The wave of prices the francophone writers, both African and Caribbean, have been winning the last years, has places their works in the focus of world literature. Renovation is the seemingly most eye-catching they have achieved, these famous authors as Henri Lopès and Sony Labou Tansi (Congo), Ahmadou Kourouma (Ivory Coast), Patrick Chamoiseau and Raphaël Confiant (Martinique) or Maryse Condè (Guadeloupe), to mention just a few. Its a generation which has put aside the authorative influence of the cultural phenomenon known as Negritude, flourishing in the Thirties, and as fundamental as it is controversial in the culture of the francophone part of the continent.
The founders of Negritude were Léopold Sédar Senghor, Senegalese, and Aimé Césaire, Caribbean. Senghor, a poet, philosopher, theorist and politician, was the first president of Senegal (1960-80) and is today considered the major poet of the continent in the 20th century. Born in 1906, with a firm Christian background and educated in his own country and later on in Paris, became the first African to achieve a doctor title in France. He settled in Paris in 1928, where he began to write poetry about his feelings concerning being an African far away from his native country in the middle of a society where he didn't feel integrated. Melancholy and nostalgic memories of childhood fills his poetry. At this moment, he got to know León Damas and the fellow poet and student Césaire. Together with them, he founded the journal "The Black Student" in which they laid the groundwork for the concept of Negritude. With this term they intended to refer to the culture characteristic to all Africans and all members of the African Diaspora, also including those the Europeans forcefully took to the Americas. In their own words:
"One cannot deny that Negritude is a reality, a culture: It's the entirety of all the economic, political, intellectual, moral, artistic and social values of not only the peoples of Africa, but also the minorities of America, Asia and Oceania."
They stated that everybody could be proud of their negritude, their development, their form of expression, and offer it to the world as part of the universal human heritage. At the same time, they wanted to learn from the best parts of European culture, stressing the point of "assimilating, not being assimilated". Thus, Senghor introduced the concept of Blackness, addressing the proper cultural values of the black world, with the intention of giving them their deserved recognition in a world dominated by Europeans at this time embracing racist ideologies. To Senghor, the black symbolized the intuitive, while European values were more Cartesian. This very declaration concerning reason and intuition gave rise to many protests and critics to his ideology, with the consequent debate over the issue. Amongst others, even Sartre, which collaborated with the group writing the preface "Anthology of the first black and Malagasy poetry", started criticizing Negritude for being an "antiracist racism". A statement which didn't serve much to solve the polemic, which has continued until today. If, or if not we are dealing with a movement being racist as an answer to the contemporary European ideologies, has been a controversial debate all this time, though without forgetting that we are looking at the most important genre of African literature in the past century, maintaining its influence in the entire continent during a fateful epoch. A concept with which these new authors of today have broken radically with their new forms of expression.
The inheritance of Césaire in the West Indies
To reach their goals, they saw it necessary to create a new language, a real language, though without forgetting the rules of the correct French rhetoric. As such, they allowed themselves to get influenced by the rich oral tradition of the masters of story-telling, and their special intonation of the local dialects. A mix which results in a comprehensive and seductive language, which Milan Kundera has called "the chamoisisé French" (from Chamoiseau, France).
Considering all this, and in spite of the different political convictions of these authors, they have created a literature characterized by a common subject. The central axis of their works is telling about the greatness and pride in which these humble people live, with all their traditions and ways of living in their insignificant slums and outskirts. With their strong female personalities being a source of admiration, were they move between suffering and joy. They tell in natural manners about their dark past, remembering historical chapters such as the slavery, but at the same time not forgetting presence, to defend their undervalued Creole identity and putting aside the incomprehensive "frenchness", which was brought upon them in such an injustice way.
The inheritance of Senghor
The literary bilinguism which we can see in contemporary Africa is also a subject of discussion in these days. Now, when the literature of the ex-colonies is getting well known in the countries of the ex-colonizers. However, we are talking about an important happening, when these authors start putting their works across in a French which is defined by their standards, transformed and used to invite us into their stories which at bottom line are conceived in a proper African language. And it's not only important, but also infinitely satisfactory that they are creating a totally new type of language which involves the reader in grasping the African day-to-day life.
"The lost Honors" by the Cameroonian Calixthe Beyala (Grand Price of Novels by the French Academy in 1996) tells us about the world of shanty-towns "constructed by the vomits of civilization", in very pessimistic manners, similar to the tone of other colleagues, like the Congolese Daiel Biyaoula in "Alley without Exit" (1996). However, although one talks about a generally pessimistic tone in this group of writers, we also come across hopeful outlooks like "The House walking towards the Ocean" by Carl de Souza (Mauritius), where he presents Africa as the mix of peoples and cultures which it always has been, with a optimistic point of view concerning the future.
All in all a literature full of imagination and brought across in a new form of using and adapting the French language to African conditions. An assimilation which might remind us of that wish of the founders of Negritude, "assimilating, not being assimilated", which it seems that this new generation of writers has managed with great ability.
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