Paris as subject and location of Black literary interest is the focus of Jeremy Braddock and Jonathan P. Eburne, editors of Paris, Capital of the Black Atlantic: Literature, Modernity and Diaspora, which expands upon a special issue of the journal Modern Fiction Studies published in December, 2005, with new essays and a revised introduction. Although there are only four new essays out of fourteen in this collection, the volume confirms the continued significance of the legendary city as a center of diasporic convergence. The conceptual range and scope of transnational Black cultures yields a Black Paris that embraces both a historical city and an imagined one. The diversity of Black artists, writers, and intellectuals who found their city of convergence in Paris required diverse fields of scholarly specialization as this volume demonstrates. Afro-modernism, Afro-Diasporic studies, and Black Atlantic studies have been mobilized to examine the participation of writers, artists, and thinkers in the political and moral life of Black Paris. Ironically, Paris as a city of convergence shows all the more clearly the divergences in these diasporic encounters which make Paris a center of conflict and debate.
After David Harvey’s Paris, Capital of Modernity (2003) and Patrice Higonnet’s Paris: Capital of the World (2005), Paris, Capital of the Black Atlantic confirms “the fate of place” (350), testifying to the transformative effect of the city on Black authors of American, Caribbean, African, and European descent. The essays, arranged chronologically according to their subject matter and grouped into three sections, span the early decades of twentieth-century interwar and postwar Paris to the contemporary city as viewed by a living writer, the Congolese novelist Alain Mabanckou. [End Page 198]
The five essays in the “Afro-Modernism” section demonstrate how Black writers shaped history and contributed to conflicting notions of modernity hosted in Paris. From W. E. B. Du Bois’ narrative of an autonomous development of African American culture presented at the 1900 Exposition Universelle, as Rebecka Rutledge Fisher’s essay examines; to the historical agency of diasporic women such as Harlem Renaissance writer Jessie Fauset; to the comparative Black modernism of Jean Toomer and Aimé Césaire; and to Josephine Baker’s persona integrated in Terri Frances’ reading of Nella Larsen’s Quicksand (1928), Paris is the city where people of African descent returned to modern historiography, sociology, and consciousness. Chester Himes, James Baldwin, and Richard Wright (and their divergent ideological positions against a background of massive decolonization) are the focus in “Post-War Paris and the Politics of Literature” section, while Francophone writers such as the Martiniquan novelist, René Maran, as documented by Michel Fabre, or the Senegalese Cheikh Hamidou Kane, whose classic novel L’Aventure ambiguë (1961) is analysed by Marc Caplan, are investigated in the third section “From Négritude to Migritude.”
The collection consecrates Paris in its heyday, a city loaded with the utmost cultural, social, and political significance, yet paradoxically, it also points toward a place on the verge of being demythologized and decentralized and thus to a place “that will never be again,” as T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting puts it in the afterword. The wide range of writers and scholars from American and Francophone studies makes this collection very original and an exciting adventure in concepts, movements, and ideologies that could be acceptable to non-specialists as well.