Wednesday, December 29, 2010

IDENTITY AND SOCIAL POSITIONING: A DEBATE

I placed headings to indicate the ideas being discussed.

Questions of Identity as Social Unifier

"In an environment were everyone has one singular thing in common: IDENTITY"

-joan.Osa Oviawe

Hmmmm...leads to some interesting questions:

Is identity monolithic,singular or plural? Is it constant or shifting? What may be meant by commonality of identity among social groups?On what indices are these commonalities based on?

A memorable work that comes to mind on this is the conversation between Densu and Damfo in Ayi Kwei Armah's novel The Healers on the constitution of the self through multiple identities, mediated through social conditioning and more individualistic drives, and the need to be selective about what aspects of the self one should identify with.

Identity Understood in Relation to Conceptions of the Self

Almost certainly, the answer to those questions above will depend on the conception of the nature of the self that forms the framework in terms of which one answers the question.

The Self in African and Western World Views

Various schools of thought,from Africa,to Asia and the West,can be distinguished as well as related in terms of their conception of self. Classical Bini thought can be understood in terms of a dialectical relationship between the ontological essence represented by Ehi and other aspects of the self,like the Yoruba Ori and the Igbo Chi,including the concept of the Inner Self and the Holy Guardian Angel in Western esotericism and the image of God in the human being in Biblical terms.

The Self Understood in Relation to Non-dualism and Qualified Monism in Indian Philosophy

Within classical Indian philosophy,one observes two different but related positions identified with Sankara and Ramanuja,in which Sankara is described as arguing for describing reality primarily in terms of ultimate being and the material universe as illussory,nondualism, while Ramanuja argues for a qualified monism,,in which the material universe also demonstrates a degree of reality,although foundational and ultimate reality is not vested in the material universe..Within such a context,for the Sankara view the only valid self would be the ultimate self or Atman,not the conventional self while for the Ramanuja perspective the selves may be understood as being correlative.Of course this is a crude and possibly partially if not significantly inaccuarate summation,since Iam not famiilar with the ideas but have only read them briefly.

The Service of the Catholic Priest in Relation to the Relationship between the Ethnic and the Vocational/Institutional Self

With reference to the questions emerging from the argument conducted on the question of ethnicity in relation to being head of Benin Catholic diocese or being responsible for churches in the first place,as evoked in another context by an autobiographical work by a Jesuit on his complementary and contrastive social and religious identities and the painful process of their interrelationship,what identity should a person like Fr.Orobator identify with primarily-his Bini identity in relation to such issues as some of the Bini laity would want a fellow Bini like him to be in charge of Benin diocese or his Jesuit identity on account of which he has been posted to far away Kenya as Principal charge of five countries in the Est Africa mission,in which as of when he made the video I posted,there was no indigenous priest,nobody from Kenya?

Toyin Adepoju

Research and the Perceptual Position of the Self

"In qualitative research, you learn on day [one?] of any advanced research methods class about identity/positionality. That our identity and sense of self invariably influence our research- how we gather and interpret data"

-joan.Osa Oviawe

I would be grateful for titles of texts that can guide me on this.My experience with research methods teaching does not seem to have emphasised this this but it has been central to my work.I understand it as central to the work of Georg Gadamer in his seminal Truth and Method.Thanks for giving this shape for me.

Toyin Adepoju

Who are You:Everything and Nothing or One Thing and Something?

“You can never bring yourself to say exactly who you are and from whence you come...according to you, you are neither (or both), Edo and/ or Yoruba. When the Yorubas ask you to identify yourself you vacillate and take flight and when the Edos inquire about your lineage you begin your purple monkey textual dance and coyly take leave of the discussion.

Why are you so uncomfortable with your identity? Why do you have this seemingly intractable cultural inferiority complex? Why have you made yourself a cultural nonentity, constantly putting on the borrowed garb of other cultures? And while must you obliquely occupy this in-between space of nothingness. Any normal human being's identity should be sacrosanct!"

-joan.Osa Oviawe

Emphasis there is mine to reflect the sections I find most intriguing.

Cultural Nomadism and Cultural Rootedness

"Cultural nonentity....hmmmmmm
"constantly putting on the borrowed garb of other cultures"

-joan.Osa Oviawe

Is it not possible that my culture is actually largely cosmopolitan and not ethnic?I do have an ethnic geographical affiliation through my family,but does that make that ethnic source my culture?A place I have such little memory of,even though they gave me shelter during the Nigerian Civil War? Benin is actually the central location of my cultural development. It is becoming increasingly evident,though, that people experience Benin in different ways.For me it has been a cosmopolitan crossroads while for others it is their ancestral land in relation to which only Bini people are legitimate.

Does the fact that I made the mistake of not learning Bini make a difference here? I doubt it.

Toyin Adepoju

Self Identification and Perception by Others

“Without your willingness to identify yourself, your audience essentially wastes time taking you seriously”.

-joan.Osa Oviawe

Is this true? Is a definition of ethnic identity vital to discourse,even on issues of knowledge systems developed by particular ethnicities,such as the Yoruba/Orisa Ifa and Benin Olokun? Is one’s mode of engagement with such discourses,which may or may not be as an indigene not more relevant than whether or not one is of an indigenous background?

Questions on Identity as Absolute Validation

"identity should be sacrosanct"

-joan.Osa Oviawe

Important but not an idea that can be treated with abslute certainty.For example,the expressions: “My mind", "My life" Who is that "my"? Is that "I" represented by the "my" inexorably idetified with the Joan Oviawe who perhaps awas born in Benin,grew up there and later emigrated to the US? Perhaps.In the mind of that Oviawe,we should be able to find threads of thoughts emerging from that history,a mental pattern shaped by it,definable in terms of memories, associational patterns, emotions,attitudes,perspectives,forming a more or less unified whole.

But if one looks even more carefully,there is a state in which the self can be experienced to some degree independently of the thoughts and emotions constructed by that social history.The naked sense of self awareness.Just knowing that you are.The sense that you are.Isness.Is that not the core of the socially constructed self? The pearl around which it has formed and which therefore predates it? Can this core understand itself beyond the mere fact of self-acknowledgement? That possibility and the analytical process described above is the core of the philosophy of the Indian philosopher and mystic Ramana Maharshi,as described to Paul Brunton in in Brunton's A Search in Secret India.The book and the Bendel Book Depot at Eghosa in Benin where I bought it are linked for me in memory as repositories of wonderful and liberating knowledge.

Maharshi advised reflection on that sense of basic identity.I have tried it a few times.The lasting effect is powerful.Brunton wrote that it took him into a cosmic awareness,since the roots of the individual sense of self awareness are understood by this philosophy to be in the self awareness that underlies the cosmos.

Toyin Adepoju

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

IF DIASPORA NIGERIANS RETURN HOME TO WORK,WILL THAT TRANSFORM THE COUNTRY POSITIVELY?

A CONVERSATION ON FACEBOOK BETWEEN THE NIGERIAN WRITER AYANDA ABEKE AND TOYIN ADEPOJU


Ayanda Abeke: But Toyin, You know you're one of those who should be held responsible for those problems you discoursed in the article [on education in Nigeria]

When all you think about is travel abroad and teach the with man their language with their own styles. Whereas, the reverse is suppose to be the case, just like the case of China. Learn how and how not and apply them into your own context.

I'm very sure if, all Nigerians teaching abroad rethink and decide to come back home to reform our education sector, believe me, we will be the true Giant of Africa in no time. But that's is if we think globally and act locally which is the twist of your article.

Toyin Adepoju:With reference to your grouse,perhaps you would do well to find out why I have chosen yo study in England after doing two degrees in Naija and staring and discontinuing a third one and after teaching there for 12 years after my BA.It might also help your analysis if you could find out why some well known scholars like Abiola Irele and Biodunfun Jeyifo are also not teaching in Naija after starting their careers there and achieving fame there.Also,is it really true that if all Nigerian teachers return to teach in Najia and perhaps all Nigerians abroad return to Naija then the country will certainly become the Giant of Africa? I have my doubts.

Ayanda Abeke:In as much as I don't agree with you and I will like to know the reason why you and your learned colleagues fled to the supposed milky land, all in the name of bad economy, which you think you can't change, I give you the go ahead to post challenge.

And I still maintain my position!

Friday, February 02, 2007

toyin adepoju: God bless you
Oshodi Oshodi: mean while, you no get money fo borrow from
Oshodi Oshodi: wetin be your use Mr. Man???
toyin adepoju: my apl;ologies
toyin adepoju: we hope to be more useful
Oshodi Oshodi: help me sell your bike and borrow me the money
toyin adepoju: you dey settle person yourself?
Oshodi Oshodi: help me sell your bike now
Oshodi Oshodi: I go buy you new in in one year
toyin adepoju: dont worry
toyin adepoju: i will send a delegation to my Infernal Compatriots on your behlf
Oshodi Oshodi: hahahahahashashha
toyin adepoju: dey will come at midnight tomorrow
Oshodi Oshodi: nice one!
toyin adepoju: only you will see them
Oshodi Oshodi: shai you know say I dey play o
toyin adepoju: dont be afarid
toyin adepoju: dont be a coward
toyin adepoju: be bold
Oshodi Oshodi: make you no sell your bike o
toyin adepoju: relax
toyin adepoju: dis ideas is better than bike selling
Oshodi Oshodi: but I will not take offence if you sell your body
toyin adepoju: bike might not get more than 10 pounds
Oshodi Oshodi: good enough
toyin adepoju: even my body is not as attracactive as my mind
toyin adepoju: which cant be sold
Oshodi Oshodi: I go use am pay for my newspaper subscription
toyin adepoju: but simply sign the agreement dat will be presented to you tonight
toyin adepoju: and you will be forver grateful to me
toyin adepoju: i wont collect any reaward till 20 yrs from now
toyin adepoju: and it will be sometrhing that you will not miss
Oshodi Oshodi: tonight?
Oshodi Oshodi: what agreement?
Oshodi Oshodi: with the spirit world?
toyin adepoju: you will see it
Oshodi Oshodi: you wan kill me?
Oshodi Oshodi: I get pikin now
toyin adepoju: dont be melodramatic
toyin adepoju: what is spirit
Oshodi Oshodi: I get wife
toyin adepoju: They are everywhere
Oshodi Oshodi: I dey study in a hig level
Oshodi Oshodi: I can jeapordize that
Oshodi Oshodi: I cant I meant
toyin adepoju: relax fear not
Oshodi Oshodi: I dey fear o!!!!!
toyin adepoju: dont
Oshodi Oshodi: I get live, and Jesus
toyin adepoju: i will be there too
toyin adepoju: if you want
toyin adepoju: to relax you
Oshodi Oshodi: Jesus go dey there too?
toyin adepoju: no
toyin adepoju: he is not allowed
Oshodi Oshodi: I cant be there becuase I go by WWJD
Oshodi Oshodi: WWJD: What Would Jesus Do
toyin adepoju: after He conspired against us in the Celestial Place we have banned him
toyin adepoju: come to the winning side
Oshodi Oshodi: hmmm
Oshodi Oshodi: I cant
toyin adepoju: why would you side with a chap who was crucified like a criminal,along with condemned people
toyin adepoju: he could not even protect himself
Oshodi Oshodi: but make I chop first, may be I wll think better
toyin adepoju: instead claiming that he was doing it voltuntarily
Oshodi Oshodi: Jesus is watchin you
toyin adepoju: who is he
toyin adepoju: the galilean chap?
Oshodi Oshodi: I believe he knows you are joking
toyin adepoju: grow up
Oshodi Oshodi: God wants you to follow Jesus
toyin adepoju: the nazarene carpenter who had ideas above his station?
Oshodi Oshodi: Jesus died for you Mr, Oluwatoyin VINCENT Adepoju
toyin adepoju: instead of him to follow his fathers carpentry trade like a good and dutiful son
Oshodi Oshodi: haba!!
Oshodi Oshodi: make I pray for you...
toyin adepoju: he choose to speculate wildly and got himsekf killed
Oshodi Oshodi: give me 2 minutes...
Oshodi Oshodi: ...for prayer
toyin adepoju: isa that the kind of example you want to follow?
Oshodi Oshodi: (silence now fron this end)
toyin adepoju: with all your education/
toyin adepoju: you may be silence
toyin adepoju: while you digest home truths
toyin adepoju: anyway,i pray to Jesus too
toyin adepoju: just in case there is a point in thew whole matter
toyin adepoju: you never know#
toyin adepoju: one has toi hedge one's bets
toyin adepoju: that chap called God must not be allowed to outwit one
toyin adepoju: one neds to subscribe to the various claims about what will please him so that one does not go wrong
toyin adepoju: if one dpoes not catch,at least another one will
toyin adepoju: if paganism does not catrhch,chrisrinaity should
toyin adepoju: if that does not,buddhism or hinduiosm should
toyin adepoju: i do a little of alll
toyin adepoju: know your road no be curse
Oshodi Oshodi: amen
Oshodi Oshodi: Jesus has forgiven you
Oshodi Oshodi: you are forgiven
Oshodi Oshodi: you are cleansed now
toyin adepoju: i will not debate that
Oshodi Oshodi: no need
toyin adepoju: lest i futher distrurb your tender sensitivities
Oshodi Oshodi: you have been forgiven
Oshodi Oshodi: it is all in the past...sin no more !!!
toyin adepoju: and your wife warns you to avoid me
toyin adepoju: if she has not done so yet
Oshodi Oshodi: hahahahha
Oshodi Oshodi: not yet

02/02/07

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Man who Thought He Was European

This essay is an exploration of political and cultural identity. This exploration is centred on an investigation of the modes of integration of a particular person, the writer, into the political and cultural heritage represented principally by Europe, but also understood, in its wider sense, as that of the West. The West is understood here as consisting in Europe and North America.
The exploration of identity is dramatized in the particular form assumed by the essay through which it is conducted. The essay departs from the conventional format of the scholarly essay in employing different modes of indentation for the main text and the refrain that operates as a counterpoint to the text. It therefore tries to harmonise both the conventional essay form and an adaptation of an element in poetic form-the refrain.

This exploration in expressive forms is directed at two correlative purposes. The first purpose relates directly to the direction of meaning the essay moves towards-the exploration of what it means to be European. The disjunction in graphological formation between the main body of the text and the refrain is evocative of the disjunction between the subject’s conception of his own identity in relation to Europe and the political understanding of that identity.

This graphological disjunction, in turn, in the weaving of the questions that constitute the refrain in and out of the main body of the text, dramatizes the fact that the questions that constitute the refrain and inspire the main text are still in process of exploration. The dance/journey of exploration that the text represents continues after the text is concluded.

This exploratory form represents a questioning of an aspect of the cultural heritage represented by Europe. That aspect relates to the norms of scholarship, particularly to the format for scholarly writing. Within the hegemony represented by European-Western conceptions of scholarship, the conventional essay format is the standard form of scholarly expression in all disciplines. Why must this be so? Does the form of the work constitute part of the essence of scholarship? To a degree. The use of a uniform form ensures uniformity and thereby conduces to the universality of knowledge that is central to the Western conception of scholarship, as it originated in Europe. It also implies that the criterion of the development of knowledge principally as a form of reasoning which can be followed by anyone, anywhere, can also be realized.

These goals are laudable. I acknowledge that, even though I am suspicious of the wholesale insistence on universal conceptions of the character of scholarly knowledge and procedure. I think that insistence on an unproblematic universality does bracket out areas of thought that do not operate within the criteria thus defined, and which need to be assessed in terms of their validity for scholarly exploration and presentation. A purpose of this work is to challenge the assumptions that underlie aspects of Western constructions of scholarship. This is done through the format of the essay and the questions addressed in its content.

Must scholarly writing operate in the conventional essay format for a reasoned exposition or argument to be developed with the necessary rigour? I don’t think so. Other formats could be just as effective and have been successfully used by scholars even in the Western tradition. Examples of these are Plato’s dialogue’s which include his Parable of the Cave, Galileo’s Dialogue between Two World Systems, Wittgenstein’s aphoristic philophical writing, Rorty’s integration of science fiction narrative into his Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature and Melissa Raphael’s summation with a parabolic narrative in her work on the female face of God in Auschwitz.

This paper was written for the Hermes 2006 conference. My proposal was accepted for the conference but I could not attend. It replaces the paper that would have been written if I had been able to attend the conference. This paper is a reflection on that inability to attend the conference in terms of the implications of the circumstances surrounding that non-attendance for questions of cultural and political identity.

My inability to attend the conference emerged from the mistake I made in thinking I was European. I had been beguiled by my integration into European society, my admiration of the seamless movement of Europeans between European borders into thinking that such seamless crossing applied to me too.

I had rested content with my inclusion in the programme for the conference and had got myself mentally ready for the trip to Belgium but forgot that I would need a visa. After being reminded about that necessity and I called the automated line of the Belgian Embassy in London to apply for a visa the earliest appointment I could be given was a month after the date of the conference I wanted to attend.


But really, am I or am I not European?




Is the question of whether or not I am a European determined solely by the political definition of my identity as a foreign student-that group who pay very high fees but have few privileges compared to their native counterparts-the enviable Home Students-or by my cultural affiliations? By the fact that English is my first language? That I am more fluent in English than I am in any other language? That I was trained in the study of English Literature and the history of English from the earliest period to the present? That I have significant knowledge of English and European history and some acquaintance with the classics of European literature and thought? That I can appreciate and identify with some of Europe’s dominant social values while being healthily critical of them?




What does it mean to be European?


Is Europe primarily a geographical entity? A political or economic one? A social network or a cultural entity? Or are all of these of equal value, and can such value can be measured?


How does one belong to or with Europe in any of these senses?



Can Europe exist outside its geographical boundaries?




Maybe it exists as a set of ideas, of values and attitudes? May it be a state of mind? A scholar responded to questions about the North African theologian St. Augustine of Hippo, who, writing in what later became North Africa, became the most influential Western Christian thinker of his time, and one of the most influential after that, in fields from sociology to autobiography, by asserting that what is most important about a person is not their race or their geographical provenance, but their culture. On those grounds, Augustine was practically a Roman citizen and a part of the culture represented by the Church in the sweep of empire it shared with Rome.


How true is this?


May we not speak of the transmutations of cultures as they migrate across space and perhaps time, and even across embodiments in human beings and human institutions, so that the Christianity of Palestine, even in its self conscious theological development by Paul, is different from that of Augustine and his fellow North Africans, Origen, Athanasius, Cyprian of Carthage, and different from the Christianity of Spain and the achievement of St. Ignatius Loyola and St. Francis Xavier? Why did Christian monasticism begin in Egypt with St. Anthony of Egypt? Perhaps questions of physical geography may provide a clue in terms of the inspiration of the desert to a contemplative life, thereby suggesting the role of natural forms in their interaction with human consciousness in the transmutation of culture.

The transformation of the language and world views of former empires through the alembic of the formerly colonised has created cultural achievements that the natives of the source of empire could not have developed since they did not belong to those alternative worlds. So, perhaps, the idea, perhaps even the being of Europe, is undergoing a shift, a shift embodied in countless examples of cultural transformation manifested in the embodiment of each human who exemplifies this transformation, in each cultural expression that dramatizes it.



Is Europe, then, a mobile identity? Transformatory, fluid, volatile, shifting in time and in space?





Perhaps it is. Without the presence in Nigeria of Europe, in the form of English formal education, of a European way of life and of the books written by or published by Europeans that shaped my personality, I and many other Nigerians would not be who we have become. These books were overwhelmingly present over books from other part of the world, apart from the United States, which is culturally a development from Europe, on account of the neo-colonial control of access to the Nigerian economy.

I would not have been able to understand even the endogenous elements of my own native cultures as much as I have been able to do, limited as that is, without the inspiration of such books. Living in Nigeria, I was like a person living in Europe, perceiving the elements of my native culture with my corporeal sight, as a European might do in museums or books, but not perceiving them with my cognitive sight. They meant nothing except that they were the vestiges of a way of life different from ours, ours being we who spoke and wrote in English, had access to the modern, civilised knowledge represented by rational thought, and by the higher religions which operated in terms of lofty ideas and the most refined of symbols. Religions where animal sacrifice was not practiced as in endogenous African religions, where there were no rumours of human sacrifice as held for Bini religion in Benin where I grew up.

Europe was both the source of my alienation from the native genius of that culture and the subsequent source of my access to it. This is a paradoxical juxtaposition made possible by my reading of Europeans like the English Hermeticist Dion Fortune who concluded that Europe had developed through a number of overlapping identities, successively realized but coexistent in space. She worked towards a recovery of the endogenous European religious genius which had been suppressed by Christianity . Fortune makes little or no reference to Africa, except allusively as part of a group of primitive peoples contrasted with Western civilization, but her ideas have proved invaluable for me as they have enabled me to look at African systems of thought with the empathic and yet critical mind with which her ideas frame her exploration of pre-Christian European thought . Her ideas led me to an appreciation of multiple African identities, those shaped by Europe and those that were not. Successively realized, but consistent in space. Ironically, to reach that Africa that was not shaped by Europe I had to pass through Europe. So the Africa I have come to in that search is unavoidably shaped by Europe. It can not come to me as a pristine reconstruction, sans European influence. It exists to a large extent as an interpretive vision, a constructed schema significantly influenced by Europe.




Can we escape Europe?





I doubt it. The human race at the beginning of the twenty-first century could be seen to be in the position of the Psalmist who cries out about their inability to escape from their creator, regardless of where they hide, in deep space or in the depths of the sea, because European influence has shaped the world decisively in the last few centuries. Not only through colonization, but through the assertion of a conception of human good, manifest in the conquest of nature, the marshalling of natural resources, the development and application of scientific and technological innovation and the construction of social systems. So much so that the rest of the world regards aspects of the model of human good either first developed in Europe, or developed to a high state in Europe, to be ideal, and strives after it, as a norm of what is known as development.

This brings me to my effort to assimilate and employ Europe as a means of going beyond Europe as it is conventionally understood.

Under the inspiration of the marginalised knowledge systems represented by the ideas of Dion Fortune, I have been exploring endogenous conceptions of being in Yoruba and Bini systems of thought. I am exploring a conception of forms of mind that emerges from the correlations between the ideas of the English occultist and these endogenous African systems. Some of the questions that emerge from these notions gravitate around such queries as “May consciousness be understood to include not only mammalian forms but non-mammalian such as vegetative and other elemental forms, such as natural bodies of water? May it also go beyond the conventional understanding of group psychology and demonstrate the capacity of groups to generate mental forms that transcend space and time?”

These ideas emerge from Western occultism but demonstrate significant resonance with endogenous ideas in Yoruba and Bini systems of thought, resonances I would not have discerned without the study of Western occultism which led me to the study of the African systems in the first place. Controversial European ideas, marginalized within Europe itself, have enabled me, an African to understand better my own African heritage, which I had been estranged from by the colonial encounter with Europe.

These convergences between European and African knowledge systems have enabled me to enter into the understanding of marginalised knowledge systems. These systems are marginalised both in Africa and within the global economy of knowledge.. I am in the process of interpreting the convergence between the African and Western expressions of these systems in relation to cognitive procedures in the dominant Western cognitive models. In doing this, I am again operating within the framework of the agenda developed by the English occultist, Fortune. She emphasises the need to interpret such marginalised and recovered forms in relation to contemporary forms of knowledge so as to demonstrate their contemporary significance.`

The research Fortune’s work has inspired into a marginalised African episteme has led me to Europe, specifically to England, the birthplace and source of her ideas. This movement in space enables me to engage at first hand with the natural phenomena and movements of thought that inspired her thinking. This direct engagement facilitates the correlation of my experience of these natural and cultural phenomena with their counterparts in Nigeria which I have studied under her inspiration.

These movements within and through space and time suggest the image of a spiral. In continuing my research in England, the source of the ideas that inspired me in Nigeria, I have come to a place a part of whose mental world I shared while in Nigeria. In doing this, however, I have also brought with me what I have learnt about Nigeria with the help of that mental world.
How does the spiral motion represented by the correlation of diverse cognitive worlds relate to the question of rethinking Europe, in relation to the global frameworks within Europe is currently being reconstructed?

This question could be understood through the lens of the poetry of T.S. Eliot, an Anglo-American poet whose work is often concerned with questions of ancestry, both genealogical and cultural. The spiral motion of my quest recalls Eliot’s closing lines in Little Gidding, the conclusion of a poetic sequence, which, like this essay, explores issues of the quest for identity in relation to questions of belonging in a spiritual and geographical sense:



What we call the beginning is often the end/

And to make an end is to make a beginning/
The end is where we start from/

We shall not cease from exploration/
And the end of all our exploring/
Will be to arrive where we started/
And know the place for the first time .



This spiral motion of quest understood in both a mental and a physical sense, as described in this essay I relation to the Europe-Africa dialectic, leads to the idea that there are different Europes. These represent interpretive and/or material constructions of Europe. They demonstrate an implicit or explicit relationship to other forms of knowledge in relation to or outside the ambience of Europe. Europe can be understood,then, as both a geographical and a political characterization as well as a form of knowledge or an agglomeration of forms of knowledge that purport to present what Europe is or stands for. These forms of knowledge that represent Europe may emerge from Europe while others may originate from outside it, being embodiments of the views of non-Europeans who identify with Europe.These patterns of Europisation, a neologism indicating forms of thinking about Europe, demonstrate various forms of relationship within themselves and with forms of thought that have no direct relationship with Europe. The various forms of intra-European thought include the Europe of the occultists, the Europe of mainstream academia, the Europe of what is accepted as the general character of reality by the generality of the European citizenry , and the Europe that exists in flux between all these. The latter Europe is represented, paradoxically, by Isaac Newton, a founding father of the scientific and technological reworking of the universe that is one of Europe’s defining contributions to civilisation. Newton’s researches into the marginalised episteme represented by the occult discipline of alchemy is described as fundamental to his discoveries in physics, yet the motivation, the raison de etre, the values, that informed his correlation of the unlikely cognitive forms of alchemy and modern physics do not seem to have survived as an active influence on subsequent scientific research in the scientific heritage he represents.

From the convergence of the various Europes I have encountered, and the various forms of Africa which have influenced me, I am constructing a contemplative and intellectual exploration of the ground of being. The philosophical framing of the notion of a ground of being represents an interrogative strategy I have gained from my encounter with European and Asian thought. The concept exists in endogenous African systems but my formative encounters with the concept as an abstract philosophical subject that can be addressed in relation to various provinces of enquiry have been in relation to European and Asian thought. My enquiries into the ground of being represent an effort to answer the question as to whether the ground of being can be understood as related to a non-physical centre. The effort to answer this question emerges in various cultural traditions of enquiry into the fundamental ground of existence.

This enquiry operates at two levels. One of these is the level of the physical organisation of the cosmos. The other is the level of nonmaterial principles of meaning, causation and purpose.

In the transposition of ideas from marginalized epistemologies to mainstream disciplines, I am integrating in my work the various identities of Europe and Africa that inspire me. My goal is to harmonise these cognitive worlds, enabling them to speak to each other in languages that empower them to enrich each other, instead of operating in the epistemic compartments in which they work at present. To achieve this, I aspire to transpose the language and styles of thought of the marginalised systems into those of the mainstream traditions, without impairing the integrity of each of these ordinarily contrastive modes of thought. The most significant challenge seems to emerge here.

My research has been inspired and initiated by my efforts to apply the ideas of the English occultist to Bini and Yoruba systems of thought, not in a purely intellectual manner, but in an experiential way. It is the unusual experiences I have had in relation to these efforts that has led to my effort to explore their significance in relation to similar experiences and ideas in other parts of the world as well as to examine as broad a range as possible of the significance of these marginalised modes of knowledge.

But, how do I explain in a PhD dissertation that my work has been inspired by my practise of Hermetic magic and Yoruba and Bini nature spirituality? How do I integrate into such a work my efforts at nature mysticism, embodying such unusual practices, in the modern academic context, of efforts to engage in dialogue with trees? How may I advance my conviction that through such arcane practices-gradually becoming more and more visible in the West through growth of neo-Paganism-I thereby developed unusual modes of responding to nature? These modes of relating to nature are close to William Blake’s conception of visionary sight in which he saw “through his eyes and not with them” . This suggestion of a mode of penetrating into an essential, supra-biological identity is different from the more common aestheticised notion of relating with nature where the focus is on external beauty of natural forms. The former focuses on a sense of distinctive identity, related to the physical form but not limited to it.

How do I relate to my research the sense of numinous presence which I have encountered a number of times in nature? Similar claims have been made by the Romantics and Symbolists, but could Blake, Coleridge, Wordsworth or Baudelaire have made their perceptions part of a PhD dissertation?

How may I also relate to my research my experiences of nonmaterial presence in relation to my practice of Western hermetic magic in my study of Yoruba cosmology? An experience and practice that has borne concrete results in my research in graduate work in England , results that have been positively accredited with good grades, that basic benchmark of academic achievement, without the examiners knowing how I arrived at some of the ideas that would have looked so logical on paper but which were not always inspired through procedures that relied on logic?

Western scholarship is centred on the study of the subject as Other, in which affective distance is maintained between the subject and the researcher. It has de-emphasized the possibility of the subject of research being the researcher themselves. This research paradigm might have emerged on account of the need to preserve the central value of objectivity that is facilitated by critical distance. This value is central to the scholarly tradition that has been made dominant by the West. But does an unbending insistence on the affective divorce of the researcher from their subject matter not constitute a fiction of a sort?

In the degree to which I have been inspired by the ideas of Europeans, I am a part of Europe. To the degree that I integrate various possibilities from different continents in a quest that has taken me from Africa to Europe, I testify to the possibilities of integrating various possibilities in relation to Europe.

The aspect of European thought that has initiated my quest embodies the efforts of Europeans to rediscover endogenous European religious and philosophical identity as it existed before its suppression by the imperialistic efforts of the church, the successor to the Roman Empire, an initiative similar to the effort currently being undertaken by Africans in the aftermath of Western colonialism and its Christian appendage. This convergence embodies the Ghanaian theologian Kwame Bediako’s argument that Africa and Europe are united by the urgency to develop a shared quest to understand and adapt to modern needs the aboriginal world views that were suppressed in both continents by the advent of Christianity . To the degree that this strand of thought represents only a fraction, and in the case of Hermeneutic thought, a marginalised fraction, of European thought, my research bears witness to the contrastive influences of multiple possibilities represented by Europe.

my life and roots of my academic interests in exchange with ade

Oshodi Oshodi: Babalawo!
toyin adepoju: good morning. I hope you a good weekend?
toyin adepoju: weekend
Oshodi Oshodi: worked and spent time with family, immediate and extended. It was pleasurable
Oshodi Oshodi: and you?
toyin adepoju: forgive my tormenting me. look at your mate on this page. she finished BA same year as me
toyin adepoju: Good morning.
  I wonder if I could have five copies of your excellent book The
Pregnancy Book?
  
  My  address is
  c/o Toyin Adepoju,
  Bernard Johnson House,
  78 Fortis Green,
  N2 9EX.
  Thanks.
  http://www.chem.ucl.ac.uk/people/fielding/biog.html
  
toyin adepoju: mistake look at just the url -http://www.chem.ucl.ac.uk/people/fielding/biog.html
Oshodi Oshodi: she is even attractive...doesn’t look academic like you
toyin adepoju: type this into your browser
toyin adepoju: ucl.ac.uk/news/news helen fielding
toyin adepoju: copy and paste just like dat
Oshodi Oshodi: ok
Oshodi Oshodi: wow!
Oshodi Oshodi: a trail blazer!
toyin adepoju: de evidence speaks for itself
toyin adepoju: her biography at
toyin adepoju: shge finished BA in 1989 de same year as me
Oshodi Oshodi: that does not matter to me, she had certain advantages you did not have
toyin adepoju: lets not dwell too much on that
Oshodi Oshodi: support of a stable family (probably), support of the educational system and living in a stable predictable society
toyin adepoju: did i not have support of a stable family? I was already employed in an academic job before she was according to her CV
Oshodi Oshodi: not exactly
Oshodi Oshodi: your parents were separated
toyin adepoju: YOUR LAST TWO POINTS MIGHT BE CLOSER TO THE MARK
Oshodi Oshodi: the Nigerian  system did not make things easy for you in ALL regards
toyin adepoju: another point is dat it  has taken me more than 20 years to get the opprtunity i have now
toyin adepoju: i tell you i don go psychiatric hospital before?
Oshodi Oshodi: for wetin?
toyin adepoju: its too much to go into the details now but de bottom line was my mum was advised to send me there on account of my radical attitudes to education which were widely believed to the expressions of disturbed  mind
toyin adepoju: a disturbed mind
Oshodi Oshodi: are you serious?
Oshodi Oshodi: you see, that could be as a result of family issues...
Oshodi Oshodi: in fact I am sure it is
toyin adepoju: explain please
Oshodi Oshodi: your parents were not together then, and may have been rebelling (with out realising the cause).
toyin adepoju: i will tell you de details in a  few minutes.it had nothing to do with rebelling although a number of people could not help thinking it had to do with my family
Oshodi Oshodi: ok, I am waiting...
toyin adepoju: She struggled with her own incomprehension of my radical attitudes which she could not relate to anything in her experience, my father was in England with his new wife and largely, if not completely out of touch, she was struggling with all kinds of challenges, economic, spiritual and psychological-a part of the psychological is that I am convinced she subconsciously viewed me as representing the man who had so brutally hurt her and so was often antagonistic towards me. that did not mean that she did not love me but the love was entwined with contradictory emotions which I suspect were at times fanned by advisers.
She tried hard to understand accommodate my attitudes to education, took me to an Indian guidance counsellor who tested my IQ since the counsellor believed I was making claims t
toyin adepoju: claims that suggested I saw myself as having a high IQ and she also took me to professor of psychiatry at Uniben who was convinced I was not well and wrote in his report that I had some weird ideas about spiritual contacts.
Even when my father came back to Nigeria and I visited him, the whole thing was bizarre to him but he made some proposals which suggested that if he had been part of our family de issue might have been handled differently even if my family did not poses the cultural background or social help to understand the situation but he could not follow up on his ideas.

Oshodi Oshodi: this all relates to my point
toyin adepoju: indirectly. you spoke of a rebellion
toyin adepoju: yet you don’t know what toyin was doing that was thought crazy
Oshodi Oshodi: a rebellion it is, it doesn’t have to be a physical expression
toyin adepoju: you say you admire creativity, do you think it always comes in ways that perople are comfortable with?
toyin adepoju: I continue
toyin adepoju: eventually it was at the psychiatric hospital that i made friends who  convinced me to to do what everyone wanted me to do. I think it was because i had been able to make some progress in my initiatives before then, thereby giving me the confidence to continue with conventional, the emotional support i got from my friends dere which was free of de  complications in my domestic setup, as well as the compulsion of the experience of being taken to the hospital by force. the nurses abducted me in the midst of a magical ritual which in itself convinced dem i was not okay.
toyin adepoju: now what was the issue, why was i thought to be unwell?
toyin adepoju: i had resolved, after one year of A Levels that I was not going to go the university. I stated that i was going to educate myself
toyin adepoju: it made little sense
Oshodi Oshodi: it must have bee agonizing what you were going through
toyin adepoju: my mum struggled to understand and was convinced de key was my going to school to pursue my dreams
toyin adepoju: but i was convinced dat school was not de answer and with time i realise how right i was
toyin adepoju: later, we could continue. its really a face to face discussion
toyin adepoju: i was convinced dat my educational vision could not be realised in a school
toyin adepoju: i later concluded that i was not ready for the university
toyin adepoju: my mum filled and submitted my jamb form
toyin adepoju: and i was persuaded to do jamb
Oshodi Oshodi: you mother never gave up
Oshodi Oshodi: you owe her a lot
toyin adepoju: yes. even though she did not really know what was going on. I had very high grade and was admitted to uniben but i twice dropped out since i found the place claustrophobic intellectually
toyin adepoju: now, to lead to the case i am making
toyin adepoju: how come that I, who was an indifferent student in secondary school which i left at 16 in 1978 was able to get 311 out of 400 when i did jamb in 1979-80,even though since i was persuaded late to do jamb, studied for it in only  two weeks?
Oshodi Oshodi: 311 in JAMB!!!!! That is fantastic
toyin adepoju: .thanks for the frank appreciation. de questions is how was i able to do it with two weeks study having spent the time before then with bad A level 1 result since i was not really keen, doing extracurricular reading rather than my studies. i  was an average secondary school student. I did not have any A1 in my WAEC.i have not always been this motivated about schooling as you see me today
Oshodi Oshodi: na your mama prayer they carry you
Oshodi Oshodi: hold on...
toyin adepoju: we thank God for her but there are also OTHER FACTORS. I went through a transformative experience after my secondary school that, as well as making the JAMB feat possible was what inspired me with the idea that i needed time to get my cognitive bearing before going to the university.
Oshodi Oshodi: I dey come...
BUZZ!!!
toyin adepoju: i had read widely in my family's library, been fired by ideas about people i had come to admire, had become convinced through reading the Grail message that the current pedagogical regime represented by Western education represented  a truncation of human potential ,had had practicised some yoga under the influence of Buddhism and the Grail message and had revelatory experiences that sealed the  transformation in  my thnking.i resolved to work out and apply an educational program of my own as an alternative to Western education. I later resolved that i could go to the university later after addressing that burning issue which had become more than an obsession. it defined my existence.
toyin adepoju: Even though I had to postpone those goals in order to succeed academically in terms of the linear progression expected by society, I have come back to them again and again and they are at the heart of the motivation, research design and gaols of my current academic research. my experiences in the UK have emboldened my efforts to address these ideas from within academia but i needed some time off from academia to pursue what Arnold Toynbee, writing about monasticism, described as the periodic need to take time off from the business and please and pleasure  of the moment and "measure human potential against the human condition"



toyin: tanks for de opportunity to take stock. I know i can count on you to listen. i need to go and bath now and go out briefly.

on family and sucess and single parent families see Barack Obama

Sunday, September 03, 2006

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Letisa: I am developing an argument on a number of fronts. I am working in relation to ideas of embodiment in relation to knowing as well as ideas about how Western thought has developed from the military culture of ancient Rome.

Toyin: Does is this notion of embodiment in relation to cognitive process gain from a specifically female inspirational base?

Letisa: I’m still working on that but my argument is for the notion that the act of knowing proceeds along a number of correlative lines, which include the sensory and the mental, that, in fact, the mind could be understood as located all over the body not only in the head since our sensory apparatus operates all over our bodies and are simply routed to their centres in the head.

Toyin: That makes sense. How do you intend to develop that into a cognitive procedure?
Letisa: That’s the challenge. The central challenge I face here is that the inspirational spring of my ideas derives from the fact that a lot of my ideas emerge from non-ratiocinative sources, of which the forms of bodily knowing are central.

Toyin: Could you please go to the point you were making about the military origin of modern Western discursive forms?

Letisa: I was refrying to its argumentative structure. Why must a question be examined, a point established, through the marshalling up of squads of points in favour of that point, arrayed in opposition to contrastive ideas? Why must the development of ideas and the examination of issues always resemble a conflict between combatants, the opposing side being the ideas not certified by the writer and the other side represented by the ideas they credit. Or even if this position does not emerge from the beginning, it emerges as the text progresses, so that there always exists or is developed a structure of opposition, between two groups of ideas.

Toyin: But is that not to be taken for granted ih the development of a perspective on a topic? Does one not need to examine contrastive ideas and arrive at those that are more valid? All ideas can not be equally valid.

Letisa: Noted. But I am not pleading for an uncritical embrace of all ideas available in relation to a question. All I am suggesting d that I seem to observe in the fundamental structure of investigation in scholarship the notion of a Manichean/oppositional duality, in which either/or propositions determine the structure of thought.

Toyin: You think such dualities are inadequate for knowledge?

Letisa: Yes. Because reality is often multiplex, kaleidoscopic, even fragmentary. To what degree can we isolate one phenomenon from another? Don’t many phenomena, particularly those relating to issues of value, infiltrate each other? I find myself using a military metaphor here, but I think you get my point.

Toyin: Can you suggest a style of investigation that would take advantage of the interdependence you are describing?
Letisa: I am still developing it. I am thinking of something like a navigational form of thought, where the purpose is to navigate our way in relation to as broad a range as possible of the possibilities of perception in relation to a subject. I am thinking of

Toyin: I seem to recall descriptions of essays by the French writer Michel de Montainge along those lines.

Letisa: Perhaps. But such styles of thought have not gained centrality in Western academe. The ethos of the warrior, who is certainly marshalling opposing forces against each other and of the hunter who operates in terms of an adversarial relationship with the Other represented by the animals he preys on, dominates scholarship, where this is conducted in terms of opposition between ideas and discourse is more often than not argumentative, with the qualities of mental combat embodying martial values.

Toyin: Intriguing. How do you arrive at conclusions? Do you stumble upon them or do you defer them endlessly?

Letisa: I know you are making fun of me but even those suggestions might not be as ridiculous as they sound.

Toyin: So, do we swim forever in a soup of inconclusion or do we arrive at any shore as we navigate the possibilities of an ideas or subject?

Letisa: Certainly. To postulate a permanent nondecision, nonjudgement would be irresponsible. That would be an excess of relativistic thinking. I am suggesting, as I still develop these ideas, a movement towards resolution with a tacit understanding that every resolution demonstrates some degree of the provisional and the specificity with which we circumscribe perspectives facilitates a bracketing out of ancillary but relevant aspects of those perspectives which we have relegated either to the background or to non-existence in our cognitive worlds.

Toyin: This reminds of a way you described this idea the other day-as a style of thinking the mobility of which dramatises a deferral of judgement in the name of a cognitive “synaesthesia” that enables/facilitates a perception of the subject matter from a variety of perspectives, even contradictory perspectives….

Letisa: Yes…leading to the possibility of convergence, or, even if not of convergence, of mutual tension, in which the absence of an ultimate coherence is itself an understanding that suggests possibilities of holding possibilities, understandings in a creative tension….

Toyin: You think, then, that such a tentative style of interpreting phenomena might be more in harmony with the paradoxical realities of existence than the notion of certainty, of linear coherence, even of dialectical balance that is /currently privileged in conceptions of the effort to arrive at meaning….

Letisa: My thinking is moving in that direction.

Toyin: You would seem, then, to be thinking in terms of an understanding of the search for knowledge more in terms of a quest for meaning, for structures, patterns, processes of understanding through which can be enriched, even if the ultimate truth value of the understanding arrived at, of the processes developed, may not be fully ascertained, are understood as to a degree, in flux

Letisa: But then, this does not imply, however, an absolute relativity. Absolute relativity, endless cognitive flux, could be more productive of a destructive anarchy, a breakdown in standpoints of collective responsibility than a liberating prospect

Toyin: How do you hope to escape from an absolute relativistic position?

Letisa: By treating conclusions, where necessary, as tentative in the ongoing project represented by the exploration realized through cognitive navigation. The sensitivity to the plural possibilities inherent a phenomenon or an issue or idea highlights the tension between the quest to know, to push back and even reshape boundaries that necessarily characterise a rethinking of our cognitive horizon, our epistemic envelopes, in contrast to the need to conserve, consolidate and apply what we gain in the process in contrast with, in tension with the renewed impetus to continue that quest, which continues beyond the bounds of what we can perceive at any point in time, as Dion Fortune puts it, may even take us out of space and time, “beyond the skyline, where the strange roads go down”.

Toyin: You mention Fortune. That is intriguing. How does she come here and how did you start on the development of these ideas?

Letisa: It began in relation to my experience of ways of knowing that could not be accounted for by prevailing paradigms. And by my efforts as a woman, to find new ways of thinking that would transcend or even avoid the limitations of the patriarchal thinking that I have often come across. Feminist thinkers often recognise such patriarchal thinking but do not often realise its origin in martial structures and even use the same critical tools while debunking its fruits. I want to go to the very source, to the very girders that hold it up, to the underlying skeleton, as it were, of this style of thinking.

Toyin: Please elaborate.

Letisa: I realised that I could know things through my skin, and not simply by touch. I could intuit people’s mental sates without talking to them. How could I explore such forms of knowledge without descending to superstitious thinking and demands for acceptance for my claims without empirical proof? I realised that the key would be to examine the question of ways of knowing and develop an approach from that point that would be inclusive of my own experience.

Toyin: And your encounter with patriarchal thinking?

Letisa: I kept coming up against both circumscriptions of reality that were demeaning of both women and the men and women who perpetuated them as well as accounts of alternative styles of thinking.

Toyin: Amazing how our experiences correlate. I was also challenged by my experience of unusual ways of knowing. That is what has led me into investigating traditional Yoruba and Benin thought for both explanatory models and ways opf developing this cognitive mode further.

Letisa: Could you explain?

Toyin: Under the influence of the English Hermetic thinker and occultist Dion Fortune explored the notion that there exist various forms of mind and not resent the individual mind. One could speak of the combined influence generated by the mental orientation of a group over along period of time. One could also speak of the mind of nature. She claimed that both conceptions of mind are vital to a recovery of the vitality of religious cultures where these have been disrupted, distorted or even erased by persecution, as in the case of pre-Christian thought in Britain. I realised the parallel with Africa which has suffered similar efforts at re-inscription by Christianity and I went to wok to apply these ideas to the Ifa divinatory system developed by the Yoruba of Nigeria and to nature spirituality in Benin, in relation to similar practices in other parts of Nigeria.

Letisa: Then what happened?

Toyin: My experiences raised questions of interfaces between forms of being, between human consciousness and the ideas with which human beings work, between human beings and natural forms.

Letisa: What were these experiences?

Toyin: Experiences that suggested a participation in the community constituted by the Ifa tradition understood as uncircumscribed by space or perhaps time, the manifestation of a sense of presence that began to emerge when I thought about my plans of developing Ifa in terms of a system of literary criticism, the sudden emergence of an insight into the possibility of realizing this that emerged when I was working on an entirely different subject- South Afro can anti-apartheid poetry, and the persistence of such experiences in relation to my efforts in developing the cognitive potential of the system in terns that could be appreciated in relation to contemporary thought.

Letisa: What did all these suggest to you?

Toyin: I began to ask myself what the sources of my inspirations were. Did it justify Fortune’s notion that groups constituted a group mind, the energies of which could be reached by others outside the group? Or my Ifa teacher’s idea that the Ifa system was empowered by the Odu, which are both categories of organisation similar to chapters of a text, in this case an oral text, as well as sentient entities and that their nature as nonhuman forms which the human being could reach implied that they are adaptable to various cultural and linguistic backgrounds?

Letisa: Where does the nature spirituality stuff come in?

Toyin: That was particularly striking and relates again to the question of cultural appropriation by people who are not, racially or by previous empathic affiliation, part of that culture. I spent time exploring Fortune’s ideas about the mind of nature by contemplating trees, spending time in contemplative silence in woodland and forest.

Letisa: Did that have any effect on you?

Toyin: Yes. Gradually, I began to observe a difference between various kinds of tees that was not reducible to a purely material difference, to differences in purely material biology.

Letisa: Non-material biology then?

Toyin: Perhaps one can put it that way. I began to observe that the sacred trees in Benin City where I lived, the trees used for ritual, seemed to have an aura, an immaterial field around them which I also saw on some trees in the woodland and forest. Most of them were either trees accorded special status in the traditional religion even though they were not actively used in religious or other similar purposes and others which might not have been seen as having any religious value but still demonstrated that sense of an unusual aura. What I found particularly striking was that my intuitive vision was confirmed by people in the localities where I sighted these trees. I could literally tell a tree that had a sacred function in a locality simply by looking at it. I did not have to have been thee before or known anything about the specific tree or of its species. I could tell that identity by observing what seemed to me like an aura around it.

Letisa: So, it would seem, then, that you shared an intersubjective space with the people who identified those tress as sacred, even though you did not have access to their cultural constructions

Toyin: That suggested to me that those cultural constructions were the development of biological properties in both the human being and nature.

Letisa: Meaning?

Toyin: That these trees and groves could be understood as possessing a quality that I could perceive on account of a sensitivity cultivated through contemplating such trees and others different from them repeatedly so that a sense of difference between them was gradually established for me.

Letisa: But, could you really say that you hardly had access to their cultural constructions? Had you not read books about similar aspects of African culture and read accounts of similar conceptions from other cultures?

Toyin : That’s true. I had read about African cultures along those lines. But I had not thought about my reading in Romantic and Symbolist thought along those lines.

Letisa: You could speak of sharing in a culture that was realized in particular cultural developments, in various geographical, spatial frameworks but a similarity of culture, nevertheless.

Toyin: Hmm…questions about cross-cultural transmission again emerge here. Following this trend of thought to its logical conclusion would imply that one could gain access to significant identification with a culture, through observing parallels between the target culture and other cultures and trying to embody what one has learnt in one’s own life.

Letisa: I would think so.

Toyin: Fortune makes a similar point about lighting your own dormant fire with fire from someone else’s hearth. Could biology be understood to play any role here, then? My notion that I was developing an latent capacity for sensitivity to biological properties of nature?

Letisa: I doubt if nature and culture, biology and human interpretations are so distinct. To what degree can we speak of the discontinuities between them? Perhaps we could speak of cultural propensities facilitating the sensitivity to biologically endogenous qualities? But how does this relate to Ifa, to interpretations of the female body in relation to witchcraft, which was what we started our discussion with?

Toyin: This zone of communication between different modes of being is understood in Yoruba and Bini traditions as the prerogative of Ifa and of witches. Ebohon, a Bini priest, describes some trees as witches, his ideas being expressive of a culture where humans are understood to be able to cultivate the ability to communicate with plants. The Ifa system is organised in terms of possibilities of dialogue between different modes of being and Ifa’s younger brother, as he is called, Osanying, the Orisha of herbalogy, since Ifa priests are also at times herbalists, represents the world of human relationship with plants. The sense of encounters with non-embodied presences, related to my studies of Ifa where I adapted techniques derived from Western hermetic ceremonial magic, Eastern and western meditation techniques and the related exporiences of inspiration also suggest correlations with ideas of transmission of ideas in terms of encounters, however these are understood, between various forms of being, whatever the ontological status we ascribe to the mythic forms with which I tried to relate and to the sense of non-embodied presence often associated with my experience of ifa.

Letisa: So it would seem, then, that we are both intrigued by experiences of and ideas relating to forms of knowing that are not ratiocinative and are not rational in the conventional sense.
Toyin: And which relate to relationships between embodiment in relation to knowledge and reflection in relation to knowing

Letisa: And to questions of the interface between the cultural and biological along these lines

Toyin: Interesting that we have both come upon the image of the witch in relation to such ideas.

Letisa: The witch as an embodiment of the reviling of women in pre-Renaissance Europe and of valorisation of the feminine in modern Western feminist spirituality.

Toyin: In Yoruba thought as the nexus for positive and negative conceptions of the feminine

Letisa: And in both cultures, the witch as embodying conceptions of physicality and its powers, whether negative, as in pre-modern Western conceptions or positive as in modern understandings, or both, as in traditional Yoruba thought.













Letisa: I am developing an argument on a number of fronts. I am working in relation to ideas of embodiment in relation to knowing as well as ideas about how Western thought has developed from the military culture of ancient Rome.

Toyin: Does is this notion of embodiment in relation to cognitive process gain from a specifically female inspirational base?

Letisa: I’m still working on that but my argument is for the notion that the act of knowing proceeds along a number of correlative lines, which include the sensory and the mental, that, in fact, the mind could be understood as located all over the body not only in the head since our sensory apparatus operates all over our bodies and are simply routed to their centres in the head.

Toyin: That makes sense. How do you intend to develop that into a cognitive procedure?
Letisa: That’s the challenge. The central challenge I face here is that the inspirational spring of my ideas derives from the fact that a lot of my ideas emerge from non-ratiocinative sources, of which the forms of bodily knowing are central.

Toyin: Could you please go to the point you were making about the military origin of modern Western discursive forms?

Letisa: I was refrying to its argumentative structure. Why must a question be examined, a point established, through the marshalling up of squads of points in favour of that point, arrayed in opposition to contrastive ideas? Why must the development of ideas and the examination of issues always resemble a conflict between combatants, the opposing side being the ideas not certified by the writer and the other side represented by the ideas they credit. Or even if this position does not emerge from the beginning, it emerges as the text progresses, so that there always exists or is developed a structure of opposition, between two groups of ideas.

Toyin: But is that not to be taken for granted ih the development of a perspective on a topic? Does one not need to examine contrastive ideas and arrive at those that are more valid? All ideas can not be equally valid.

Letisa: Noted. But I am not pleading for an uncritical embrace of all ideas available in relation to a question. All I am suggesting d that I seem to observe in the fundamental structure of investigation in scholarship the notion of a Manichean/oppositional duality, in which either/or propositions determine the structure of thought.

Toyin: You think such dualities are inadequate for knowledge?

Letisa: Yes. Because reality is often multiplex, kaleidoscopic, even fragmentary. To what degree can we isolate one phenomenon from another? Don’t many phenomena, particularly those relating to issues of value, infiltrate each other? I find myself using a military metaphor here, but I think you get my point.

Toyin: Can you suggest a style of investigation that would take advantage of the interdependence you are describing?
Letisa: I am still developing it. I am thinking of something like a navigational form of thought, where the purpose is to navigate our way in relation to as broad a range as possible of the possibilities of perception in relation to a subject. I am thinking of

Toyin: I seem to recall descriptions of essays by the French writer Michel de Montainge along those lines.

Letisa: Perhaps. But such styles of thought have not gained centrality in Western academe. The ethos of the warrior, who is certainly marshalling opposing forces against each other and of the hunter who operates in terms of an adversarial relationship with the Other represented by the animals he preys on, dominates scholarship, where this is conducted in terms of opposition between ideas and discourse is more often than not argumentative, with the qualities of mental combat embodying martial values.

Toyin: Intriguing. How do you arrive at conclusions? Do you stumble upon them or do you defer them endlessly?

Letisa: I know you are making fun of me but even those suggestions might not be as ridiculous as they sound.

Toyin: So, do we swim forever in a soup of inconclusion or do we arrive at any shore as we navigate the possibilities of an ideas or subject?

Letisa: Certainly. To postulate a permanent nondecision, nonjudgement would be irresponsible. That would be an excess of relativistic thinking. I am suggesting, as I still develop these ideas, a movement towards resolution with a tacit understanding that every resolution demonstrates some degree of the provisional and the specificity with which we circumscribe perspectives facilitates a bracketing out of ancillary but relevant aspects of those perspectives which we have relegated either to the background or to non-existence in our cognitive worlds.

Toyin: This reminds of a way you described this idea the other day-as a style of thinking the mobility of which dramatises a deferral of judgement in the name of a cognitive “synaesthesia” that enables/facilitates a perception of the subject matter from a variety of perspectives, even contradictory perspectives….

Letisa: Yes…leading to the possibility of convergence, or, even if not of convergence, of mutual tension, in which the absence of an ultimate coherence is itself an understanding that suggests possibilities of holding possibilities, understandings in a creative tension….

Toyin: You think, then, that such a tentative style of interpreting phenomena might be more in harmony with the paradoxical realities of existence than the notion of certainty, of linear coherence, even of dialectical balance that is /currently privileged in conceptions of the effort to arrive at meaning….

Letisa: My thinking is moving in that direction.

Toyin: You would seem, then, to be thinking in terms of an understanding of the search for knowledge more in terms of a quest for meaning, for structures, patterns, processes of understanding through which can be enriched, even if the ultimate truth value of the understanding arrived at, of the processes developed, may not be fully ascertained, are understood as to a degree, in flux

Letisa: But then, this does not imply, however, an absolute relativity. Absolute relativity, endless cognitive flux, could be more productive of a destructive anarchy, a breakdown in standpoints of collective responsibility than a liberating prospect

Toyin: How do you hope to escape from an absolute relativistic position?

Letisa: By treating conclusions, where necessary, as tentative in the ongoing project represented by the exploration realized through cognitive navigation. The sensitivity to the plural possibilities inherent a phenomenon or an issue or idea highlights the tension between the quest to know, to push back and even reshape boundaries that necessarily characterise a rethinking of our cognitive horizon, our epistemic envelopes, in contrast to the need to conserve, consolidate and apply what we gain in the process in contrast with, in tension with the renewed impetus to continue that quest, which continues beyond the bounds of what we can perceive at any point in time, as Dion Fortune puts it, may even take us out of space and time, “beyond the skyline, where the strange roads go down”.

Toyin: You mention Fortune. That is intriguing. How does she come here and how did you start on the development of these ideas?

Letisa: It began in relation to my experience of ways of knowing that could not be accounted for by prevailing paradigms. And by my efforts as a woman, to find new ways of thinking that would transcend or even avoid the limitations of the patriarchal thinking that I have often come across. Feminist thinkers often recognise such patriarchal thinking but do not often realise its origin in martial structures and even use the same critical tools while debunking its fruits. I want to go to the very source, to the very girders that hold it up, to the underlying skeleton, as it were, of this style of thinking.

Toyin: Please elaborate.

Letisa: I realised that I could know things through my skin, and not simply by touch. I could intuit people’s mental sates without talking to them. How could I explore such forms of knowledge without descending to superstitious thinking and demands for acceptance for my claims without empirical proof? I realised that the key would be to examine the question of ways of knowing and develop an approach from that point that would be inclusive of my own experience.

Toyin: And your encounter with patriarchal thinking?

Letisa: I kept coming up against both circumscriptions of reality that were demeaning of both women and the men and women who perpetuated them as well as accounts of alternative styles of thinking.

Toyin: In the Yoruba traditional thought fom Nigeria which I am studying menstrual fluid is also described as dangerous to the consecrated sacred space used in religious activity.

Letisa: So similar to Judeo-Christian constructions. The art of Baldung, the a pintereblematises these deadly prejudices by depicting women in forms that ground the medieval conception of the witch in terms of menstruating women.

Toyin: Wait. Please go over that again. Are you stating that images of witches were characterised in terms drawn from female menstruation?



Letisa: Yes.

Toyin: How?

Letisa:

Toyin: What strikes me here is the possibilities in cultural interpretation suggested by the development of the demonizing image of the female in Judaeo-Christian thought. We could correlate that theory of yours about consciousness in relation to sexual choice as arising in relation to female biology to the Biblical story of Eve initiating human knowledge of good and evil, of the recognition of difference between the human and nature that emerged when they realised they were naked after eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Letisa: Go on

Toyin: In relation to your theory that story takes on overtones of a courageous but difficult and painful emergence into knowledge of sexual difference and the choices associated with it, of the fact that the human and nature are not identical and the challenges that imposes and perhaps of the snake as being a benefactor who introduces the possibility of this momentous shift in consciousness and God as representative of the desire to remain in the bliss of ignorance embodied by pre-reflexive nature –human identification. Perhaps that story could actually be seen as indicating in a symbolic drama our development as a race in terms of our constriction of nature and culture in relation to gender relations and the balance between the human and the natural worlds.

Letisa: Certainly interesting but you can make this correlation because you are speaking from the perspective of the twenty-first century where a variety of styles of textual and of Biblical interpretation have developed over the centuries. Judaeo-Christian thought, prior to the development of such developments in theology as the demythologising of Rudolf Bultmann, interpreted the Biblical narrative as divinely inspired literal account of the Fall as it was called. Also if anyone would prefer to remain in the semi-somnambulist bliss represented by the Garden of Eden rather than the creative conflicts embodied by human life as we know it.

Toyin: Judaeo-Christian thought has often constructed the Edenic state as the ideal state to which we hope to return at the end of life, and perhaps, various Utopian conceptions have been influenced by that. They seem to be marked by the notion of ideal being as the absence of conflict, of the clash of mental and emotional gears represented by the often difficult necessity of choice foregrounded by the presence of contrastive choices as the ground for the development of creative complexity in the human relationship to what is given by our biology and the development of the response to this givenness in terms of social and individual culture.

Letisa: Interestingly, the snake has had very interesting career in myth. In some mythic forms it is associated with the feminine and some even correlate its sinuous movements with the spiral motif which is correlative with symbolic characterisations of creative change but in terms of the shape assumed by natural forms and the processes through which they undergo change.

Toyin: Perhaps the Hebrews appropriated the snake image from neighbouring cultures whose ideas they despised and rebaptised the snake as an agent of destructive temptation. But they story they constructed suggests possibly, an ambivalence of thought in their characterisation since God is depicted from one perceive as a tyrant who desires to withhold knowledge from his creations, forbidding them to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and when the snake persuades them to do so, becomes jealous of their knowledge, despairing that “they have become as us knowing good and evil”. Does the narrative suggest that God dreads the acquisition of such fundamental knowledge by his creations? It is this ambivalence, if I can call it that, that enriches and complexifies the narrative transposing it from the realm of a purely transgressive act on the part of a human and suggests a reaching out beyond a limited but blissful state and the snake as a catalytic agent in this rupture in consciousness that ensues. The woman is characterised as the initiator of the human race the temptation the snake holds out.

Letisa: Thanks. Intriguing. Again, is this possibility of interpretation not possible only from the perspective of twentieth century Western hermeneutics? Could the Biblical writers have been responsive to such complexities or they insinuated themselves into the text without the conscious assent of the writers?

Toyin: It would seem that conceptions of the feminine demonstrate degrees of ambivalence in various cultures, even when the ambivalence emerges in disguised from as we may argue it does in the Biblical narrative. What else is to be expected of negative responses to members of the race who could be demonized but remains the privileged bearer of children? Look at Yoruba traditional thought, for example.

Letisa: Does it evoke a similar ambivalence?

Toyin: Certainly. In this scheme, women are the primary agents of witchcraft. Their biological prerogatives enable them to wield fearsome powers, but these powers could be wielded for good or evil. At the same time as these constructions are developed and deployed in ways that privilege areas of male supremacy in the bulk of the social space, the creative/destructive power of the female is foregrounded.

Letisa: This reminds me of the point you made earlier about contrastive possibilities in cultural constructions and interpretation. Are these ideas developed in relation to mythic constructions?

Toyin: Yes. In the Ifa tradition, the central embodiment of traditional Yoruba thought, the witches are often characterised as bloodthirsty creatures and in the rest of the informal constructions in the culture, witches are often understood to be primarily female. The capacities or identity represented by witchcraft are also understood to inhere in their biology. But interestingly enough, aspects of this cultural construction not only conflate destructive and beneficent possibilities of these biologically grounded powers but can also be understood to relate them to terrestrial and cosmic processes of creative growth.

Letisa: Explain.

Toyin: Convergences emerge between conceptions of the feminine and the constitution of meaning, in cosmic and human terms. The semiotic categories of the Ifa divinatory system, known as the Odu of Ifa, are understood collectively as female and their constitution of forms of meaning as represented by the symbolic patterns of the divinatory system through which the Ifa oracle responds to the queries of its clients is constructed in terms of the procreative capacity of a woman, with the secondary patterns of the divinatory system being understood in terms of the younger children of Odu, their mother.

Letisa: Interesting. Does this correlation of the hermeneutic forms of the system go beyond these basic symbolic correlations?

Toyin: Certainly. The imagery associated with witchcraft becomes central to Ifa as expressive of the capacity of the oracle to develop a comprehensive grasp of the issues it is asked to deal with. This emerges in the use of the imagery of the bird in Ifa iconography. Birds are associated with witchcraft in the sense that witches are supposed to travel as birds, particularly on missions of deadly intent but the bird becomes evocative of Ifa’s comprehensive vision, a vision that derives from the world of vision from which the witches may also be understood to draw their own powers. And, in relation to Osanyin, the Orisa or deity of the occult powers of plants, they are also expressive of those powers. Herbalogy being an aspect of Ifa.

Letisa: You did mention that you are developing some ideas of your own in relation to this convergence between symbolism associated with female procreative capacities and cognitive processes as this emerges in the semiotics of Ifa.

Toyin
: Yes. I am developing the notion of what I describe as an exchange theory of being which I derive from my study of such correspondences in Ifa hermeneutics in relation to my interests in what I describe as inter-ontological dialogue.. A mode of dialogue between various modes of being.

Letisa: How does that operate?

Toyin: I develop my ideas in relation to the central iconographic form of Ifa hermeneutics-the Ifa divination tray. The centre of the tray, which, in its emptiness and circular form, could be correlated with ideas of generative space, is the spatial arena where the divinatory instruments represented by the palm nuts or divining beads are thrown in response to the client’s query and the configurations assumed by the divinatory instruments as they are thrown constitutes the oracle’s response to the clients query.

Letisa: In what sense would you correlate the empty space with ideas of generation apart from the fact that that is the space where the answers to the clients query in terms of the configurations assumed by the divinatory instruments emerges?

Toyin: The conception of the empty space in terms of generative space is amplified by the fact not only is the point at which the oracles response to the specific query of the client emerges, emerging as it does in relation to specific question in relation to a particular issue at a particular point in time and space emerges, but this process of configuring a response to the client’s question operates not simply in terms of the patterns that emerge in relation to this query and the interpretation of the symbolic significance of the pattern that follows but the fact that the entire process which is manifest as what we could described as the level of physical visibility in terms of the geomantic patterns assumed by the divinatory instruments and in terms of verbal expressiveness in terms of the correlation of these patterns with particular verbal expressions through which their symbolic meanings are realised but the fact that these visible operations are understood as representative of the visible level of an invisible process, the second order expression of a first order process which is unseen but is nevertheless determinative of what is subsequently perceived, an expression at ther level of surface structure of a constitution of meaning that takes place at the level of deep structure. This underlying semantic constitution is understood to emerge through the dialogue between the Odu and the Ori or inward spirit of the client. The Odu constitute possibilities of meaning but their meaning value is actuated through dialogue with the clients Ori since the Ori is the repository of the potential of the client and the possibilities implied in/through the manifestation/expression of that potential in the progression of the client’s life.

Letisa: Interesting. Yes….

Toyin: The construction of meaning is therefore constellated through relationships between various ontological forms represented by the Odu who are understood as conscious entities and the Ori. This cross-ontological constitution ramifies even further in terms of ideas of ontological correlation in relation to the fact that the Odu are understood as semiotic forms that operate as means of describing the spiritual nature as well as of organising the totality of being and its possibilities in terms of semiotic forms represented by the Odu.

Letisa:So you perceive in the constellation of meaning in the divinatory process a process whereby a cosmological system represented by the Odu operates in a dynamic manner to respond to specific questions in relation to particular issues arising from particular points in space and time from within a repertoire of meaning which operates in relation to cosmographic framework so that the cosmography is brought to play in relation to specific situations

Toyin: Yes. The divinatory process, what Cornelius in reference to astrology, called “the moment of divination” could be understood, therefore, as a constitution in relation to particular space time conditions of the process through which modes of being come into being and the processes they go through as the transmission from one state to another or within one state in relation to various possibilities that come to embody

Letisa: You are suggesting, then, that the moment of divination, as you call it, is a microcosmic expression of generative processes, understood in terms of a correlation between macrocosmic-as represented by the full range of the cosmographic structure represented by the Odu- and microcosmic processes-as embodied by the focus of this cosmographic structure on /in relation to a particular situation in a specific point in space and time.

Toyin: Exactly. The empty space of the divination tray becomes then a womb of becoming, where macrocosmic process are correlated with the macrocosmic, in relation to particular questions as they emerge in particular points in space and time.
Letisa: Intriguing construction. Beyond your description of this interpretive possibility, do you intend to use this conception in any way in your work, as an active tool of knowledge?

Toyin: Certainly. I am developing what I describe as cross-ontological thinking. It relates to the notion of developing strategies of thought to explore questions of dialogue, whether understood metaphorically or literarily, between different modes of being. The conception of the Odu as mediating between various modes of being through a semiotically realized cosmography is proving inspiring to my thinking in this regard.

Letisa
: Is that so?

Toyin
: Yes. I’m still trying to work this thing out. You did say when we talked the other day that you also trying work out an epistemic strategy in relation to your ideas about feminine biology and consciousness. Tell me about it.


The Snake is our Friend: Sexuality, Choice and the Development of Consciousness

Toyin: I am intrigued by your idea about relationships between feminine biology, particularly menstruation and the development if human consciousness. Although it seems to be me that you are overstretching your case there in a determined, perhaps even desperate effort to valorise the biology of you and your sisters in response to all the persecution you have suffered all these years

Letisa
: Frankly speaking. Look at it. Sexual drive is one of the most fundamental of human drives. The argument I am making relates in a fundamental way to this drive.

Toyin: Please go over it again.

Letisa: I am arguing that the peculiar structure of female menstruation is fundamental to the manner in which human consciousness has developed. I think that the fact the female menstrual cycle, unlike similar biological cycles amongst animal females enables the possibility of sex at all phases of the biological cycle. Other animals can only have sex at particular phase of the female’s cycle. The possibility of this range of possibility with the human female foregrounds the question of choice. Do we or do we not do it and in what context? The presence of choice in the human psyche, particularly when it operates not just in relation to the individual to the entire social group is constituted by a humanity implies necessarily a quantum development in the character the complexity in human social and individual consciousness. Ethical norms, modes of dress, artistic and philosophical and even scientific achievements relating to sex could all be said to relate directly to the possibility of choice opened up by this possibility.

Toyin: Go on

Letisa: Without the possibility of choice, the contraceptive, whether the female or the more recent male variety would not exist. Ethical standards that regulate sexual life have grown in complexity because of the unpredictability of desire and the possibility of its graticication. Massive libraries of literature, and of various artistic forms respond to the vagaries ,paradoxes and unpredictability associated with sexual desire and its possible gratification.

Toyin: And you think that all this emerges from the capacity of the female to have sex at any pint of her menstrual cycle? Since her capacity for sex is what attracts the male in the first place?

Letisa: Yes. In other animals sexual desire does not arise in the male at any just any point in the biological cycle of the female. It emerges only at the point when she secrets particular hormones that indicate that she is available for sex. But its not so with humans. The fact that the female may be theoretically ready at any point of her cycle indicates/ enables the response of the male at any pint of the cycle.

Toyin: I would expect you are not describing sexual desire and response as something automatic, that emerges with compete instinctive ness and is uncontrolled by the mind and the host of social codes that regulates human behaviour.

Letisa: Certainly not. I am describing a theoretical possibility of the emergence of desire and of response to that emergence. Of course it is this very possibility that amplifies the development of mechanisms of choice, of selectivity in both men and women. That I argue has contributed fundamentally to the complexity of human consciousness. Greater availability implies the development of choice, of means of regulating and ordering choice.

Toyin: Intriguing. It does have coherence. But don’t you think you are making male sexuality overly dependent on that of the female. At least, even though humans share characteristics with animals, they really can not be called animals, only their relatives at best.

Letisa: I doubt that I am overemphasising that dependence, as you call it.

Toyin: I would think that this theory of yours needs to be examined in terms of empirical study of the chemistry of human sexual development and attraction. I wonder if the process of attraction and response is as direct and unequivocal as your ideas seem to suggest.

Letisa : I am working on that scientific aspect of the study.I do agree that I would need to examine the theory in the light of empirical study in relation to human chemistry.

Toyin: I would think, though, that the theory does demonstrate a significant degree of internal consistency and of correlation with actual human experience. Your construction of such an idea implies that the conceptions of the feminine have come a long way from its demonisation in Western culture.

Letisa
: Sure! Many cultures describe female biology, particularly female body fluids and the menstrual process in particular in terms that indicated it as unclean and/or dangerous. Women, in these contexts, are treated as creatures under what was known in Europe as the “curse”, whenever they had their periods. When, in fact, that very “curse” was vital not only to the possibility of procreation in indicating what points in the biological cycle where procreation was possible but was symbolic of vital network of possibilities in relation to sex that has been so vital for the development of our species.