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Senghor and The Enlightenment

Yohann C. Ripert


Following Souleymane Bachir Diagne’s emphasis on the influence of Bergson’s philosophy on Senghor and Abiola Irele’s definition of Negritude as an “ideology of African reconstruction,†the filiation between the writings of Leopold Sédar Senghor and European philosophy – particularly the influence of Marx, Nietzsche, and Bergson – seems to rest on a solid philosophical tradition. This essay aims at proposing a new reading of Senghor’s oeuvre through the lens of another historical lineage: the philosophy of the Enlightenment. I ask why, and how, the epistemology of Senghorian Negritude, while questioning the hegemony of Western philosophy and proposing a new interpretation of the “civilization of the universal†and the “primacy of intuition,†seems to spontaneously reiterate the themes – and sometimes the words – of the romantic (or pre-romantic) criticism of the Enlightenment’s universalism and rationalism. I do not infer that this reiteration limits the ideological and epistemological ground of Senghor’s philosophy, but rather that it opens Negritude to a new intertextuality that is irreducible to a simple dichotomy or opposition “outside†or “inside†Western thought. This explains and emphasizes Senghor’s choice not to escape the colonial language and the philosophy of the Enlightenment, but to abuse it, or use it from below, not as an authoritative moral dogma but as an alternative repositioned development.


Negritude; Enlightenment; Language, Philosophy, Return; Alternative Modernities

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Journal on African Philosophy. ISSN: 1533-1067 (online).
Editor: Olufemi Taiwo.

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