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Negritude - Philosophy And Practice: Césaire

black expression self ultimately

Drawing on a binary structure that, as we shall see, would ultimately lead to its undoing, negritude sought to ground and, indeed, to legitimize the difference of the black aesthetic in a set of biological concepts meant to firmly separate the black experience from the white experience. Initially, however, from an artistic perspective, its founders drew heavily on French surrealism. This radical mode of poetic expression, which first made its appearance in postwar France, afforded a means of discursive liberation from French rationalism through the abandonment of traditional aesthetic and expressive constraints. To this expressive vein must be added the work of Leo Frobenius, whose groundbreaking Histoire de la civilisation africaine (1936; History of African civilization) exploded the myth of Negro barbarity as a European invention and was of cardinal importance in allowing the founders of negritude scope for a needed valorization of Africa-based civilizations and cultures. This concatenation of beliefs and arguments allowed them to posit that what was unique to the black experience—what separated it from Western subjectivity and provided the basis for the new aesthetic—was a predetermined predilection for art, emotion, intuition, and rhythm, which were opposed to supposedly Western characteristics of order, reason, and logic. These, then, were the enabling categories of expression that mediated the appearance and argumentation of negritude.

In literary terms, and especially in the Cahier, which is typically seen as its foundational text, negritude functions as an illumination and affirmation of pride in black subjectivity. The sentiments voiced in the poem derive their importance equally from their form and their content as the poet joins lyricism to self-revelation in a rediscovered empathy with his African ancestry. This black subject revels in the rebirth of a black identity that is both historically and culturally grounded; negritude becomes a framework for creative cultural expression that valorizes black civilizations past and present and thus, at least in the Cahier, goes beyond a reductive essentialism based on biology. Ultimately, what is emphasized is the process of self-discovery and self-actualization, an ongoing voyage into blackness that replaces the static acceptance of colonial inferiority with the active uncovering of viable alternative identities.

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