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Greetings, literature-loving Kossacks!  Last week we zoomed back to ancient Greece to pay our respects to one of history's greatest playwrights, Euripides.  After bathing in The Bacchae, we could use something a little more... affirming?

So this week, let's take a trip to Senegal, to see how a local poet became not only a founding father of an important cultural movement, but also president of his country.  I know, it's a stretch to imagine - in our land of My Pet Goat - that literary talent and executive power could go hand-in-hand, but not every country dismisses its intellectuals so easily.  

I have chosen to live near the rebuilt walls of my memory,
And from the top of the high ramparts
I remember Joal-of-the-Shades
The face of my land of my blood.

- from "Porte Dorée", p. 3

Let's start with a little trip:

The setting is Paris in the 1930s.  Three young artists are spending time in the cafés learning about the Harlem Renaissance in America, and the gears in their brains are spinning furiously: is there such a thing as "black" literature, not specific to the American experience?  Is blackness a quality that can be intrinsic to a worldview, an identity that transcends national borders?  How does blackness define itself in an Imperial (European) world?

Working together, the three represent a pretty broad span of the black experience: Aimé Césaire hails from Martinique, Léon Damas from Guiana, and tonight's focus, Léopold Senghor, has left his native Senegal to finish his education and work as a professor of literature in France.  In a student journal they co-founded, Césaire coins a new word to describe the ideas that have been fermenting in their discussions: négritude.  

Négritude:

The sometimes vehement politics of négritude merit their own diary, but since the focus of this discussion is the poetry of Senghor, we'll gloss over them by saying this: négritude has its supporters and detractors, and it doesn't even mean the same thing for all its supporters.  For Senghor, négritude is a transnational and transcultural (but not purely racial) concept that recognizes and asserts the value of blackness and its rich emotional nature; not far behind is the possibility that the rift between Africa and Europe can be reconciled (later in his career, blackness even becomes the vessel of that reconciliation)

Attempting to explain négritude to the White West, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote an introductory article ("Black Orpheus") to a collection of poems that Senghor put together.  Here, Sartre explains the implication of blackness trying to express itself through a white language:

Since French lacks terms and concepts to define negritude, since negritude is silence, these poets will use "allusive words, never direct, reducing themselves to the same silence" in order to evoke it.  Short-circuits of language: behind the flaming wall of words, we glimpse a great black mute idol... Even before he thinks of writing poetry, in him the light of white words is refracted, polarized, and altered. (Sartre, p. 304)

But we're getting ahead of ourselves: how did a young man from a Senegalese village come to be creating a cultural movement in Paris?

Léopold Sédar Senghor was born in the coastal village of Joal (the mainland half of Joal-Fadiouth), Senegal in 1906.  At the time, Senegal was still a French colony, and the ethnically Serer Senghor devoured French literature, landing himself a scholarship to study in France at the prestigious Sorbonne.

In his long and involved life, Senghor would:

  • become a professor and teach at the Universities of Tours and Paris;
  • fight in World War II as a French army officer;
  • barely survive being executed in a German POW camp;
  • serve as a member of the French National Assembly, representing the colonies of Senegal and Mauritania
  • become the first African-born (and first black) to be elected to the highly exclusive Académie française, in 1983

But most impressive perhaps was his election as the first president of Senegal when his country gained independence in 1960, after a short attempt at federation with Mali.  Senghor ruled as chief executive for 20 years; though there are legitimate criticisms about his style of government (enforced one-party system, arrest of protesters during demonstrations in the mid-70s), Senegal never became authoritarian, never suffered a successful coup, and today has one of the best human rights records in Africa.

His regime wasn't all roses: in the course of two decades he survived both an attempted coup by the prime minister and an attempted assassination attempt.  In the end, he preferred to be remembered as a poet.


Senghor, in a 1976 interview
(click to open link)

(quick note: to give this diary some uniformity, I've taken all the short excerpts from The Collected Poetry, which is required Senghor reading if you don't speak French.  The one exception is the excerpt from "Snow above Paris", which I translated myself.)

I did not recognize you in your prison of sad-colored uniforms
I did not recognize you under the calabash helmet without plumes
...
I just touched your warm brown hand and said my name, "Africa!"
And I found once again the lost laughter, I greeted the ancient voices
And heard the roar of Congo waterfalls.

-from "To the Black American Troops", pp. 66-7

As a rare black face in the white sea of France, the budding author naturally found blackness a common theme in his poetry.  It should also be no surprise that he pulled from blackness a sense of community, since his colleagues Césaire and Damas came from the other side of the planet, but found themselves faced with the same concerns.  In "To Black American Troops", the vision of familiar skin color suggests a common experience that transcends the specific circumstance: black Americans roped into serving in the war against Germany.

But blackness isn't just community, it's experience.  For Senghor, blackness transmits an emotional reaction that - unlike in the literature of the time - carries a positive value.  His most famous poem, "Femme Noire", explores the sensuality and beauty of blackness, its intrinsic link with nature, and the evocative quality of the very word:

Naked woman, black woman
Ripe fruit with firm flesh, dark raptures of black wine,
Mouth that gives music to my mouth
Savanna of clear horizons, savanna quivering to the fervent caress
Of the East Wind, sculptured tom-tom, stretched drumskin
Moaning under the hands of the conqueror
Your deep contralto voice is the spiritual song of the Beloved.

- from "Black Woman", pp. 8-9

+++ Listen to Senghor read the first stanza of this poem (wav file) in the original French.

But language creates its own problems, and Senghor's decision to write in French brings a load of linguistic baggage into the equation.  

White writers frequently don't see this, because they have the benefit of being able to write about color in a deceptively neutral register that does not exist for black writers.  For example, an innocuous line from Emily Dickinson ("Dare you see a Soul at the White Heat?") or Robert Frost ("I found a dimpled spider, fat and white") would immediately be under scrutiny should it come from a black poet: the very words 'white' and 'black' are unavoidably marked, which is something Sartre was trying to express in his essay quoted above.

For black writers, there's an added dimension: the word 'white' is often associated with goodness, purity, light; 'black' carries connotations of evil, corruption, darkness.  Whether these correlations are accidental or historical, they are so deeply encoded in the language that the very act of using these words cannot ever be neutral.

Recognizing this, Senghor turns the language back on itself:

Lord, you visited Paris on this day of your birth
Because it was becoming mean and evil.
You cleansed it with incorruptible cold,
With white death.

- from "Snow over Paris"

Here white = cold, death.  If the goal were simply to flip the values, this kind of game would be interesting, but a bit facile.  Instead, Senghor explores whiteness in all its aspects, good and bad, stripping away and challenging the reader's expectations.

In the meantime, Senghor piles associations on 'black': not only beautiful women, but the dreaminess of nighttime, warmth, and peace.  Note above in "Black Woman" where he even refers to "black wine", a construction not meant to be taken literally, but as an evocation of a mood, or an attitude.  In his later poetry, he began to associate blackness with salvation, offering hope to the cold, white West through its healing power.  The suffering of blacks around the world have made them uniquely capable of cleansing the sins of their oppressors (shades of Dostoevsky here, incidentally).  The philosophy strains credibility in its romantic idealization of the black experience, but it makes for gorgeous poetry:

New York! I say New York, let black blood flow into your blood.
Let it wash the rust from your steel joints, like an oil of life
Let it give your bridges the curve of hips and supple vines.
Now the ancient age returns, unity is restored,
The reconciliation of Lion and Bull and Tree
Idea links to action, the ear to the heart, sign to meaning.

- from  "To New York" (for jazz orchestra and trumpet solo), p. 88)

Notice the subtitle to that poem, which is less a true subtitle than a "setting".  Senghor recognized the powerful and ancient link between poetry and music, which had long been severed in European culture.  A number of his later poems contain similar settings, ranging from a quiet solo flute to a raging jazz orchestra.  

Above all, Senghor's most powerful emotion is nostalgia - and this is the source both of his poetic strengths and his philosophical weaknesses (his detractors accused him, perhaps justly, of substituting the Africa of his childhood for the real Africa around him).  But nostalgia is not a weakness in art, and dreams of his village create a window into the innate beauty of Africa, and the extent to which it has suffered at the hands of outside forces.  Reconciliation is possible, but it comes in the warm breezes at night rather than in the relentless rationalizations of cold daylight.

When Senghor becomes a brilliant poet is when he stops talking about emotionalism and nostalgia, and simply allows himself to bathe in them:

I shout for the joy that floods my heart quicker than the Niger
In the rainy season, and I shout to the mangrove creatures - Nânio!
And I shout to the young lovers chatting on beach mats - Nânio!

And I shall rest for a long time under a blue-black peace
And shall I sleep in the peace of Joal
Until the Angel of Dawn brings me back to your light, O Civilization!
And to your brutal, cold reality.

- from "Songs for Signare", p. 123

Nânio means "listen" in Serer.  


(Fadiouth, the island half of Joal-Fadiouth,
where Senghor was born)
photo: Pierre Lescanne, wikimedia commons)

Links:

Other Diaries on Literature:

As mentioned above, the quoted poems are all from the outstanding The Collected Poetry, translated by Melvin Dixon; University Press of Virgnia: Charlottesville, 1991.  If you have any interest in exploring Senghor further, that's the book to get.  Sartre's "Black Orpheus", with the translator's name bafflingly absent from the text, is found in "What is Literature?" and Other Essays, Harvard University Press: Cambridge, 1988.  For image info, all images are linked back to their sources.

Thanks for reading!

Originally posted to De hominis dignitate on Tue Aug 21, 2007 at 03:54 PM PDT.

Also republished by Readers and Book Lovers.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Next week: (35+ / 0-)

    we'll look at the intersection of science fiction and philosophy in an age when the world seemed to be falling apart: Czech author and essayist Karel Čapek is next.

    Hope to see you then!

    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

    by pico on Tue Aug 21, 2007 at 03:53:44 PM PDT

  •  En Français, si vous plait (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pico, ChapiNation386

    You can't translate poetry, dude!

    •  If that were the case, (8+ / 0-)

      I wouldn't be able to do this series at all.  I appreciate the sentiment (and his poetry definitely works on a whole other level in French), but faced with the choice to use English translations or to write for a tiny percentage of the site, I prefer to use the translations.  I'd rather more people reading Senghor than not.  

      Plus, it's an interesting exercise in itself: French is a "foreign" language to Senghor, and he constantly wrestles with its implications.  If the language is doubly foregrounded by using translations, well... It's a good topic for conversation!

      Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

      by pico on Tue Aug 21, 2007 at 04:11:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Agreed -- And Translation (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        pico

        While always a sin when done to poetry, is not quite as bad in French to English as it is with other European languages (Old English to English, Latin to English, Dante to English, etc).

        Physicist Wolfgang Pauli upon reading a paper: "This isn't right, this isn't even wrong."

        by ChapiNation386 on Tue Aug 21, 2007 at 04:21:43 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Good point, although (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          cfk, LithiumCola, luckydog, ChapiNation386

          it seems to evade Molière's works, which turn from sprightly, witty French into flat or cutesy English.  

          One of the benefits to French is that it's usually tied to syllabic rather than accentual/tonic verse - that gives translators a little room to maneuver where they be able to coming from some other languages.

          Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

          by pico on Tue Aug 21, 2007 at 04:35:41 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  This is True (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            LithiumCola, pico

            Although Old English to English is still far worse -- in between the syllables, alliteration, and immensely connotative nature of the language. . .  It gets ugly (just look at how well Beowulf translates).

            Molière, from my experience has been the exception rather then the rule, although I have seen French to English translations get very ugly (the initial translation of The Second Sex for instace).

            Physicist Wolfgang Pauli upon reading a paper: "This isn't right, this isn't even wrong."

            by ChapiNation386 on Tue Aug 21, 2007 at 05:15:43 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Agreed on Beowulf - (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              cfk, LithiumCola, ChapiNation386

              Heaney did a respectable job, given how enormous the challenge was - but I found that edition of Beowulf much more valuable for the extensive introduction and notes.

              Gardner found a good sense of the language in his Grendel, but then again he was writing his own work of fiction, and not bound by the verse lines.

              Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

              by pico on Tue Aug 21, 2007 at 05:23:24 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I Didn't Mind Heaney (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                cfk, pico

                Although as Beowulf translations go I've noticed that they trend two ways, both unsatisfactory.  The first tries to keep the style at the expense of the meaning, and the second tries to keep the meaning at the expense of the style.

                Physicist Wolfgang Pauli upon reading a paper: "This isn't right, this isn't even wrong."

                by ChapiNation386 on Tue Aug 21, 2007 at 06:19:08 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  When I was in HS, we had a partial (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  pico, ChapiNation386

                  story in our Lit book that was wonderful, but I was too dumb then to write down the translator and I have regretted that ever since.

                  "Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you. They are unique manifestations of the human spirit." Wade Davis

                  by cfk on Tue Aug 21, 2007 at 07:06:23 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

          •  That's very interesting! (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            cfk, pico

            I don't read French well, and I only know second-hand about any of this.

            George Steiner wrote -- as if this were a commonplace of comparative literature -- that one of the deep and abiding mysteries of the study, was that French theater does not translate.  In French, and to an ear acculturated to the language, he wrote, the French stage is as great as any.  But it doesn't travel . . . and the reason is for anyone to guess.

            Does that sound right to you?  

            I realize this is off topic, sorry.

            •  Honestly, I have no idea why - (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              cfk, LithiumCola

              it's definitely true that French drama seems to have problems in translations, but I'm not sure if it's an issue of the language or the dearth of good translations.  After all, the poetry has had much greater success, and a lot of it is made of the same stuff.  

              (Exceptions within exceptions: Ionesco translates beautifully!)

              There might be a historical reason for this: French drama was always "behind" English drama in terms of innovation.  I know that sounds hopelessly Anglocentric of me, but this was a pretty common observation: in fact, Victor Hugo had to fight to break French theatre out of its too-long held conventions.  So I wonder if we're so used to thinking of French drama as passé that it's just become commonplace to find it awkward, especially when faced with people like Racine or Corneille.

              No idea on Molière, although it may have something to do with the flexibility of his alexandrines to be witty without sounding contrived (rhyming verse in English has never had as great a champion, so it usually strikes us as stilted).

              That's incredibly reductive of me, so feel free to ignore half this comment.

              Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

              by pico on Tue Aug 21, 2007 at 05:32:34 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I saw one of Moliere's plays...Tartuffe (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                pico

                done live and I probably didn't know any better, but I did really enjoy it.  The drama group did a wonderful job and opened up a new world for me. :)

                "Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you. They are unique manifestations of the human spirit." Wade Davis

                by cfk on Tue Aug 21, 2007 at 05:42:04 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

              •  I'm going to jump in here and prove what a rube (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                pico

                I am, I think, but my experience with reading something in French and then later reading it translated into English, no matter what it might be, has a similar feel to reading a great book and then going to see the movie version.  The result is always lacking and disappointing.  The same is true for me of the spoken word.  And I find a similar experience with Arabic works.  You lose something, the vital essence, in the translation.  It's like the important connective bits that make something smooth or witty or touching get twisted around in such a way that the original feeling is lost.  

                Although my reading skills are much less in French (same with Arabic), and far worse in listening to it (I actually "hear" Arabic better than I "read" it and my aural understanding of Arabic is far superior than my French), I find it to be much better to stumble through slowly than to rush off for the translated work.  The result is always more pleasing, and satisfying for the effort.

                NION
                Liberty and Justice for All

                by Got a Grip on Tue Aug 21, 2007 at 07:30:26 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

      •  Are you sure Senghor's not a native speaker (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        pico

        of French? He's such an evolué that he's been criticized by other Africans for romanticizing African culture. There is a huge population of evolués in Senegal. France seemed to specialize in getting them from certain areas.

        •  That's why I put "foreign" (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          cfk

          in quotes.  He was raised in French, but it's a "foreign" language culturally.

          Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

          by pico on Tue Aug 21, 2007 at 04:47:04 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Hmmm. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            pico

            How about James Joyce? Salman Rushdie? Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe really were raised in different languages than the ones they wrote in. For that matter, so were Jack Kerouac (Canadian French) and Joseph Conrad (Polish). Unfortunately, many English speakers consider their language to be somehow culturally neutral, which is one of the most ethnocentric attitudes you can have.

            •  Who's excusing those? (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              cfk, LithiumCola

              I'm sorry, I don't understand what you're trying to distinguish here.  Rushdie and Achebe especially deal with the problems of imperialistic language, which is a bit different from, say, Conrad, for whom English was an adopted language.  The problem of French is something I discussed in the diary: it has an encoded system of values that make it especially difficult to express blackness with a positive value, so the "foreignness" of French to the black experience is constantly foregrounded in the poetry.  

              Senghor was unapologetically pro-French language as a vessel of communication, but he was also sensitive to its cultural biases.  

              Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

              by pico on Tue Aug 21, 2007 at 04:58:27 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  ??? (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Danjuma, pico

              Joyce was raised speaking English and wrote English. He skipped out on the Gaeilc Revival as so much nonsense and well-wishing foolery. So what do you mean including him in the list above?

              •  I think it's to draw a comparison (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                timmyk

                with the notion of an imperialist language, even if the author was completely raised in it to the point that it no longer seemed "foreign" (which was the source of our disagreement, I think).  

                Apparently Andrew Gibson's book Joyce's Revenge tackles this, specifically; but since I haven't read it, I don't know how convincing his argument is:

                Further appropriation appears in the relationship between Ireland and the Anglo-Irish. Revivalism was an Anglo-Irish movement and, despite claims to the contrary, was not truly nationalistic. It was rather the last hurrah of a class facing diminishment. The Anglo-Irish sought alignment with the Union and for cultural as well as political and economic power. Given these terms, Gibson sees the stress in ‘Sirens’ to depend on Joyce’s attack on the English language and the primacy in ‘Cyclops’ to depend on the parodies of the Anglo-Irish inflated mythological style.

                 
                I like the people at The Modern Word, though, so if they say it's an interesting analysis, I'm inclined to believe that.  I don't see much of the anti-imperialist in Joyce, personally, but it might be worth checking out.

                Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

                by pico on Wed Aug 22, 2007 at 01:42:24 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Joyce is an arch-anticoloniast, (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Danjuma, pico

                  but he's wicked twisty on the subject of English as a colonial language. His project was to conquer the language from within, as a colonial subject speaking a borrowed tongue. He has lots of ambivalent statements about English as the language of the conqueror. But he was certainly a "native" English speaker.

                  The subject of native languages is twisty, anyway: I always chuckle when I recall that Nabokov learned English from a governess before he learned Russian!

                  •  I was comparing Joyce to Senghor (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    pico

                    because they were both raised as native speakers of an imposed, colonial language. I had raised the point of Senghor's actually being a native speaker of French, and Joyce immediately occurred to me as an example of someone else in the same situation, then I thought of others writing in imperial languages, even if they didn't speak them natively, and finally of others who wrote in English as a foreign language. I'm sorry if the connections, and the train of thought, didn't seem apparent. All very stream of consciousness, and so (I guess) Joycean.

                    But Nabokov's English was actually native? Well, that's news to me. Do you know the story of Kerouac's taking French (his native language) for the first time after he had graduated from high school, or his visit to Paris (written up in Satori in Paris)

                    •  Nabokov's an odd case. (2+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      Danjuma, timmyk

                      He had both English and French governesses, and his parents spoke all three languages.  In fact, he mentions that his uncle Ruka spoke other languages much better than Russian.  Here's Nabokov in Speak, Memory, chp 4:

                      I learned to read English before I could read Russian.  My first English friends were four simple souls in my grammar - Ben, Dan, Sam and Ned.  There used to be a great deal of fun about their identities and whereabouts - "Who is Ben?" "He is Dan," "Sam is in bed," and so on.

                       
                      It still seems his English was a bit artificial, though (and very literary, which isn't surprising).  Given that he chose to write his earliest poetry and novels in Russian, even though he had studied at Cambridge by then, says a lot about his comfort level.

                      Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

                      by pico on Thu Aug 23, 2007 at 01:04:41 AM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  Thanks (2+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        pico, timmyk

                        It comes back around to Joyce, and maybe Irish English in general, since it has a "schoolish" quality about it even when it isn't ESL. Nabokov and Rushdie are the only ones in this thread that I haven't yet gotten around to reading. Heart of Darkness was the last fiction I read (though there's a lot of fact in it) and I was surprised no one told me how much it had been influenced by Marlowe's Faust. Looking on the Internet I found very little notice of that again. Oh, well. I think I'll subscribe to these literary diaries and see what comes next. Thanks for posting.

                        •  the Faust angle (2+ / 0-)
                          Recommended by:
                          Danjuma, pico

                          is new to me. Care to elaborate? That's a pretty interesting parallel....

                          If you like HoD, there's a boatload of works that were influenced by it--and that rip off its "going on a dangerous journey into the unknown" plot--that I could hip you to.

                          •  News to the Literary establishment, too, I hear (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            pico

                            It's narrated by a man named Marlow(e) with a reference to a "paper maché Mephistopheles" and a meditation on whether the Devil could be trusted to stick to any bargain he made for your soul. And that was just from a quick once over when I wasn't expecting to find Faust, just Belgian Imperialism.

                            Thinking about it, the whole question of the nature of evil, and the problem of evil growing out of good intentions. There is more, I'm sure, but I haven't had time to ponder it. Maybe I should blog about it. Or maybe you could. Have you read King Leopold's Ghost for the non-fiction background?  

                            I looked for it on the Internet, and all I could find was someone arguing that Conrad had been influenced by Marlowe's "Dido, Queen of Carthage" which I hadn't read. I would like to read more Marlowe. He's a playwright neglected in popular culture. He only wrote a few plays, sadly.

                            As for the influence of a dangerous trip into the unknown, well, I know about Apocalypse Now! of course. The dangerous journey into the unknown goes back to the Odyssey and the Aeneid. Didn't Gilgamesh do something along those lines? Any other HoD influenced works you can point me to I'd appreciate it. Thanks for starting this series.

                          •  at work right now, (2+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            Danjuma, pico

                            I'll get back to you later about the later works influenced by Conrad. I have read the Hochschild, but by accident: I didn't know until I started reading it that it covered the historical background of Conrad's story.

                            Oh, and I didn't start the series, my man pico did. Props to pico!

                          •  Conrad might make (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            Danjuma

                            an interesting installment of the series.  (*nudge)

                            Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

                            by pico on Thu Aug 23, 2007 at 01:55:50 PM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  Light and darkness (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            pico

                            are constant themes in HoD. It should be obvious, of course, but I think some people read it missing the almost Manichean descriptions of scenery and environments, from Antwerp to the Congo. It's a very visual book, just crying out for a screen adaptation.

                          •  Good points. (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            Danjuma

                            I hadn't thought about HoD in this angle, although now that you point it out, the Marlow(e) should have been pretty obvious.  Incidentally, I'm a big fan of Marlowe's Faustus, but I didn't notice any connections apart from, as you mention, the problem of evil - although Marlowe's Faustus has more questionable intentions than Goethe's, who really is doing what he thinks is for the greater good.

                            Since it's on-topic a bit, one of the most striking things - to me - about HoD was the language, which also struck me as a bit artificial in spots, but never in a bad way.  Whether I was looking for it because of Conrad's background, or whether it just really hit me because of his striking use of it, I'm not sure.

                            Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

                            by pico on Thu Aug 23, 2007 at 01:54:13 PM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  I haven't read Goethe's (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            pico

                            Besides the problem that I don't read German (though not reading Italian didn't keep me from Dante) there's the "happy ending" problem. I got sick of Hollywood movies and their predictability sometime when I was growing up. Give me a good old fashioned tragedy! They're so much more real. Like something out of today's newspapers.

                          •  Agreed, but (0+ / 0-)

                            it's one of those works that's had such an enormous influence, it's hard to avoid.  I've nonetheless managed to avoid it (mostly), but it casts a long shadow.  Bulgakov's Master and Margarita, for example, riffs on it pretty heavily.

                            Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

                            by pico on Fri Aug 24, 2007 at 11:41:52 AM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                        •  Next up will be (1+ / 0-)
                          Recommended by:
                          Danjuma

                          Karel Čapek, and I have a rough idea of the sequence after that:

                          Jorge Luis Borges,
                          Emily Dickinson,
                          the Book of Job,
                          Georges Perec

                          This is really tentative, though.

                          I'm trying to find a good balance between popular writers and lesser-known, between older and newer, and with a healthy mix of cultural backgrounds.  As it is, I have a few huge blind spots: Asian and Middle Eastern lit. are almost a complete null (although I'll be doing Gilgamesh down the road, which I notice you mentioned downthread), and I don't have a very good swath of women writers, either.  Doing my best with what I have, and I never begrudge volunteers (*nudge).  

                          Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

                          by pico on Thu Aug 23, 2007 at 01:50:59 PM PDT

                          [ Parent ]

                      •  exactly. (2+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        Danjuma, pico

                        I remember his early "English" novels, like The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, as having some wonderfully artificial moments, which would put his discomfort with English squarely into the '30s, before his move to America. And I love that he flatly refused to learn German, even though he lived in Berlin for years! Fun guy, that Nabokov....

                        •  Heh, I'd like to do a segment on him (1+ / 0-)
                          Recommended by:
                          Danjuma

                          in the future, but it's hard for me to get over my disdain for him sometimes.  There's a lot I love about Nabokov, but there's also a lot that makes me seethe.  He seems to be one of those writers who really brings it out.

                          Wouldn't it be great to have a dkos piefight over Nabokov?  I mean, really.

                          Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

                          by pico on Thu Aug 23, 2007 at 01:55:26 PM PDT

                          [ Parent ]

    •  (by the way... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Danjuma, cfk, luckydog, ChapiNation386

      "s'il vous plaît").  ;)

      Seriously, though: thanks for stopping by!  I expected that covering an African poet was likely to bring me less readers than usual, but it's quiet even by those standards.  

      Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

      by pico on Tue Aug 21, 2007 at 04:21:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  not fair! (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cfk, pico

      Thousands of years of experience indicate that you certainly can.
      Talk to Pablo Neruda about it.  He collaborated enthusiastically with his English translator.

      Are you a translator?

      It's not a fake orgasm; it's a real yawn.

      by sayitaintso on Tue Aug 21, 2007 at 05:10:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Wonderful! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Danjuma, pico, ChapiNation386

    You have convinced me to read him.  Thank you!  I love learning about new poets...new to me, that is.

    I am a sinner for putting Bookflurries up this one night early since I am traveling, tomorrow, but I will send people over here, if anyone shows up to visit with me.  

    I enjoy your diaries so much, pico!!  I look forward to them very much each week.    

    "Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you. They are unique manifestations of the human spirit." Wade Davis

    by cfk on Tue Aug 21, 2007 at 04:22:57 PM PDT

    •  Very much appreciated - (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Danjuma, cfk

      and travel safely!

      If you're interested in reading Senghor, I definitely recommend that edition linked.  There are a few translations of his poetry out, but what I like about that one is 1. it's well done, 2. it's pretty comprehensive (covers all his different periods), and 3. it includes the original French texts, as well as a glossary of Serer (and other vernacular) words that Senghor occasionally uses.  Definitely worth seeking out.

      Again, travel safely, and I'll see you next week!

      Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

      by pico on Tue Aug 21, 2007 at 04:25:22 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I Enjoyed the Segment About (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Danjuma, cfk, pico, dharmafarmer

    How Senghor turns conventional connotations (white good, etc) on their heads.  

    I will have to read more of him.

    Physicist Wolfgang Pauli upon reading a paper: "This isn't right, this isn't even wrong."

    by ChapiNation386 on Tue Aug 21, 2007 at 04:25:13 PM PDT

    •  You can probably imagine (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      undercovercalico, Danjuma, cfk

      the bind that African writers find themselves in, facing a larger audience if they write in the languages of imperialism than if they don't, and having to process the connotative system of that language through their own cultural filters.  After all, if it weren't for French, Sénghor likely wouldn't have been able to communicate with Césaire and Damas, which is why he was an early supporter of La Francophonie.  

      He's not universally loved among African writers, but I think he laid the most important foundations for discussing these issues, for sure.  

      Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

      by pico on Tue Aug 21, 2007 at 04:30:44 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I have no quibble with a bit (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cfk, pico

    of translation, I was glad to get an introduction to another African literary figure. We tend to forget in the west that literature exists outside the confines of our culture. I kinda like Wole Soyinka, a well known Nigerian writer.

  •  Wow (6+ / 0-)

    It's been years since I saw any mention of Senghor anywhere!  Excellent diary.

    I was in the Peace Corps in Senegal and there is no doubt in my mind that Senghor is why that country had a peaceful transition from colonialism, and one of the most stable post-colonial political histories anywhere.  He was an extraordinary man.

    Yes, he was very French in many ways (as are a lot of the Senegalese elite past and present), had a French wife, etc.  But having a foot in both worlds is why he could be so effective as a political leader in that time and place (and I think that liminality gave him strength as a poet too).  It's not as if he could ever totally blend into French society and leave Senegal behind him.

    There is a very good biography of him that I don't see listed here: Black, French and African by Janet Vaillant.  I think it may be out of print, but I see a lot of used copies for sale on Amazon, and I'm sure it's available through many libraries.

    "Virginia Woolf's idea of a room of one's own has never been the place for middle- and working-class women. We work with interruptions." - Ananya Chatterjea

    by sarac on Tue Aug 21, 2007 at 05:02:49 PM PDT

    •  Much appreciated - (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sarac, Danjuma, cfk

      I missed that one when I was doing my preliminary research; I'll have to check it out.  Thanks for the recommendation!  

      My contact with Senghor's poetry came through a college course in French literature (I was a minor in the language), and discussions about the politics of négritude.  I hadn't kept up with him well, but this diary gave me the opportunity to dust off some old books and re-explore some familiar territory.

      How did you like Senegal?

      Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

      by pico on Tue Aug 21, 2007 at 05:12:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Senegal (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        cfk, pico, luckydog, Unitary Moonbat

        could be a lovely country.  But it was the 10th poorest country in the world when I was there in the early 1990s, mostly illiterate, no prospects for anyone who did get an education if they didn't have the family connections to go with it.  You could get a good education there if you could get to a secondary school - it was on the Baccalaureate system.  But it could take a while - the (good) university in Dakar was always closing down due to student and faculty strikes, power outages, etc. And then no promise of a job for the 1 percent with a college degree.

        Not to mention the terribly deforested, water-poor and rapidly desertifying landscape (the deforestation got going centuries ago when the Arabs arrived, the French occupation just finished the job).  All the farmers I met were going into more debt every year and barely feeding their families, 'subsistence agriculture' would have been a big step up for them.  The ocean was rich with fish, but they could't afford to police poachers from Portugal etc, or process/ice/ship the fish for European markets.  They did have a deal with any foreign resorts who wanted to build there (including Club Med) - if they built a resort, they had to allow the locals in, and they had to build a hotel school for the locals as well.  Smart move.

        In any case a very deep old culture (if verbally aggressive and crazy on the street!), extraordinary oral literary tradition (griots), a very generous and hospitable culture in the Muslim tradition, very strong extended family ties (everyone is poor, almost no-one is homeless), a very entrepreneurial spirit, a lot of knowledge out there.  

        And the urban elite are very cultured, there was a great music scene (classical Senegalese to club music), the best drumming in West Africa, a lot of painters and other artists, a lot of writers, designers, a very unique and vibrant fashion scene etc.  

        And they had a remarkably decent system of health clinics, if you could get to them, and pay for the services.  Ditto for the agricultural stations, lots of USA and Europe-trained extension agents who didn't have any money for programming or gas for their motorcycles.  

        I noticed recently that Iran is going to build car factories there, and develop other industries, more power to Iran, say I!  If they could just get some cash flowing there, I think great things could be done, create any jobs and there will be people lining up for miles.

        "Virginia Woolf's idea of a room of one's own has never been the place for middle- and working-class women. We work with interruptions." - Ananya Chatterjea

        by sarac on Tue Aug 21, 2007 at 05:31:31 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Wow. (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          sarac, cfk, luckydog, Unitary Moonbat

          You should consider expanding this into a diary one day.  I'm as guilty as the next American of not knowing much about what's going on in Africa, so a ground view like this - even if a decade late - could still provide for a really fascinating diary.  

          Thanks!

          Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

          by pico on Tue Aug 21, 2007 at 05:34:59 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks pico, (6+ / 0-)

    another great diary in the series!

    The cultural crossing of the Harlem renaissance, African experience with imperial Europe, the French language and cultural heritage . . . the depth of resources for meaning and interpretation in the poet you've just introduced me, anyway, to is breathttaking.  

    •  Much appreciated! This was a learning experience (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cfk, LithiumCola, Got a Grip

      for me, as well.  I'd read some Senghor when I was in undergrad, but I hadn't really explored him since.  The richness of African literature is still a big blank spot in American consciousness (although we can extend that to Middle Eastern and Asian literature, too), and the remarkable interplay of so many ideas and cultural issues is way beyond me to capture in a single diary.  Hopefully I'll get to other writers in the near future, but I seriously have to beef up my own reading.

      Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

      by pico on Tue Aug 21, 2007 at 05:37:15 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Ditto that, LC!! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      pico

      NION
      Liberty and Justice for All

      by Got a Grip on Tue Aug 21, 2007 at 07:46:35 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Mahalo, pico, but I believe it's actually (14+ / 0-)

    Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

    TVL-WCO&STS: Meeting your conspiracy and adhesive needs with Jack and a Beck's back

    by blogpotato on Tue Aug 21, 2007 at 05:33:49 PM PDT

  •  Fantastic diary, pico. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blogpotato, pico

    I know nothing of Senghor, but I am definitely intrigued.  I will have to seek out the French versions and do some "light" reading....

    ;-)

    NION
    Liberty and Justice for All

    by Got a Grip on Tue Aug 21, 2007 at 07:48:10 PM PDT

  •  Late to this party, but thanks pico (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Danjuma, pico

    for an interesting diary.

    "History will judge the GOP abdication to NeoCons as the single worst tactical blunder since the Taliban gave safe harbor to Osama bin Laden"

    by BentLiberal on Wed Aug 22, 2007 at 11:20:49 PM PDT

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