Re-animating African Ethics, Re-imagining African Futures

A project for translating African language texts, ethical discourses and critical aesthetics in South Africa.

Since 1994, South Africans have been confronted with the task of re-legitimating and transforming the nation. However, the current juncture is no longer thinkable only in terms of nation-formation; it must also respond to the facts of globalization, including not only market liberalization and new structures of multi-polarity in the international arena, but also increasing pressures upon local cultures and forms of governance.  How shall South Africa respond, in the very moment that it is attempting to consolidate national unity in a context that was historically determined by the politics of division?

This project is premised on the assumption that South African capacities for a knowing response to globalization—one that both takes advantages of its opportunities and mitigates its capacities to inflict economic and social injustice—can and must be based on a revitalization of its intellectual and critical problem-solving capacities. To do so, it must be able to draw upon indigenous intellectual traditions, including those which were forged in earlier moments of engagement with intruding structures and logics (including those of the colonial and apartheid eras).  Our project aims to re-animate those traditions through a sustained survey, translation and publication of African-language literary and critical texts, and through the incubation of an informed debate about them.  To achieve its aims, our project will develop a rigorously theorized translational process, and a process for establishing new, but historicized protocols of reading in order that earlier texts become available for contemporary reflection.

We wish to emphasize the ‘critical imaginative faculty’ at play in these texts—for we are seeking not merely evidence of other and historically prior normative systems, but exemplary practices for imagining a future whose contents and dimensions cannot be completely known in advance. We recognize that the transformations associated with globalization are not of the sort that terminate history, but that they are part of an unfolding and metamorphosing geopolitical complex—in which new technologies, reconfigured political alliances and centers of power, transformed economic conditions, and environmental conditions, will continue to change. What is needed then are techniques for training the imagination, forms of critique that do not revert to a politics of accusation nor to a fantasy of mastery which presumes the fixity of the world that is being subject to critique.  And it is to this end that our project orients itself.

Project leader(s):
  • Rosalind C. Morris (Columbia)
  • Antjie Krog (Western Cape)