Emplacing the Local


Turning Empire Inside Out: Negritude and the Politics of Radical Literalism

CUNY Graduate Center

By pursuing alternative forms of decolonization that would enable self-determination without state sovereignty, Aimé Césaire from Martinique and Léopold Sédar Senghor from Senegal critically challenged the very meaning of place in the postwar period. They did so in part through a strategy of radical literalism through which they rejected the idea that “France” or “Europe” were territorial or ethnic categories. Demanding instead that the French state accommodate itself to the interconnected and cosmopolitan socio-political situation it had created through imperialism, Césaire and Senghor reconceptualized “France” as a postnational federal democracy through which sovereignty would be disaggregated, legal pluralism constitutionalized, and citizenship separated from race and culture. They envisioned a form of radical integration that would reconstitute the actually existing national state fundamentally. In this attempt to transcend both imperialism and territorial nationalism, to re-imagine republicanism on an intercontinental scale as a new form of plural democracy, they exploded not only inherited ideas of place but challenged the territorial and national assumptions that typically governed 20th century cultural and political thinking and which still inform social thought today. The last part of my talk will use Césaire and Senghor as a starting point for questioning dominant (territorialist) tendencies within both European intellectual history and postcolonial theory today. It thus contributes to efforts to decolonize intellectual history, deprovincialize black thought, and globalize critical theory.

MONDAY, MAY 6, 2013  |  6 P.M.  |  RUSSELL HOUSE