- Anthologies, Ontologies, and HauntologiesResurrecting Léon-Gontran Damas
In his excellent and most welcome collection of essays, The First World Festival of Negro Arts, Dakar 1966,1 David Murphy illustrates the vibrant art scene in the young republic with a thorough overview of a range of Senegalese authors and artists. And yet, someone is missing: Leon Gontran-Damas, the Martinican-born, French Guyanese cofounder of the Négritude movement, who put together several collections that included works by Senegelase authors. In fact, it was Damas who provided his friend, Négritude cofounder and Senegalese president, Léopold Sédar Senghor, a first copy of what would be his second wide-ranging anthology of African voices in five languages, Nouvelle somme de poésie du monde noir/A New Survey of Poetry from the Negro World. The potency of this largely forgotten and unacknowledged anthology is revealed when compared with other examples of the genre.
What do Nancy Cunard, Blaise Cendrars,2 André Gide, Albert Memmi, L.S. Senghor, Albert Helman, Léon-Gontran Damas, and Edouard Glissant have in common? Published anthologies form a genre that Paul Lauter convincingly argues we should take seriously, since knowledge of most works of "ethnic literature" has remained within classroom walls for too long.3 Anthologies were, and are still today, valued for their didactic function, as well as serving as inventories of new fields and schools of writing. They are essential to the creation of a specific corpus that needs to be presented as a subsystem, one that seeks legitimacy through editorial strategies. Many intellectuals, black and white, Anglo and Francophone, have served as intermediaries between artists and their potential audiences with respect to black literature and postcolonial literature (the Maghreb, for instance, with Memmi's 1969 Anthology of French Writers from the Maghreb). Many of these thinkers—themselves poets and [End Page 2] writers—have promoted literature from the African continent and the black Atlantic world; that is, the African diaspora in the Americas and Europe. In fact, it is hard to imagine how literary schools such as the Harlem Renaissance could have existed without its prominent members publishing collections of their colleagues' writings. Alain Locke and Langston Hughes created literary journals and literary anthologies—Harlem, Mecca of the New Negro (1925) and The New Negro: An Interpretation (1925), respectively—inviting the American public to discover black literature, sociology, ethnology, and history. Poets and scholars found ways to raise the visibility of a tradition of (oral) literature and arts hitherto marginalized.
In 1934, the extravagant Nancy Cunard, an obsessive white collector as fascinated as Blaise Cendrars with "primitive art," published Negro: An Anthology. Poems and illustrated articles on Africa, the Caribbean, black America, and the black arts rubbed shoulders with work by nonblack artists.4 Anthologies aiming to act as vocal countermovements and boost recognition debated the then-hot issues of racism, inequality, and colonization. Hughes was clearly one of the most inspiring writers, influencing contemporary and younger authors alike, including Damas. Such anthologies were important, as they raised the prestige of established intellectuals while offering the audience an overview of what, in their estimation, were important examples of a certain literary school or movement.
Cunard5 befriended key figures of the Harlem Renaissance as well as its French "offspring," the Négritude movement. She paid tribute to both the Anglo-American movement and the cofounders of the French movement, Léopold Sédar Senghor and Aimé Césaire, who came to her attention following the publication of Césaire's Notebook of a Return to my Native Land.6 In 1948, Senghor published the first important anthology of black writing in French, covering the French Antilles, Haiti, Madagascar and Senegal, which included the poet, David Diop (1927–1980), born to French-speaking African parents in Bordeaux. Released by the prestigious Presses Universitaires de France and introduced by Sartre's thirty-three-page critical essay "Orphée noir," the Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache de langue française was hugely successful and has since undergone several reprints.
Edouard Glissant, leading figure of the next generation of black French writers and founder of...