’anthropologie ou des sciences sociales, notamment lorsqu’elles sont confront閑s ?l’閠ude des communaut閟 transplant閑s ou des diasporas, ce qui explique que, m阭e si nombre d’anthropologues, d’historiens ou de linguistes ne sont pas pr阾s ? assumer jusqu’au bout les th鑣es afrocentristes, ils ressentent toutefois une certaine g阯e face ?la mise en cause radicale de ces id閑s puisque leur l間itimit?professionnelle s’appuie en fait sur l’existence de communaut閟 revendiquant une autonomie culturelle. Si l’on ajoute ?cela que I’africanisme en tant que discipline est de plus en plus menac?par les Africains-Am閞icains et les Africains’
 
[ 108 ] ‘Besides, the seach for ‘‘survivals’’ or ‘‘origins’’ constitutes the last resort of anthropology and the social sciences, in particular when these are engaged in the study of transplanted communities or diasporas. This explains the following contradiction: a great many anthropologists, historians and linguists are not prepared to adopt the Afrocentrist theses lock, stock and barrel, yet they display a certain embarrassment when these ideas are radically confronted; for their professional legitimacy is in fact based on the existence of communities that claim cultural autonomy. If to this we add the fact that African Studies as a discipline is increasingly threated by African Americans and by Africans’

[ 109 ] ‘qui revendiquent leur place au sein du syst鑝e universitaire occidental sur la base de leur appartenance ph閚otypique, on comprend ais閙ent que certains anthropologues comme W. Van Binsbergen, notamment, se fassent les proph鑤es ‘‘blancs’’ de l’afrocentrisme (...) ou que certains historiens comme C. Coquery-Vidrovitch aient une attitude ambigu?par rapport ?cette doctrine  (...) et encouragent la croisade entreprise par les chercheurs africains en mal d’obtention de postes (...). En cela ils esp鑢ent sans doute b閚閒icier d’un traitement de faveur de la part de ceux qui, au sein d’un climat g閚閞al que l’on peut qualifier de multiculturaliste, seront de moins en moins enclins ?se contenter d’un discours produit par des membres non autoris閟, c’est-?dire ‘‘racialement non corrects’’, de la discipline. C’est ainsi que le terme ‘‘africanisme’’ lui-m阭e devient suspect, en tant que symbole d’une discipline 閠rang鑢e ?son objet parce que somatiquement diff閞ente de celui-ci.’
 
[ 109 ] ‘who claim a place for themselves inside the Western academic system on the basis of their phenotypical identity, then one understands easily why certain anthropologists like, notably, Wim van Binsbergen, pose as the ‘‘white’’ prophets of Afrocentrism (...), or why certain historians like C. Coquery-Vidrovitch would have an ambiguous attitude vis-?vis that doctine, and why they encourage the crusade undertaken by African researchers who have not been able to secure appointments (...) In doing so, people [ like Van Binsbergen and Coquery-Vidrovitch ] no doubt hope to benefit from a preferential treatment on the part of those who, in a climat one could characterise as multiculturalist, would be less and less inclined to be satisfied with a [ scholarly ] discours produced by by unauthorised members of the discipline [ of African Studies ] , i.e. members who [ by analogy with the expression ‘‘politically correct’’ ] could be said to be ‘‘racially incorrect’’. In this way the term ‘‘African Studies’’ itself becomes suspect, as symbol of the fact that the discipline is foreign to its object because it is somatically different from that object.’

Jean-Loup Amselle, professeur d’anthropologie ? l’Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris, est un des principaux th閛reticiens fran鏰is de l’ethnicit? et des historiens de l’anthropologie comme discipline scientifique; en plus, il est sp閏ialiste sur les transformations socio-culturelles en Afrique de l’Ouest. Son livre Branchements est une contribution importante ? l’閠ude de la mondialisation culturelle, qui a surgi recemment comme champs d’閠ude. Son chapitre sur l’afrocentrisme (pp. 81-110) 閠ait 閏rit avant qu’il n’avait lu ni le livre de Stephen Howe (1998) et ni le livre de collectif de Fauvelle c.s. (2000); pour cela, ce chapitre constitute une contribution originale et ind閜endente au d閎at sur l’afrocentrisme, -- d閎at qui rage en France aujourd’hui. (WvB)
 
Jean-Loup Amselle, professor of anthropology at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris, has been one of the major French theoreticians of ethnicity, and historians of anthropology as a scientific discipline, besides being a specialist on West African socio-cultural transformations. His book Branchements is an important contribution to the recently emerged study of cultural globalisation. His chapter on Afrocentrism (pp. 81-110) was written before he had read Stephen Howe’s 1998 book and Fauvelle c.s. 2000 book, and therefore constitutes an original and independent contribution to the debate on Afrocentrism now raging in academic France. (WvB)

cf.
Bernal, M., 1987, Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, Vol. I, The Fabrication of Ancient Greece 1787-1987, London: Free Association Books/ New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press
Bernal, M., 1991, Black Athena: The Afro-Asiatic Roots of Classical Civilization. II, The Archaeological and Documentary Evidence. London: Free Association Books; New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.
Coquery-Vidrovitch, C., 1991, ‘A propos de ‘‘La pens閑 de Cheikh Anta Diop’’ d’Alain Froment’, Cahiers d’Etudes Africaines, 32, 1, 125: 133-138.
Said, E.W., 1978, Orientalism. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul., repr. 1979, New York: Random House, Vintage Books.
van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1997, ‘Black Athena Ten Years After: Towards a constructive re-assessment’, in: van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1997, ed., Black Athena: Ten Years After, Hoofddorp: Dutch Archaeological and Historical Society, special issue, Talanta: Proceedings of the Dutch Archaeological and Historical Society, vols 28-29, 1996-97, pp. 11-64 (WvB)

 

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