- Voices of Negritude in Modernist Print: Aesthetic Subjectivity, Diaspora, and the Lyric Regime by Carrie Noland
This is a refreshing and rigorously researched re-examination of the poetics of Aimé Césaire and Léon-Gontran Damas. Forcefully pushing back against ‘fashionable readings’ of Negritude—where the simplistic insistence on the oral and rhythmic dimensions of works and the privileging of the ‘definitive versions’ of poems methodologically obscures the ways these poets engaged with the material qualities of the printed word on the page and intervened in the European publishing scene—Carrie Noland aims to free up Negritude from readings overdetermined by identity politics as well as by representational demands and assumptions of contemporary postcolonial scholarship. For example, Noland convincingly asserts that Césaire’s series of revisions in major works can be read as a form of modernist, textual performativity that resists the production of a reified, unequivocally authentic, and self-identical racial subject. Noland builds her analytical apparatus on Adorno’s conception of the aesthetic subject, Jacques Rancière’s writings about the aesthetic regime, Henri Meschonnic’s ideas about rhythm, and Jean-Pierre Bobillot’s notion of the ‘typosphere’. The book pays close attention to the publication history of key Negritude works in French reviews and journals (Volontés, Esprit, and Soutes) and highlights their relation with decisive movements and moments in European poetry (European protest poetry and the Affaire Aragon). At the same time, Noland does not forget ‘the empirical subject in question’, illuminating the intersections between publication histories, political affiliations, and biographical trajectories. At its core, this study offers a series of insightful and inspired close readings, focusing on Césaire’s Cahier d’un retour au pays natal, Et les chiens se taisaient, and ‘Calendrier lagunaire’, and Damas’s ‘Réalité’, ‘Hocquet’, and ‘Fragment’ / ‘Ils sont venus ce soir’. Noland zeroes in on the typographic and graphemic as well as the phonetic qualities of the works, which she makes a point of quoting in French and reproducing in original form on the page. She thus emphasizes the visual dimensions of the poem—the mise en page, format, and font—while astutely, even passionately, paying close attention to neologisms, lexical choices, register, and tone. Sound and rhythm are not forgotten: they [End Page 626] are rendered more complex by bringing performance theory to bear on the written word, especially via the notion of ‘oversound’ in work by Peggy Phelan and Tom Vander Ven. While Noland writes of Negritude, her focus remains almost exclusively on Césaire and Damas, but she makes up for this with an interesting comparative foray into work by Langston Hughes, while gesturing to contemporary African American scholarship by Nathaniel Mackey and Fred Moten. The lack of bibliography is frustrating but the author offers original English translations of Damas’s ‘Hocquet’ and Césaire’s ‘Calendrier lagunaire’ in appendices. She concludes with a short but surprising discussion of the role Negritude played in the emergence of the Black Arts Movement and scholarship in the United States. It serves to demonstrate the unpredictability of the aesthetic subjectivity of the work of art as it realizes itself, or its selves, in unanticipated ways. In short, Noland’s work is a significant contribution to Negritude scholarship.