1. The genesis of the concept
The concept of Négritude emerged as the expression of a revolt against the historical situation of French colonialism and racism. The particular form taken by that revolt was the product of the encounter, in Paris, in the late 1920's, of three black students coming from different French colonies: Aimé Césaire (1913–2008) from Martinique, Léon Gontran Damas (1912–1978) from Guiana and Léopold Sédar Senghor (1906–2001) from Senegal. Being colonial subjects meant that they all belonged to people considered uncivilized, naturally in need of education and guidance from Europe, namely France. In addition, the memory of slavery was very vivid in Guiana and Martinique. Aimé Césaire and Léon Damas were already friends before they came to Paris in 1931. They were classmates in Fort-de-France, Martinique, where they both graduated from Victor Schoelcher High School. Damas came to Paris to study Law while Césaire had been accepted at Lycée Louis Le Grand to study for the highly selective test for admission to the prestigious École Normale Supérieure on rue d'Ulm. Upon his arrival at the Lycée on the first day of classes he met Senghor who had already been a student at Louis le Grand for three years. ] Césaire, Damas and Senghor had individual lived experiences of their feeling of revolt against a world of racism and colonial domination. In the case of Césaire that feeling was expressed in his detestation of Martinique which, as he confessed in an interview with Françoise Vergès, he was happy to leave after high school: he hated the “colored petit-bourgeois” of the island because of their “fundamental tendency to ape Europe” (Césaire 2005, 19). As for Senghor, he has written that in his revolt against his teachers at College Libermann high school in Dakar, he had discovered “négritude” before having the concept: he refused to accept their claim that through their education they were building Christianity and civilization in his soul where there was nothing but paganism and barbarism before 2. Négritude as revolt / Négritude as philosophy
4. The inescapable disappearance of Eurydice
One important point made by Sartre was that Négritude was first and foremost a black poetic appropriation of the French language. Unlike other nationalisms, he explained, which reclaimed the tongue of the people against the imperialist imposition of the language by which they were governed, black people had to use the language of domination imposed by French colonialism as cement for their shared Négritude and as “miraculous weapons” against that same domination. In so doing they radically transformed it, manifesting through their poetry that there was nothing natural and unquestionable in the way in which the language would identify Being with Good, Beautiful, Right and White. . In the poetry of Négritude they would be struck by the discovery of their own language as unfamiliar and hitherto unheard of, especially when that poetry makes the best of surrealist writing as it “smashes [the words] together, breaks their customary associations, and couples them by force” (Sartre 1976, 26). Therefore, Sartre concludes, Négritude has achieved that goal: the poets of Négritude have taken to its end what surrealist writers had been calling for. Just as Eurydice was the creation of Orpheus' power of evocation, Négritude was a creation of poetry, a “Myth dolorous and full of hope” and like “a woman who is born to die” (Sartre 1976, 63
the “fathers” of Négritude, Senghor more specifically (since he led his country to independence and became its president for twenty years), seemed to imply that some cultural recognition and reconciliation was all that was needed: they accused Négritude of being, for that reason, an ideology for neocolonialism. Sartre's “preface” also foreshadowed the accusation of being an unfounded essentialism promoting the notion that black people shared a common identity, partaking in...
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