Saturday, November 22, 2008

MY BOOK AS MY ITHAKA (Gk. JOURNEY) By José Cossa, PhD

In the book Power, Politics, and Higher Education in Southern Africa: International Regimes, Local Governments, and Educational Autonomy[1] I want the reader to experience an important aspect of the journey of human kind towards an imagined noble destiny--a world where equity abides. Recently, a friend introduced me to the writings of the Africa-born Greek poet Constantine Cavafi who mapped this human predicament of a journey in the classic poem Ithaka.[2] Following Cavafi’s Ithaka as an analogy to the sense of journey that I intend the reader to grasp in this book, I would like to offer a similar advice to my readers:


As you set out for your Ithaka,

hope the voyage is a long one,

full of adventure, full of discovery.

(…)

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvellous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.


As Ithaka is to Cavafi so is omorfos kosmos to the lovers of a harmonious and balanced world characterized by values such as Ubuntu, equal rights and justice. My vision in this book is to foster the human will to influence the world by providing informed insight into the complex intersection of power, politics, and higher education.[3]


Through this book, I want my readers to understand that there is no shortcut to reaching an equitable world; thus, their sense of timelessness must prevail in setting out for this noble destiny. The problem of imbalanced power dynamics is not new to human kind yet the hope of one day reaching an equitable world is a dream to cherish. Cherishing this dream means understanding that time is not what matters, but the experiences that the journey provides. This Cavafian insight is compatible to the African worldview that places primacy on the meaning of events, rather than their urgency. Not hurrying the journey does not imply that the destiny is not important, but that doing so helps one to develop a new perspective about the destiny. Within such perspective, even if life turns to be boring in the equitable world, one ought to remember that equity resulted from the noble intention to reach it. Therefore, the appreciation of the marvellous journey is more important than what the destiny might offer and in that way, one’s experiences will have produced a very wise inhabitant of the final destiny.


In my experience, students and policy communities are often weary of processes and eager to see proposed solutions or policy recommendations. Students have asked me why some authors often present a problem and its complexity without providing solutions and academic journals have asked me to add a section with policy recommendations in my writings; both students and academic journals are eager to see some sort of tangible solutions to the world’s problems and often bypass the value of the process. Despite my hope that readers will appreciate this book as a part of the process towards the amelioration of human interactions, particularly those involving international negotiations at the institutional level, I am aware that the desire to see immediate solutions and tangible recommendations is a typical propensity in many humans.


My hope is that reading this book will produce that sense of having gained yet another insight into the phenomena of power dynamics in international negotiations and an appreciation of the contribution of such insight towards a better world. One ought to picture the journey between a world characterized by imbalance of power between international institutions that have influence on the politics and higher education at the local levels and a world where everyone shares power equitably in all affairs.

Allow me to echo the desperate cry of Filippos Pliatsikas in the song “If I could change the world”.[4] My cry is that if I could change the world through this book, I would foster in us (humans) the spirit of Ubuntu as we run world affairs that influence our daily lives and of those whom our institutions serve. I wish that mutual respect and love for fellow humans guide international negotiations, even amidst differences in worldviews. May a world characterized by Ubuntu and equity become our Ithaka and the series of negotiations characterized by mutual respect and love become our series of short-term Ithakas.



[1] http://www.cambriapress.com/cambriapress.cfm?template=6&bid=234

[2] In “The Canon” by C. P. Cavafi is available online: http://www.cavafy.com/poems/content.asp?id=74&cat=1. The poem is a metaphorical reference to Homer’s narrative of Odyssea’s ten years journey from Troy to his homeland, Ithaka.

[3] Omorfos Kosmos (trans. Greek, beautiful world); Ubuntu (trans. Zulu, humanness)

[4] Original title in Greek “Αν θα μπορούσα τον κόσμο να άλλαζα” [Transliteration: an tha borousa ton kosmo na allaza]

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