David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
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Jack Alan Reynolds
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Sartre Studies International 12 (1):33-49 (2006)
Sartre's writing on colonialism and anti-colonial critique is diverse, protean and frequently self-contradictory, and for this reason has generated a good deal of controversy. His celebrated and notorious 'Orphée noir', written as the preface to Senghor's Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache de langue française, has been read as both veneration and critique of the negritude movement, and he has been named both spokesman and traitor of anti-colonial resistance in Africa. Explicating the dynamics of an assertion of black identity in contradistinction to colonial influence, Sartre introduced revolutionary black poetry to the European audience it was directed against, only to be condemned by some of the other negritude thinkers, such as Alioune Diop, as eurocentric and blinded by his own position as a metropolitan, and therefore colonial, intellectual. The version of negritude promoted in 'Orphée noir' was criticised by such thinkers for being too rigid and essentialist, yet conversely, Fanon objected that Sartre's stress on the movement as transitory and provisional meant that was insufficiently immersed in 'authentic black experience'. In addition, Sartre's more journalistic writing, which called for the withdrawal of the French presence in Algeria during the war of independence, aptly served to draw attention to dissension about the Algerian question within French society, but, as Robert Young points out, the Marxist approach underpinning many of these pieces has also been seen as universalising.
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