Saturday, 25 January 2014

Caribbean Philosophical Association: Letter from the Present

Happy New Year!

As we enter the eleventh year of the CPA’s existence, there is much to celebrate.
In a period that Doug Ficek described perfectly in Puerto Rico as one of profound practical and theoretical misanthropy or one of an excessively skeptical attitude toward transformative ideas and projects, CPA through the creative and loving labor of a small and now growing community burst onto the scene, forging a refuge, a counter, an alternative.

For undergraduate and graduate students lucky enough to encounter the organization in their formative intellectual stages (for example, Chike Jeffers, Aaron Kamugisha, Carolyn Cusick, Michael Paradiso-Michau, Krista Paradiso-Michau, Erik Garrett, Ken Knies, Neil Roberts, Roxanne Burton, Richard Pithouse, Geo Ciccariello-Maher, Rosemere Ferreira da Silva, Kathryn Loevy, Doug Ficek, Vince Beaver, Joan Jasak, Devon Johnson, Deanne Bell, Greg Graham, Jose Muñoz, Dilan Mahendran, Senfo Tonkam, Sathya Rao, Matthew Quest, Yomaira Figueroa, Tacuma Peters, Nathifa Greene, Desiree Valentine, Xhercis Méndez,  Tal Correm, Matthew Kos, and Rosario and me) the experience was nothing less than transformative.  Even for more senior scholars, the organization broadened horizons in a way that an intellectual movement alone can.  This meant not having to explain again that there is such a thing as Africana or Latin American or Indigenous philosophy but setting to work exploring and building on them with willing and ready interlocutors and conspirators.

The mission and concept of “shifting the geography of reason” has meant understanding anew the people, places, and situations out of which distinct possibilities for living thought emerge and taking seriously, as did the people we study and prize, that ideas require institutional expressions that in turn raise new questions and considerations.

The shift for which we argued was reflected at every level of the organization:
In a region in which language continues to maintain intellectual barriers, dividing scholars and literatures, we have been deliberately multilingual.  We may not always do this perfectly—this is something on which we plan to work—we begin with the expectation that we all seek to communicate and to become multilingual.

Similarly, we took seriously from the start that theoretical work must be transdisciplinary.   Linked to this redefined intellectual domain is an ongoing effort to maintain relations with artistic, spiritual, and political ones.
Finally, CPA has sought a fundamentally humanistic orientation that enables intellectual talent to appear regardless of the age, institutional affiliation or geographic home of the person who embodies it.  In this sense, we have aimed to replicate the jazz communities that nurtured teenagers and people into their early 20s to produce many of the classic recordings that we regularly listen to.  CPA takes enormous pride in the serious conversation and collaboration between senior and junior scholars in a challenging environment aimed at the growth of ideas.
Frankly speaking, all of this work has been undertaken by an extraordinary group of people who, in a quintessentially Caribbean way, combine phenomenal intellect with courage, creativity, vitality, humor, and personal integrity.  From a set of conversations that began next to a swimming pool at the University of West Indies at Mona over jerk chicken and rum following meetings designed to illustrate and establish the theoretical contributions of George Lamming and Sylvia Wynter, we have since grown in significance, leading a variety of institutions in the Caribbean to affirm the value of philosophical work by creating positions and programs devoted to it and nurturing scholarship built out of Caribbean concepts and aspirations.
Nelson Maldonado Torres in particular has done much to enable the Latin Caribbean world to see CPA as an intellectual home, advancing work illuminated by indigenous knowledges as part of the larger project of epistemic and ethical and political decolonization.  He has done much to take an organization created through bursts of intense energy into a sustainable structure, encouraging scholars early in their careers to be central to advancing its vision.  He has also assured that people working in social movements and the arts, people engaged in the living legacies of the thinkers we venerate, are engaged.
We also benefited from the generous participation of senior scholars and artists, such as Enrique Dussel, James Sylvester Gates, Jr., Boaventura de Souza Santos, Ephraim Isaac, Walter Mignolo, Alexis Nouss, Bernard Boxill, Teodros Kiros, Mireille Fanon-Mendes-France, Sylvia Marcos, Mabogo More, Simone Schwarz-Bart, Norman Girvan, the late Rex Nettleford, and Catherine Walsh, across the region and the globe.

The best celebration of extraordinary work is to carry it further.

We have multiple aims in the three years to come.

From day one, CPA has involved women centrally in its leadership.  In this next phase, we would like to do the same with people whose research and writing explores questions of decolonial sexuality and the distinctiveness of questions of sexuality in the Caribbean.  We hope, as an international organization, that we can generate concepts and frameworks through which to understand these issues better, and that doing so can inform our positive weighing in on pressing legislative matters in the region.

We are also in the process of forming two book series reflecting our vision of shifting the geography of reason.   One will focus on global critical Caribbean thought and the other will involve creolizing canonical literature.  We are also exploring ways to increase the translation of texts in our areas of interest across the globe.  Along with The C.L.R. James Journal and the informal relationships we have with such journals as The Journal of Caribbean Philosophy and The Journal of French and Francophone Philosophy, we are poised to facilitate the next generation of research and scholarship.

For graduate students who are not students of CPA members, much time and energy passes between our annual meetings.  To address this gap, we will be creating a summer school at UConn beginning in the summer of 2015 that brings graduate students into intense workshop opportunities with some of our (willing!) stellar members.  In addition to creating opportunities for ongoing conversation, collaboration, and mentorship, this program will help to create some modest revenue that will be funneled in two primary directions: to a travel fund that assures that costs will never prohibit potential members from participating in our conferences (especially when traveling from Africa or parts of Asia) and to inaugurate (under the leadership of Geo Ciccariello-Maher) a concerted CPA translation project.  Many in CPA have had the good fortune of having works written in English translated into other languages.  This should not be a unilateral relationship.  It is as urgent that we translate into English theoretical innovations written in French, Dutch, Portuguese, and Spanish, and those in some of the surviving indigenous languages.

Many of our members are at the forefront of creating syllabi and classroom experiences that shift undergraduate encounters with the geography of reason.  We want our annual meetings also to nurture discussions of pedagogy, sharing ideas about what we are teaching and how.

We also hope to build on Lewis Gordon, Clevis Headley, Nelson Maldonado-Torres, and Michael Monahan’s vital international work by collaborating with other existing organizations that share our intellectual and political hopes.  Central among these in the Francophone world is Senegal-based CODESRIA which, from its inception, insisted that genuine political independence in Africa required epistemological decolonization as well.  We also hope to reach out to colleagues in Eastern Europe, such as Natalija Micinovic in Belgrade, who are doing vital work addressing questions of substantive gender equality in that part of the globe.
Running throughout is the continued theoretical work of demonstrating that the most pressing issues of the day, whether neocolonialism or the exponential increase in forced labor worldwide, are critically illuminated by engagements with ideas that emerged out of the Caribbean, which, after all, is birthplace of what we know as European modernity.

I am always struck when teaching W.E.B. Du Bois by the centrality of difficult, meaningful work to what he regarded as living a distinctively human life.  I look 
forward to the next ten years of this unique expression of our collective freedom!


Jane Gordon