Border gnoseology: Akwaeke Emezi and the Decolonial Other-than-Human
Keywords:trans, tranimality, Igbo cosmology, sacrality, Akwaeke Emezi
The underlying assumption when speaking about the postcolonial nonhuman is that the other-than-human refers to what could be called, broadly speaking, the “natural world,” as opposed to “the human-as-Man,” but still usually understood in (Western) secular terms. Nevertheless, from the perspective of African onto-epistemologies, the nonhuman can also refer to the spiritual world, or to the diverse assemblages between the “natural,” the human and the sacred. Freshwater (2018) and Dear Senthuran. A Black Spirit Memoir (2021), by Akwaeke Emezi, open up a space of “border gnoseology,” where contemporary Anglo-American discourses on transsexuality intersect with African ontologies and epistemologies, specifically with the well-known figure of the ogbanje and the sacred python as an avatar of Ala, the Earth goddess in Igbo culture, to produce a radically subversive embodied subjectivity. The ideas of movement, transing, tranimalcy and (transatlantic) crossing conspire to dismantle conventional Eurocentric humanist views on selfhood and identity. Reading Emeke on their own terms also requires revisiting alternative notions of temporality beyond secular, cisheteronormative, modern time, as well as an understanding that the sacred and the spiritual are indeed essential to the worldview and the processes of subjectivation of millions of people across the globe.
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