Ally Ladha


Princeton University, Ph.D. Comparative Literature

Yale University, B.A. English

Areas of Expertise

Philosophy and literature; aesthetics; literary theory

Postcolonial studies

Poetry (19th and 20th century French, francophone African, American, British, Latin American)

Islamic studies (pre-Islamic poetry; Quranic studies; art and aesthetics; Islamic legal and political theory; African Islam)


My research centers on the operation through which language, as the instrument of thought, delineates referents in space and time. This epistemological process, it turns out, necessarily entails an aestheticimbrication of sign and referent, or verbal and material form. The impingement of the aesthetic on thought, compromising some the most enduring concepts in disciplines across the humanities and sciences, opens up fresh perspectives on postcolonial attempts to articulate radical modes of subjectivity and more contingent, performative, and dynamic frameworks in political and legal theory. I am currently anchoring my research at the intersection of Arabo-Islamic thought, French and German literature and philosophy, and their respective legacies in francophone cultural expressions.

My first book centers on Hegel’s conception of Africa as a fluid, negative space enabling the traversal of the dialectic of East and West. As Hegel’s figure for the nonhistorical, Africa marks the negativity propelling the movement of history; mirroring the “dark continent’s” relation to history, Kantian “architectonics” steps out of the realm of logic in Hegel’s system and propels the historical movement of the aesthetic. In a foundational but critically misunderstood move, Hegel repeatedly figures the architectonic entanglement of built and discursive form as the colossus of Memnon, an African warrior memorialized in ancient Egyptian architecture and then appearing in Greek myth and art from the Iliad to the Hellenistic period. Articulating the desire for and possibility of freedom, the Memnon marks the architectonic modality through which the slave, at the end of African history, will fulfill the spiritual promise of the human and thus bring about the politically mature state. Reading the syncretic figure of Memnon in the Phenomenology of Spirit, the Lectures on Aesthetics, and the Encyclopeadia, the book attempts a comprehensive reassessment of Hegel’s theories of the aesthetic, language, history, and the political subject and calls for a new articulation of these concepts in African studies and in philosophy in general.