{ critical consciousness }


In The Prison Notebooks, Antonio Gramsci highlights to his readers that “the starting-point of critical elaboration is the consciousness of what one really is, and is ‘knowing thyself’ as a product of the historical process to date, which has deposited in you an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory…” As such, Gramsci continues, “it is imperative to compile such an inventory” (1930-32). For Gramsci, this process of critical self-understanding represents the starting point for the possibility of any transformative action, underlines the centrality of human empowerment to any successful revolutionary process and, crucially, is the basis upon which this form of social transformation is not one that aims at replacing an oppressive reality with its mirror image, but one that is capable of becoming an act of liberation for both the coloniser and the colonised. A process aimed at recovering and politicising memory, and ‘inventing new souls’. And the pivotal agents in igniting this transformative process; highlighting the link between thought and action; illuminating this infinity of traces; speaking the truth to power; imagining alternative social and political relations, and revolutionising possibilities on the ground from within particular communities? Organic intellectuals.

In my current work, I seek to re-excavate and explore images of public intellectuals broadly linked to the Arab Left—as imagined and narrated from within their own self-understandings and conceptions of the world, and from within the history, philosophical worldviews, theories and geographies of the communities of resistance to which they belong. What are the self-understandings of these intellectuals? How do they locate themselves within their own history? What life experiences lead them to develop a critical consciousness, or give them access to alternative ways of being, of doing language, and of conceiving of and knowing the world? Do they all belong to a particular class or social group? Do they always inhabit the margins, and remain in radical spaces of opposition that do not seek to seize power? How do they experience the world and themselves geographically, and how do these contexts and locations influence their ideas? How do they see power, social justice, solidarity and ‘the political’? How do their ideas and theories travel across histories, communities and geographies?

Through these explorations, I aim to experiment with ideas linked to the revolutionary power of philosophy; to the dynamics of building counterhegemony and communities of resistance; and to the politics of location and the creation of radical spaces of possibility at the margins. I aim to do so from within these particular points of beginning, and from within the oppositional struggles of this particular community of resistance. For, as bell hooks has voiced, “We are wedded in language, have our being in words…the oppressed struggle in language to recover ourselves, to reconcile, to reunite, to renew. Our words are a resistance. Language is also a place of struggle” (1989). The same can be said of where we choose to place our points of beginning. Beginnings are also a place of struggle. To begin with us, to centre us, is a resistance.


Cherine Hussein