This essay argues for the recuperation of the writings of Léonard Sainville, a founding member of Negritude, and the incorporation of his work into the movement’s canon. Sainville was a historian and novelist whose work mitigates Negritude’s undertheorization of the concept of history and critiques European historiographical methods. Whereas writers such as Aimé Césaire and Léopold Sédar Senghor present Negritude, paradoxically, as both establishing continuity between the modernist present and the African past and marking a historical break from their poetic predecessors, Sainville argues that Pan-Africanism cannot form a sufficient basis for Negritude without sustained analysis of the cultural and historical evolution of both continental African and diasporic communities. Sainville’s historiographic intervention blurs the distinction between anti- and postcolonial thought, suggesting that the latter’s critiques of history do not follow necessarily from the failure of postcolonial history to follow the trajectory laid out for it by narratives of anticolonial overcoming.
Negritude’s Problem with History: The Case of Léonard Sainville
Robert Decker is a doctoral candidate in the Department of French and Italian at Princeton University. His work examines representation and narratological functions of space and history in twentieth-century French-language fiction of the Caribbean. His current research project focuses on the novels of Édouard Glissant, Vincent Placoly, and Edwidge Danticat, among others. His research interests include postcolonial theory and literature, narratology, nineteenth-century history and fiction, and ecocriticism.
Robert Decker; Negritude’s Problem with History: The Case of Léonard Sainville. Small Axe 1 July 2019; 23 (2 (2)): 57–71. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/07990537-7703279
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