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Diaspora 9:1 2000 Identity Discourses and Diasporic Aesthetics in Black Paris: Community Formation and the Translation of Culture Bennetta Jules-Rosette University of California, San Diego Looming over the heads of all of its creators is the too precarious genius ofart nègre. Perhaps in order to liberate themselves totally, they should accomplish the sacrilegious act, patricide, by burning what their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents adored. Perhaps they should erase statuettes and sacred masks from their memories in order to finally enter the [twentieth] century. —Simon Njami, "Beaux-arts nègres" Diasporic African communities in France are a byproduct ofthe demise of the colonial enterprise and the social and economic reconfiguration of France after World War II. Prior to the 1960s, African immigration to France was sporadic, encompassing students , intellectuals, and a small population of workers and war veterans. The 1960 census recorded a total of 18,000 sub-Saharan Africans residing in France (Dewitte 18). By 1982, the African immigrant population had leapt to 127,322 (INSÉÉ, Recensement général). The 1990 census aggregated North and sub-Saharan Africans, for a total population of 1,633,142 (INSÉÉ, Recensement de la population). None ofthese figures include the substantial and ongoing presence of Afro-Antilleans in France. With each successive generation of immigrants, new community and political formations have emerged. Each wave of immigrants positioned itself (not always uniformly) in different ways with regard to dominant ideologies, the French state, and their own countries and regions of origin (Kristeva 1-13). Over time, these groups have also developed distinctive definitions of collective identity. A common thread ofadaptation and community formation across generations, however, is the activism of intellectuals and artists, who have spearheaded political movements and framed aesthetic discourses that have influenced both their communities and the outside world. This article addresses the roles played by intellectuals and artists in shaping the identity discourses and diasporic social formations of their respective eras in France. The growth and transformation ofAfrican communities in France raises challenging questions for diaspora studies. Social scientists, 39 Diaspora 9:1 2000 journalists, and political commentators analyzing this situation in France have described three options in the immigrants' adjustment: insertion (retaining one's own nationality and cultural practices while living in an isolated enclave in France); assimilation (adopting the customs and practices of France, with or without assuming nationality); and intégration (adopting French nationality while attempting to retain a balance between one's culture of origin and French culture and society). Each ofthese strategies ofadjustment and articulation implies an underlying discourse about group identity . Although not every "immigrant act" is answered by an identity discourse, the changing social and political climates in which immigrant and minority groups find themselves influence their strategies and styles of action (Lowe 24-6; Miller 55-6).' By examining francophone Pan-Africanism from the négritude movement of the 1930s and 1940s through the Parisianism and postcolonial universalism of the 1990s, this discussion explores the ways in which private and communal experiences enter the domain of public discourse and shape political action. Germinating in the meetings of African and Antillean students dissatisfied with the French university establishment ofthe 1930s, négritude grew into a major literary, artistic, and cultural force. It may be viewed as a francophone version ofPan-Africanism in its efforts to bridge cultures and political ideologies with an essentialist worldview emphasizing cultural pride. The political ramifications ofnégritude were evident in the nation-building projects ofLeopold Senghor and Présence Africaine's dynamic founder, publisher and politician Alioune Diop, as they crisscrossed West Africa during the 1960s in an attempt to establish new political formations, universities , and artistic movements. The reactions against négritude arising from the 1970s forward, however, have resulted in a variety of artistic and cultural movements articulated to the politics of globalization in different ways. The identity discourses associated with négritude, Parisianism, and postcolonial universalism have become sources of aesthetic expression and political mobilization for local and transnational diasporic communities. Identity Discourses and Community Formation Identity discourses are ways of speaking about one's perceived and desired location in the social world. They are complex and deceptive because they appear...


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pp. 39-58
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