The Black Surrealists
Book by Jean-Claude Michel; Peter Lang, 2000
With no intent to minimize the importance of black writers'common concerns it is obvious that the situation has deeply changed nowadays, regarding the era when this cluster of black French speaking poets—reunited by Leopold Sedar Senghor in his Anthologie 1 —were singing in unison their negritude and their revolt, along with a vast majority of black poets and writers scattered throughout the America's black diaspora.
The first Pan-African conference organized in London at the dawn of this century, has been a prelude to those hymns of protestation and of racial solidarity. W.E.B. Dubois, who provided the impetus for this Pan-African movement, stood incontestably at the origin of this social and literary African-American rebirth in the U.S.A., which would be magnified with the Harlem-Renaissance generation around the twenties. During that period, some leaders of this Negro-Renaissance from the United States, the West Indies and Black Africa used to gather in Paris. A bilingual publication, La Revue du Monde Noir (Black World Magazine), edited in the French capital at the time, was the fruit of their intellectual
Among the protagonists of this publication, one could find Claude McKay—author of the novel Banjo, just out of Paris (1928), 2 Jean Price- Mars—who had just published in Haiti his fundamental work, Ainsi Parla L'Oncle (1929—So Said the Uncle—), and Felix Eboue—one of the first political leaders from Black Africa. There were also Etienne Lero and those young students from Martinique, who were later to published the review Legitime Defense (Paris 1932), only two months after the extinction of Black World Magazine. Some years later, the former collaborators of Legitime Defense, along with Aimé Césaire, Léopold Senghor, and Leon Damas, would be among the publishers of the magazine L'Etudiant Noir (Black Student). Most of the promoters of those short-lived publications edited in Paris between 1929 and 1937, played a dominant role at the outset of the three cultural and literary movements which had a major influence in the black world: the Negro-Renaissance in the United States, the Indigenism in Haiti, and the Negritude movement. Concerning writers and poets who collaborated in those three movements, one can speak of Black African Literature, Negro-African Literature or other literary qualifications which emphasize on the artists' race but not on their native countries, their continents or their speaking languages. At the time, that was clearly the way this black intelligentsia understood it to be. This is why this particular term of Negro-African is used in this essay, although it does not exactly qualify the new reality of present time. This study is limited in time and spans, from the era of the magazine Legitime Defense in 1932, to that of the first publication of Senghor's Anthologie in 1948. The author will also analyze some recent works, but those writers would have already been know, and their works published within this limited time period. Reference to a later period would be for clarifying some influences, and underlining contradictions or conformities.
One must not be misled by the title and the goal of this present essay. It does not pretend to bind the authors within an artificial classification or to assimilate them with a distinc literature. A constant concern in this study is to make allowances for what does or does not pertain to the European or the French surrealist movement in Negro African literary or artistic works. The attempt is herein make by reviewing works and theories from the French surrealists writers who originated this movement, even though eventually, some of them disavowed their prior creed. Regarding Aragon and Paul Eluard for example, only the early surrealist works of these poets have been quoted.
This essay will mostly deal with poetry, taking into account the primordial value assigned to poetic language by the surrealists. For them, when poetry is freed from all literary restraints, all-logical and moral prejudices, it becomes eminently revolutionary. Such poetry could stimulate realistic dreams or incite to the vision of a New World order, which could induce the readers to get engaged in revolutionary acts of liberation. For the surrealists, the poet must be a leader, among those who have committed themselves in the struggle for a New World of justice and love. This concept of poetry as action, knowledge, and foresight was also the concept held by the majority of Negro-African poets. Proclaimed Senghor: “I had only to name things and elements of my childhood universe in order to predict the future world which would reborn from the ashes of the old...