Afromodernisms: Paris, Harlem and the Avant-Garde

Fionnghuala Sweeney
Kate Marsh
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 264
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Makes a persuasive case for a black Atlantic literary renaissance & its impact on modernist studiesThese 10 new chapters stretch and challenge current canonical configurations of modernism in two key ways: by considering the centrality of black artists, writers and intellectuals as key actors and core presences in the development of a modernist avant-garde; and by interrogating 'blackness' as an aesthetic and political category at critical moments during the twentieth century. This is the first book-length publication to explore the term 'Afromodernisms' and the first study to address together the cognate fields of modernism and the black Atlantic. Key Features:* Sets a new agenda for the study of blackness and modernism* Specially commissioned contribution from Tyler Stovall on Black Modernism and an Afterword from Demetrius Eudell on 'What to the Negro is Modernism?'* Identifies key locations of modernism: Harlem, Paris, Haiti* Addresses the question of gender, often overlooked in black Atlantic scholarship

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-4641-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-iv)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. v-v)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vi-viii)
  5. Introduction: Afromodernisms – Black Modernist Practice in Contemporary Context
    (pp. 1-16)
    Fionnghuala Sweeney

    What kind of world does the black interwar artist, writer and intellectual see?¹ How do black artists, writers and intellectuals configure this world? A contemporary example of the ways in which one intellectual imagined the interrelated geographies of black experience is useful perhaps. In May of 1932, Eslanda Goode Robeson, then resident in London, wrote to George Horace Lorimer, editor of Philadelphia’s Sunday Evening Post, of her plans ‘to write a series of articles on the Negro’.² Signalling her intention ‘to approach the subject from an entirely new angle’, Goode claimed that she knew ‘personally nearly every Negro of interest...

  6. I. Paris, blackness and the avant-garde
    • Chapter 1 Black Modernism and the Making of the Twentieth Century: Paris, 1919
      (pp. 19-42)
      Tyler Stovall

      One of the most enduring questions in the history of the African diaspora, and especially the rise of black transnational modernism, concerns the relationship between politics and the arts. Whereas some scholars have considered the ways in which political activists have interacted with writers, musicians and visual artists, others have focused on the political meanings of different creative media.¹ In particular, the modernist vision of blackness has prompted many (often very heated) debates about how to portray blacks and black culture, and the politics of such representational choices.² Does an emphasis on positive characteristics of black life create a politically...

    • Chapter 2 Futurist Responses to African American Culture
      (pp. 43-61)
      Przemysław Strożek

      At the beginning of the twentieth century the first signs of African American culture in the form of dances – ragtime, the cakewalk, jazz, the Charleston – appeared in Europe as a new, original form of entertainment, and music craze, notably in the Parisian salons. At the time when avant-garde tendencies and a passion for primitivism were fuelling new artistic movements from cubism and Futurism to surrealism, it was only one term, ‘jazz’, that emerged to describe this experimental art and important cultural phenomenon. It characterised a broad range of imported and home-grown styles associated with American dance and music. Often perceived...

    • Chapter 3 Creating Homoutopia: Féral Benga’s Body in the Matrix of Modernism
      (pp. 62-100)
      James Smalls

      In most historical accounts of modernism the words ‘Féral Benga’ never appear. My first encounter with the name occurred several years ago while conducting preliminary research on the role of sculptural traditions and practices in African American art. Féral Benga: (Dance Figure) was the title given to a 1935 statue by the renowned African American sculptor James Richmond Barthé (1901–89) (Figure 3.1). I was under the impression that the title referenced a type or style of dance. I learned subsequently, however, that Féral Benga was not a dance but a person whose influence and importance to the story of...

  7. II. Afromodern Caribbean
    • Chapter 4 Modernism, Anthropology, Africanism and the Self: Hurston and Herskovits on/in Haiti
      (pp. 103-125)
      Claudine Raynaud

      Since the 1980s scholars have assessed Zora Neale Hurston’s major ethnographic texts, Mules and Men (1935) and Tell My Horse (1938), by defining the contours of her ‘anthropological imagination’,¹ charting her relationship with Boas’s school of anthropology, and examining her multiple subjectivities.² More specifically, Domina’s analysis of Mules and Men and Tell My Horse provides an insight into the autobiographical strand of the work in the context of the conflicting demands of an academic discipline, with its rules and regulations, and the more pragmatic expectations of the publishing world.³ With Tell My Horse, the geographical displacement effected to collect material...

    • Chapter 5 Asymmetrical Possessions: Zora Neale Hurston and the Gendered Fictions of Black Modernity
      (pp. 126-143)
      Samantha Pinto

      Zora Neale Hurston begins her 1934 essay, ‘Characteristics of Negro Expression’, with an invocation of ‘drama’ – not of her own theatre pieces, but of the ‘drama’ of black linguistic practice:

      Every phase of Negro life is highly dramatized. No matter how joyful or how sad the case there is sufficient poise for drama. Everything is acted out. Unconsciously for the most part of course. There is an impromptu ceremony always ready for every hour of life. No little moment passes unadorned.²

      This brief and wholly unframed introduction to the drama of blackness is also littered, as is the quote on...

    • Chapter 6 ‘Forget Paris?’ Transnationalism in the Spiritual Works of Karl Parboosingh
      (pp. 144-166)
      Claudia Hucke

      One of the most significant artists of Jamaica’s immediate post-independence period, Karl Parboosingh (1923–75), embodied in his work a new hybrid and transnational modernism that emerged in Jamaican art around independence. At a time when the island was transitioning from a colonial to a postcolonial society, Parboosingh navigated his way around the centres of an increasingly globalised art world, absorbing and appropriating the formal innovations of the avant-garde. His formative years in New York, Paris, London and Mexico made Parboosingh a master of stylistic code-switching. His oeuvre carries references to key European movements, especially the primitivism inherent in Fauvism...

  8. III. Harlem:: Metaphors of modern experience
    • Chapter 7 ‘Death to any one that puts his foot in No Man[’s] Land’: ‘Afromodernist’ Reimagining and Aesthetic Experimentation in Horace Pippin’s World War I Manuscripts and Paintings
      (pp. 169-191)
      Celeste-Marie Bernier

      So Black World War I veteran, Kenneth Harper, remembers in a haunting, no-holds-barred dramatisation of the horrors of combat in Walter White’s novel, The Fire in the Flint published in 1924.¹ As a locus of black Afromodernisms par excellence, World War I in general and noman’s-land in particular function as powerful and complex sites of modernist reimagining via aesthetic innovation and literary experimentation in the 1920s and 1930s. Black novelists, poets and dramatists working in and beyond Harlem – and not only including Walter White but also Claude McKay, May Miller, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Jessie Redmon Fauset, Langston Hughes, Sterling Brown, Roscoe...

    • Chapter 8 Making the Word Flesh: Three at the Threshold of Tomorrow
      (pp. 192-203)
      Barbara Lewis

      Angelina Weld Grimke, Alice Dunbar-Nelson and Mary Burrill, three black women educators and dramatists, stand at a critical moment of political and literary significance in black American dramatic theatre in the early twentieth century. As the Harlem Renaissance began, their plays appeared on urban and community stages, in opposition to a strategy of containment during and after World War I. In particular, their work confronted the social, moral and human consequences of lynching.

      Black theatre in America emerged in the 1820s at the African Grove, a theatrical company founded and supported by a transatlantic class of black mariners in downtown...

    • Chapter 9 ‘Thinking in hieroglyphics’: Representations of Egypt in the New Negro Renaissance
      (pp. 204-231)
      Rachel Farebrother

      In the wake of Paul Gilroy’s landmark study The Black Atlantic (1993), an explicitly transnational and intercultural perspective has transformed conceptions of the New Negro renaissance, revealing a cultural movement that stretched from the US to the Caribbean, Cuba, Mexico and the Soviet Union.¹ Mapping the emergence of Paris as a transcultural capital of black modernism, Brent Hayes Edwards, Theresa Leininger-Miller and Tyler Stovall have examined the interplay between African American cultural expression, European fascination with African art and négritude.² Judging the impact of travel to the Soviet Union upon Langston Hughes, Claude McKay and Paul Robeson, Kate A. Baldwin...

  9. Afterword: Stormy Weather and Afromodernism
    (pp. 232-242)
    Bill E. Lawson

    In the early years of the twentieth century, African and African American artists, regardless of the medium in which they were working, had to confront at least three issues within the established non-black art world. First, their artworks were viewed as having neither place nor value in the non-black academy. Work created by black artists and writers, at least in the United States, was considered inferior to that created by white artists. Second, black artists who made their life experiences the subject of their art met with racism in the white art community, which granted little if any artistic merit...

  10. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 243-246)
  11. Index
    (pp. 247-256)