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Language and Literary Form in French Caribbean Writing$
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Celia Britton

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9781781380369

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: September 2014

DOI: 10.5949/liverpool/9781781380369.001.0001

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date: 15 December 2017

How to be Primitive

How to be Primitive

Tropiques, Surrealism and Ethnography

Chapter:
(p.15) 1 How to be Primitive
Source:
Language and Literary Form in French Caribbean Writing
Author(s):

Celia Britton

Publisher:
Liverpool University Press
DOI:10.5949/liverpool/9781781380369.003.0002

Tropiques, the review edited by Aimé Césaire and others in the 1940s, was heavily influenced by surrealism, Negritude and Marxism. Thus they saw surrealism as a force for political liberation. But their attitude to surrealism's enthusiasm for art nègre and primitive cultures was distinctly ambivalent: at times happy to go along with the European surrealists’ characterization of them as ‘primitive’, but also often regarding their own traditional folk culture – and the literature of the Harlem Renaissance – with patronizing distance. Their adherence to Negritude produced further contradictions, since it implied a deep personal identification with an African culture (seen as exemplarily primitive) of which they had no direct experience. This led to an interest in ethnography – also shared by surrealism – but ethnographic knowledge was produced by Europeans, and if they were dependent on it, how could they claim to be closer to Africa than the Europeans were? This chapter analyses the ambiguities and contradictions resulting from Tropiques's position as Caribbean intellectuals uneasily poised between Europe and Africa.

Keywords:   Tropiques, surrealism, primitivism, ethnography, Harlem Renaissance, Negritude

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