Harmattan: A Philosophical Fiction

Columbia University Press: New York, 2015

In this book, I explore our relationship with life itself through the image of the limitrophe. The word limitrophe derives from the Latin limes (‘boundary’) and the Greek, trophos (‘feeder’) and trephein (‘to nourish’). In its original meaning, limitrophus designated lands that provided food for troops defending an outpost of Empire.  More generally, the word denotes a borderland between two or more states, though it also calls to mind Gloria Anzaldúa’s notion of a mestiza consciousness where phenomena collide - a destabilized and transgressive borderlands in which “dreams, repressed memories, psychological transferences and associations” possess greater presence than they do in ordinary waking life, and religious experiences emerge from the unconscious like apparitions.

We all experience qualms and anxieties when we move from the known to the unknown. Though our fulfillment in life may depend on testing limits, our faintheartedness is a reminder of our need for security and our awareness of the risks of venturing into alien worlds.

Evoking the hot, dust-filled Harmattan winds that blow from the Sahara to the Gulf of Guinea, this book creatively explores what it means to be buffeted by the unforeseen and the unknown. Celebrating the life-giving potential of people, places, and powers that lie beyond our established worlds, Harmattan connects existential vitality to the act of resisting prescribed customs and questioning received notions of truth. At the book's heart is the fictional story of Tom Lannon, a graduate student from Cambridge University, who remains ambivalent about pursuing a conventional life. After traveling to Sierra Leone in the aftermath of its devastating civil war, Tom meets a writer who helps him explore the possibilities of renewal. Illustrating the fact that certain aspects of human existence are common to all people regardless of culture and history, Harmattan remakes the distinction between home and world and the relationship between knowledge and life.



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