Cover image for Primitivist modernism : black culture and the origins of transatlantic modernism
Primitivist modernism : black culture and the origins of transatlantic modernism
Lemke, Sieglinde.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1998.
Physical Description:
183 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm.
Reading Level:
1330 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
NX542 .L46 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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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.

Author Notes

Sieglinde Lemke is at University of Berlin.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Lemke makes a valuable contribution to understanding the impact of black culture on European and American modernism. Expanding on a thesis current in her own field, American studies, Lemke argues not only that "blackness' helped to create the white' aesthetic that we today refer to as modernism," but also that "white" and "black" modernisms are "inextricably interrelated." She explores these points in reference to the following episodes from art, dance, music, and nonfiction in the period from 1906 to 1934: Pablo Picasso's Demoiselles d'Avignon, Josephine Baker's Danse Sauvage, Paul Whiteman's symphonic jazz, and Alain Locke's The New Negro and Nancy Cunard's Negro anthology. Because of the broad scope of Lemke's study, readers may find the treatment of materials from their own fields to be somewhat cursory. They may also take issue with the author's categorical distinctions, for example, among types of primitivism or modernism. Nevertheless, it is indeed welcome to find a study of this subject that embraces artists and theorists of both the Harlem Renaissance and the European avant-garde. Notable for its command of source materials and recent scholarship alike, Primitivist Modernism opens avenues for further research on interculturalism and modernity. General readers; upper-division undergraduates through faculty. J. Blake; Bucknell University

Table of Contents

Introduction: Was Modernism Passing?p. 3
1 Studies in Black and Whitep. 10
2 Picasso's ""Dusty Manikins""p. 31
3 Whiteman's Jazzp. 59
4 The Black Bodyp. 95
5 The Black Bookp. 117
Conclusion: Modernism Reconsideredp. 144
Notesp. 151
Bibliographyp. 165
Indexp. 175