International Solidarity in Apartheid South Africa
Keynote Address North American Levinas Society “Solidarity and Community” 29 July 2021
Need I remind anyone again / that armed struggle is an act of love? ~ Keorapetse Willie Kgositsile
In 1987, my husband Rob and I were recruited in Canada to move to Johannesburg to run a safehouse for underground leaders of the anti-apartheid struggle. We did so until 1990, when the operation was discovered by the regime and we fled back to Vancouver.
Those years raised profound and troubling questions for me. However, it was only in the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas that I eventually found a way to properly frame and understand my experience of violence and armed resistance, of one’s infinite responsibility before the suffering of others, of solidarity and justice.
I wrote “The Housekeeper’s Tale” for a 2016 conference on the Politics of Armed Struggle in Southern Africa. More literary than scholarly, it sets out several lessons from the School of Underground. What does it mean to go to war? What does it mean to love your enemies? What does violence mean? What peace will come?
This paper has just been published in Philosophical Practice, the journal of the American Philosophical Practice Association. You can find it here and there …
PHILOSOPHICAL COUNSELLING AS A PRACTICE OF EMANCIPATION
Helen Douglas, Philosophy in Practice, Cape Town
Abstract: This is a second ‘field report’ of a Levinassian philosophical counseling practice. The first part elaborates the practice by means of a ‘threefold logic’ of ground, path and fruition. While the ground and path remain a Levinasian ‘good practice’ of relationship and dialogue, the fruition of the work is now seen as ‘emancipation’, understood broadly as ‘the fact or process of being set free from restrictions’, rather than ‘therapy’, understood narrowly as ‘treatment to relieve a disorder’ (Oxford Dictionary). The turn to emancipation is explored by way of Jacques Rancière’s The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation. Philosophy as a practice of emancipation is the work of equals.
Education systems that render people stupid, mental health treatment that renders people mad, religions that render people wicked, economies that render people poor, political systems that render people powerless. How is it that our social systems break down (render) precisely what they are meant to serve (render to)?
2012 has been my tenth year as a “philosopher in private practice”. I’m a bit surprised to find that what began with a hunch and a leap of faith has developed in unanticipated directions, yet stayed true to its roots.
The hunch concerned philosophy as a way of life. First, that philosophical activity – to observe, wonder, discern, make meaning, and speak of everything – is intrinsically and fundamentally human. And that, as much as our actions are guided by our understanding, we’d do better if we were able to think better (with heart, mind and belly). Second, that philosophical counselling offers a meaningful alternative to mainstream psychotherapy. It is not reductionist. It does not pathologise. In philosophical counselling, a person is received in all their uniqueness and everything is open to question. For me, this is grounded in the ethical philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas and the therapeutic lineage of RD Laing, where the other is to be recognised as a legitimate other, the one who commands my attentive care and non-aggressive regard.
It starts off very personally, very intimately. You’re going about your business and then – for some unknown reason – you can’t carry on. Maybe there’s a choice you don’t know how to make. Maybe you’ve reached a dead end or the limit of some chain you didn’t even know you wore. You are thrown back on yourself. It’s very close and uncomfortable, painful.
Simon Critchley (2007:1) writes that philosophy begins in “disappointment”: “the indeterminate but palpable sense that something desired has not been fulfilled, that a fantastic effort has failed.” Philosophy begins the moment your intelligence reaches out from within this situation to clarify, to identify and understand, to find a way through. What’s happening?What is the meaning of this?