Against comparative philosophy

Comparative philosophy is misleading if taken to be the evaluation of two or more parallel discourses, each self-generated and self-contained. Instead, critique is robustly historical and geographic when it traces the emergence, constitution, entanglement, and articulation of the intellectual formations it takes as its objects of inquiry.

Toni Morrison’s magnificent work, Playing in the Dark, brilliantly illumines the trajectories such a project may take. Morrison has all but made it impossible for one to engage with any serious study of “Great American novelists” such as Poe, Melville, and Hemingway without accounting for the deep Africanist presence — “a real or fabricated Africanist presence … crucial to [American writers’] sense of Americanness” — that precisely determines the formal structures in these novels.

In the same vein, we ought not be able to read Kant, or Hume or Mill without registering the deep and persistent “Africanist presence” in these texts – even when, especially when, such a presence is furiously disavowed. “Africa” is lodged in the deepest interstices of North Atlantic, Asian, Latin-American, Middle Eastern discourses, and, of course, in turn persistently and variously registers their presence.

(Excerpted from Groundwork for the Practice of the Good Life)