Advertisement

The New Primitivism: Gender and Nation in McKay’s Internationalism

  • Leah Reade Rosenberg

Abstract

The cultural nationalism of turn-of-the-century Jamaica not only served as the basis for Herbert de Lisser’s conservative monopoly on local literary production but also provided the foundation for Claude McKay to revolutionize black aesthetics and politics in Jamaica, and later in the United States and Europe. In 1913, when de Lisser imagined a sambo nation in Jane and Twentieth Century Jamaica, McKay wrote poetry in the voice of black peasants, calling for violent resistance against colonialism. As de Lisser was writing Revenge (1919) and Triumphant Squalitone (1916), novels that ridiculed the very idea that any Jamaicans might govern themselves, McKay became famous across the English-speaking world for his sonnet “If We Must Die,” which asserted black manhood and citizenship by protesting the mob violence against African American servicemen in the summer of the 1919.1 In the late 1920s, when de Lisser wrote the sensationalist and antiblack romance The White Witch of Rose Hall, McKay produced Home to Harlem (1928) and Banjo (1929). Home to Harlem was one of the first best-selling novels by a black author in the United States, while Banjo became a foundational text for the Negritude movement in the francophone Caribbean and West Africa. Together the novels embodied a modernist primitivism that critiqued the colonial foundation of European modernity and modernism.

Keywords

Folk Religion Cultural Nationalism African Diaspora Male Protagonist African American Literature 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 1.
    Herbert de Lisser, Triumphant Squalitone: A Tropical Extravaganza (Kingston, Jamaica: Gleaner Company, 1916)Google Scholar
  2. Claude McKay, “If We must Die,” Liberator 2, (July 1919), 21.Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    Heather Hathaway, Caribbean Waves: Relocating Claude McKay and Paule Marshall (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999)Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    See, for example, Brent Edwards, The Practice of Diaspora: Literature, Translation, and the Rise of Black Internationalism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), 191–198Google Scholar
  5. John Lowney, “Haiti and Black Transnationalism: Remapping the Migrant Geography of Home to Harlem,” African American Review 34, no. 3 (2000): 413–429.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 4.
    Suzette Spencer, “Swerving at a Different Angle and Flying in the Face of Tradition: Excavating the Homoerotic Subtext in Home to Harlem,” CLA Journal 42, no. 2 (December 1998), 164–193Google Scholar
  7. Christa Schwarz, Gay Voices of the Harlem Renaissance (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003).Google Scholar
  8. 6.
    Winston James, A Fierce Hatred of Injustice: Claude McKay’s Jamaica and His Poetry of Rebellion (Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle, 2001), 11Google Scholar
  9. 7.
    Michael Maiwald, “Race, Capitalism, and the Third-Sex Ideal: Claude McKay’s Home to Harlem and the Legacy of Edward Carpenter,” Modern Fiction Studies 48, no. 4 (Winter 2002), 825–857.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 8.
    Claude McKay, Songs of Jamaica (London: Watts, 1912)Google Scholar
  11. McKay, My Green Hills of Jamaica and Five Jamaican Short Stories, ed. Mervyn Morris (Kingston: Heineman Educational Book [Caribbean] Ltd., 1979), 79Google Scholar
  12. 11.
    Sydney Olivier, White Capital and Coloured Labour (London: Independent Labour Party, 1906).Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    McKay, The Dialect Poetry of Claude McKay, The Black Heritage Library Collection (Plainview, NY: Books for Libraries, 1972), 4.Google Scholar
  14. 19.
    For an analysis of C. L. R. James’s engagement with English Romanticism, see David Scott, Conscripts of Modernity: The Tragedy of Colonial Enlightenment (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004), 58–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 20.
    Delia Jarrett-Macaulay, The Life of Una Marson (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998), 19Google Scholar
  16. 24.
    Angela Keane, Women Writers and the English Nation in the 1790s: Romantic Belongings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 14.Google Scholar
  17. 25.
    Marlon Ross, “Romancing the Nation-State: The Poetics of Romantic Nationalism,” in Macropolitics of Nineteeth-Century Literature: Nationalism, Exoticism, Lmperialism, ed. Jonathan Arac and Harriet Ritvo (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991), 67.Google Scholar
  18. 29.
    David Patrick Geggus, Slavery, War, and Revolution: The British Occupation of Saint Domingue, 1793–1798 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), 362Google Scholar
  19. 30.
    William Earle, Obi; or, The History of Threefingered Jack: In a Series of Letters from a Resident in Jamaica to his Friend in England (Boston: N. H. Whitaker, 1830).Google Scholar
  20. 31.
    Alan Richardson, “Romantic Voodoo: Obeah and British Culture, 1797–1807,” Studies in Romanticism 32, no. 1 (Spring 1993), 12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 39.
    Alain Locke, “Negro Youth Speaks,” and “The Legacy of the Ancestral Arts,” in The New Negro: an Interpretation (New York: Albert and Charles Boni, 1925), 51Google Scholar
  22. James Kelley, “Blossoming in Strange New Forms: Male Homosexuality and the Harlem Renaissance,” Soundings 80, no. 4 (Winter 1997), 499–517.Google Scholar
  23. 42.
    McKay, Home to Harlem (1928; reprint, Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1987), 225.Google Scholar
  24. 48.
    Tracy McCabe, “The Multifaceted Politics of Primitivism,” Soundings 53, no. 4 (Winter 1997), 480–481.Google Scholar
  25. 53.
    See George L. Mosse, Nationalism and Sexuality: Respectability and Abnormal Sexuality in Modern Europe (New York: H. Fertig, 1985)Google Scholar
  26. Andrew Parker et al., eds., Nationalisms and Sexualities (New York: Routledge, 1992).Google Scholar
  27. 54.
    See Michael Cobb, “Insolent Racing, Rough Narrative: The Harlem Renaissance’s Impolite Queers,” Callaloo, 23, no. 1 (2000), 328–351.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 59.
    McKay, Banjo: A Story without a Plot (1929; reprint, New York: Harcourt Brace, 1957), 3.Google Scholar
  29. 62.
    Leah Rosenberg, “Caribbean Models for Modernism in the Work of Claude McKay and Jean Rhys” Modernism/Modernity 11, no. 2 (2004): 219–238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 63.
    Sieglinde Lemke, Primitivist Modernism: Black Culture and the Origins of Transatlantic Modernism (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 42.Google Scholar
  31. 64.
    Gikandi, “Picasso, Africa, and the Schemata of Difference,” Modernism/Modernity 10, no. 3 (2003), 456CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 69.
    Peter Stallybrass and Allon White, The Politics and Poetics of Transgression (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986), 8–9Google Scholar
  33. 76.
    McKay reverses the historical use of flogging in revival. Historically, the religious leader flogged people who did not get the spirit rather than those who did. She thus sought to beat out the sins that prevented the spirit from entering the person’s soul. See Edward Seaga, “Revival Cults in Jamaica,” Jamaica Journal 3 (June 1969), 3–13.Google Scholar
  34. 77.
    See Barbara Griffin, “The Road to Psychic Unity: The Politics of Gender in Claude McKay’s Banana Bottom,” Callaloo 22, no. 2 (1999), 505CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Leah Reade Rosenberg 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Leah Reade Rosenberg

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations