From Fetish to Subject: Race, Modernism, and Primitivism, 1919-1935

By Carole Sweeney | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 5
“A Conceptual Swindle”:
Surrealism, Race, and
Anticolonialism

Tu marches vers Auteil tu veux aller chez toi à pied
Dormir parmi tes fétiches d’Océanie et de Guinée
Ils sont des Christ d’un autre forme et d’une autre croyance
Ce sont des Christ inférieures des obscures espérances

—Apollinaire, “Zone” (1912)

A number of important surrealists and avant-garde writers contributed pieces to the Negro anthology, all of which were translated by Nancy Cunard’s literary protege Samuel Beckett. The pieces included George Sadoul’s “Sambo without Tears” (orig. ed. 570–73); Réné Crevel’s “Negress in the Brothel” (Ford 354–59); and an article entitled “Murderous Humanitarianism,” jointly signed by the Surrealist Group (orig. ed. 574–84). The composer George Antheil wrote a piece called “The Negro on the Spiral” or “A Method of Negro Music” (Ford 214–19).’ The Surrealist writers appear in the section entitled “Europe” and it is the European, specifically French, intellectual contexts of Negro that will be considered here. The earlier wave of cultural primitivism continued in the momentous spectacle of the Exposition Coloniale of 1931. It was crucially modified, however, by some major historical changes that had taken place since les années folles, when the Charleston and ha Revue Nègre momentarily distracted Parisian audiences from their postwar ennui. I look here at the efforts of a politicised avant-garde to move beyond the Manichean binaries of cultural primitivism to a more politically engaged understanding of racial and cultural difference. The Surrealist Group were arguably the most dominant within many diverse avant-gardisms in the 1930s, al

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