Primitivist Modernism: Black Culture and the Origins of Transatlantic Modernism

Hardcover | March 1, 1998

bySieglinde Lemke

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This book explores a rich cultural hybridity at the heart of transatlantic modernism. Focusing on cubism, jazz, and Josephine Baker's performance in the Danse Sauvage, Sieglinde Lemke uncovers a crucial history of white and black intercultural exchange, a phenomenon until now greatly obscuredby a cloak of whiteness. Considering artists and critics such as Picasso, Alain Locke, Nancy Cunard, and Paul Whiteman, in addition to Baker, Lemke documents a potent cultural dialectic in which black artistic expression fertilized white modernism, just as white art forms helped shape the blackmodernism of Harlem and Paris. Coining the term primitivist modernism to designate the multicultural heritage of this century's artistic production, Lemke reveals the generative and germinating black cultural Other in the arts. She examines this neglected dimension in full, fascinating detail, blending literary theory,social history, and cultural analysis to document modernism's complex absorption of African culture and art. She details numerous ways in which African and African American forms (visual styles, musical idioms, black dialects) and fantasies (Baker's costume and dance, say) permeated high and massculture on both sides of the Atlantic. So-called primitive art and high modernism; savage rhythms and European music hall culture; European and African American expressions in jazz; European primitivism and the racial awakenings of African American culture: paired and freshly examined by Lemke,these subjects stand revealed in their true interrelatedness. Insisting on modernism's two-way cultural flow, Lemke demonstrates not only that white modernism owes much of its symbolic capital to the black Other, but that black modernism built itself in part on white Euro-American models. Through superbly nuanced readings of individual texts and images (fifteen striking examples of which are reproduced in this handsome volume), Lemke reforms our understanding of modernism. She shows us, in clear, invigorating fashion, that transatlantic modernism in both its high and popularmodes was significantly more diverse than commonly supposed. Students and scholars of modernism, African American studies, and cultural studies, and those with interests in twentieth-century art, dance, music, or literature, will find this book richly rewarding.

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From the Publisher

This book explores a rich cultural hybridity at the heart of transatlantic modernism. Focusing on cubism, jazz, and Josephine Baker's performance in the Danse Sauvage, Sieglinde Lemke uncovers a crucial history of white and black intercultural exchange, a phenomenon until now greatly obscuredby a cloak of whiteness. Considering artists...

Sieglinde Lemke is at University of Berlin.

other books by Sieglinde Lemke

Format:HardcoverDimensions:192 pages, 9.29 × 6.42 × 0.39 inPublished:March 1, 1998Publisher:Oxford University Press

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:019510403X

ISBN - 13:9780195104035

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"This exciting book blends theory, social history, cultural analysis, and close readings of literature, art, dance, and jazz to argue the centrality of African art in the development of European and American modernism. Lemke's analysis of Picasso's Les Demoiselles D'Avignon is fresh andcompelling; I found fascinating the sections on Josephine Baker and on Nancy Cunard and her journal Negro. Masterfully written, this book as a whole is marked by fastidious scholarship, command of literary theory and recent theories of primitivism, and rich, adventurous interpretations."--PatriciaHills, Professor of Art History, Boston University