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In My Father's House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture [Paperback]

Kwame Anthony Appiah
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 1 1993
The beating of Rodney King and the resulting riots in South Central Los Angeles. The violent clash between Hasidim and African-Americans in Crown Heights. The boats of Haitian refugees being turned away from the Land of Opportunity. These are among the many racially-charged images that have burst across our television screens in the last year alone, images that show that for all our complacent beliefs in a melting-pot society, race is as much of a problem as ever in America. In this vastly important, widely-acclaimed volume, Kwame Anthony Appiah, a Ghanaian philosopher who now teaches at Harvard, explores, in his words, "the possibilities and pitfalls of an African identity in the late twentieth century." In the process he sheds new light on what it means to be an African-American, on the many preconceptions that have muddled discussions of race, Africa, and Afrocentrism since the end of the nineteenth century, and, in the end, to move beyond the idea of race. In My Father's House is especially wide-ranging, covering everything from Pan Africanism, to the works of early African-American intellectuals such as Alexander Crummell and W.E.B. Du Bois, to the ways in which African identity influences African literature. In his discussion of the latter subject, Appiah demonstrates how attempts to construct a uniquely African literature have ignored not only the inescapable influences that centuries of contact with the West have imposed, but also the multicultural nature of Africa itself. Emphasizing this last point is Appiah's eloquent title essay which offers a fitting finale to the volume. In a moving first-person account of his father's death and funeral in Ghana, Appiah offers a brilliant metaphor for the tension between Africa's aspirations to modernity and its desire to draw on its ancient cultural roots. During the Los Angeles riots, Rodney King appeared on television to make his now famous plea: "People, can we all get along?" In this beautiful, elegantly written volume, Appiah steers us along a path toward answering a question of the utmost importance to us all.

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"A wonderfully crafted collection of essays."--In My Father's House

"Appiah's book on the place of Africa in contemporary philosophy powerfully exposes the dangers of any simplistic notion of African identity in the contemporary world....Tellingly, his reflections upon the calling of philosophy and the relation between post-traditional and not-yet-modern African culture(s) offer a welcome perspective on the increasingly shrill debates over "multiculturalism" that rend the academy. The epilogue on his father's funeral alone more than justifies the whole book."--Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Common Knowledge

"Interesting and thought-provoking."--Safro Kwame, Lincoln University

"Montaigne invented the modern essay;...Appiah has the brilliance to extend it."--The Village Voice

"A groundbreaking--as well as ground-clearing--analysis of absurdities and damaging presuppositions that have clouded our discussions of race, Africa and nationalism since the 19th century....Mr. Appiah delivers what may very well be one of the handful of theoretical works on race that will help preserve our humanity and guide us gracefully into the next century."--Charles Johnson, The New York Times Book Review

"Appiah's essays are exquisitely and painstakingly argued."--Washington Post Book World

"An exceptional work, whose contextual sweep and lucidity provide a refreshing intellectual tone away from yahoo populism. In many profound ways, Kwame Appiah's In My Father's House ushers in a new level of discourse on race and culture, placing it within a universal narrative--and where else should it belong?...Without question, a first of its kind."--Wole Soyinka, from Race and the Rout of Reason

"In My Father's House is a remarkable book that brings previously invisible cultural assumptions to the surface and obliges us to rethink our conceptions about African identity. Drawing upon a variety of elegantly analyzed historical examples and relating them to his own personal experiences of the African world, Anthony Appiah convincingly demonstrates the need to go beyond stereotyped notions of race and futile laments about past injustices. His observations about authenticity movements, the persistence of Western constructions of African realities, and the emergence of new syntheses of knowledge among African peoples represent a major breakthrough in the ongoing debate over the future of African culture."--Richard Bjornson, Ohio State University

"This is an absorbing and path-breaking book by a gifted philosopher. Appiah rescues the philosophy of culture from Herder by insisting that we drop notions like 'authentic negritude' and that 'African culture' is the name of an important project rather than of an available datum. The book's range of reference and the vigor of its argumentation are equally impressive."--Richard Rorty, University of Virginia

"Appiah's concern is, he modestly states, 'with the situation of African intellectuals.' In the growing literature on the subject, nobody has defined that situation, as it exists now, more sharply; nobody has built so many bridges to a discourse that might be shared universally. Learned yet unpretentious, serious and witty, critical and kind--this book is bound to infuse debates among African intellectuals with new vigor and to engage philosophers, literary critics, anthropologists and others everywhere. One also wishes it would be read by politicians for its lucid analyses of racism as well as its demonstration of intellectual independence tempered by colonial and post-colonial experience."--Johannes Fabian, University of Amsterdam

About the Author

Kwame Anthony Appiah is Professor of Afro-American Studies at Harvard University. His books include Assertion and Conditionals (1985), For Truth in Semantics (1986), Necessary Questions (1989), and the novel Avenging Angel (1991). He is currently editing the Oxford Book of African Literature.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
On 26 July 1860, Alexander Crummell, African-American by birth, Liberian by adoption, an Episcopalian priest with a University of Cambridge education, addressed the citizens of Maryland county, Cape Palmas. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
Format:Paperback
Modern Africans find themselves at the juncture of several worlds: As Basil Davidson might have noted, revolution, episodic nationalism, and postcolonial debacles have cast a pall of chaos onto an already historically chaotic field of peoples. The philosophies of Europe, the roots of tradition, African nationalism, Pan-Africanism, racial, tribal and ethnic solidarity, and a modernity which seeks to unleash individualism all come into conflict when Africans attempt to assess the problems they face, and detail solutions for these problems. Kwame Antony Appiah calls African thinkers to take up this important work, and he offers several assessments of these problems and possible solutions in his book. He believes that a better basis for solidarity in Africa is needed to replace decaying philosophies of negritude, and he discredits Pan Africanism's ability to fulfill this role. He addresses the question of what African philosophers should be preoccupied with, and whether, in their seeking to establish, unify, or recreate cultures, African philosophers can really draw upon philosophies and identities unique to Africa. The importance of an "African" identity has emerged since colonialism, and Appiah questions what such an identity should be founded upon, using Wole Soyinka and his own father Joseph Appiah as examples of intellectuals at work on the question.
After a reading of Appiah's book, I question whether an African solidarity can be usefully articulated. Can inclusive, constructive and accessible modern culture be derived in a continent-wide scale, with some collective experience as its sourcebook? Perhaps the question rides on whether tradition is truly expendable, although so far it has apparently not been expendable (although it has proven malleable).
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5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkably astute Oct. 4 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Appiah's book is insightful and powerful. His mastery of language allows for a philosophical chef d'oeuvre that reads with fluency comparable to a fine novel. Appiah's unique perspective as a quintessentially modern academic whose own life has bridged gaps between three continents imbues his writing with a freshness that will captivate any fine intellect. Truly a remarkable work.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant treatise on race and culture Dec 12 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have lived Kwame Appiah's home city and I am finding the materrial a wonderful help to further understand the culture I experienced.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.4 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Identity ,Solidarity, and the Dilemmas of Modern Africa Dec 17 2002
By CodyforOrange - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Modern Africans find themselves at the juncture of several worlds: As Basil Davidson might have noted, revolution, episodic nationalism, and postcolonial debacles have cast a pall of chaos onto an already historically chaotic field of peoples. The philosophies of Europe, the roots of tradition, African nationalism, Pan-Africanism, racial, tribal and ethnic solidarity, and a modernity which seeks to unleash individualism all come into conflict when Africans attempt to assess the problems they face, and detail solutions for these problems. Kwame Antony Appiah calls African thinkers to take up this important work, and he offers several assessments of these problems and possible solutions in his book. He believes that a better basis for solidarity in Africa is needed to replace decaying philosophies of negritude, and he discredits Pan Africanism's ability to fulfill this role. He addresses the question of what African philosophers should be preoccupied with, and whether, in their seeking to establish, unify, or recreate cultures, African philosophers can really draw upon philosophies and identities unique to Africa. The importance of an "African" identity has emerged since colonialism, and Appiah questions what such an identity should be founded upon, using Wole Soyinka and his own father Joseph Appiah as examples of intellectuals at work on the question.
After a reading of Appiah's book, I question whether an African solidarity can be usefully articulated. Can inclusive, constructive and accessible modern culture be derived in a continent-wide scale, with some collective experience as its sourcebook? Perhaps the question rides on whether tradition is truly expendable, although so far it has apparently not been expendable (although it has proven malleable). Appiah's arguments in favor of reexamining what it means to be African, while he has labored to disassociate them from the Pan-Africanist agenda, seem unsure on the issue of Pan Africanist hopes. Pan Africanism, whether informal or economic, seems more than mired in implied racialism - it seems to ignore the idea that there is a need for modern African nations to promote overture to the world, rather than aggrandized protectionism, which invariable carries with it repressive nationalist agendas. The reality is that Africa is dependent upon its ties to the rest of the world. I believe that Appiah would argue that any "Africanism" is not useful as a method of affirming culture, either, precisely because to be simply "an African" implies such a tremendous negation of one's own past.
I still want to know if Soyinka has also successfully divorced himself from a bogus Pan-Africanist and unianimist use of an "African" culture in his metaphors and references. Does he somehow successfully escape from the confines of this label with his individual-focused explorations (which are thus really Nigerian, or Yoruban?)
Also, how usefully can a philosophical agenda be furthered by an intellectual class focused on bipolarity? The implied bipolarity of African philosophers, working to justify themselves to the world while preserving the value of traditional discourse, seems in danger of trying too hard to mold tradition, and thus lose useful contact with traditional people.
Appiah questions "...the evaluative assumption that recovery of tradition is worthwhile," implying that it is not (95). This comment seems like an important and perhaps controversial one: is it really good for philosophers in Africa, if working to establish an agenda for future clarity and intelligibility for Africans, to be ready to dismiss recovering tradition in their countries and societies? The negative effects of tradition are many, but its benefits seem easily slighted.
Appiah's critique of the ethno philosophical response to modernity seems to leaves out the important fact that a new citizen of the world, as African citizen, is rapidly, and permanently, emerging - and that as people grow up separating themselves from tradition, tribalism and rural politics, they are reassessing their traditional background while trying to create an identity. Perhaps the ethno philosophy he criticizes is in fact an attempt at an honest reappraisal of tradition, for certainly all summaries of the condition of African traditions will end up preferentially consolidating these traditions.
The question is where in the African intellectual consciousness should fit the multi-lingual, multi-national views of tradition. I think to roundly press African intellectuals to serve the highest ideals of "their people" and guide them into a modernity that is not based on European models and yet also not based upon African tradition should be recognized as especially dangerous, as such a plan may well leave its chosen flock behind.
This book, for the density and complexity as well as honesty of its inquiry, should be seen as a sold introudction to what makes Africa so problematic on the level of identity and solidarity. The existence of an "african" identity can no longer be ignored. Appiah finds all the roots of this identity and gives them rigorous criticism in light of his own personal view of Africa as well as a solid reading of African philosophy, social science and history.
19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkably astute Oct. 4 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Appiah's book is insightful and powerful. His mastery of language allows for a philosophical chef d'oeuvre that reads with fluency comparable to a fine novel. Appiah's unique perspective as a quintessentially modern academic whose own life has bridged gaps between three continents imbues his writing with a freshness that will captivate any fine intellect. Truly a remarkable work.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars IS THERE AN AFRICAN "PHILOSOPHY OF CULTURE" EMERGING? Dec 10 2010
By Steven H. Propp - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Kwame Anthony Appiah (born 1955) is a Ghanaian philosopher, cultural theorist, and novelist who is currently Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University. He is also author of books such as The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen, Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (Issues of Our Time), The Ethics of Identity, Necessary Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy, and Thinking It Through: An Introduction to Contemporary Philosophy.

He states in the Preface to this 1992 book, "in thinking about culture, which is the subject of this book, one is bound to be formed---morally, aesthetically, politically, religiously---by the range of lives one has known... this is especially important because the book is about issues that are bound to be deeply personally important for anyone with my history; for its theme is the question how we are to think about Africa's contemporary cultures in the light both of the two main external determinants of her recent cultural history---European and Afro-New World conceptions of Africa---and of her own endogenous cultural traditions."

Here are some quotations from the book:

"The African-Americans whose work I discussed in Chapters 1 and 2 conceived their relation to Africa through the mediating concept of race, a concept they acquired from a Euro-American cultural matrix. As a result... it was inevitable that their answer to the question of African identity should have been rooted in the romantic racisms that have been so central to the European and American nationalisms of the past century and a half; and their thinking provided the starting point for those Africans who took up the banner of a Pan-Africanist black nationalism in the period since the Second World War." (Pg. 73)
"I have already said that there is no reason to think that the folk philosophies of Africa are uniform." (Pg. 92)
"Yet there is no doubt now, a century later, an African identity is coming into being. I have argued throughout these essays that this identity is a new thing; that it is the product of a history, some of whose moments I have sketched; and that the bases through which so far it has largely been theorized---race, a common historical experience, a shared metaphysics---presuppose falsehoods too serious for us to ignore." (Pg. 174)
5.0 out of 5 stars Great! June 5 2014
By J. Golding - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Thanks again for access to used books that are in good condition. This has helped me to complete my studies without much stress at international finding resources. Thanks Amazon
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Presented in the wrong category June 1 2014
By Robert E. Crout - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Didn't hold my interest very long. The title, as listed with religious books, would present the appearance that it would be a religious book. If it is, the thought didn't impress me.
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