“My Black Land”: Senghor’s Construction of “Africa”
As geographer Robert Sack claims, places are sites of agency, power, and control. They are organized to accomplish specific projects and to establish and maintain certain social relations and structures within and between places (Sack 107). The way any given place is constructed, conceived, and represented, then, should matter to anyone concerned with those social dynamics. At the same time, Cheikh Thiam insists that “Negritudeis still relevant today because race still matters” (4), in no small part due to the “racialist nature of the state” and its tendencies toward us-not-them identifications (5). Assuming race and place matter together, then, we might reasonably ask what sense of place attends the philosophy of négritude as laid out by Léopold Sédar Senghor, and perhaps as well, what dynamics of place helped to shape that philosophy to begin with. In particular, I am interested in the sense of “Africa” itself as a place conjured in Senghor’s prose and poetry, and how such a place interacts with other geographies like imperial and African nations. To be sure, Senghor was not the first to cast the continent together as “a place,” as singular (and singularly negative) evaluations of the continent were common to colonial discourse. Yet just as his négritude project set about to recuperate racial blackness from colonial machinations, Senghor’s work seeks to reimaginethe place of Africa, to redefine (or, perhaps in his thinking, to rediscover) its character, structures, cohesions, and variations. In reframing that place, Senghor seeks to change the agency it enables—in this case, aiming to enable the collective agency of all Africans together through mutually defining “blackness” and “Africa.” As with his vision for racial and cultural cohesion through négritude, however, Senghor’s sense of “Africa” bears scrutiny, not so much for the goals of his alternative place-making but for the means through which he charts out a continental sense of place.
KeywordsExperiential Sense Critical Perspective African Society African Nation African Unity
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