A brief story by Ghana’s Ama Ata Aidoo provides a view of humanity’s place on this planet

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In recent times, philosophers and different thinkers have been rethinking how we see humanity and its place on this planet. One motive for this modification in considering has been local weather change: it has made people realise that our actions have massive and irreversible penalties. Many ideologies, religions and philosophies see people as being on the centre of existence on earth, or because the rulers or stewards of all different life on the planet. However local weather change forces us to understand that such a view of people is exactly what would possibly result in the destruction of the world.

Seeing individuals as separate from or above all different beings would result in an overuse of assets and violence towards different creatures.

However even thinkers who’ve moved away from that view typically ignore the truth that all people aren’t equally answerable for local weather disasters. And folks don’t equally endure the implications. Developed international locations use a lot of the earth’s assets and trigger probably the most destruction. However the world’s poorest individuals disproportionately endure the outcomes of local weather change.

It’s subsequently essential to assume in another way about what the relationships between the human and the non-human world are and ought to be. And it’s equally essential to keep away from lumping all people collectively and ignoring the violence that people wreak on one another.

What would such a mind-set appear to be? One reply, I’ve urged in a current evaluation, could be discovered within the Ghanaian creator Ama Ata Aidoo’s quick story Nowhere Cool.

The story was initially revealed in 1974 within the journal Asemka. A restructured model was revealed within the journal Callaloo in 1990 and was included in Aidoo’s quick story assortment The Woman Who Can (1997).

Nowhere Cool is much less well-known than Aidoo’s different works (reminiscent of her novels Sister Killjoy and Modifications: A Love Story). On studying it, I used to be instantly eager about the way it foregrounds the relationships between human and non-human objects, fairly than issues like storyline and character which drive extra conventional quick tales.

Human and non-human objects

Nowhere Cool consists of two components.

The biggest half takes place on an aeroplane flying from New York to the west coast of the USA of America. The story’s Ghanaian protagonist, Sissie, is within the US for a fellowship. On the flight she thinks about compromises she needed to make with the intention to take up the fellowship, together with leaving her husband and two younger kids behind. Prompted by a plastic tackle label pinned to the newborn of the white girl sitting subsequent to her, she begins to consider the label as object, plastic as a fabric, and its hyperlink to grease. This results in ideas on the extractive economic system primarily based on oil and cotton. Her ideas flip to slavery and the way slavery turns people into inhuman cargo.

Most of Nowhere Cool is written within the third particular person and refers to Sissie as “she”. The primary two paragraphs are written within the first particular person. This part depicts a schoolgirl sitting in an English literature classroom feeling like she might “by no means perceive or deal with” features of the category. The schoolgirl, who’s presumably additionally Sissie, is right here known as Sarah – an anglicised identify maybe chosen by the instructor, Miss Jones. Sissie is unable to tackle the persona of “Sarah” anticipated of her within the literature class and skim the prescribed textual content from a Eurocentric perspective.

Whereas the classroom (presumably located in humid Ghana) is heat sufficient to warmth “nice grandmother’s bathtub water, the scholars examine carriages getting caught within the snow”. This makes “Sarah” really feel sleepy, “So I might simply sit like
a stone, my eyes large open however looking at nothing, whereas my ideas wandered round acquainted issues that had been being chased away by the calls for of the tradition of our conquerors … ”

Embodiment and identification

This can be a story about how people see and work together with non-human objects. In the principle physique of the story, it’s a plastic tag that units Sissie’s ideas working in a sure path. In paragraphs set within the classroom, the literature that Sarah interacts with is one such object, but additionally the objects depicted within the textual content – the carriages getting caught in snow.

In each sections the characters’ relationships with objects are influenced by different features of their identification and embodiment. Sissie and Sarah aren’t “impartial” people, and their relationships with the objects aren’t the identical as everybody else’s can be. These relationships are influenced by their particular identities as Ghanaian girls, and Ghanaian girls with a particular politically knowledgeable worldview.

Sissie’s linking of plastic to extractive processes and the extractive exploitation of West African individuals enslaved and brought to America illustrates the specificity of her relationship to the non-human.

Equally, Sarah’s frustration with the story concerning the snow-stuck carriages signifies how she is alienated by western cultures’ imposition on her personal, and the way they modify her relationship to the world round her. She talks about “acquainted issues that had been being chased away by the calls for of the tradition of our conquerors”.

Aidoo wrote the story lengthy earlier than at present’s debates concerning the relationship between the human and the non-human. But it illustrates the opportunity of centralising the non-human fairly than the human, and nonetheless recognising the variations between people and the existence of a historical past wherein some people are dehumanised.



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