Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 6
Indiana State University Introduction: Criticism in De Jungle Author(s): Henry-Louis Gates, Jr. Source: Black American

Indiana State University

Introduction: Criticism in De Jungle Author(s): Henry-Louis Gates, Jr. Source: Black American Literature Forum, Vol. 15, No. 4, Black Textual Strategies, Volume 1:

Theory (Winter, 1981), pp. 123-127 Published by: St. Louis University

Accessed: 06/09/2011 00:13

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

St. Louis University and Indiana State University are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Black American Literature Forum. St. Louis University and Indiana State University are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend




"Nigger, long

as you don't change,

I'll always have me a subject."


"Son, these niggerswriting. Profaning our sacred words. Taking them from us and beating them on the anvil of Boogie Woogie, putting their black hands on them so that they shine like burnishedamulets. Taking our words, son, these filthy niggers and using them like they were their god-given

pussy. Why

them dared to interpret, critically mind you, the

great Herman Melville's Moby Dick!!"

-Ishamel Reed, Mumbo Jumbo2

. why 1 of

The second epigraph, from Mumbo Jumbo, refersto that splendid work of criticism that C. L. R. James wrote while imprisoned in 1952 on Ellis Island. James' work, Mariners, Renegades, and Castaways: The Story of Herman Melville and the World We Live In, which he published himself in New York in 1953, is a close reading of Moby-Dick and Pierre, which James sees as allegories for the fascist years in the post-War United States, of which Senator Joseph McCarthy remains only a convenient sign: "I publish my protest [against racism and fascism],"writes the critic, "with

the book

on Melville

." (p. 202). The only other literary

event in the black tradition which strikes me with such poignancy is the publication of Madmen and Specialists, the first play Wole Soyinka wrote after emerging from twenty- seven months of imprisonment in Nigeria, twenty-four of which he was forced to spend in solitary confinement. Who among us dares to claim to have made a critical gesture as poignant as Soyinka's and James? Who, indeed?The act of writing, for James and Soyinka, was no idle matter; it represented a profound definition, and defense, of self: As an act of self-defense, the writerdefends the integrity of the self through the device of displacement. I have edited the collection of essays which begin in this issue of BALFand will continue through the next to answer, implicitly, a question that faces each critic of comparative black literature,as she or he struggles with the crucial issues of contemporary literary theory and the complex matter of the "applicability"of these theories to the Afro-American, Caribbean, and African literary traditions. My own works of criticism, since I returnedto Yale in 1975,from graduate school in English at the University of Cambridge, to study with the late CharlesT. Davis, have attempted to draw upon contemporary theories of reading both to explicate discrete black texts, and to define the precise structure of the Afro- American Literary Tradition itself by trying to link, in Geoffrey Hartman'sapt description, "theform of art and the form of its historical consciousness."3 I have been con- cerned, in other words, with that complex relationship between what it is useful to call "therepresentative"in Afro- American letters and the process of "representation," of mimesis, itself. To explore this relation, moreover, I have attempted, with varying degrees of success, to "read"the

*Guest Editor Henry-Louis Gates, Jr., is Assistant Professor of English and Afro-American Studies at Yale University and the recentrecipientof a MacArthur Prize Fellowship.

black tradition closely, drawing rathereclectically upon the activity of reading as practicedby critics outside of the black literary traditions. This has been no easy task. Difficulty has arisen not because of the supposedly insurmountable subtleties of literary theoretical debate, but because of the very question of the so-called "translatability" of these theories to the reading of works outside of what Geoffrey Hartman has perceptively termed their "text-milieu."4Theory, like words in a poem, does not "translate"in one-to-one relationship of reference. Indeed, I have found that in the "application"of a mode of reading to black texts, the critic, by definition, transforms the theory, and, I might add, transforms received readings of the text, into something different, a construct neither exactly "like" its antecedents nor entirely new.


frankly rather flattering

readings of my own theories of criticism, I have been

referred to as a "New Formalist," as a "Structuralist,"and

even the inherent


indeterminancy of hsu, the black trickster, a figure for the

critic and for indeterminancy which I have derived from Yoruba mythic discourse, could enable him to wear these masks simultaneously: Rather than to accept or identify with these increasingly glib, and increasingly meaningless, labels of intellectual indenture, I have tried to take from contemporary Western critical theory that which enables

me, in some way, to respond to the signifying structuresthat a sensitive reading should produce in the texts of the black





rigorous and




Key texts,

sign-posts of

the tradition, seem to

demand to be readin certain ways. If theory and praxis from Formalism, Structuralism, or Post-Structuralism aid the critic in responding to these multi-various demands of the texts of our tradition, then the critic must embark upon their application. How can it be otherwise? Who would seek to deny us our complexity? Who, indeed? Wole Soyinka, whose vast corpus of works is perhaps the most sustained and challenging in the African canon, has reflected upon this question, which is a profound reformulation of the very question of the complex relation the individual talent bears to tradition(s); in the instance of the writer of African descent, her or his texts occupy spaces in at least two traditions the individual's European or American literarytradition, and one of the three relatedbut distinct black traditions. The "heritage"of each black text

written in a Western language, then, is a double-heritage, two-toned, as it were. Soyinka's recapitulation of this relation between the individual black talent and Western traditions is an enter-

prising one: "'A ? heb'ra

free translation would read: Kinship does not insist that, because we are entwined, we thereby rip off each other's thigh. The man who, because of ideological kinship tries to sever my being from its self-apprehension is not merely culturally but politically hostile."6 The "textual"tradition in evidence here is one broadly defined, including as it does

hi tan, k'afiara wa nitan ya.' A


both the imaginative and the ideological text. We, the critics of black literary traditions, owe it to those traditions to bring to bear upon our readingsany "tool"which helps us to elucidate, which enables us more clearly to see, the com- plexities of figuration inherent in the rhetorical structures through which our literarytraditions configure themselves. Close reading of any intellectual complexion is that which I advocate; there can be no compromise here. Let me state my concerns bluntly: The criticism of Afro- American literature has floundered, badly. Critics of our literature seem to have undertaken the activity of reading too often to employ the text at hand to serve an essentially "political"function, in the long and continuing war against fascism and racism. No one can, with integrity, deny the importance, or the sheer urgency, of the struggle to criticize that pernicious Western racism which has reinforced in various ways the relation of the sign of blackness as an absence to an economic order which attempts, system- atically, to deny persons of African descent the complexities of their full humanity. I seek to critiquehere not the attempt of our critics to redress these evils; rather, I critique only their manner of explication. By definition, the medium in which the critical activity is engaged is language, spoken and written words. The ways in which language and literaturemediate between "reality"(of whatever sort) and its reflections are both various and subtle. Any meaningful effort to mediate this distance between text and "reality"is especially difficult for the critic because a text is a coded structurewhich must somehow be decoded; its structures of signification can never be what they appear to be, or might be in literal discourse. Even to achieve a grasp of a text's reduced "meaning" not only presupposes but also demands mastery of the severalmodes of explication with which we are satisfactorily able to produce a reading. For all sorts of complex historical reasons, the act of writing itself has been a "political"act for the black author. Even our most solipsistic texts, at least since the Enlightenment in Europe, have been treated as political evidence of one sort or another, both implicitly and explicitly, and because our life in the West has been one political struggle followed by another, our literature has been defined without, and rather often within, as primarily just one more polemic in these struggles. The black literary tradition now demands, for sustenance and for growth, the sorts of reading which it is the especial province of the literary critic to render;and these sorts of readingall sharea fundamental concern with the nature and functions of figurative language as manifested in specific texts. No matter to what ends we put our readings, we can never lose sight of the fact that a text is not a "thing,"but is a rhetorical structure which functions in response to a complex set of rules. It cannot ever be related satisfactorily to a reality outside of itself merely in a one-to-one relation. How "black" is figuration? Given the obvious political intent of so much of every black literary tradition, is it not somewhat wistful to be concerned with the intricacies of the figure? The Afro-American tradition has been figurative from its beginnings. How could it have survived otherwise?I need not here trace the elaborate modes of signification implicit in black sacred and secular traditions of music and of painting, in black mythic and religious traditions, in ritual rhetoricalstructuressuch as "Signifying"and "TheDozens."

Black people have always been masters of the figurative:

Saying one thing to mean something quite other has been

basic to black survival in oppressive Western cultures. Misreading signs could be, and indeed often was, fatal. "Reading," in this sense, was not play; it was an essential

a child. This sort of

metaphorical literacy, the learning to decipher complex codes, isjust about the blackest aspect of the black tradition. If, as our folklore tells us, "Signification is the Nigger's occupation,"7then we may also say rightfully that "Figura- tion is the Nigger's occupation." For a critic of black literature to be unaware of the black tradition of figuration and its bearing upon a discrete black text is as serious a flaw as for that critic to be unaware of the texts in the Western

tradition which that black text echoes, revises, and extends. Hartman'sdefinition of "text-milieu"("how theory depends on a canon, on a limited group of texts, often culture- specific or national") does not break down in the context of the black traditions; it must, however, be modified since the texts of the black canon occupy a rhetorical space in at least two canons, as does black literary theory. The sharing of texts in common does allow for enhanced dialogue; but the sharing of a more or less compatible critical approach also allows for a dialogue between two critics of two different canons whose knowledge of the other's texts is less than ideal. The black text-milieu is extra-territorial. The black critic must face squarelyanother quandary, of a more subtle, and therefore more profoundly trying, nature. Barbara Johnson puts the matter exquisitely: "An enquiry that attempts to study an object by means of that very object

is open to certain analyzable abberations (this pertains,"she

continues, "to virtually all important investigations: the self analyzing itself, man studying man, thought thinking about thought, language speaking about language, etc.)."8 The problem, for us, can perhaps be usefully stated in the irony implicit in the attempt to posit a "black self" in a Western

language, one in which blackness itself is a figure of absence,

a negation. Ethnocentricism and logocentrism bear a fun-

damental relation in Western discourse as old as the Phaedrus of Plato, in which appears one of the earliest figures of blackness as an absence, a figure of negation. If Keats called the Enlightenment in Europe "thegrand march of intellects9 logocentism and ethnocentrism marched together to deprive the black human being of even the potential to create art, to imagine a world and to figure it. The so-called arbitrariness of the sign, of the ways in which concepts divide reality arbitrarily and of the relation between a sign, such as blackness, and its referent, such as absence, can help us to engage in sophisticated readings of black texts, but also of the figurations of blackness in Western texts. Edward Said's clever use of post-structural theory to "read" the representation of the "Oriental" in Western discourse provides only one reason for my still wondering why what is commonly referred to as "decon- struction"was not "invented"by Third World philosophers, and remains under-utilized by them even still.I0 Indeed, few theories of reading are as implicitly subversive as is decon- struction. My published analyses of what I termed "Race and

Superstructure"criticism arose not from political disagree- ments with the ends of that form of reading, but from a fundamental disagreement with the tautology inherent in

aspect of the "literacy" training of


this theory, which I have elaborated upon at length else- where." To render as radical a critique as I could muster, and to engender as radical a response as I sought, I selected to mount my argument from a radically formalist stance. I did this so that those proponents of this theory of Race and Superstructure would have a broad space on their right through which to move. Despite the energetic responses to my essays, it is safe to say that vulgar Black Aesthetic criticism, as practiced in the theoretical and practical works of the Black Arts movement, no longer can be produced without the knowledge of its central and fundamental

misconceptions. Indeed, two principal pro-

ponents of that theory have openly adopted Stanley Fish's "Affective Stylistics" and "Reader-Response" criticism. These, of course, are the theories most compatible with the theory of Race and Superstructure, since the role of the (black) reader is central here. In fact, these are the very theories which I had assumed would be drawn upon to replace the Black Aesthetic. Insofar as my critiquemay have helped to influence these results, I am gratified. For it is a far more pleasant, engaging, and creative task to critique "Affective Stylistics" than to critique Race and Super- structure criticism, which in practice at least tended to be difficult to take too seriously.

I am pleased by these gestures of critical change (and exchange), for it is clear even to the most casual observer that literarytheory has never before been as discussed in the black traditions as it has since 1975. In my essay on The Signifying Monkey and on Mumbo Jumbo, which will appear several issues hence in BALF, I supplement my analysis of Race and Superstructure with a second on the idea of a transcendent signified, a belief in an essence called "blackness"which our tradition has tried of late to will into being, to negate two and one-half millenia of its figuration as an absence. As healthy politically as such a gesture was, as revealing as it was in this country and abroad of the very arbitrarinessof the received sign of blackness itself, we must also criticize the idealism, the notion of essence, implicit in even this gesture. To think oneself free simply because one can claim can utter the negation of an assertion is not to think deeply enough. Negritude already constituted such a claim of blackness as a transcendent signified, of a full and sufficient presence; but to make such a claim, to feel the necessity of making such a claim, is already to reveal too much about perceived absence and desire. It is to take the terms of one's assertion from a discourse the universe of which has been determined by an Other. Even the terms of one's so-called "spontaneous"desire have been presupposed by the Other. I render this critique of blackness as a transcendent signified to help to break through the enclo- sure of negation. The enclosure of negation is only one trap. That sort of intellectual indenture which we might call, after Jules de Gaultier, "Bovarysm"is quite another, and equally deadly, trap. De Gaultierdefines "Bovarysm"as the phenomenon of being "fated to obey the suggestion of an external milieu, for lack of an auto-suggestion from within."'2The challenge of black literary criticism is to derive principles of literary criticism from the black tradition itself, as defined in the idiom of critical theory but also in the idiom which constitutes the "language of blackness," the signifying difference which makes the black tradition our very own. To



borrow mindlessly, or to vulgarize, a critical theory from another text-milieu is to satisy de Gaultier's definition of "Bovarysm"; but it is also to satisfy, in the black idiom, Ishmael Reed's definition of "The Talking Android." The critics whose works I have collected for publication have avoided nicely these dangers. The sign of the successful negotiation of this precipice of indenture, of slavish imita-

tion, is that each of these essays refers to two

traditions, the Western and the black. Each utterance, then, is double-voiced. In a 1925 review of James Weldon Johnson's Book of American Negro Spirituals, W. E. B. Du Bois argued that evidence of critical activity is a sign of a tradition's sophistication, since criticism implies an awareness of the process of art itself, and is a second order reflection upon those primary texts that define a tradition, a canon. Insofar as we, critics of the black tradition, master our craft, we serve both to preserve our own traditions and to shape their direction. All great writers demand great critics. The imperatives of our task are clear.

I have edited here a collection of essays, of theoretical and practical criticism, which exemplifies various modes of reading: Formalist, Marxist, Structuralist, and Post- Structuralist. I have even included a wonderfully perceptive critique of the activity of structuralism (as applied to African texts) by an analytic philosopher trained in the English tradition. The black literary and critical traditions need all sorts of close readings; the body of practical criticism which enabled new theories of readingto emerge in the Western tradition has yet to be created in the black traditions. The tradition needs readings of several kinds,

before it can "move" into

contexts, two

the mainstream of critical debate

in the profession. Such a move, it seems to me, is a desirable one, since ultimately our subject is literary discourse, and not the blackness of blackness. Nevertheless, I am not

advocating a new form of de Gaultier's "Bovarysm," in which we seek to imitate, from the critics we have decided to be, "all that can be imitated, everything exterior, appear- ance, gesture, intonation, and dress."To do so would be to repeat the mistake of a neo-Romantic poet, such as Countee Cullen, for whom "form" was a container into which he could pour "a precious and black content." Rather than to seek to proselytize for one warring faction of criticism or another, or to vulgarizea theory by reducingit to "summary" or "method," this collection of essays seeks to encourage a plurality of readings, as various as are the discrete texts in our literary tradition, and as black. These essays address issues fundamental to critical theory and to the nature of black literary discourse. Our subject is the discipline of literature.

The order of these essays enables the readerto move from theory, in this issue, to the reading of individual texts, in the next, from abstract argument to practical criticism. The movement here is from the generalto the particular.Theory, in this way, serves as discourse upon our texts. This diverse collection exemplifies the broad range of possibilities in the use of close readings to interpretthe black tradition. What's more, I have included readings which are, in essence,

antithetical to one another. The work of Sunday 0.

who can safely be called the first black structuralist, and Jay Edwards' seminal work on the morphology of the Afro- American folktale, and James Snead's stimulating defini-


tion of the trope of

Appiah's sustained critique of structuralism; Susan Willis' Marxist reading of Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon can be read against Wole Soyinka's critique of contemporary applications of Marxist theory in African literarycriticism. Barbara Bowen's essay is a superb interpretation of Jean Toomer's Cane as the confrontation of two opposed rhetorical strategies the ideal of the "un-self-conscious voice" implicit in the written uses of traditionally black antiphonal patterns, and the self-consciousness of any writer whose works refigure tropes from any formal literary tradition. Bowen sees Cane as the narration of the dialogic structure comprised of the traditional Afro-American oral form and the Romantic lyric. Vera Kutzinski'sclose reading of William Carlos Williams'literaryrelation to the poetry of Sterling Brown reveals the complex canonical standing of even the "blackest"text. Wendy McCredie'sand Maria Tai Wolff's readings of Zora Neale Hurston's TheirEyes Were Watching God firmly establish Hurston's place in the Afro- American canon as a precursor of Ralph Ellison and redefine the matter of the "voice"and the frame of this major text of the American, the Feminist, and the Afro-American

canons. The close readings of the works of Jean Toomer, Sterling Brown, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Ishmael Reed, and the generally overlooked "post-black" novelists read in Graham Clarke'sfine essay can be thought of as exemplifications of theory. The work of Toomer, Hurston, Morrison, and Reed, moreover, cannot in even the slightest sense be dismissed from serious consideration in

definitions of the black canon, since their works "frame,"as it were, those of Wrightand Ellison, through theirrhetorical

strategies, which Toomer and

which Morrison and Reed re-figure. These texts signify upon each other, in the Afro-American sense of that term. This collection is intentionally eclectic. Nevertheless, it realizes its unity from the concerted stress each essay brings

to bear upon the play of the signifier, and from the belief that, as Rene Girard puts it,

great writers apprehend intuitively and concretely, through the medium of their art, if not formally, the system in which they were first imprisoned together with their contemporaries.

Literary interpretation must be systematic because it is the continuation of literature. It should formalize implicit or already

repetition, can be read against Anthony

Hurston pre-figure, and

half explicit systems

not on how cleverly it manages to disguise its own systematic nature or on how much literary substance it really embraces, comprehends, and makes articulate. The goal may be ambitious but it is not outside the scope of literary criticism. Failure to reach it should be condemned but not the attempt. Everything else has already been done.'3

The value of a critical thought depends

In an essay called "For Whom Does One Write?", collected in WhatIs Literature?,Jean-Paul Sartreasks none too rhetorically, "To whom does Richard Wright address himself?"Sartre'sanswer helps us to answer our own central question, "For Whom Does the Critic of Black Literature Write?":

each of Wright'sworks contains what Baudelairewould have called "a double simultaneous postulation";each word refersto two contexts; two forces are applied simultaneously to each phrase and determine the incomparable tension of his tale. Had he spoken to the whites alone, he might have turned out to be more prolix, more didactic, and more abusive; to the negroes alone, still more elliptical, more of a confederate and more elegiac. In the first case, his work might have come close to

satire; in the second, to prophetic lamentation. Jeremiah spoke only to the Jews. But Wright, a writerfor a split public, has been able both to maintain and go beyond this split. He has made it the pretext for a work of art.'4

We write, it seems to me, primarily for other critics of literature. Through shared theoretical presuppositions, the arduous process of "culturaltranslation," if not resolved, is most certainly not hindered. To "maintain"yet "go beyond this split" of text-milieux is our curse and, of course, our challenge, as is the fact that we must often resurrectthe texts in our tradition before we can begin to explicate them. To render major contributions to contemporary theory's quest to "save the text," in Hartman's phrase, is our splendid opportunity. Unlike critics in almost every other literary tradition, almost all that we have to say about our literature is new. What critics of the Western tradition can make an even remotely similar claim? Jeremiah could speak only to the Jews; we, however, must address two audiences, the Jews and the Babylonians, whose interests are distinct yet overlapping in the manner of interlocking sets. I end this polemical introduction with an apt quote from the great blues artist, Junior Parker:"Anybody can boil up some greens, but a good cook a good one has a special way of seasoning 'em that ain't like nobody else's. So anybody can do it, but it's only somebody who can do it their own way."'5The literary critics collected here do it in their own way. This, after all, is the imperative of all literary


Because of my personal debt to Charles T. Davis, as a mentor, as a colleague, and as a friend, I dedicate this collection of essays to his memory. His death is a profound loss for the tradition, for the profession, and most of all for those of us who were fortunate enough to be his friends. His legacy will be measured not only through his works of criticism, and through the scores of critics that he trained, but especially through the integration of "thecanon,"which only a strong critic can effect.


'Quoted in Claudia Mitchell-Kernan, "Signifying,"in Mother Witfrom

the Laughing Barrel, ed. Alan Dundes (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice- Hall, 1973), p. 321. 21shmaelReed, Mumbo Jumbo (Garden City: Doubleday, 1972),p. 114.

3"Toward Literary History," in Beyond

Formalism: LiterarY Essayi's,

1958-1970 (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press), p. 363. 4Criticism in the Wilderness: The Study of Literature Todai' (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1980), p. 5. The title of my essay is in part a play upon Hartman's title, apt, perhaps, since the essay is a play on the idea of text-milieu. It also plays upon that space where dwells the Signifying Monkey, "deep down in dejungle." Hartman'stheories of literatureare of major import to the critics of comparative black literature. His work is always witty, always provocative, always profound, and eclectic. 5See Jerry W. Ward, Jr., "The Black Critic as Reader,"Black American Literature Forum, 14 (1980), 21-23, and Houston A. Baker, Jr., "Genera- tional Shifts and the Recent Criticismof Afro-American Literature,"Black

American Literature Forum, 15 (1981), 3-22. Baker'sessay is a reading of, among other critiques, three essays I published in Afro-American Litera- ture: The Reconstruction of Instruction, edited by Dexter Fisher and Robert B. Stepto (New York: Modern Language Association, 1979). 6Wole Soyinka, Mi'th, Literature and the African World (London:

Cambridge Univ. Press, 1976), pp. x-xi. 7Quoted in Roger D. Abrahams, Deep Down in the Jungle: Negro Narrative Folklore from the Streets of Philadelphia (Chicago: Aldine, 1970), p. 53.


8'Translator's Introduction," in Dissemination, by Jacques Derrida

(Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1981), p. xvi. Johnson's introduction is the clearest, most succinctly written summation of Derridian philosophy that I have encountered. Johnson's own work, The Critical Difference:

Essavs in the Contemporary Rhetoric of Reading (Baltimore: The Johns

Univ. Press, 1980), is a clear, precise, stimulating reading of "the

logic of a text's own disagreementswith itself." Her work, like Hartman's,is an especially apt model for critics of black literature. "Letterto John Hamilton Reynolds, in The Lettersof John Keats: 1814- 1821, ed. Hyder Edward Rollins, 2 vols. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1958), 1, 282. "'EdwardSaid, Orientalism (New York: Pantheon, 1978). The uses of sensitive Marxist interpretations of black literaturewill be limited, it seems

to me, until we have in hand aparticular history of discrete black-and-white


economic relations. How can we ascertain, otherwise, the complex relationship between material relations, on the one hand, and art, on the other? "See "Preface to Blackness: Text and Pre-Text," in Afro-American Literature, ed. Fisher and Stepto, pp. 44-71.


in Literary Structure, trans. Yvonne Freccero (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1965), p. 5. '3Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, p. 3. '4Jean-Paul Sartre, What is Literature?, trans.Bernard Frechtman (London: Methuen, 1970), pp. 57, 59. '5Quotedin Charles Keil, UrbanBlues (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1966), p. 169.

'2Quoted in Rene Girard, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel: Selfand



Dans les oeuvres poetiques, le linguiste discerne des structures dont I'analogie est frappante avec celles que I'analyse des mythes reve'le'a 1'ethnologue.De son c6ote",celui-cine saurait m'connaltre que les mythes ne consistent pas seulement en agencements conceptuels: ce sont aussi des oeuvres d'art

With this preface, Levi-Strauss and Roman Jakobson embarked upon one of the rare interdisciplinarycollabora- tions in recent memory between an ethnologist and a linguist-the dissection of Baudelaire'spoem "Les Chats."' Since this date and as a result of innovative work in generative grammar2and in semiotics,3 critics, especially in the United States and France, have begun to show some interest in the structurallinguistic analysis of literaryworks, particularlypoetry.4In each case the underlyingassumption is twofold. The first is the realization that a poetic work contains a system of ordered variants which can be isolated and represented vertically in the form of superimposed levels such as phonological, phonetic, syntactic, prosodic, and semantic. The second is that modern structuralism- especially in the form of its offshoot, generativegrammar- provides an adequate theory and method for accounting for such levels and in dealing with the internal coherence of the given work of art. Some African critics of African literaturehave objected to this search for internal coherence. Abiola Irele, a Nigerian critic well-known for his several defenses of negritude, for example, has argued strongly in favor of a "sociological imagination" on the part of a critic of African literature, without showing in what essential way(s) this differs from a structuralist imagination.5 Is it true, for example, that the assertion that man is a structural animal precludes the African?6On the contrary, I have argued elsewhere that no adequate sociological theory of African literature,the novel

*After taking his B.A. at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Sunday 0.

Anozie studied for his doctorate under Roland Barthes at the

Founder, editor, and publisher of The Conch, he is currently Visiting Professor of English at the State University of New York at Buffalo. His essay is reprinted, in a somewhat amended form, from Neo-African

Literature and Culture: EssaYsin Memory of Janheinz Jahn, ed. Bernth Lindfors and Ulla Schild (Wiesbaden, W. Germany: Haymann, 1976), pp.



in particular, can be formulated outside a framework of structuralism.7 More recently, too, I have insisted on the possibility of defining such a structuralistframework within the terms, necessarily more narrow, of the conceptual framework of negritude.8 Such integration will serve not only to revitalize negritude but also to provide it with the one thing it so far lacks-a scientific method of inquiry. In the presentcontribution, Iwish to add to this argument by submitting that negritudeand structuralismhave more in common than at first may strikethe eye of a casual observer, and, consequently, that the search for internal coherence in an African or any other work of art does not necessarily detract from its aesthetic or ideological value as such; if anything, it can enhance appreciation and respect for both. The paper falls into two parts. In the first part, I will sketch a brief structuralanalysis of one of Senghor's shorter poems, "LeTotem." In the second part, I will examine, also briefly, a few developments within negritude, especially Senghor's, in relation to the concept of structuralism, especially Le'vi-Strauss'.This movement from practice to theory will, I hope, underline, if not the innate scientific disposition of negritude, at least my belief in its potential to develop into one.

The Concept of "Problematic" in Poetry

Two remarks must be made from the outset. The first is that the composition of Senghor's "Le Totem" contains no diachronic problematic. As an isolated event, it has no special recorded "history"of its own (if it does, this paper is not at any rate interested in that, but in the poem itself as a synchronic event) beyond the fact that it is the fourteenth poem in the author's 1945 collection of poems published under the title Chants d'ombre.9 I use the term "problem- atic" in the same way as both Althusser and Levi-Strauss to define a particular theoretical system or "thought struc- ture."'0Miriam Glucksmann has cogently demonstrated the correlations between the uses of the concept of "problem- atic" by Althusser to define the specificities of Marx'stheory and by Levi-Strauss to designate systems of totemic classi- fication in "primitive cultures."" Thus in refusing to see