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Research in African Literatures 33.4 (2002) 25-37

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Senghor and the Germans

János Riesz

Senghor and the Germans—what is there to say about this topic that has not already been said a hundred times by Senghor himself and by his interpreters and critics? Senghor's relationship to Germany and the Germans marks every phase of his life. First, his early fascination with German culture and everything German—his love of Goethe and German Romanticism, music, and philosophy, and especially the great influence of German African scholarship in general and Leo Frobenius in particular on his theory of Négritude. Later, the seduction of the racist doctrine of National Socialism and its defeat through his experience of the Second World War and the teachings of the Weimar classicist and cosmopolite Goethe; Senghor's shock at the defeat of France and the German occupation of France in 1940 and the subsequent humiliation of being held prisoner of war; his numerous contacts with West Germany since the 1950s and the recognition he found there as a writer and statesman—thanks to the efforts of his dedicated advocate and translator, Jahnheinz Jahn; the achievement of receiving the most prestigious German literary prize, the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade ("Friedenspreis des deutschen Buchhandels") amid the student revolts of 1968 and many other honors awarded to him in later years by German cities and universities. 1

Since 1961, Senghor repeatedly told the story of his ties to the Germans and discussed the relationship between "Négritude et Germanité," and pointing out connections and commonalities between them. He identified himself as a "Negro-African," "qui a toujours été attentif aux Allemands, qui a toujours réagie au contact de leur civilisation" 'who has always been attentive to the Germans, who has always reacted to contact with their civilization' (Liberté3: 11; emphasis in original). The definitive expression of Senghor's relationship to Germany may be found in two volumes which can be read as a kind of "last will and testament" of this writer, philosopher, and statesman. The first is his book of interviews, La poésie de l'action (1980), and the second the autobiographical Ce que je crois (1988) in five chapters, which ranges thematically over African prehistorical times, Négritude, francophony, and the "civilisation de l'universel." 2

The reflections that follow aim neither to "deconstruct" Senghor's statements nor to question them in terms of their factual content but rather to reveal their historical context and to understand them as part of a general "discursive strategy," as Romuald B. Fonkoua put it, which Senghor employed in his treatment of the "champ littéraire francophone":

La filiation avec les maîtres qu'il avoue, qu'il insinue, qu'il recherche ou qu'il laisse suggérer par la critique, l'amplification discursive à laquelle il se livre, la légitimité discursive qu'il se donne, le décentrement discursif qu'il pratique [. . .] sont autant de stratégies qui montrent que le discours africain ne peut s'imposer qu'à partir d'une connaisance parfaite des forces en jeu [End Page 25] dans les champs des discours francophones [. . .] L'example de Senghor nous montre en définitive que la pratique de la littérature [. . .] consiste aussi à occuper, tel un militaire, des positions qui font que cette littérature peut être lue, ou des positions à partir desquelles les oeuvres lues acquierent une valeur, ou esthétique, ou sociologique, ou même épistémologique." (173 ff.)
The relationship with the masters that he avows, that he insinuates, that he seeks to establish or imply by the cirticism, the discursive development to which he yields, the discursive legitimacy that he gives himself, the discursive decentering that he practices [. . .] are all strategies showing that African discourse can only be imposed from a perfect knowledge of forces at play in the fields of francophone discourses [. . .]. Senghor's example definitively shows us that the practice of literature [. . .] also consists in occupying, like a serviceman, positions that cause this literature to be read, or positions from which the works read...


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