V. Y. Mudimbe’s is a difficult mind to do justice to and, with the requisite breadth and depth of insight, to represent properly in an anthology of his work. However, Pierre Philippe Fraiture and Daniel Orrells succeed admirably in this. Their accomplishments begin not so much with the texts they select, but with their attention to Mudimbe as a thinker. In their long and substantial Introduction, the editors provide a full, detailed, and complex account of Mudimbe’s trajectory, tracing his background, delineating his politics, explicating his resistance to Mobutu’s ‘nationalization project’. Most importantly, they attend — one of the volume’s consistent threads — to how Mudimbe is shaped by his fraught relationship with the Benedictine monastic order he served and from which he then sought, unsuccessfully, to extricate himself. The Reader provides, as such, a critical insight into the mind of a thinker who insists that he is an ‘agnostic’. The lie is put to that claim here: Mudimbe’s theological impulse reveals itself amply. It is not simply Roman Catholicism, but a more clinical accounting for Christianity in Africa that influences his thinking. Mudimbe distinguishes between orders — Benedictine, Franciscan, Jesuit, and so on — and he explains precisely the place and the history of the Christian Church in Africa. Mudimbe engages every major thinker on Christianity in Africa, beginning with, but not limited to, the Franciscan Placide Tempels (author of La Philosophie Bantoue (Paris: Présence africaine, 1949)), whom Mudimbe met. Through Tempels, Mudimbe gives voice to the intellectual life of the continent and the diaspora in a breathtaking fashion. No one, and nothing, is beyond his ken, making Mudimbe more than the archetypal polymath. He is the archivist’s archivist. He attends not only to the colonial library, but to every other library and archive worthy of the name, and, characteristically, those archives other scholars deem unworthy. The editors are impressively meticulous in this regard because they have read what Mudimbe has read. They have traced Mudimbe to his own sources. As a result, Mudimbe the arch-archivist (arche-archivist) has found his true curators. Everything we need to know about Mudimbe is relayed to us, in depth, with a thorough critical appreciation. The Introduction stands as a detailed study of Mudimbe, and an expert mapping of his thought. The Reader addresses some of the criticism of Mudimbe, notably the contention that Mudimbe often ‘hides’ his voice — that his position is ‘lost’ in the midst of his labyrinthine mind: a valid criticism that the editors address unsparingly. Here, then, Mudimbe's work is allowed to speak for itself (even where it fails through over-assiduousness). This is an impressively assembled collection of texts, offering a comprehensive overview of the writer’s work. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for French Studies. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
French Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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