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Voices of Negritude in Modernist Print

Voices of Negritude in Modernist Print: Aesthetic Subjectivity, Diaspora, and the Lyric Regime

Carrie Noland
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Voices of Negritude in Modernist Print
    Book Description:

    Carrie Noland approaches Negritude as an experimental, text-based poetic movement developed by diasporic authors of African descent through the means of modernist print culture. Engaging primarily the works of Aimé Césaire and Léon-Gontran Damas, Noland shows how the demands of print culture alter the personal voice of each author, transforming an empirical subjectivity into a hybrid, textual entity that she names, after Theodor Adorno, an "aesthetic subjectivity."

    This aesthetic subjectivity, transmitted by the words on the page, must be actualized--performed, reiterated, and created anew--by each reader, at each occasion of reading. Lyric writing and lyric reading therefore attenuate the link between author and phenomenalized voice. Yet the Negritude poem insists upon its connection to lived experience even as it emphasizes its printed form. Ironically, a purely formalist reading would have to ignore the waysformal--and not merely thematic--elements point toward the poem's own conditions of emergence.

    Blending archival research on the historical context of Negritude with theories of the lyric "voice," Noland argues that Negritude poems present a challenge to both form-based (deconstructive) theories and identity-based theories of poetic representation. Through close readings, she reveals that the racialization of the author places pressure on a lyric regime of interpretation, obliging us to reconceptualize the relation of author to text in poetries of the first person.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53864-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. 1-28)

    This book is a study of Negritude as an experimental, text-based poetic movement developed by diasporic authors of African descent during the interwar period in France through the means of modernist print culture. Each term in this description matters—“experimental,” “poetic,” “diasporic,” and “modernist”—but perhaps none more than “text-based,” since this is the aspect of Negritude that has been most frequently neglected and misunderstood. By “text-based” I mean a writing practice embedded in and determined by both the formal conditions of the print medium (spatial and typographic) and the practical entailments of modernist print media (selecting, editing, and publishing...

  5. 1 “SEEING WITH THE EYES OF THE WORK” (ADORNO): Césaire’s Cahier and Modernist Print Culture
    (pp. 29-60)

    In “Césaire’sNotebookas Palimpsest,” A. James Arnold carefully separates out the layers ofCésaire’s Cahier d’un retour au pays natal, demonstrating how, with each successive edition, the poet built on—and altered—its initial articulation in print.¹ That initial articulation appeared in a small review titledVolontésin August of 1939; it was followed by seven more versions, the last few labeled by the publisher “definitive” (from 1956 on). of Arnold points out that the first publication of theCahieras a separate volume was in a Cuban translation by Lydia Cabrera, prefaced by Benjamin Péret and brought out...

  6. 2 THE EMPIRICAL SUBJECT IN QUESTION: A Drama of Voices in Aimé Césaire’s Et les chiens se taisaient
    (pp. 61-96)

    It is often hard, when teaching theCahier d’un retour au pays natal, to draw my students’ attention to the quotation marks surrounding the triptych of dramatic, declarative statements that serve as an epigraph to this chapter. My students—and, I suspect, readers in general—simply do not want to see them.³ Overwhelmed by the relentless humiliations described in the opening pages of theCahier, the reader yearns to believe that in this passage the poetic persona has at last achieved an apotheosis, that he has discovered his vocation and is now assuming that vocation in a per-formative gesture of...

    (pp. 97-129)

    These lines by the poet laureate of Negritude present what might very well contain the most powerful, most harmful, and most ubiquitous stereotype of black subjectivity to inhabit the French imaginary of the twentieth century. Caribbeans, Africans, and black Americans living in Paris between the two world wars would have been exposed to this image: the black man “indifferent to conquering” (“insoucieux de dompter”), lacking initiative (“who could harness neither steam nor electricity”), in continuity with the very matter of the world (“flesh of the world’s flesh”).³ Not surprisingly, we find almost the same words penned by Léon-Gontran Damas a...

  8. 4 LÉON-GONTRAN DAMAS: Writing Rhythm in the Interwar Period
    (pp. 130-175)

    One of the most compelling theories of poetic writing to emerge in recent years can be found in a work by Jacques Rancière titledLa parole muette: Essai sur les contradictions de la littérature. Tracing the development of literature in print from roughly 1830 to the end of the nineteenth century, Rancière analyzes the ambiguous status of poems once they have entered the typosphere, or, in his terms, once they circulate under “le régime de l’écriture.” AlthoughLa parole muetteis not concerned with engaged literature per se, Rancière’s theory indirectly addresses the claim of poetic texts that aspire to...

  9. 5 RED FRONT / BLACK FRONT: Aimé Césaire and the Affaire Aragon
    (pp. 176-203)

    Aimé Césaire’sCahier d’un retour au pays natalhas now received two generations of readings by Antillean critics, provoking impassioned responses from, among others, Frantz Fanon, Édouard Glissant, Raphaël Confiant, Daniel Maximin, Patrick Chamoiseau, and Dany Laferrière. Fanon was among the first to take Césaire to task for what he considered to be the poet’s failure to model the way in which poetry can contribute to the formation of a “national culture.” InThe Wretched of the Earth, he writes that Césaire’s language is too “florid,” and therefore his poetry is incapable of generating a “literature of combat” calling on...

  10. 6 TO INHABIT A WOUND: A Turn to Language in Martinique
    (pp. 204-230)

    “Calendrier lagunaire,” situated above en exergue , is—I recently discovered—the poem printed on Aimé Césaire’s tomb. This tomb may be found in a small cemetery located in a hilly suburb overlooking Fort-de-France. The words of the poem are engraved in gold onto a slab of grey-blue marble, typographically arranged in two columns with a cameo portrait of Césaire nestled between. The tomb is no bigger than any other in the cemetery, although it does occupy the very first row of tombs to the immediate left of the cemetery gates. If the visitor didn’t know the tomb was situated...

    (pp. 231-242)

    In the previous chapter, I suggested that Césaire was able to find a way to make his poetry matter—both in local and global contexts—despite the complexity of its figures and lexical content. “Calendrier lagunaire,” the poem inscribed on Césaire’s tomb, clearly has a meaning for the local population of Martinique, many of whose members regularly visit the grave. There exist, however, many interpretative communities for any given poem, each of which is based on a different assumption—for instance, that the poem contains a secret language available only to initiates (as Daniel Tiffany has suggested), or that it...

    (pp. 243-246)
    (pp. 247-248)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 249-318)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 319-330)