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The manifesto as represented in the first part of this book intervenes in national discourse by staging alternative communities of avant-garde artists and performers, mothers, and women suffragists and socialists. It exhorts these communities to seize the present moment in order to produce a history and a modernity alternative to the “homogeneous empty time” of the rationalized present. Part I situated England within its empire so that the contradictions of race and colonial modernity are visible within manifestos and trouble bourgeois nationalism. Part II, “Transnational Modernisms,” foregrounds the emergent rhetoric of decolonization and black transnational community formation articulated in black manifestos, as well as in the anticolonial rhetoric of international communism. This chapter highlights this rhetoric and community formation in order to reread Nancy Cunard's anthology Negro within the transnational circulation of manifestos and other important black publications, such as: W. E. B. Du Bois's “London Manifesto;” Langston Hughes's artist statement “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” excerpted in Paulette Nardal's “L'Éveil de la conscience de race chez les étudiants noirs” (The Awakening of Race Consciousness), published in Le Revue du monde noir in April 1932; and the publication in the Harlem-based newspaper New York Age of an article, “Color in England,” that featured an interview with Dr. Harold Moody of the London-based League of Coloured Peoples on racial discrimination, as well as the group's founding proclamation.
From Blackwell Publishing's Manifestos series to the Zapatistas' six declarations from the Lacandon jungle, the manifesto continues to generate cultural and political controversy. Short, spirited, and straddling the boundary between theory and practice, the manifesto communicates an experience of crisis and a conceptual break with the past. As its urgent tone pushes ongoing debates and practices to new realms of possibility, it seizes the present moment in order to intervene in history. This history-making self-consciousness reached its apogee in the first part of the twentieth century, when hundreds of political and aesthetic manifestos circulated throughout theworld as part of an immense cultural and geopolitical shift. As these manifestos declare a series of breaks from traditional aesthetic, cultural, and political forms, they enact the quintessential gesture of modernity: they proclaim themselves the arbiters of the new and the “now” and reject the past. This call to alter history now is the reason why manifestos provide a crucial interpoint for rereading modernist aesthetics through the lens of transnational racial politics.
Modernism, Race, and Manifestos makes the case that we should reappraise the formative role of manifestos in staging alternative modernist communities and producing counter-histories of modernism and modernity. They provide a useful framework for rereading other modernist forms (anthologies, experimental literature, protest novels, and essays) in terms of their shared attempts to interrupt received meanings.
At the outset of World War Two, Virginia Woolf's posthumously published novel Between the Acts (1941) predicts a postcolonial world. In the novel, the English history pageant staged by local villagers concludes with civilization in ruins “rebuilt (witness man with hod) by human effort; witness also woman handing bricks [building a wall] … Now issued a black man in fuzzy wig; coffee-coloured ditto in silver turban; they signify presumably the League of …” Postwar civilization would be rebuilt, Woolf imagines (with a good dose of racial caricature thrown in), in a manner that includes the sovereign participation of African and Asian nations mediated through the League of Nations. In envisioning postwar development, time unfolds progressively. Black and brown nations follow the lead of white civilizations: man and woman (presumably white) rebuild the world and “now” the black and brown men emerge to signify an international community. Woolf brackets the question of development and modernity in the colonized world in this scene, and she avoids the question of racial difference. The black and brown men conform to a European image of Africans and Asians: the English villagers perform these roles in a manner that repeats racial stereotypes. “Ditto” and “fuzzy wig” suggest the “folksy” nature of a blackface minstrelsy that typecasts racial difference and fails to challenge racial hierarchies through which white people represent persons of color.
The modernist avant-garde used manifestos to outline their ideas, cultural programs and political agendas. Yet the manifesto, as a document of revolutionary change and a formative genre of modernism, has heretofore received little critical attention. This 2007 study reappraises the central role of manifestos in shaping the modernist movement by investigating twentieth-century manifestos from Europe and the Black Atlantic. Manifestos by writers from the imperial metropolis and the colonial 'periphery' drew very different emphases in their recasting of histories and experiences of modernity. Laura Winkiel examines archival materials as well as canonical texts to analyse how Sylvia Pankhurst, Virginia Woolf, Mina Loy, Wyndham Lewis, Nancy Cunard, C. L. R. James, W. E. B. Du Bois, Zora Neale Hurston, Aimé Césaire and others presented their modernist projects. This focus on manifestos in their geographical and historical context allows for a revision of modernism that emphasizes its cross-cultural aspects.
Already the richness of this new art is apparent to those who know how to see. Its power is tremendous since it reverses all natural laws: it ignores space and time; it upsets gravity, ballistics, biology, etc. … Its eye is more patient, more penetrating, more precise. Thus the future belongs to the creator, the poet, who makes use of this hitherto neglected power and richness; for a new servant is available to his imagination.
Soupault's prophecy that “the future belongs to the creator, the poet” who can harness the potential of cinema echoes the groundless optimism of avant-garde manifestos, particularly those of the futurists. The buoyant prewar futurist manifestos envisioned modernity (and especially new technologies such as the cinema) as a conquering force that could overturn “all natural laws,” including time and space. The creator who harnesses this power, Soupault predicts, can shape the future. That is, he makes history. In what follows, I connect modernity as a conquering force with the manifesto's break from the past (figured in futurist manifestos as black and female or passé and degenerate) to demonstrate how futurist manifestos and other texts supported Italy's bid to become a modern, imperial power.
But that's not all that these texts do. Recall that in Chapter 1, I argued that the manifesto's temporality is composed of both straightforward instrumentality – to start the revolution, now! – and theatrical hesitation and reflection that is ironic and parodic.
“But the young black who … used to kneel in worship before the headlights on explorer's cars is now driving a taxi in Paris and New York. We had best not lag behind this black.”
The manifestos and other texts I have examined in this book convey a particularly modernist sensibility: they yearn for the time of the new, an elsewhere, that will deliver freedom and authenticity. Manifesto writers, in particular, sought to transform modernity so that it would overcome ignorance, servitude, and injustice. But such modernist longings as expressed via the manifesto have always been compromised. While the manifesto is the form par excellence of modernist rupture (with its singular break from the past that relies upon a cutting-edge understanding of “the new”), it was already ironized and questioned by modernists themselves, as my readings of Virginia Woolf, C. L. R. James, Zora Neale Hurston, Rebecca West, Mina Loy, F. T. Marinetti, and Wyndham Lewis attest. The manifesto has never been a complete break with the past, though its speech acts – “we declare,” “we reject” – would seem through the forceful agency of their words to sever it completely from the past in order to usher in a revolutionary new world. Instead, the manifesto and other texts both break from the past and reconfigure (re-cite) what has preceded it. This belatedness creates a fold in time, a future anterior, in which revolutionary transformation is projected as a future aspiration of accomplishment.
“In the state of degeneracy, in which we live, it is through the skin that metaphysics will be made to reenter our minds.”
“Futurism, as preached by Marinetti, is largely Impressionism up-to-date. To this is added his Automobilism and Nietzsche stunt. With a lot of good sense and vitality at his disposal, he hammers away in the blatant mechanism of his Manifestoes, at his idée fixe of Modernity.”
The prewar English avant-garde group the Vorticists published their founding manifesto, written by Wyndham Lewis in collaboration with Ezra Pound, in the first issue of the little magazine, Blast. Unlike the manifestos I have discussed so far, Lewis's manifesto advocates critical consciousness instead of action, a tense stasis rather than the forward momentum of action. This stasis derives from vorticism's ambivalence concerning modernity. This ambivalence occurs in the second quotation above, as Lewis condemns Marinetti for doing little more than advance an already existent modernity: his manifestos repeat the past without transforming it. In particular, Lewis excoriates Marinetti for his “Automobilism and Nietzsche stunt.” For Lewis, even avant-garde iconoclasm is grist for the entertainment mill of modernity. While more critical of modernity than Marinetti, Lewis deploys racial myths in ways that often dovetail with Marinetti's racial and imperial vision of modernity.
The militancy of women is doing a work of purification. Nowhere was purification more needed than in the relationship between men and women … A great upheaval, a great revolution, a great blasting away of ugly things – that is militancy … The bad and the old have to be destroyed to make way for the good and the new. When militancy has done its work then will come sweetness and cleanness, respect and trust, perfect equality and justice into the partnership between men and women.
Christabel Pankhurst's definition of militancy in terms of purity and the destruction of “the bad and the old” argues for the modernity of the militant British women's suffrage movement. The future she envisions breaks from the past – defined as “bad,” “old,” and “ugly” – and allows women to join the ranks of the modern vanguard described as “the good and the new.” Through this definition, Pankhurst whitens women as citizens by writing them into national narratives of progress. These narratives repeat the past by reproducing imperial and national structures of power. They do this by excluding cultural and racial differences (the “bad” and the “old”) and sexual desire (the impure) as less than modern. This exclusion shores up the racial and gendered boundaries that define modern subjects, and then these subjects, in turn, define their actions as historical progress (“the good and the new”).