“Mudimbe’s Things and Words”
Screening of film by Jean-Pierre Bekolo
“Mudimbe’s Things and Words”, dir. Jean-Pierre Bekolo, Cameroon 2014
“Mudimbe’s Things and Words” (Les Mots et les Choses de Mudimbe) is a portrait of Congolese intellectual Valentin-Yves Mudimbe, one of the most important living African philosophers and writers.
Mudimbe was born in 1941 in Likasi, then Belgian Congo, currently Democratic Republic of the Congo. First, he started studies in economy in Kinshasa, then earning a Ph.D. in Romance Philology in Paris.
Valentin-Yves Mudimbe is a linguistic genius: he mastered about ten languages and can read in another eight. He gives lectures at many of the world's prestigious universities in France, Belgium, Mexico, Canada, Great Britain, Israel and Germany. In 1979, he emigrated to the United Stages, where he still teaches at Duke University as profesor emeritus. In his award-winning creative input, he references Africa's past and present as a continent suspended between tradition and European influences, as well as the processes of decay and destruction caused by the colonialism, missionary services and development aid. His monographs: “The Invention of Africa” (1988) and “The Idea of Africa” (1994), in which the author undertakes to liberate Africa from its place in the position of the “absolute Other”, firmly held by the continent in the Western thought, are deemed classic publications, with importance on par with Edward Said's “Orientalism”
The film by Jean-Pierre Bekolo is an extended interview, a 4-hour portrait captured by one of Cameroon's most renowned film-makers. Bekolo penetrated Mudimbe's complex line of thought and life story, with the philosopher's home as the starting point. Mudimbe's house, stories and allusions, and therefore the film in general, is filled with books, photos - of family members, friends and acquaintances, memories, diplomas, the innumerable objects, statues and technical devices. The protagonist comments on nearly the entire past century. He references Hegel, Derrida, Aristotle, Hannah Arendt, Clifford Geertz, Pierre Bourdieu, and also, as is stressed with the film's title, which references one of the most renowned philosophical works of the 20th century, Michel Foucault's “The Order of Things”; he recounts the Berlin Conference on dividing Africa between the colonial powers, the philosophical roots of thought on race ("Rasse") during the German presence in Rwanda and Burundi, as well as African philosophers and intellectual life in Africa.
In the film, Mudimbe takes a critical look on the Western knowledge production machine, most of all pondering on how the knowledge is created, taught and transmitted. Creating fascinating links between concepts, Mudimbe demonstrates a benchmark to analyse the past and the present, which is always critical and “contemporary” to its object. His ideas, teaching and research are not an end in itself: as he says, it's better for “the system” if the philosophers are dead; otherwise, they cause trouble.