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Black, Brown, & Beige

Surrealist Writings from Africa and the Diaspora

Edited by Franklin Rosemont and Robin D.G. Kelley

Publication Year: 2009

Surrealism as a movement has always resisted the efforts of critics to confine it to any static definition—surrealists themselves have always preferred to speak of it in terms of dynamics, dialectics, goals, and struggles. Accordingly, surrealist groups have always encouraged and exemplified the widest diversity—from its start the movement was emphatically opposed to racism and colonialism, and it embraced thinkers from every race and nation. Yet in the vast critical literature on surrealism, all but a few black poets have been invisible. Academic histories and anthologies typically, but very wrongly, persist in conveying surrealism as an all-white movement, like other “artistic schools” of European origin. In glaring contrast, the many publications of the international surrealist movement have regularly featured texts and reproductions of works by comrades from Martinique, Haiti, Cuba, Puerto Rico, South America, the United States, and other lands. Some of these publications are readily available to researchers; others are not, and a few fall outside academia’s narrow definition of surrealism. This collection is the first to document the extensive participation of people of African descent in the international surrealist movement over the past seventy-five years. Editors Franklin Rosemont and Robin D. G. Kelley aim to introduce readers to the black, brown, and beige surrealists of the world—to provide sketches of their overlooked lives and deeds as well as their important place in history, especially the history of surrealism.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Title Page

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pp. iii


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pp. iv


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pp. v-xv

List of Illustrations

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pp. xvii

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pp. xviii

Thanks above all to Penelope Rosemont, whose Surrealist Women: An International Anthology was not only the first book in this series, but also provides the model for the present volume. To my surrealist friends in Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, Madrid, Leeds, London, S

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Introduction: Invisible Surrealists

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pp. 1-20

In the vast critical literature on surrealism, all but a few black surrealists have been invisible. Despite mounting studies of Aimé Césaire, Wifredo Lam, Ted Joans, and, more recently, Jayne Cortez, academic histories and anthologies typically, but very wrongly, persist in conveying surrealism as an all-white movement, like other “artistic schools” of European origin. Occasional token mentions aside, people of color—and more particularly those from Africa or...

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1. The First Black Surrealists

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pp. 21-60

In 1932, from his small apartment on the Rue Tournon in Paris, Etienne Léro, a young Martinican poet and philosophy student, planned a revolution. He began by rallying eight of his fellow scholarship students—all between twenty and twenty-five years old—into a group called Légitime Défense (Self-defense) and kept things moving by immediately starting a journal of that name. Wholeheartedly surrealist from cover to cover, with a strong backup of Far Left Marxism,...

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2. Tropiques: Surrealism in the Caribbean: Cuba, Martinique, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Trinidad, Puerto Rico

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pp. 61-114

Did you know that Martinique fully qualifies as one of the vital centers of the surrealist universe? It is not exactly common knowledge, but in the eighty-odd-year history of surrealism, this tiny volcanic island has played—again and again—a hugely volcanic role. Etienne Léro and his Légitime Défense comrades were Martinicans one and all, and although most of them settled in Paris, it is obvious from their writings that their homeland remained very much in their...

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3. South America: Brazil, Guyana, Colombia

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pp. 115-133

As this section should make plain, contemporary surrealism in Brazil has a long and impressive ancestry, especially among poets of African descent.1 At odds with the trendy nationalist “modernisms” of their time, brave poets such as João da Cruz e Souza in the late 1800s, Rosário Fusco and Sosígenes Costa in the 1920s, and Fernando Mendes de Almeida in the 1930s pursued distinctive and solitary paths of their own. Today they are recognized by the Surrealist Group...

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4. Africa: Cairo, North Africa, the Maghreb, Sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar

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pp. 135-192

The mid- and late 1930s effloresence of Paris-based African and Caribbean surrealism appreciably strengthened surrealism as an international movement, expanding its horizons in the realms of poetry, theory, politics, and the arts. Together with the growing number of surrealist groups in Europe and elsewhere—from Buenos Aires to Belgrade, from London to Tokyo—the Martinicans and Cubans also did much to rectify the widespread but erroneous belief...

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5. Surrealist Beginnings in the United States, 1930s–1950s

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pp. 193-218

Apart from Man Ray, American involvement in organized surrealism in the 1920s and early 1930s was far from impressive. Man Ray, of course, was no run-of-the-mill exception. Photographer, painter, filmmaker, writer, and a veteran of New York Dada, he moved to Paris in 1921. Arriving on Bastille Day, he was warmly welcomed by the Paris Dadaists, who were soon to declare themselves surrealists. Cited in Breton’s first Manifesto (1924) and included in the first surrealist...

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6. The 1950s Surrealist Underground in the United States

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pp. 219-236

In the face of systematic neglect and hostility, amounting to a kind of persecution, the unexpected, as so often happens, came to the rescue. Out of nowhere—or so it must have seemed—a veritable surrealist underground rose to the occasion. Its principal figures were not well known at the time, but they were highly skilled in the fine art of challenging the status quo, spreading the word, attracting attention, and finding reliable allies. Though limited in number,...

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7. Surrealism, Black Power, Black Arts

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pp. 237-284

The Sixties turned out to be the brightest, liveliest, and most hopeful decade in a bloody and bewildering century. In the United States those ten frantic years encompassed countless interconnected sagas. Inaugurated in part by a generation that considered itself Beat long before it finished high school, here all of a sudden was a nationwide—and ultimately worldwide—anticonformist youth movement that made the “roaring twenties” and swing-era Forties look tame...

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8. Toward the New Millennium: The Mid-1970s through the 1990s

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pp. 285-314

In her excellent biography of Joyce Mansour, Marie-Laure Missir emphasizes that the surrealists in France, after a rancorous split in 1969 (which some people naïvely mistook for the end of the movement) decided that an effective renewal of surrealist activity depended largely on the “international dimension.” As the ten issues of their Bulletin de Liaison Surréaliste demonstrate, Mansour and her friends focused on the two most active surrealist centers: Prague, where...

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9. Looking Ahead: Surrealism Today and Tomorrow

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pp. 315-348

It is surely a sign of the times—and a heartening sign—that one of the most influential books pertaining to surrealism since 1990 is Robin D. G. Kelley’s Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination (2002). Other writers have tried, with varied success, to approach surrealism from different angles, but Kelley has convincingly provoked entirely new ways of regarding the movement and its far-reaching project, from the 1920s to our own time.

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Afterword: Surrealism and the Creation of a Desirable Future

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pp. 349-361

I discovered surrealism buried under the rich, black soil of Afro-diasporic culture. In it I found a most miraculous weapon with no birthdate, no expiration date, no trademark. I traced it from the ancient practices of Maroon societies and shamanism back to the future, in the metropoles of Europe, and forward into the colonial world. I came to Breton through C


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pp. 363-380


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pp. 381-395

E-ISBN-13: 9780292793408
E-ISBN-10: 0292793405
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292719972
Print-ISBN-10: 0292719973

Page Count: 416
Illustrations: 25 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2009