This essay focuses on the Jamaican poet, dramatist, and broadcaster Una Marson (1905–65) and her turbulent career at the BBC between 1939 and 1946. Drawing on a range of unpublished archival sources, including files recently vetted and released for research since the publication of Delia Jarrett-Macauley's authoritative biography of Marson in 1998, the essay has two primary aims. First, to recover in greater detail and in more holistic terms than has previously been possible the personal story of Marson's professional relationships at the corporation. Second, to pursue what the director of Empire Services described as the “jealousies,” “dissentions,” and “rivalry” that Marson's appointment provoked during a relatively neglected period of black metropolitan cultural production in the early 1940s.
James Procter is reader in modern English and postcolonial literature at Newcastle University. He has published widely on aspects of black British, Caribbean, and diasporic cultural production, including Writing Black Britain (2000), Dwelling Places (2000), Stuart Hall (2004), Out of Bounds (2012), and Reading across Worlds (2014). He is currently completing a monograph, “Scripting Empire,” which focuses on West Indian and West African radio literatures at the BBC.
In Atlantic world diaspora studies, culture and identity have been foundational concepts in analysis of the meaning and significance of diaspora. This essay argues that the centrality of these concepts is signal in reproducing a contradiction in diaspora theory that undermines its contemporary revisionist intentions. On the one hand, there is emphasis on hybridity and fluidity, while, on the other, diasporas are often encapsulated as discrete, implicitly or explicitly racialized groups, notably African and Indian or Asian. The essay considers key theoretical approaches in diaspora studies and their relationship to this contradiction, compares the deployment of culture and identity in Afro and Indo/Asian diaspora studies, and suggests that looking at the differences and compatibilities between material bodies (diasporic humans and their made objects) and immaterial bodies (diasporic spirits) is a potentially fruitful direction in recognizing the limits of culture and identity and their relationship to racial discourse in diaspora studies.
Aisha Khan is a faculty member in the Department of Anthropology, the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and the Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies, at New York University. She has conducted research in Honduras, Trinidad, Guyana, and Haiti and has published widely on Caribbean diasporas, religion, race, and creolization. She is the author of Callaloo Nation: Metaphors of Race and Religious Identity among South Asians in Trinidad (2004) and editor of Islam and the Americas (2015).
This essay interrogates the relationship between politics and literary genre in Marie Vieux Chauvet's Colère, the under-studied second movement of her trilogy Amour, colère, folie (1968). Specifically, it seeks to demonstrate that Chauvet's formation in theater is central to her politics and poetics. In Colère, Chauvet writes the Haitian public sphere's disarticulation under Duvalierism as a roman-théâtre, a hybrid genre embedding dramatic conventions into the novel form. This formal innovation gives Chauvet's writing a unique critical purchase, allowing the author to reenact the lifeworld of the Haitian subject of state terror as an ongoing spectacle before a malevolent spectator.
Christopher T. Bonner received his PhD in French from New York University in 2015. His research investigates the relationship between politics and literature, with a particular interest in the political valences of literary genres and forms in the context of anti- and postcolonial writing. He is currently serving as a postdoctoral fellow in French at New York University.
Rereading dub poetry under the pressures of and with the resources of black feminist and queer theory, and treating the practice of dub poetry as a production of a sound archive, one that embodies and aurally animates the intimacies of the black Atlantic, this essay highlights the creative labor of this artistic project (the ways dub poets link sound to body to place to textuality) and helps us consider the conditions under which something new in black modernity is produced. Through this reconceptualization of the art form, the essay draws attention to ways dub extends Paul Gilroy's insights into the black Atlantic and the challenge of experiencing dub as a sound archive but also as a phenomenology that raises questions of embodiment and gendered bodily labor.
Phanuel Antwi is assistant professor of English at the University of British Columbia. He writes, researches, and teaches critical black studies; settler colonial studies; black Atlantic and diaspora studies; Canadian literature and culture since 1830; critical race, gender, and sexuality studies; and material cultures. He has published articles in Interventions, Affinities, and Studies in Canadian Literature, and he is completing a book-length project titled “Currencies of Blackness: Faithfulness, Cheerfulness and Politeness in Settler Writing.”
This essay introduces the central themes of “Rethinking Césaire,” a special section of Small Axe, which gravitate in metacritical fashion around the various efforts to refashion Aimé Césaire's legacy in and around 2013, the centenary of his birth. Included are essays devoted to Césaire's poetic legacy, his theory of Negritude, his relationship to Marxism, and his intellectual partnership with his wife, Suzanne Césaire. What emerges is a sense of Césaire's legacy as a living legacy, firmly rooted in a specific historical context but revealing different facets of its structure to successive generations as they seek to understand it in relation to their own preoccupations and challenges.
Eric Prieto is professor of French and comparative literature at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he chairs the Department of French and Italian. He is the author of Literature, Geography, and the Postmodern Poetics of Place (2012) and Listening In: Music, Mind, and the Modernist Narrative (2002), as well as numerous articles on music, literary geography, and postcolonial Caribbean literature.
This essay positions Negritude thinker Suzanne Césaire (1915–66) as a cultural critic whose “writings of dissent” remain relevant both in the Caribbean of her birth and the Europe of her death. Although far-right politicians have argued for contemporary France's return to its white, Catholic (or secular humanist) roots, the historical reality is that French identity has never been uniform or stable. Wilks argues that, although Césaire's affirmation of specificity may seem contrary to French republican ideals, her writings suggest a means of addressing the cultural-political impasse in which early-twenty-first-century France finds itself. In tandem with the analysis of Césaire's essays, the essay examines French justice minister Christiane Taubira's published writings and legislative work as evidence of her related efforts to recast cultural specificity as a source of richness and vitality, the integration of which may very well determine the nation's future.
Jennifer M. Wilks is associate professor of English and African and African diaspora studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Race, Gender, and Comparative Black Modernism (2008), and her essays have appeared in African-American Review, Callaloo, and Modern Fiction Studies. She is currently at work on a history of transpositions of the Carmen story set in African diasporic contexts.
After the death of Aimé Césaire in 2008, several Martinican writers published homages to the poet/statesman, indicating thereby their own place in the legacy he established. This essay studies one such homage, Patrick Chamoiseau's Césaire, Perse, Glissant: Les liaisons magnétiques, un essai (2013). Chamoiseau's attempt to weave Césaire into a tradition that includes Saint-John Perse, Edouard Glissant, and—most prominently—the French poet René Char leaves us with many questions: What is the complex geography of legacy? What happens when substantially different poets are pressed into the same heritage? What is the proper time and place of a poet or a poem? What is the work of legacy? How might the effort to memorialize a poet detach us from the material conditions of his or her emergence?
Carrie Noland is professor of French and comparative literature at the University of California, Irvine. Her publications include Poetry at Stake: Lyric Aesthetics and the Challenge of Technology (1999), Agency and Embodiment (2009), and Voices of Negritude in Modernist Print (2015).She has received fellowships from the NEH, ACLS, the American Philosophical Society, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, and the Clark Art Institute/Oakley Humanities Center at Williams College.
We need to reassess our reading of Negritude literature. Justice is not done to the literary, philosophical, and political movement founded by Aimé Césaire, Léon-Gontran Damas, and Léopold Sédar Senghor when it is simply considered an essentialist reversal of colonial essentialism. When Senghor declares that Negritude is not an essence but an existence, he is precisely calling attention to the fact that its literature was produced during more than fifty years, with contradictions, rectifications, palinodes. This contribution is an invitation to reread Negritude in general, and Césaire's works in particular, as a movement and not an essence. It is a reflection on Césaire's latest work, Nègre je suis, nègre je resterai (Negro I Am, Negro I Shall Remain), which is a response to those who considered Negritude something of the past to be superseded by the movement of creolization. What that response says is that Negritude is creolization.
Souleymane Bachir Diagne is professor of French and philosophy at Columbia University. His field of research includes history of logic, history of philosophy, Islamic philosophy, African philosophy, and literature. He is the author of a number of books, including African Art as Philosophy: Senghor, Bergson, and the Idea of Negritude (2011); Bergson postcolonial: L’élan vital dans la pensée de Senghor et de Mohamed Iqbal (2011), which was awarded the Dagnan-Bouveret prize by the French Academy of Moral and Political Sciences for 2011; L’encre des savants: Réflexions sur la philosophie en Afrique (2013); and Comment philosopher en Islam (2013). He is also the recipient of the Edouard Glissant Prize for his work.
This essay argues that Aimé Césaire remained committed to a nonaligned, tricontinental Marxism well beyond his resignation from the Parti Communiste Français in 1956. It describes this commitment positively in relation to “black Jacobinism” as well as the limitations of Césaire's Leninist commitment to recuperative modernization.
Nick Nesbitt is professor of French at Princeton University and the author of Voicing Memory: History and Subjectivity in French Caribbean Literature (2003), Universal Emancipation: The Haitian Revolution and the Radical Enlightenment (2008), and Caribbean Critique: Antillean Critical Theory from Toussaint to Glissant (2013).
Those working on the Caribbean have regularly adopted the figures and practices of translation in their work and also have devoted attention to the study of various translational processes. The presence of the Caribbean in translation studies remains, however, considerably less evident. This essay reflects on this missed cross-disciplinary rendezvous, foregrounding the importance of questions of cultural translation in a Caribbean context but at the same time considering the practical intralinguistic and interlinguistic underpinnings of any analysis of translation in the Caribbean (and of the Caribbean in translation). Drawing on a number of examples, ranging from the relief effort following the Haitian earthquake in 2010 to current CARIFORUM and CARICOM language policy, the discussion focuses on the region as a translation zone. The essay concludes that although the Caribbean may be usefully defined in terms of translation, it is also essential—in reciprocal terms—that wider discussion of translation should itself be actively “Caribbeanized.”
Charles Forsdick is James Barrow Professor of French at the University of Liverpool, and AHRC Theme Leadership Fellow for “Translating Cultures.” He has published widely on travel writing, colonial history, postcolonial literature, and the cultures of slavery. He is also a specialist on Haiti and the Haitian Revolution and has written about representations of Toussaint Louverture. He was president of the Society for French Studies, 2012–14, and codirector of the Centre for the Study of International Slavery, 2010–13.
Hiram Maristany is a photographer born and raised in El Barrio, New York. He came of age in the 1960s, when young New York–born Puerto Ricans were asserting a new cultural-political identity inspired by the Cuban Revolution, the Chicago Young Lords, and the civil rights and Black Power movements. Maristany was one of the earliest members of the New York chapter of the Young Lords Party and soon became its official photographer, capturing some of its most iconic moments. His involvement with the Puerto Rican arts movement began in the mid-1960s, and since then he has been involved in many landmark exhibitions—among the most seminal of which was The Arts Heritage of Puerto Rico: Pre-Columbian to Present (1974), a joint project between the Metropolitan Museum of Art and El Museo del Barrio (of which he would serve as interim director between 1974 and 1977). Recently, his work has been at the generative center of two major New York exhibitions: Anchor, at Hunter East Harlem (2015), and ¡Presente! The Young Lords in New York (2015), at El Museo del Barrio and Loisaida.
In a reading of Huey Copeland's Bound to Appear: Art, Slavery, and the Site of Blackness in Multicultural America, Spillers examines the stakes and implications of the work against the broader perspective of black artistic practices in the sociopolitical context of the United States. Looking in detail at aspects of Copeland's quartet of painters, she brings questions of aesthetics alongside present-day political concerns.
Hortense J. Spillers is the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt chair in English at Vanderbilt University, where she teaches courses in American and African American literatures. Her seminal essays have been collected in Black, White, and in Color: Essays on American Literature and Culture (2003), and she is currently at work on two projects: the idea of black culture and women in the eighteenth-century context of revolution.
Huey Copeland's Bound to Appear: Art, Slavery, and the Site of Blackness in Multicultural America can be categorized as the most recent in a long line of scholarly investigations into what has come to be called “the afterlife of slavery”—the general preoccupation with establishing the authority of the slave past in contemporary black life—and the first to explore that subject in the field of contemporary art. Best notes that when we reverse the thesis of slavery's afterlife and reconceptualize it as the basis for a historiography of slavery, we can tend also to hypostatize aspects of the slave past as missing from the visual field and in need of recovery—as, in one way of phrasing it, bound to appear. Best contends that this last entailment is not always tenable or justified by the historical record, and he invites us to consider other ways of predicating of loss.
Stephen Best is associate professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of The Fugitive’s Properties: Law and the Poetics of Possession (2004) and is currently working on a new project on slavery and the limits of historicist critique.
Art historian Huey Copeland takes on Hortense J. Spillers's and Stephen Best's engagements with his book Bound to Appear: Art, Slavery, and the Site of Blackness in Multicultural America (2013). In responding to the two essays, Copeland lays out the ideological conditions from which his work emerged, clarifies the book's primary assumptions and interventions, and lays out the future directions of his own work as a mode of reflexive artistic writing. Throughout, he aims to complicate and expand our understanding of what is made possible for critical inquiry in the productive encounter between art history and black studies.
Huey Copeland is associate dean for Academic Affairs in the Graduate School, associate professor of art history, and affiliated faculty in the Department of African American Studies and the Gender and Sexuality Studies Program at Northwestern University. He is the author of Bound to Appear: Art, Slavery, and the Site of Blackness in Multicultural America (2013).