Theses Doctoral

Rethinking Négritude: Aimé Césaire & Léopold Sédar Senghor and the Imagination of a Global Postcoloniality

Ripert, Yohann C.

This dissertation calls into question the critique that has depicted the Francophone literary movement known as Negritude as a sole vehicle of black essentialism. By looking at recently published anthologies, archival documents, and lesser-known texts from 1935 to 1966, I show that in addition to the discourse on a fixed ‘blackness’ engraved in the neologism ‘Negritude,’ there is another set of discourses that forces us to rethink the movement as a philosophy of becoming. In particular, this dissertation stages the year 1948, when Jean-Paul Sartre gave Negritude its fame with the publication of his influential essay “Black Orpheus,” as a pivot for the definition of the movement as well as its reception. Since 1948, most of the critical engagement with Negritude has happened either through a reading of Sartre’s essay or the limited corpus that was available at the time. I thus argue that, by reading a broader range of the poets of Negritude’s literary and cultural production, one gets a sense that their vindication of Blackness is not only an essentialized invocation of a romanticized past, it is also an imagined unity within an evolving postcoloniality.
This dissertation covers three areas within which this constantly reimagined unity is staged, from the youthful local publications of Aimé Césaire and Léopold Sédar Senghor from 1935 to 1948, to their mature global interactions as statesmen in Dakar, Fort-de-France, Paris and Rome from 1948 to 1966. First, it looks at language and analyzes the relation of the poets to French. While the choice to adopt the idiom of the former colonizer has been criticized by merely every reader of Negritude, I show that they used French as a tool enabling violation, negotiating their relation to the metropole as well as other colonies. Second, it interrogates the often overlooked concept of métissage as common element for colonized subjects. With particular attention to problems of translation, I analyze how the poets used métissage as a political and ethical concept in order to reach to the African diaspora without referring to Europe as the unavoidable mediator. Third, it focuses on the First World Festival of Negro Arts held in Dakar in 1966 as instrument for political practice. By investigating extensive documentation on the Festival’s organization, especially the influential role and presence of the United States, I show that art was used as a political tool to stage postcolonial unity in an otherwise global and competitive diversity.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
French and Romance Philology
Thesis Advisors
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty
Diagne, Souleymane Bachir
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 5, 2017