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From Fetish to Subject: Race, Modernism, and Primitivism, 1919-1935

From Fetish to Subject: Race, Modernism, and Primitivism, 1919-1935

by Carole Sweeney


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Was modern primitivism complicit with the ideologies of colonialism, or was it a multivalent encounter with difference? Examining race and modernism through a wider and more historically contextualized study, Sweeney brings together a variety of published and new scholarship to expand the discussion on the links between modernism and primitivism. Tracing the path from Dada and Surrealism to Josephine Baker and Nancy Cunard's Negro: An Anthology, she shows the development of négrophilie from the interest in black cultural forms in the early 1920s to a more serious engagement with difference and representations in the 1930s. Considering modernism, race, and colonialism simultaneously, this work breaks from traditional boundaries of disciplines or geographic areas.

Why was the primitive so popular in this era? Sweeney shows how high, popular, and mass cultural contexts constructed primitivism and how black diasporic groups in Paris challenged this construction. Included is research from original archival material from black diasporic publications in Paris, examining their challenges to primitivism in French literature and state-sponsored exoticism. The transatlantic movement of modernism and primitivism also is part of this broad comparative study.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780275977474
Publisher: ABC-CLIO, Incorporated
Publication date: 10/30/2004
Pages: 172
Product dimensions: 6.14(w) x 9.21(h) x 0.44(d)

About the Author

CAROLE SWEENEY is a Lecturer in French and Transnational Studies at the University of Southampton. She has written on race, colonialism, and interwar European modernism. She is currently working on a comparative literary project looking at the Francophone Americas and international avant-gardism.

Table of Contents


List of Illustrations



Constructing the Primitive

"I'll say it's getting darker and darker in Paris": Joseph Baker and La Revue Negre

Black Woman/Colonial Body

"Go to Harlem, it's sharper there": Negro: An Anthology (1934)

"A Conceptual Swindle": Surrealism, Race and Anti-Colonialism

Diaspora and Resistance: A 'French' Black Atlantic and Counter Primitivism





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