Other regions give us back what our culture has excluded from its discourse.
—Michel de Certeau
In L’Afrique fantôme (1934), a surrealist account of the 1931–33 ethnographic mission to Dakar-Djibouti, Michel Leiris recounts his formative experiences in Parisian bars and cabarets in the postwar years of the early 1920s. Describing his “abandonment to the animal joy of experiencing the influence of a modern rhythm” in Montmartre bars nègres, Leiris characterises the pleasures of la culture nègre as a locale of uninhibited spontaneity, an uncensored and libidinous space functioning as the antithesis to the moribund intellectualism of the subject of modernity (54). Depicting Western culture as spiritually destitute and dominated by an arid consumer capitalism, Leiris’s portrayal of modern urban Ufe as decrepit, inauthentic, and devoid of vitality was a common theme in French cultural life in the years immediately following the First World War. This sense of exhaustion and depletion was expressed by writers on the left and the right alike, and in the case of the latter it was often accompanied by a sense of reactionary anxiety over the survival of the European “race” itself. Leiris’s reminiscences are suggestive of a set of reactions to the postwar moment when a kind of “all pervasive, collective, and incurable shell shock” from Ypres and the Somme stalked European capitals (T. Miller 24). Postwar France was a ravaged society, broken by long years of fighting and facing a lost generation of men. The very reality of the immediate postwar moment seemed irrevocably altered; this was a world in which, as Walter Benjamin has memorably said, “nothing remained but the