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"Orphée Noir" Jean-Paul Sartre

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Raquelle Bostow

on 13 September 2013

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Transcript of "Orphée Noir" Jean-Paul Sartre

Orphée Noir
Jean-Paul Sartre
1905: born in Paris in 1905

1924 to 1929: studied at the École Normale Supérieure
(when he met Simone de Beauvoire)

1931: became Professor of Philosophy at Le Havre

1933-1935: with the help of a stipend from the Institut Français he studied the philosophies of Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger in Berlin.

Returned from Berlin and taught at the Lycée Pasteur in Paris

1939: served in the French Army

1940-1941: captured by German troops

1941: resumed his teaching position at the Lycée Pasteur in Paris

After the end of the Second World War, Sartre lived as an independent writer.

1948: published "Orphée Noir"

Died April 15, 1980
Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)
The Myth of Orpheus
Orpheus was an ancient Greek legendary hero with superhuman musical skills. The son of a Muse and Thrace (or Apollo), he was gifted with a lyre, which he used in an expedition of the Argonauts to save them from the music of the sirens. On his return from the expedition, he married Eurydice, who was soon killed by a snakebite. Overcome with grief, Orpheus ventured himself to the land of the dead to attempt to bring Eurydice back to life. With his singing and playing he charmed the ferryman Charon and the dog Cerberus, guardians of the River Styx. His music and grief so moved Hades, king of the underworld, that Orpheus was allowed to take Eurydice with him back to the world of life and light. Hades set one condition, however: upon leaving the land of death, both Orpheus and Eurydice were forbidden to look back. The couple climbed up toward the opening into the land of the living, and Orpheus, seeing the Sun again, turned back to share his delight with Eurydice. In that moment, she disappeared.
Sartre considers the poetry in the anthology to be "orphic" because of the untiring descent of the black man into himself... "which causes me to think of Orpheus going to reclaim Eurycide from Pluto." (Hades?)
Sartre's opening words, are addressed directly to the colonizers.

By using the form of dialogue, the writer has caused the reader to be immediately concerned.

The theme of sight/being seen.

A reversion of color connotation. Sartre is redefining what it is to be pure.
Alioune Diop
Léopold S. Senghor
Aimé Césaire
Frantz Fanon
« En Césaire la grande tradition surréaliste s’achève, prend son sens définitif et se détruit : le surréalisme, mouvement poétique européen, est dérobé aux Européens par un Noir qui le tourne contre eux et lui assigne une fonction rigoureusement définie. [...] L’originalité de Césaire est d’avoir coulé son souci étroit et puissant de nègre, d’opprimé et de militant dans le monde de la poésie la plus destructrice, la plus libre et la plus métaphysique, au moment où Éluard et Aragon échouaient à donner un contenu politique à leurs vers. Et finalement ce qui s’arrache de Césaire comme un cri de douleur, d’amour et de haine, c’est la négritude-objet. »
So what's the connection?
There will also be a comparison drawn between Eurycide and "négritude."
"navel of the world"
"pole of black poetry"
oily as serpent skin
vacillating between being and non-being
fire and rain
torrid and suffocating
imaginary continent
cold buildings of white culture and technique
"exile, colorless Europe"
orphic poetry
Bursting Hell of the black soul
A reinterpretation of white, of race
Main Ideas
The image of sight, being seen
A reinterpretation of the color white, of race
Concentric circles: a depiction of Africa
The necessity of expression through poetry
Subjective v. objective oppression
The French language as a vehicle of expression
The black man's connection to nature
Césaire: Orpheus reincarnated
"My negritude is not a rock, its deafness hurled
[against the clamor of the day
My negritude is not a film of dead water on the
[dead eye of the earth
My negritude is neither a tower nor a cathedral
It plunges into the red flesh of the earth
It plunges into the burning flesh of the sky
It pierces the opaque prostration by its upright

Aimé Césaire
1) Golden age of Africa
2) Era of dispersion and captivity
3) Awakening of conscience, the dark and heroic times of great revolts (Louverture and black heroes)
5) The fact of the abolition of slavery "unforgettable metamorphosis"
6) The struggle for definitive liberation

Race is transmuted into historicity...a Becoming.
The Black Epic
1964 Nobel Prize for Literature? No thanks!
The Introduction

1910: Born in Senegal
1945: Taught at Louis le Grand
Named chief of staff of the governor of French western Africa
Elected socialist senator of the French
While a senator, Diop launched Présence Africaine
One of the 3 founders of Négritude
(along with Césaire and Damas)
Graduated from University of Paris
Taught at prestigious schools in France
Served as an officer in the French army
German P.O.W.
Elected representative of Senegal to the French parliament
1960: Elected President of Senegal (until 1980)
1913: Born in Martinique
Poet and politician
Met Senghor and Damas in Paris
Coined the term "Négritude"
1945-56: Communist Party member
1945: elected mayor of Fort-de-France, Martinique
Became member of the French parliament
Pupil of Césaire
Prolific writer and poet; also psychiatrist, revolutionary, and theorist
Born in Martinique
Worked in Algeria
Focused on the psychology of hte colonized
Dismissed the concept of Négritude
"the black soul was but a white artifact."
“The Negro cannot deny that he is Negro nor claim for himself this abstract uncolored humanity. He is black. He is held to authenticity. Insulted, enslaved, he redresses himself; he accepts the word “Negro” which is hurled as an epithet, and vindicates himself, in pride, as black in the face of white.”
•“the chemical solution...fixed by dye” – Frantz Fanon
"the blackness of innocence"
"shadows of virtue"
"Throughout this poem black is a color, better still a light; its soft and diffuse radiance dissolves our habitual patterns; the black country where the ancients sleep is not a shadowy hell – it is a land of sun and fire.”
“Liberty is the color of the night.”
Subjective v. Objective oppression and expression
white proletariat in Europe
blacks in France and in French colonies
Marxism: consciousness of class of the European worker is based upon the nature of profit and loss, upon the present status of the ownership of the tools of labor, upon the objective characteristics of the proletarian.
Prise de conscience of self, of race based upon the black soul
The negritude-object
- subjective black Essence
- rapport of himself to himself
- in being subjective, the black man is objective
- source of all poetry
"objective negritude" has a musical quality
Negritude passes from the subjective to the objective
- "struggle of world proletariat"
oppression is "technical" and economic
requires revolutionary action and direct political and economic motivation
a psychological reality that can be dealt with by self-reaffirmation and expressive means
For Sartre, does race overshadow class?
The necessity of expression through poetry
Negro poetry is the sole great revolutionary poetry.
Black poetry is functional.
The struggle of the proletariat cannot be expressed through poetry.
White poetry is "dried up."
Blacks of Africa are still in “the great period of mythical fecundity”
- poetry is the means by which negritude will surge forth
The French language as a vehicle of expression
"It is when he seems smothered by the serpents of our culture that he shows himself the most revolutionary, because he seeks to ear off systematically his European acquisition and this demolition symbolizes in spirit the great taking of the arms of the future by which the blacks will destroy their chains."
"the apostles of the new negritude are constrained to edit their gospel in French."
The French language is the black man's uniting force.
French is not a foreign tongue to these men.
The French language is the black man's "fighting force."
Failure before the language: impossible to express negritude with precision “which efficiently strike the mark at every blow”
A failure of language results in silence.
A destruction of the French language leads to its proper adaptation to "negritude."
“It is only when they have disgorged their whiteness that he adopts them, making of this language in ruins a superlanguage solemn and sacred, in brief, Poetry.”
The black man's connection to nature
“A technical rapport with Nature reveals it as a quantity pure, inert, foreign; it dies. By his proud refusal to become “homo faber”, the Negro restores life to it.”
"man-nature" ... "the
of one of the terms necessarily entails the activeness of the other. Truly speaking,
negritude is not a passivity
, since it "pierces the flesh of the sky and of the earth...it is a patience."
The black man conjures the world by silence and repose.
"In concerning himself first with Nature, the white man loses himself in losing it; in concerning himself first with himself, the Negro proposes to gain Nature in gaining himself.”
The black man is "the great male of the earth."
"To labor, to plant, to eat, is to make love with nature. It is thus that they rejoin the dances and the phallic rites of the African Negroes.”
Césaire: Orpheus reincarnated
“Césaire has chosen to the contrary, to re-enter into himself backwards. Since this Eurydice will vanish in smoke if the black Orpheus turns toward her, he will descend the royal road of his soul with his back turned to the bottom of the grotto; he will descend beneath words and meanings... the back turned, the eyes closed, to touch his feet finally in the black water of dreams and of desire, and to let himself drown in it. Then desire and dream will surge forth in a tidal roar, making words dance like wreckage, and will hurl them shattered on the shore.”
Sartre criticizes Lero's poetry, however: “A poem of Césaire, to the contrary, burst and turns on itself as a fuse, as bursting suns which turn and explode in new suns, in a perpetual surpassing.”
- Orpheus' musical talents surpassed all others.
The words of Césaire make [negritude]; they compose it under our eyes. Henceforth it is a thing which one can observe and learn...”
The Conclusion
Return to issue of class and race
"Negritude appears as the weak stage of a dialectical progression...."
Reiteration of the beauty, the necessity of poetry.
Thesis --> Antithesis --> Synthesis
Synthesis: Realization of a human society without racism. Negritude is a self-destructing device.
Antithesis: Negritude as antithetical value; moment of negativity.
Thesis: The theoretical and practical affirmation of white supremacy.
Hegelian Dialectical Model
anti-racist racism
a philosophy of existence
prise de conscience
nudity without color
a pure surpassing of itself
A bridge between past particularism and future universality
“an iridescence of being and the duty to be; it makes you and you make it.”
a twilight
Poetry pure
Being-in-the-world of the Negro
"Myth dolorous and full of hope, Negritude, born of Evil and pregnant of a future Good, and living as a woman who is born to die and who senses her own death even in the richest moments of her life, it is an uneasy repose, an explosive stability, a pride which renounces itself, an absolute which knows itself to be transitory.”
Can Parisian intellectuals define négritude for all? And what about white Parisians? Can non-intellectual black men participate in this literary-focused intellectual movement?

What is the goal of négritude? And if it is achieved? Is it truly a self-destructive device?

What do you make of the racial generalizations in the essay?

Do you agree with Sartre's synthesis?

Is “Orphée Noir” only addressed to a white audience? Is it a guide to black intellectuals?

Who exactly (which races) is included in the concept of négritude?

Will Négritude exist as history or legend? Will it take on similar characteristics to Bois Caïman and Boukman? Is “Black literature an illusory moment of euphoric resistance without revolutionary change?” (A question that Frantz Fanon himself pondered)

What is the role of women in this essay? Are there any hints of sexism?
"Je voudrais montrer...que cette poésie qui paraît d'abord raciale est finalement un chant de tous et pour tous."
"the dazzling circle of the Indies and of childhood"
Britannica Online Encyclopedia
Nobel Prize website: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1964/sartre-bio.html
Africana Age: Exhibitions.nypl.org/africanaage/essay-negritude.html
Purdue OWL: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/588/04/
"Jean-Paul Sartre and the philosophy of négritude: Race, self, and society" Bennetta, Jules-Rosette
"Sartre postcolonial? Relire 'Orphée Noir' plus d'un demi-siècle après" Gyssels, Kathleen
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