I just finished reading "Sensuous Knowledge" by Minna Salami on the recommendation of a friend and I thought it was eye-opening enough to warrant writing down some parts which I would like to remember for the future. I'm basing this off of the parts I "tagged" in my reMarkable which was highly dependent on how awake I was when I read a particular section.

On masks

The mask reflects one of the important truths about freedom - there is no fixed, authentic self.

This comes from a passage where Minna Salami reflects on clowns and masks in African cultures. I found it interesting after having read a book on non-violent communication which held the opposite view, that we all wear masks (i.e. play roles) which ultimately make us unhappy. We should be our true, authentic selves instead.

Minna Salami's description of masks struck me as more nuanced and ultimately struck more of a cord with me. Perhaps to reconcile the two views, I would suggest that ultimately we want to wear the masks that we have fashioned for ourselves rather than masks which have been imposed in some way.

On decolonisation - moving beyond resistance

Decolonisation is not about a return to precolonial times. It is rather a kintsugi that patches our broken modernity with elements of ancient arts, modern technology, and self-reliance.

This description of decolonisation reminds me of something else I read but I can't put my finger on it right now. I find this a very constructive and inspiring point of view - it is decolonisation as creative rather than a form of resistance. The following quote illustrates this idea better:

In Frantz Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks, he writes, "At the risk of arousing the resentment of my colored brother, I will say that the black man is not a man." He proceeds to explain that the black man is a man only insofar as he can compare with, compete with, or strive to be a white man - that what we know to be the black man depends on what we know to be the white man.

This for me was the recurring theme of the book: the search to move beyond more traditional feminist, anti-racist, or to be crude and brief "progressive" perspectives which use a "resistance" frame to one of redefinition, creativity and joy (honestly I should be hired to write leftist articles somewhere, I feel like I'm doing a ruddy good job at imitating the lingo). It's the attempt to avoid appropriate white, colonial, fuck it, let's call 'em "regressive" ideas of knowledge, power, beauty, womanhood etc and instead to redefine these for ourselves so that we can truly be free. I say we in the broadest sense possible, since we're all victims of the "Europatriarchal worldview" as Minna Salami calls it, regardless of race, gender etc.

Some more examples of this:

We raise girls so that they will grow up to become more like men but not boys to become more like women.

And that's all I've got (and it's not a great example frankly), since like I said I was only tagging when I was awake (which apparently was for only about 2/3 of the book).

On knowledge

Regarding the saying "knowledge is power":

Francis Bacon, who coined the adage, meant it literally.

To acquire means "to gain possession of", and this precised is how we approach knowledge - as a quantifiable thing to be controlled and possessed in vast quantities, at all costs. Our politics, economics, law, media, education and policy are all formed around the fundamental position at the heart of Europatriarchal knowledge, namely, that the purpose of amassing knowledge is ultimately to rank, compete, and dominate.

[Europatriarchal knoweldge] helps accumulate insight on how to end war, poverty, and disease yet doesn't end them. Instead of producing thriving, exciting, and wise societies, as knowledge should do, Europatriarchal Knowledge creates a world of social, political, psychological, and spiritual suffering. This is no accident. As long as there are social problems to solve, then more technical knowledge needs to be acquired - data, studies, surveys, analyses, expert panels, trade journals, you name it. The more resources that need to be pumped into technical knowledge, the stronger the idea that all knowledge is technical.

After 8 years of studying and researching in engineering fields at two conservative universities, this analysis rang very true to me. I'll permit myself a short reflection on this that came to me while transcribing the above, and that is the creation of doubt as a tactic to delay action. The classic examples would be the tobacco and fossil fuel industry. From reading the above, I thought you could frame this tactic as using the very exacting methods of Europatriarchal Knowledge acquisition as a means of oppression, since the rules of the game (apparently, if you conveniently ignore the precautionary principle) are that you need to be 100% sure before any action can be taken against the status quo.

On humoring my white sensitivity

Europatriarchal Knowledge has resulted in significant achievements, not least in the much-cherished development of rational thinking and reason. Rationality and reason are phenomena that we indeed should guard. To make it very clear, the point of Sensuous Knowledge is not to abandon induction or impartial judgement.

Also, while blackness and womanhood are qualities that make me intrinsically understand oppression and prejudice, they do not automatically put me in the position of the victim, just as every white- and male-born person is not automatically an oppressor.

Individuality is necessary for ingenuity, so I am critical of the conformity that interdependent approaches to identity can produce, but there is a lot to learn from the shape-shifting and fluid quality given to identity in Africa.

This subtitle is tongue in cheek, since the above quotes (and there are many similar ones) had the effect of making me less defensive towards criticism that in some way I feel is aimed at me (in case it's not clear yet, I'm a straight, white dude, though I'm not yet old thankfully).

This is undoubtedly not what Minna Salami was aiming for when she wrote the above. As I understand it, views such as the ones above are instead her attempt at again moving away from defining herself and "progressive" views as "resistant" to ones which are creative and joyful. It is "truly" feminist perspective in that it does away with patriarchal dichotomies and "rigidness" - good or bad, rational or emotional, mind or body, human or Nature, natural or artificial.

I'm quite convinced by this perspective, and it has definitely given me pause to think about how XR and other environmental movements communicate. Sure, every so often we throw in a couple words about utopian world we're fighting for, but it's never given the centre stage that it could in our narratives. It's always ban this, stop that etc, which has its place but is problematic for all the reasons that Minna Salami gives (though she rarely mentions environmental issues).

Anyway, was good book, 10/10 would read again (if I re-read books that is).