In My Father's House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture Paperback – 27 May 1993
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A wonderfully crafted collection of essays. (In My Father's House)
Appiah's book on the place of Africa in contemporary philosophy powerfully exposes the dangers of any simplistic notion of African identity in the contemporary world....Tellingly, his reflections upon the calling of philosophy and the relation between post-traditional and not-yet-modern African culture(s) offer a welcome perspective on the increasingly shrill debates over "multiculturalism" that rend the academy. The epilogue on his father's funeral alone more than justifies the whole book. (Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Common Knowledge)
Interesting and thought-provoking. (Safro Kwame, Lincoln University)
Montaigne invented the modern essay;...Appiah has the brilliance to extend it. (The Village Voice)
A groundbreaking (as well as ground-clearing)
Appiah's essays are exquisitely and painstakingly argued. (Washington Post Book World)
An exceptional work, whose contextual sweep and lucidity provide a refreshing intellectual tone away from yahoo populism. In many profound ways, Kwame Appiah's In My Father's House ushers in a new level of discourse on race and culture, placing it within a universal narrative (and where else should it belong?...Without question, a first of its kind.)
In My Father's House is a remarkable book that brings previously invisible cultural assumptions to the surface and obliges us to rethink our conceptions about African identity. Drawing upon a variety of elegantly analyzed historical examples and relating them to his own personal experiences of the African world, Anthony Appiah convincingly demonstrates the need to go beyond stereotyped notions of race and futile laments about past injustices. His observations about authenticity movements, the persistence of Western constructions of African realities, and the emergence of new syntheses of knowledge among African peoples represent a major breakthrough in the ongoing debate over the future of African culture. (Richard Bjornson, Ohio State University)
This is an absorbing and path-breaking book by a gifted philosopher. Appiah rescues the philosophy of culture from Herder by insisting that we drop notions like 'authentic negritude' and that 'African culture' is the name of an important project rather than of an available datum. The book's range of reference and the vigor of its argumentation are equally impressive. (Richard Rorty, University of Virginia)
Appiah's concern is, he modestly states, 'with the situation of African intellectuals.' In the growing literature on the subject, nobody has defined that situation, as it exists now, more sharply; nobody has built so many bridges to a discourse that might be shared universally. Learned yet unpretentious, serious and witty, critical and kind (this book is bound to infuse debates among African intellectuals with new vigor and to engage philosophers, literary critics, anthropologists and others everywhere. One also wishes it would be read by politicians for its lucid analyses of racism as well as its demonstration of intellectual independence tempered by colonial and post-colonial experience.)
Illumined in this book are issues of race and ethnicity; culture and rationality; literature and cosmology; orality, literacy, and philosophy....The focus is on Africa, and the commitment, both moral and emotional, is to Africa; but the intellectual standpoint is universal. Appiah's philosophical genius and wide learning are evident on every page. All readers, in particular, those with any interest in Africa (literary, philosophical, historical, anthropological, political)
In My Father's House is a book of solid intelligence and a major contribution to the field of African philosophy. (V.Y. Mudimbe, Duke University)
The greatest merit of these wonderful essays is the depiction of the possibility of a postcolonial culture that neither worships the "modern" nor romanticizes the past.... This is a must book for anyone interested in the politics of culture, Third World art and literature, race and culture, and how Africa has been invented in the West. (Ivan Karp, Northwestern University and Smithsonian Institution)
Appiah's work must rank as a major force in the process of self-reflection involved in contemporary black discourse....Race and the question of identity are of course central preoccupations in Appiah's meditations, but what makes these essays significant is his endeavour to foster a fresh consideration of the concept of race and of the notion of identity (his reach, at once strenuous and disciplined, towards a broader conception of humanity than is allowed for even by the established conventions of black discourse itself.)
Kwame Anthony Appiah has translated his privileged position between and within the cultures of three continents, and his fluency in a wide array of disciplines and discourses, into an extraordinarily insightful series of essays. In My Father's House is a brilliant contribution to intercultural thinking; it should be required reading for anyone interested in African Studies or cultural studies of any kind. For, as Appiah explains and proves, Africa cannot be seen in isolation, nor is it of interest to Africanists alone; Africa must be analyzed within "a network of points of affinity," among "the mutual interdependencies history has thrust upon us." Moving from a rigorous critique of past models of identity to the articulation of a new, demystified "humanism," Appiah weaves philosophy, literature, history, and his own autobiography into a book that is truly a pleasure to read. (Christopher L. Miller, Yale University)
Appiah's thoughtful treatment of nationalism, Pan-Africanism and the role of African intellectuals makes a point which is often overlooked in discussions of difference and discrimination, namely, that in struggling for more equitable relations we have to pursue genuinely human goals. He appropriately emphasizes the political role of particular identities, the importance of the solidarity of those similarly oppressed, and, with skill and sensitivity, addresses the occasional tension between such identities and the search for a broader vision. (Susan Babbitt, Queen's University)
Studious re-interrogations of cultural issues that have exercised African writers, politicians, historians and philosophers form the homeland to the various diasporas and through many 'altered states' (from the pre-colonial and colonial to the post-colonial and post-modern.....More than a timely book....n My Fathers House deserves to be read by all who wish to seek fresh directions away from Africs's long-standing crisis.)
A sophisticated and fascinating attempt to redefine and celebrate his heritage as a post-colonial, postmodern African. (New Statesman & Society)
A cogent and very readable philosophical investigation into the question of an "African identity" in all its cultural and political ramifications....Appiah's strategy of putting himself and his forebears into the context of an academic study further enlivens an already lively book and gives it a deep intimate resonance. Appiah is a writer of great charm and fluency, and he weaves these strands together with consummate skill. He is also a great explainer, and he sums up the theoretical backgrounds to his arguments with unusual clarity. his style is engagingly flamboyant and as persuasive as it is provocative. (Shaun de Waal, The Weekly Mail)
Impressive...An erudite and demanding work, engaging with debates in moral philosophy, anthropology and the politics of racial and national identity. (John Rye, The Independent on Sunday)
A powerful and persuasive polemic. (Julian Hughes, Huddersfield Daily Examiner)
Excellent text....Of particular value to Aficanists, outlines and lucidly argues some of the most hotly debated points of contention in the field. (Susan Andrade, University of Pittsburgh)
About the Author
Kwame Anthony Appiah is Professor of Afro-American Studies at Harvard University. His books include Assertion and Conditionals (1985), For Truth in Semantics (1986), Necessary Questions (1989), and the novel Avenging Angel (1991). He is currently editing the Oxford Book of African Literature.
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Top Customer Reviews
Anthony Appiah gave in this book a set of intellectual tool to revisit the way African's think of themselve and their cultures. By drawing on its personal experience growing up in AFrica, immersed in the traditions of his tribe, he walks us through some essential components of the AFrican case.
The section I really enjoyed most in the book is the one related to the Invention of Africa, where he tore into pieces the myth of Africa, as a place where people are identicals, regardless of the diversity of rite, religions and languages. He showed how designers of the Africa Myth like W.E.Dubois were wrong is assuming the existence of the Negro as a race, hence deriving a set of wrong conclusions from that initial major assumptions.
Having grown up myself in Africa and educated under Francophone Africa state school in the 80s, I was asked to digest concepts like Negritude without much questioning, and historians like Cheikh Anta Diop and their findings were also not serioulsy questioned in that environment. Anthony Appiah book gave me the tool to revisit most of the reading related to Africa with a different perspective, using different set of assumptions and surprised to see how I was drawing completely different conclusions.
The section of African Identities is also very interesting, as most African people I know take it for given that all people with black skin leaving in African must be similar and share more in common, regardless of the daily contradictions of those assumptions.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
After a reading of Appiah's book, I question whether an African solidarity can be usefully articulated. Can inclusive, constructive and accessible modern culture be derived in a continent-wide scale, with some collective experience as its sourcebook? Perhaps the question rides on whether tradition is truly expendable, although so far it has apparently not been expendable (although it has proven malleable). Appiah's arguments in favor of reexamining what it means to be African, while he has labored to disassociate them from the Pan-Africanist agenda, seem unsure on the issue of Pan Africanist hopes. Pan Africanism, whether informal or economic, seems more than mired in implied racialism - it seems to ignore the idea that there is a need for modern African nations to promote overture to the world, rather than aggrandized protectionism, which invariable carries with it repressive nationalist agendas. The reality is that Africa is dependent upon its ties to the rest of the world. I believe that Appiah would argue that any "Africanism" is not useful as a method of affirming culture, either, precisely because to be simply "an African" implies such a tremendous negation of one's own past.
I still want to know if Soyinka has also successfully divorced himself from a bogus Pan-Africanist and unianimist use of an "African" culture in his metaphors and references. Does he somehow successfully escape from the confines of this label with his individual-focused explorations (which are thus really Nigerian, or Yoruban?)
Also, how usefully can a philosophical agenda be furthered by an intellectual class focused on bipolarity? The implied bipolarity of African philosophers, working to justify themselves to the world while preserving the value of traditional discourse, seems in danger of trying too hard to mold tradition, and thus lose useful contact with traditional people.
Appiah questions "...the evaluative assumption that recovery of tradition is worthwhile," implying that it is not (95). This comment seems like an important and perhaps controversial one: is it really good for philosophers in Africa, if working to establish an agenda for future clarity and intelligibility for Africans, to be ready to dismiss recovering tradition in their countries and societies? The negative effects of tradition are many, but its benefits seem easily slighted.
Appiah's critique of the ethno philosophical response to modernity seems to leaves out the important fact that a new citizen of the world, as African citizen, is rapidly, and permanently, emerging - and that as people grow up separating themselves from tradition, tribalism and rural politics, they are reassessing their traditional background while trying to create an identity. Perhaps the ethno philosophy he criticizes is in fact an attempt at an honest reappraisal of tradition, for certainly all summaries of the condition of African traditions will end up preferentially consolidating these traditions.
The question is where in the African intellectual consciousness should fit the multi-lingual, multi-national views of tradition. I think to roundly press African intellectuals to serve the highest ideals of "their people" and guide them into a modernity that is not based on European models and yet also not based upon African tradition should be recognized as especially dangerous, as such a plan may well leave its chosen flock behind.
This book, for the density and complexity as well as honesty of its inquiry, should be seen as a sold introudction to what makes Africa so problematic on the level of identity and solidarity. The existence of an "african" identity can no longer be ignored. Appiah finds all the roots of this identity and gives them rigorous criticism in light of his own personal view of Africa as well as a solid reading of African philosophy, social science and history.
He states in the Preface to this 1992 book, "in thinking about culture, which is the subject of this book, one is bound to be formed---morally, aesthetically, politically, religiously---by the range of lives one has known... this is especially important because the book is about issues that are bound to be deeply personally important for anyone with my history; for its theme is the question how we are to think about Africa's contemporary cultures in the light both of the two main external determinants of her recent cultural history---European and Afro-New World conceptions of Africa---and of her own endogenous cultural traditions."
Here are some quotations from the book:
"The African-Americans whose work I discussed in Chapters 1 and 2 conceived their relation to Africa through the mediating concept of race, a concept they acquired from a Euro-American cultural matrix. As a result... it was inevitable that their answer to the question of African identity should have been rooted in the romantic racisms that have been so central to the European and American nationalisms of the past century and a half; and their thinking provided the starting point for those Africans who took up the banner of a Pan-Africanist black nationalism in the period since the Second World War." (Pg. 73)
"I have already said that there is no reason to think that the folk philosophies of Africa are uniform." (Pg. 92)
"Yet there is no doubt now, a century later, an African identity is coming into being. I have argued throughout these essays that this identity is a new thing; that it is the product of a history, some of whose moments I have sketched; and that the bases through which so far it has largely been theorized---race, a common historical experience, a shared metaphysics---presuppose falsehoods too serious for us to ignore." (Pg. 174)
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