Heart of Arts

Toyin Falola: Mapping Multidisciplinary Networks, Scholarly and Creative Traditions

Oluwatoyin Vincent Adepoju


The description of the goal of the forthcoming conference on Toyin Falola’s soon-to-be-published book Farooq Kperogi, the Digital Age and US-African Diaspora Diplomacy reminds me of the great but also the controversial achievement of regrettably late Nigerian-Canadian scholar Pius Adesanmi, for whom the verbal and visual enablements of social media were a primary, if not his primary expressive and dialogical space, even though he was also a multiple award-winning writer, in poetry and prose,  in print media, and was a very successful academic, highly trained in the more conventional expressive and pedagogical forms represented by academia, as Kperogi also is.

The description of the logic of the book and conference on  Kperogi’s work is conceptually beautiful and rhetorically tight. It provides a very rich framework for the study of the general field of social media, and of influential figures in social media,  such as Adesanmi and Bisi Silva, the great art curator in Nigeria, whose Facebook wall, complementing her myriad offline engagements,  is a striking legacy of her engagements.

These exploratory possibilities may be extended to the study of such a figure as the great, internationally influential figure, though relatively unknown in his native country  Nigeria, the Western-based art curator Okwui Enwezor, perhaps the first Black person to operate at the stratospheric levels he worked at in the Western centred, global art establishment, a prolific author in the field, his works brought out by prestigious publishers,  and a professor of art though his only degree was a BA in Political Science, visibility and opportunities he gained partly through founding NKA, perhaps the first and certainly one of the most prestigious scholarly journals focusing on post-classical African art.

Textualization, formal and informal, scholarly and general, journals and books to social media,  as a means of breaking from the margins to the mainstream, may be seen as unifying these figures, if I may take this chance to correlate through the inspiration of the Falola text I am responding to, influential figures and ideas I have been thinking of.

Falola’s unfolding stream of publications remains inspiring in their creative transparency, the visibility of his methods of creating unified knowledge out of disparate material, available to all but requiring particular sensitivity and drive to synthesise and interpret, particularly in the expository and analytical scope represented by the definitive form of a book, Falola’s primary expressive mode as a person committed to breadth of exploration of ideas and to the culture of the book as a means of permanently shaping knowledge, a quintessential academic in the critical rigour and specialised depth represented by academia,  but one who has mastered the culture of achieving multiple specialisations, operating fluidly in terms of the disciplinary languages and techniques of various fields of knowledge in the social sciences and humanities, history to literature- as an imaginative writer and scholar-to religion to the visual arts to communications and media theory and practice and more.

Falola’s work also demonstrates a fact about the scholarship that might need better appreciation by Africanist scholars, scholars who work on Africa, in my interpretation of the term.

Scholarly and cultural traditions grow through inter-referentiality,  through scholars and cultural creators explicitly referencing, critically engaging each other’s ideas and studying each other’s work and lives as creative journeys giving something new to the world.

Such intereferentiality is foundational to the gargantuan achievement of the globally dominant  Western scholarly and cultural tradition, an orientation perhaps hyperbolically suggested by A.N.Whitehead’s description of Western philosophy as a series of footnotes to Plato, suggesting the continually unfolding sequence of ideas, of agreements and disagreements,  represented by what another scholar refers to as ” the great conversation”, a ceaselessly unfolding dialogue between culture bearers operating in terms of related points of reference.

Academia, the world’s highest concentration of scholars, may be seen by some as emphasising focus on one’s own ideas, even though in dialogue with the ideas of others.  How else, it may be thought, can one’s originality be demonstrated?

But academia and readers generally also recognize and reward studying and foregrounding the achievements of other people, in relation to the individuality of those others, not only as subsumed within a network of knowledge, but as demonstrations of islands of possibility correlated through inter-human resonance,  in appreciation of the fact that knowledge and other engagements with reality are constructed by individual human beings, as well as by groups of people, at the intersection of self and society, even as these constructs shape people and societies as they are processed by human cognitive abilities.

Studying the work of creatives in various fields is critical to understanding how those fields of knowledge grow, and how those social configurations develop, in terms of society as a knowledge-distilling and generating agent.

Falola’s books and perhaps his essays-the latter being significant productions he does not publicize-on other scholars and cultural creatives, such as his sole written, co-authored and edited books on the scholar of religion Ogbu Kalu, the visual artist Victor Ekpuk, the writer and activist Wole Soyinka, the philosopher, theologian and economist Nimi Wariboko, the cultural activist Isaac Delano, the collection of celebratory essays and poetry In Praise of Greatness– a powerful but incomplete collection of his work in that genre in which he is continuously active-his study of various people’s memoirs, Memories of Africa: Home and Abroad in the United States, and now this book centred on Kperogi, among perhaps other texts unknown to me, would represent a very significant and perhaps even a great, multidisciplinary achievement from a scholar.

Yet this same scholar is perennially active in other genres of scholarship and writing, sowing seeds of knowledge contributing to configuring the entire field of African humanities and social sciences, helping to construct the field as one that feeds on its own insights,  its own idea networks developed from dialogue between contemporary African, classical African and Africanist thought and thought from beyond those configurations, generating a globally cosmopolitan, pluriversalistic vision, regionally grounded but universally integrative and resonant.

To what degree do Africanists write about each other’s work and about particular African creative figures, exploring their individual creativities, in relation to those of others within particular networks?

The canonical figures in the Western intellectual and creative traditions, from Plato to Wittgenstein, Leonardo da Vinci to Henry Moore, Pythagoras to Einstein and more, are continually studied, projected and foregrounded in essays, books and book series, as individuals, as peaks of achievement shaping the creative dynamism of culture, inspiring others in learning about how a person may invoke and cultivate individual creative powers, navigating various possibilities of self and society as they contribute to restructuring the world from their own dynamic centre of gravity.

It would be great reading more of that about Africans and those who study Africa, facilitating the creation of maps of achievement, of individual creativity within social configurations, on the continent and within those who explore that continent.

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