Moments with Gebre Eyesus Gorfu
Ethiopians on the Web recently conducted an interview with Ato Gebre Eyesus Gorfu, (G. E. Gorfu) author of "Gorfu Contra Nietzsche" the book that has been making quite a stir in philosophical circles. What follows is the transcript of that interview.
The Ethiopians: "First of all, Ato Gebre Eyesus, we wish to congratulate you on your book "Gorfu Contra Nietzsche", which has gained a wide acclaim from many respected members of academia around the world. We also thank you for giving us some time for this interview. Could you please tell us a little bit about your childhood?"
G. E. Gorfu: "Though I used to be a very skinny and rather sickly boy, my childhood I must say, was reasonably happy. I didnt grow up in any one place. I was a wanderer. I was born in Adua, but by about four, my family moved to Addis Ababa and two years later returned back to Adua. Then a couple of years after that we moved to Asmara. After a few more years there, I must have been about eleven when I moved back to Adua, to complete my elementary education there. Then, I moved to Debre Zeit, (Ethiopian Evangelical College) EEC, where I attended high school. So, very early In life, I had the good chance to travel and experience quite a variety of the Ethiopian kaleidoscope in language, religion, food, customs, and other aspects of our rich national culture."
The Ethiopians: "How were your college years?"
G. E. Gorfu: "Before I speak of college, allow me say to some words about my years with the Ethiopian Board of Telecommunications. From high school, I was recruited and trained for two and half years as an electronics technician and then worked for over five years on communications radio receivers in Sululta, some 20 miles north of Addis Ababa. I continued on with electronics and did an Electrical/Electronics degree in Barking, Essex, a suburb of London, in what is now East London University, but then used to be known as NELP, or North, East London Polytechnic. I remember those were years filled with all kinds of personal challenges, and economic hardships, but I made time to read outside of my class curriculum. It was during those years that I introduced my self to Nietzsche and other European, Chinese, as well as, a variety of Indian philosophies."
The Ethiopians: "How did you get interested in philosophy?"
G. E. Gorfu: "Actually, it really was not my main interest. I can even say I stumbled into philosophy by a detour of literature. You see, I loved reading literature, especially poetry and novels. This, without a doubt, was something I acquired in my early childhood, at home. My father, Zemenfes Kidus Abraha (Gorfu) had authored several books in Geez, Amharic, and in Tigrinia. Besides selling the books he authored, my father was also an accomplished business man, who brought books from Addis Ababa to bookstores in Asmara and took books from Asmara to be sold in bookstores in Addis. I remember one room in our house that was always filled with a variety of books, in Amharic, in Tigrinia, and in Geez. It was then that I started and developed the habit of reading. My sister, Zemta, and myself used to read and exchange books, and discuss and express our opinions on their contents. This, without a doubt, was of course, the foundation of my early development and love for literature, and later for my interest in philosophy."
The Ethiopians: "What motivated you to write Gorfu Contra Nietzsche?"
G. E. Gorfu: "For the first few years that I read Nietzsche, I loved him. In fact, he was my Guru, if I can put it that way, and I considered my self as his disciple. Nietzsche was fresh and pure. He has a unique way with words. His clarity and directness of expression is unequaled in any of the German philosophers. When one reads Kant, Schopenhauer, Hegel, Marx, they are cumbersome. Their logic is often twisted and laborious. You have to follow their strings of thought doggedly to find out their meaning. With Nietzsche, it is straight to the point. His thoughts are presented in the individually self -contained sections called, "aphorisms". These are like many stanzas in a long poem. Each stanza makes sense, and has a point. And as in a long poem, even though each stanza or section may appear independent, there is a connection, a thread, singular fundamental idea that Nietzsche is pursuing. This is his unparalleled craft. And I loved it."
The Ethiopians: "What then came between you and your Guru, as you put it, Nietzsche?"
G. E. Gorfu: "Well, I started to make the connections. I began to see his words echoed in the words of the Nazis and Fascists of Europe. For a long time I tried to defend my Guru. It was not easy for me to break away from his spell. But little by little, as it became very apparent to me that Nietzsches stand was indefensible, I started to distance my self from his teachings. After a while, it became clear to me that I could write some rejections of Nietzsche. A few ideas here, a few thoughts there, I began to write them down night after night, until finally, I had the entire manuscript completed."
The Ethiopians: "Some who read your book, particularly Westerners, thought you were rather ruthless to Nietzsche. How do you feel about such accusations."
G. E. Gorfu: "These accusations are legitimate. As I have stated in the introduction to my book, Nietzsche was extremely rude and ruthless to almost all philosophers before him. I have listed half a dozen examples of the kind of insults he leveled against others. I needed to be ruthless in order to fight fire with fire. Nietzsche does not deserve a better treatment. As Dr. Fikre Tolossa pointed out in a responses to probably, a Western critic of my book, If we collect all Gorfus insults against Nietzsche, they might make a total of five, or even say, ten pages. What about the other one hundred and fifty pages? In other words, if any one really wants to defend Nietzsche, fine. I am ready to debate and combat them without the ruthless insults. I have one hundred and fifty pages of solid arguments that need to be answered. So, even though I was ruthless to Nietzsche, I have given the reasons for it. Furthermore, as all my previous writings and publications prove, this style of writing and ruthlessness is alien to me, too. I had to adopt Nietzsches own style in order to argue against him. I wanted to give my Guru a taste of his own medicine, and see how he fares. He was good at dishing it out, now it is his turn to take it."
The Ethiopians: "Do you think Nietzsches thoughts and contribution to Western philosophy have been damaged beyond repair?"
G. E. Gorfu: "Well, I hope so. That is precisely what I set out to do. And I believe it has been accomplished. But the final result will be up to history. At least, one specialist in the History of Science and Philosophy, Dr. Iskren Azmanov, has sided with me. He gave his estimation of my book and said it is: The Obituary of Nietzsche."
The Ethiopians: "What do you think is the most important contribution of your book, Gorfu Contra Nietzsche in the field of philosophy. Do you agree with Dr. Azmanov?"
G. E. Gorfu: "I hope Dr. Azmanov is right, and that my book turns out to be the obituary of Nietzsche. There is some truth to the saying, Books are like mirrors. If a donkey looks in you cant expect an angel to look out. This may be especially true in science and philosophy. Some basic knowledge could be a prerequisite to benefit from any scientific or philosophical work. Dr. Azmanov, because of his training in Biologist and Genetics, besides being a major in the History of Philosophy of Science, came to my book with a question in his mind. The assertion in my book, The common people, the peasantry, are the most healthy of all. Those with complexes of inferiority and other personal defects are those, who in trying to cover up for their shortcomings and weaknesses, often end up as dictators, butchers, "Supermen", etc. became the key to the answer of his question. This is what he has considered to be the most important contribution of my book, and has named it The Gorfu Phenomenon. I have no doubt others too, will find other valuable gems and diamonds that they could consider important contributions in my book."
The Ethiopians: "But, can you tell us, in your own estimation what do you consider to be the most important contribution of your book, Gorfu Contra Nietzsche to philosophy?"
G. E. Gorfu: "If you would allow me to digress a little here: - from ancient times philosophy dealt with the human predicament. It addressed major social issues of "relationships" between man and himself, between human beings, and between man and nature. The Socratic paradigm of some human beings finding themselves chained in a cave, unable to see themselves directly but only indirectly from looking at their shadows cast against the wall of the cave, is a famous one. And from this and many other paradigms, after volumes of discussions and generations of philosophical arguments the ancients concluded: - in order to solve human problems, we need to rear a breed of philosopher-kings This was the pursuit of traditional philosophy. But then came Nietzsche declaring what is needed is not for a philosopher-king to lead society. It is for society to serve the "Superman", and for him to do whatever he pleases. Further, he proclaimed, God is dead, and there are no laws or the fear of God to bind or curtail any whim the Superman might have. He is an end in himself, a fulfillment of society.
"Nietzsche further maintained, The superman is a law unto himself society and all its activities are simply a detour to arrive at a great man, the "Superman". That was not all. He even went so far as to advocate a caste system, similar to that of India, to be established in Europe and the rest of the world, where the great majority can be turned into chandala, or untouchables. So, Nietzsches philosophy, if we must refer to it as such, is not about freedom and the uplifting of mankind. On the contrary, it is about the subjugation, denigration and enslavement of man under a Superman, and under the Super-race, the Germanic blond beasts, as he called them himself. This concept is what I have rejected in my book. It does not mean there were no ruthless dictators before Nietzsche, there were. And there may be many more to come. But for a philosopher to argue on behalf of brutality and dictatorship, to legitimize their stand using philosophical arguments! This is what I found utterly reprehensible. I want the ancient stance of philosophy, the rearing of philosopher-kings to be restored as the most important preoccupation of philosophy, in order to address cogent social issues. This is my stand, and this is what my book is all about. This is what I would consider my main contribution to philosophy. And it is here that I want to put order to philosophy."
The Ethiopians: "It looks like most Western philosophers will fight you in regard to this stand. What are your feelings on that?"
G. E. Gorfu: "Ever since Nietzsche, philosophy appears to have received a death-blow, and has lost its way. Today, we see it fumbling in the doldrums. The major social issues dont seem to matter to philosophy any more. It is lost in the senseless meandering of trivialities, technicalities of splitting hairs, words, meanings, and utterly purposeless morass of verbosity that mean very littler, or absolutely nothing. This is what I want to change. If this comes about as a result of my book, I would consider my goal to have been completely achieved. Today, philosophy, in most universities, is totally dead. It has been attached to the Social Sciences, to the Humanities, to Political Science, or is taught as part of Literature and Rhetoric. The era when it used to be a vibrant department all on its own is a vague memory. Look at any university: engineering, medicine, law, fine arts, economics, life science and computer science departments may easily boast of having thousands of students each. If one or two hundred students can be found majoring in philosophy that is considered a miracle. I want to bring philosophy back to life. Fighting me, academia is barking the wrong tree. In reality, I am a true friend of philosophy. If they stood for truth and philosophy, they would welcome my book. But they cant."
The Ethiopians: "Why cant they? If, as you say, you are a true friend of philosophy, what then is preventing academia from welcoming you and your book?"
G. E. Gorfu: "Well, you can ask them that question. But, there appear to be several reasons. First, they have helped to kill philosophy, and they know their crime. This appears to be the major problem. How did they help kill philosophy? Academia killed philosophy when it turned it into an exclusive club of elitists. All teachers of mankind: Buddha, Socrates, Confucius, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, and others took their thoughts and ideas to the streets and market places. The discussion was open to the public with equal give and take. They spoke the language of the common man and confronted him in his daily life, challenging him on the meaning of his life, instructing him, or giving him rules by which to live, and telling him of revelations they claimed to have received from God. They either put new questions in his mind, or told man on what needs to be done. Philosophy belonged to the people, as it rightly should. This tradition has been killed by academia. Now, before they allow you to open your mouth you need to have a degree in philosophy. They want you to be totally indoctrinated and brainwashed by their brand of thinking, where they have laid out for you all the ground rules as well as their own language and suitable topics for discussion, : - phenomenology, teleology, nihilism, existentialism, solipsism, imperative, etc., etc., an endless strings of jargons flourish as if to cover up the bleeding lack of new insights and ideas. They are fully preoccupied in labeling old concepts with new names. They will not welcome my book because I dont belong to their club. I dont play their games, speak their jargons, or follow their rules."
The Ethiopians: "Besides your being an outsider to academia, are there other reasons?"
G. E. Gorfu: "Oh yes, there are. Nietzsche has become a world wide financial empire, an establishment. They hold seminars and symposiums in many parts of the world, several times a year. It is a great business, a source of income and revenue for many professors that publish, year after year, their own readings and interpretations of : - Nietzsche and Sports, or Nietzsches Philosophy of Mathematics, or Nietzsche and the Problem of Womens Bodies, and absurdities and aberrations of these sorts. My book is a direct threat to their financial interest. I have no respect for most of them because they have no interest in the pursuit of truth or philosophy. They write for each other in an arcane language, where Tweedledee quotes Tweedledum, dig up rotten old bones only to shroud it with new jargons and bury them back in new and white washed graves. They get together to hold funeral ceremonies, eulogize and sing each others praises, and dance in a circle. This is what academia has become, and that precisely is why it is dead.
"Just as an example, Nietzsche knew next to nothing of sports. And from his own writings, let alone the philosophy of mathematics, he did not even have a good grasp of arithmetic beyond say, the high school level. I have proved this in my book in quite some detail. And what did he know of the Problems of Womens Bodies? He was neither a doctor nor a plastic surgeon. He was never married but lived a bachelors life. We have no record of him ever having a secret lover or a mistress. It is even doubtful if he ever had a full glimpse of a womans body. The only thing feminine he might have ever seen, - womens shoes. So, why then is all this trash masquerading as philosophy? A simple answer, - money. They publish any trash, attach Nietzsches name to it, shroud it with philosophical verbiage, label it with: Ph. D., M. Phil., M. Sc., B. Sc., and sell it to a captive market in the university, - their own students, bless their hearts, or to members of societies. If Nietzsche were to come back to life, I have no doubt that he himself would join me in rejecting these pseudo philosophers.
"So, if they want to fight me, I am ready for them. However, academia, like the proverbial ostrich, has so far buried its head in the sand, and is pretending that my book has not been published and does not exist, or that it will, somehow, go away. Not one academic journal of a university, or of a philosophical society, either here or in Europe, has yet dared to mention, let alone seriously criticize my book. Are they scared? You bet they are. It is only a handful of courageous individuals from academia that have dared to privately recognized my book. The establishment has not. And I doubt, it ever will."
The Ethiopians: "The respected philosopher, Dr. Iskren Azmanov, has said that your book deserves the Nobel Prize. How do you feel about that?"
G. E. Gorfu: "If Gorfu Contra Nietzsche was written by a member of academia in the USA, it might be nominated for a Nobel Prize for its sheer originality. That, I am sure is possible. As for Dr. Azmanovs high opinion of my book, what can I say? I feel very honored, and flattered too. But I will leave the ultimate judgment to the reading public."
The Ethiopians: "How do you think "Gorfu Contra Nietzsche" could be used to promote an Ethiopian and an African world view."
G. E. Gorfu: "Again, if you would allow me to rephrase the question: What relevance does Nietzsche and his philosophy have to Ethiopia and the rest of Africa? To answer this question one needs to go some sixty years back in history. Ethiopia was the very first country in the world to be attacked, feel the heat and bear the brunt of Fascist aggression, long before Europe and the rest of the world was nearly consumed in the conflagration that ensued. Fascism and Nazism did not come about by sheer accident. A supporting backbone of a philosophy, a carefully laid out ideology was needed. And it was there that Nietzsche had come in very handy and was fully utilized by the aggressors. And it is that very backbone that my book Gorfu Contra Nietzsche, attacked and hopefully, destroyed. Race supremacy is a disease that is still with us today. Black people come face to face with this disease everyday. A book against Fascism and racism by an Ethiopian, for Ethiopians, for Africans and for the rest of the world is of utmost relevance.
"Furthermore, even if nothing, or very little, comes about from the publication of my book vis-a-vis the ostrich that has buried its head in the sand, and Western academia continues to look up to Nietzsche as a major philosopher and teach his books in universities, I can at least proudly say this:- already, I have re-introduced the names of these two great Ethiopian Philosophers, Zera Yaekob and Wolde Hiwot into a serious discussion among Ethiopian and African intellectuals. The concept that Black people are incapable of philosophy, a racist notion still entrenched since the Nineteenth Century in academia of Europe and America, is now being confronted. God willing, in the not too distant future, I intend to translate Hateta Zera Yaekob into English. With that I will show the world, especially the ostrich with its head in the sand, that while Western minds were writing heaps of senseless metaphysical mumbo-jumbo and calling it philosophy, these two Ethiopian had already digested secular theology. Over a century predating Hume and Berkeley, these two philosophers had made secular critical examination of the two most important religious books, the Bible and the Koran. They had dissected very lofty ideas with their superb professional scalpels, long before the word secular had even gained popularity in the language. The work of Zera Yaekob and Wolde Hiwot is our Ethiopian and African heritage. This historic fact should make us, Ethiopians and all Black people throughout the world exceedingly proud."
The Ethiopians: "Do you think most Africans, including Ethiopians, have an adequate knowledge and pride in their own rich history of philosophy?"
G. E. Gorfu: "Sadly enough, no. Even among many Ethiopians who studied philosophy, Zera Yaekob and Welde Hiwot are relatively unknown. You see, most of them studied Western philosophy in European or American universities, where our great philosophers are never quoted, and never mentioned. Western academia continues to hold the racist belief that Black people are unable to philosophize and to regard their work as some kind of a forgery by an Italian, Spanish, or a Portuguese monk, who might have lived in Ethiopia in the Seventeenth Century. This is a highly contrived and a very far-fetched theory. They cannot come up with a single iota to prove or support such arrant nonsense. By translating and publishing Hateta Zera Yaekob into English, I will lay to rest that myth and an unfounded allegation, once and for all."
The Ethiopians: "We wish you success in that effort. Can you please, tell us about the books you had published earlier than this landmark work, Gorfu Contra Nietzsche?"
G. E. Gorfu: "When I was an electronics technician with Ethiopian Telecommunications, that is in my early twenties I published two small books, collections of English poetry: Poems of Thoughts and Solitude in 1970, followed by Wild Oats, in 1971, both printed in Artistic Press, Addis Ababa. Later in the USA, I published a collection of Amharic poems, "Gitim Alichelebetim" in 1989, and a collection of Tigrinia poems, "Gitmitat Hagerey" in 1990. Then came the full-length novel in Amharic, "Nuro Zelzala" in 1992.
The Ethiopians: "Are you currently working on any manuscripts or on publishing a book? Do you have any plans for more works along the same line?"
G. E. Gorfu: "The novel, Nuro Zelzala is Book One of a trilogy, a three part novel. Book Two and Book Three, were completed long ago. I plan to publish both very shortly. I also have several completed manuscripts in English. My next important philosophical work, which has already been completed and only needs some minor editorial brushing-up, "Gorfu Contra Darwin", will show the fallacies of the main tenets and basic philosophical foundation of Darwin and his Theory of Evolution. I intend to give Darwin a good shake up, even as I have shaken down Nietzsche. I also have another manuscript on the ancient African Cosmology titled: On the Essence of Knowledge. I have a couple dozen unpublished poems and many short stories in English, Amharic and Tigrinia. These are some of the irons I have on the fire."
The Ethiopians: "Well, you do seem to have quite a few irons in your fire. Let me ask if you consider yourself to be a religious man? Does religion influence your philosophy?"
G. E. Gorfu: "If by religious you mean the outward signs, symbols, and rituals, the belonging to a faith, a denomination, a church, a group, participation in religious ceremonies and the like, I am not a religious person. But, if by religious I understand you to mean, one who has a fundamental faith in God, the Great Universal Power, then of course, I am deeply religious. However, I often find it very difficult to discuss my religion with others. It is too deeply a personal matter, and as no two human beings see or experience the colors of the rainbow exactly the same, I like to keep my religious belief to myself. But, to answer your question, yes, I am deeply religious, and yes, my religion does influence all my philosophy, my thoughts, and my life."
The Ethiopians: "Who are some of the world philosophers, political leaders, or historical figures that you regard highly, or hold in high esteem?"
G. E. Gorfu: "In my short life, I have seen great men and women that life placed in very low positions, and small men and women that it had elevated to high places. You see the social status we achieve may have more to do with being in the right place at the right time, than being a great intellect or a person of great ability. It may have more to do with pure luck and/or some maverick manipulations and connections, than of being a great person. For example, let me tell you how shocked I was the first time I met the great lexicographer, Aleka Desta Tekle Wold, author of the Amharic dictionary. It was in the early Seventies when I was getting my book printed at the Artistic Press. He must have been in his late seventies or early eighties, living alone in a single upper room, just above the offices of the printing press. This genius, dressed in his simple traditional Ethiopian outfit and white netela, sitting and sunning himself by the entrance gate, was living totally unknown, an unsung hero of Ethiopia, and of the Amharic language. Nobody, except those close to the printing press, knew who he was. At first I thought he was just a zebegna, guarding the place. When I found out who he was and introduced myself, he accepted me readily. He invited me to his room because he knew my father, who among other books had published, Metshafe Sewasew by Haleka Taye. When I saw for the first time the big voluminous Amharic dictionary in his hands, and listened to him talk about his work, I quietly said to myself: - Here is a walking genius, whose shoes I am not even worthy to bear. But he lives alone, and totally unknown! What a tragedy! He was a very lonely soul who craved human company.
"I visited Aleka Desta a couple more times after that and learned that he was knowledgeable not only in Amharic and Geez, but also knew Tigrinia, Arabic, Hebrew, and even some Latin. He used to be very guarded when he spoke about how his work was received. Addis Ababa University should have recognized his talent and contributions and welcomed him with open arms. He should have been given the Amharic Department Chair, so that he could be surrounded everyday by professors and all types of language students. The knowledge he had acquired over his lifetime should have been passed on to coming generations. But, none of that ever happened. I was told he lived out his days and died totally unrecognized. This is a great shame, and the loss, - a national loss.
"I have also seen all too many small people that fate and lucky connections had catapulted into high places and positions of authority. There is not much I can say about them. But just to give you a simple example, how many people would be able to go back thirty years and remember names of the Dean of Addis Ababa University, or Dean of the Amharic Department at that time? I dont know the names of either of them. Do you? In another fifty years who would even care to know anything about them? But I can assure you, through the dictionary that carries his name, Aleka Desta Tekle Wold will still be remembered a hundred years from now, and will even have become more popular with the years. Here we have a good example of a great man dying totally unknown, literally hidden in a dark corner, and small men in high office. One learns from this a very important lesson: great contribution can be made even from a person in an insignificant position, and those found occupying high offices may not even be great persons. I am sure the above example also answers your question as to the types of people I respect, and hold in very high esteem."
The Ethiopians: "If you had to look ahead a generation or two from now, do you think the Black man/womans philosophy will have a respectable place?"
G. E. Gorfu: "I have no doubt of that. Black peoples achievements are beginning to be recognized in America today. The future is bright. But, unless we Black people ourselves, honor and bring forward our own great men and women of history, we cant expect the White Europeans, or peoples of other races, to do it for us. This is our own duty."
The Ethiopians: "If you can give a short advice to the new generation of African origin and heritage, what would it be?"
G. E. Gorfu: "Dont let the present mess, and the political turmoil that Africa is in today, ever cause you to despair. Look up. Look forward. Take pride in your past history and the heritage that precedes all histories of the world, and look to the bright future. If you aim for something high and of great value, you can surely accomplish many things of great value. And you can accomplish them even when no one recognizes your contribution. In one sentence, my advice for the new generation is: Dont ever give up!"
The Ethiopians: "Thank you very much, Ato Gebre Eyesus Gorfu for your valuable time. We wish you a continued success."
Copyright 2000. EthCITA.