Karisa Cleary – Why “The Negro” on the Spiral? (make-up blog)

George Antheil’s “The Negro on the Spiral” appears to be a melodramatic praising of, what he calls, “Negro music.” Yet, the not-so-subtly controversial language and rhetoric he choses to articulate this sways on the edge of dehumanizing and universalizing the African-American identity.

This can be observed in spurts of shocking comparisons to white identification where Antheil compares the rhythm of “Negro music” to the rhythm of white races. While the former “comes from the groins, the hips, and the sexual organs,” the latter is from “the breast,” which can be interpreted as the heart, “the brain,” the intellect, “the ears and the eyes,” the most vital senses and all being tools for intelligible communication. While Antheil makes several other references to the primitiveness of this music the sexual attribution to the rhythm, especially when compared with white rhythm, alludes to one of the human being’s most animalistic behaviors, often concealed at this time in the civilized nations (214).

Still, within these suggestions of a wild, sexual and unabsorbable music, there is a contradictory connection between this and the precision of machinery. He describes the “rhythms and counter-rhythms” of the black choir as having “machine-precision” and later asserts, “one can scarcely believe that one has not to do with a highly civilised race, masters of steel, mathematics, and engineering.” While Antheil, in one sense, might be making a statement about the uncontrollable musicality of industrialization, but in another sense he is bringing their music from the level of passions and expressions to that of a mechanical, inhumanness (214).

More than this, the in which Antheil tosses the various differential geographic origins of black identity into one category of color, and taken down to its literal sense. He contrasts this with “not white, nor yellow” and claims, “This note [of the Congo] has erroneously been called ‘American,’ but this note belongs no more specifically to the North American Negro than to those of the West Indies or South America.” It feels as though he’s mashing a variety of seriously distinct cultures and identifying the whole of them solely by color. When placed adjacent to an earlier statement about Europeans where he states, “the Latins became more Latin, and the Germans more German,” there is this diametrical opposition unveiled where Europeans are described in a much more clear and individualistic fashion. He then takes this to a literal function of the color that he attributes dangerously equally to the body through this idea of absorption when he claims that “Yankee hymn tunes, or the Habaneras of the Portuguese or Spanish, [etc.]… were always completely absorbed, and did not conceal or hinder the original pure Africanism underlying every measure of this music.” The question inevitable arises of what in the world this essential “Africanism” is and how the “Negro music” could possibly absorb all of these different influences and still remain essentially and as fully African as it always has been? (214, 215).

While first lowering down and universalizing the African/African-American identity as “black,” Antheil then uses this notion of absorption to, in a strange way, elevate their agency without actually displaying any of their agencies. In fact, this goes further by creating a universal, “black” platform of which white musicians jump off from. He cues in Strawinsky and Pushkin and calls them “mulatto,” then name drops Wagner, Modigliani, Gaudier-Brzeska, Brancusi, Chirico… all white artists of the time and, while influenced (or having absorbed) this “Negro music” concurrently kept the influencers behind the veil of their color. If “the roar of the lion” reminding Antheil and his fellow artists “that life had been going on a long while and would probably go on a while longer” is a reference to this music, then the “life-blood dripping down upon the white keys” from alligators captured by Brunuel inside of grand pianos is nothing less than a violent recapturing of the black, musical individual. Dripping “life-blood” suggests, if not a death, then a painful injury to that vicious southern animal that appears to be representational of the African (218).

This dismal contradiction of raising the African up artistically while simultaneously submerging them beneath the level of intellectual equality prompts this common, Imperial tendency of seizure in an endeavor to squeeze every last beneficial bit out of another group of people. Because art is obviously very different from industry, I can’t help but get the sense that Antheil wasn’t as serious when dehumanizing the black population as he was making an expository connection between the colonization for industry. When he quite honestly-seeming suggests, “A greater duty would be to trace, scientifically and carefully, the development of the Great Spiral,” that idea is being reinstated. If the spiral represents a progression of history, carefully examining that circular (ish) development would uncover the similarities within the slightly different repetitions of the same events, the same colonization and exclusivity of a Westernized culture.

Antheil, George. “The Negro on the Spiral or A Method of Negro Music.” Negro: An Anthology. ed. Nancy Cunard, Hugh D. Ford. Bloomsbury, 1996. 214-219. Print.


Daniel’s posting on Cunard’s NEGRO ANTHOLOGY

Winkiel’s reading of Nancy Cunard’s Negro: An Anthology suggests that the anthology is less concerned with race and more a “document of war against imperialism and capitalism” (Winkiel 50). Looking at some of the surrealist and communist pieces, I want to look at how Cunard’s use of “montage” and her politics of anti-capitalism create the potential to unite two separate movements to create a more disruptive, single movement. .

The gaps that Winkiel focuses on in the text, the non-hierarchical juxtaposition (513) are read not as a problem within the anthology but as a moment that strengthens the Transnational politics. Winkiel’s reading of the montage of the text suggests the possibility of the text creating the potential for a kind of strategic essentialism. By creating a movement unified through its difference. Such a reading allows a politics that fights against the destabilizing effects of slavery and its diaspora of Africans, but does so without risking the movement’s diversity which serves as the movement’s strength. A strength in diversity potentially makes a movement’s cohesion difficult, but Will Herberg’s “Marxism and the American Negro” suggests that class be one issue the movement can rally behind. Herberg’s Marxist reading of the position of the “American Negro” suggests that democracy will fail to produce a true liberating movement of race, and socialism is the best alternative for racial emancipation (Herberg, 134). It may be important to note preceding this article is a narrative interruption that reminds the reader of Nancy Cunard’s limited understanding of Marxism, and quotes her as saying she is more of an Anarchist. While Cunard’s communist influence may be more of a fashion statement, the communist influence by anti-imperialism makes it a necessary component to take her politics to the Transnational level. George Sadoul’s contribution of “Sambo Without Tears” makes this clear.

Sadoul’s article criticizes imperialist cartoons within French Bourgeoisie magazines published for children (yes, children, which makes the cartoons even more unsettling). Sadoul uses Lenin’s claim that the revolt of the proletariat is at one with the struggle of the “negro” (350-1), and his essay serves as an international counterpart to Herberg’s domestic, American politics. Sadoul uses the children cartoons to expose how the images project a savage, immoral, drunkard identity for the “negro” that justify colonial rule. He ends for a cry for workers across racial boundaries unite to connect their struggles.

The note that discusses Cunard’s preference for Anarchism over the dogmatic nature of Marxism suggests that these politics are guided by a more general anti-capitalism/imperialism that Wienkel supports. Wienkel’s discussion of the importance of montage suggests this notion, and what Cunard puts together is less a hierarchical, systematic critique of capitalism/imperialism, but a more de-centered and plural attack. Wienkel reads this move as “recontextualizing white avant-gardist and socialist rupture within an African and African-diasporic modernity”, and this makes me think of the surrealist manifesto within the anthology that attempts to redefine (France’s) colonial wars as civil wars. Bracketing the questions of internal/external that I think can be explored here through (trans)national politics, I think this creates an exciting possible connection between domestic and international politics.

Of course, the limits of Cunard’s politics are clearly exposed by the anthologies critics and its history. The anthology fails to remain historically significant, and Wienkel confirms its existence on the margins through her Walter Benjamin metaphor. Further, the romanticization and fetishaztion discussed in class continue to trouble the anthologies authenticity, but the anthologies ability to create a representation of a “negro” unity transcending nationality (and the racial author—all the pieces of the anthology read for this blog are written by Whites) creates a political possibility that counters the diasporic nature of black culture. The different racial “migrations” (as Helberg calls them, some word choice that may provide a critical distance by suggesting a sociologists perspective, but still rather troubling language) help repress a racial movements effectiveness and power. Cunard’s transnational politics as Wienkel calls them, though still very problematic, offer a good starting point to understanding how social movements can strategically be made up of difference. Instead of viewing such differences as a problem, Wienkel views them as potential symptoms rather than flaws (508). I think that such a reading of the gaps when coupled with the Marxist critiques of class in the anthology offer the potential for a political reading that helps cope with the anthologies problematic cosmopolitanism.

Blog 5 – Karisa Harris-Cleary

We have been and continue discussing the puzzling form of Negro: An Anthology, which contains not only the anticipated variety of writing, but photographs and historical documents as well, organized geographically. Winkiel first introduces the text as a scrapbook-like compilation “from a fringe area,” as Benjamin asserts, but later suggests that it be read more as an event (Winkiel 507). This performative text comes to life through a “juxtaposition between civilized and savage,” a collection of black history ranging from primitive Africa to the oppressions in America and Europe. The interwoven histories create a black transnational identity by opening the possibility of race as a historically and geographically determined conception (Winkiel 513, 514). With this anthropological motive of Cunard’s in mind, the observed romanticizing of the African-American culture throughout Negro remains indeterminately promising as much as it is pushes invasiveness.

There is a sort of disconnect between this black transnationalism and a retrieval of African diasporic life. While preserving African roots is imperative, there was a growing population of post-diaspora black identity that was rooted in America and Europe rather than Africa. Cunard does take this into account through the countless slavery art and archival writings, but she continues to convey this primitive essential notion of the culture. Take the entry, “Negro Sculpture and Ethnography,” which displays assortments of primal African artistic artifacts and even a few from Cunard’s own collection. This is followed by an excerpt from Ladislas Szecsi’s paper “The Term ‘Negro Art’: is essentially a non-African Concept,” where he claims that “The Negroes have been able to create works of art because of their innate purity and primitiveness,” but this was diffused at the intersection of the African and the European (Cunard 413).

This is exactly the type of romanticizing that Cunard and other modernists portrayed amidst this anthropological illustration of the African-American culture, which lead to the scrapbook reading of Negro. As Winkiel expounds, “…even as Cunard romanticizes the vanishing Africa- and African-diasporic ways of life, she… argues instead for an alternative modernity based on black transnationalism” (Winkiel 517). Still, there are moments within this romantic tone of various pieces within the text that construct an uncomfortable prickliness that almost contests those “alternative modernity” motives. Antheil’s “The Negro on the Spiral,” is a prime example of this phenomenon. He romantically declares, “…the Negro has a rhythmic sense second to none in the world… so intricate in rhythmic pattern, so delicately balanced in contra-rhythms and proportions, and so breath-taking in unisons and choral impact are these extraordinary performances” (Cunard 214-215). The uneasiness comes with phrases like “the special Negro throats” and his later notion of the mulatto child of the United States through African-American musical influence (Cunard 215). By elevating this culture so high above all others, Antheil is still othering the identity to an extent that becomes quite circular, just as he, in reference to the voice of African music, defines the throat as “Negro throats.”

Following, of course, is Cunard’s multiple representations of herself as an African-American. No matter how anthropological her perspective may be she will never be able to view the world from the underprivileged subject of the time. Winkiel’s included negative photograph of Cunard with ivory bracelets coiled around her neck does an excellent job of illustrating the borderline distaste of a possible fetishism. She include the caption, which reads: “With the older women these ivories are priceless treasures, and they will endure any hardships in preference to degrading themselves by selling them, however great the inducement may be.” Winkiel then states this noteworthy point that Cunard is referring to that suffering in which she may be partially responsible for in obtaining these artifacts, and then she poses for this photograph with a look of anguish and a symbolic notion of hanging, or potentially even lynching (Winkiel 515).

On the other hand, the geographical organization and historical representation of Negro presents this montage of disconnected pieces that poignantly embody significant and expansive pieces of the African-American identity (Winkiel 514). The gaps between each entry break the flow of a narrative and present an accurately fragmented history, with no room for a “single dominant perspective” (Winkiel 513). If Cunard’s romantic intrigue with this culture wasn’t embedded right into the pages of Negro, it could go without analyzing, but there’s something to be interpreted from this white romanticized perspective of the African-American.


Cunard, Nancy. Negro. New York: Negro Universities, 1969. Print.

Winkiel, Laura A. “Nancy Cunard’s Negro and the Transnational Politics of Race.” Modernism/modernity 13.3 (2006): 507-530. Web.

Blog 5

“Negro is a document of war against imperialism and capitalism. It does not deconstruct the color line, but rather seeks to make clear the stakes involved for the underdeveloped world in a situation of on-going capitalist development and bourgeois forms of nationalism.”

This quote is what I’m going to be looking at in terms of analyzing this anthology.  The notion of being anti-capitalist (or, likely more accurately put, the restraints that the capitalism of the time presented the black community) is one that I believe can be dealt with.  Cunard shows an appreciation for the struggle of black people to survive in the economic structure of the time.  The anthology is large and the ways to interpret are myriad, but the way that she approaches the city of Harlem and the manner in which she describes it leads me to think that there was a genuine feeling of respect for the people there.

I’m more familiar with the poem “Harlem” than anything else here, and there is no shortage of controversy associated with Cunard’s time spent in that neighborhood.  There is power in Hughes’ poem, and the language that he used resonated with myself in, I think, a similar way to Cunard.  There is a feeling of being genuine in this poem, and it would appear that Cunard saw how accurately and profoundly Hughes was able to represent that experience.  She references her time, the things that she saw in Harlem, with language that is similar if not directly pulled from “Harlem.”

“This (the ‘negro renaissance’) is not the Harlem one sees.  You don’t see the Harlem of the romancists; it is romantic in its own right. And it is hard and strong; its noise, heat, cold, cries and colours are so, And the nostalgia is violent too; the eternal radio seeping through everything day and night, indoors and out, becomes somehow the personification of restlessness, desire, brooding.  As everywhere, the real people are in the street.”

I want to touch on the term “real” because I think it’s one that has transcended the cultural shifts and social adjustments that have taken place over the many years since this was written, as to how it relates to black culture and city culture, and a culture of poverty that has been a part of the black experience since people started to notice it. To put it plainly, there is a connection between modern black people, (I’ll say that it’s even more relevant with modern black men) and a lady from the 20’s who used the term “negro” on a regular basis. I can’t imagine that anyone would expect that.  However, if you were to walk into a largely black neighborhood and ask people out on the street to define the term “real,” they would have similar definitions, I think, as Cunard has mentioned.  An anti-capitalism sentiment is in effect here, with the results being in the form of describing the idea of living in poverty, of surviving in adverse conditions, of being “hard” and “strong.” People who understand, who get it, who know what life is like and what tough experiences are, are real.  And these people can identify others who have experienced the same.  How well we can label Nancy Cunard as being “real” is up for debate, but it seems undeniable that she is someone who saw black people in a different light, and she took the time and effort to go to these places and experience them genuinely, rather than, as she says, someone who is looking to “go slumming.”

“Notice how many of the whites are unreal in America; they are dim. But the Negro is very real; he is there. And the ofays [whites] know it. That’s why they come to Harlem—out of curiosity and jealousy and don’t-know-why. This desire to get close to the other race has often nothing honest about it. . . .”

Now, the controversy that arose from her trips to Harlem could have been a fair criticism of her “fetishization” of the black race.  It’s difficult to know what her true intent was in her efforts.  The quotes about the people of Harlem being “real” gives her some credibility, in my assessment.  The claim that she is waging war on imperialism and capitalism is fair, at least when I look at how she respected the people of a tough place.

Modernism and Race

For my final paper, I’ve been thinking a lot about why race is such a prevalent theme in modernism.  Other than the historical moment the movement found itself in, it makes sense that such a divisive social construct as race would be under a lot of scrutiny and redefinition by modernist writers.  However, in trying to break down how we had come to categorize human beings, modernists often turned to essentializing as a means to express the virtues of entire cultures and races of people.  Blatant racism is hateful, but well intentioned essentialism is reductive and neither convey the idea that race is truly a social construct.  We saw EM Forster grapple with this in A Passage to India in a very self conscious way and Stein handle it with not so much self consciousness in insisting that Four Saints have an all black cast.  Cunard’s a particularly strong example of this accidental hypocrisy where there seems to be a bit of a disconnect in her aims and her actually writings.  Undoubtedly, her ambitious project that became Negro stemmed from a genuine and admirable desire to show the ridiculousness of racial prejudice and explore the various experiences of black people throughout the world.  However, it is difficult to reconcile this with her blatant fetishization of black culture.  For Cunard, its not always possible to distinguish fetish from a kind of cultural appreciation or to know how aware of her privileged lens she was herself.
Still, it would be easy (and lazy) to see Negro as a sloppy collection of various medias that both fetishizes and victimizes blackness.  As Winkiel insists, Cunard was very conscious of the book’s structure and the pieces she decided to include in it.  By refusing to stick to a specific theme or natural flow in Negro, she creates a “‘refiguration of temporality’ that opens the present moment to its radical incompleteness, its ‘time out of joint”(Winkiel, 522) to reveal that black experiences had always existed and were not only given life by Western recognition.   More than that, it suggests that while much of the modern black experience was shaped by racism and tragedy inflicted by Europeans and Americans alike, there had long been many facets of black culture with a history and heritage independent of this narrative.
Despite the clear objective in Cunard’s ordering of the book, there has to be a deliberacy in her starting off Negro with Zora Neale Hurston’s “Characteristics of Negro Expression”.  It’s a smart choice because it evokes the importance of black self representation in the anthology.  While it appears that Hurston is really essentializing her own race, the essay is much more of a reclamation.  She destroys the idea that black culture is merely a product of failed white mimicry saying that “…the Negro is a very original being. While he lives and moves in the midsts of a white civilization, everything that he touches is re-interpreted for his own use”(Negro, 28).  This notion refutes the silly notion that blackness is only a reflection of whiteness.  It demonstrates that blacks are products of their surroundings just as any one else is, that does not stem from a “feeling of inferiority”(Negro,28).  Hurston explains that the love of mimicry exists independently of whites as though it were an innate quality by describing a group of black children imitating various animals “for the love of it, not because he wishes to be like the one imitated”(Negro,29).  She handles “negro folkore” in the same manner saying it “is not a thing of the past.  It is still in the making”(Negro, 27) forcing the reader to realize that although many white readers may be learning of this genre for the first time it exists outside of modernity and will continue beyond it.  Cleverly, she ends her essay on “dialect”, an oft critiqued “trademark” of African American culture saying: “I am mentioning only the most general rules in dialect because there are so many quirks that belong only to certain localities that nothing less that a volume would be adequate”(Negro 31).  More than just a comment on various dialects, it hints that this tome will not be a large amassment of generalizations about black culture, but an assertion that race is an ever evolving concept with no one absolute identity.  Cunard appears to be in agreement in her choice in beginning the book with Hurston’s essay.  It suggest that “blackness” is not a static concept but one that is ever evolving with a past, present and future, meaning many different things to different people at any given time that transcends temporality.

Winkiel and Slavery Papers

Winkiel comments on page 523 that, “Negro was deeply invested not only in breaking from narratives of Western progress and bourgeois complacency but in presenting an alternative history, that of color.” I found the phrasing here to be particularly interesting, especially her use of the term “alternative history” which others black history. Indeed, Cunard just by putting together this anthology and naming it Negro, she ignores the fact that Western history and African history are inextricably tied together. Negro: An Anthology, presents a “their history” and “our history” situation. This is strange because some of the documents presented in the anthology actually suggest otherwise.

One of the documents I chose to look at was the Slavery Papers, which combines first hand accounts of the horrors of the slave trade along with some commentary by Edgell Rickword, an English communist poet. Rickword’s forward clearly lines up with Winkiel’s claim that Negro sets out to debunk certain notions of Western history. Rickword opens the piece by referring to the “impetuous insolence of Europeans” and follows up moments later by pointing out that the slave trade really grew out of greed. Slyly working his communist agenda into the anthology. Rickword’s project with this compilation is generally without any demerits. He says he is out to show the basic inhumanity of the slave trade and indeed succeeds. It heavily contrasts in a sense with the uncomfortable (for the reader) observational style musings of Cunard’s Harlem Reviewed piece. The recounting put on display in this piece is almost too horrible to approach the idea of being fetishizing.

But even when mere facts are listed, they are still coded by the context of both the anthology’s production and the situation of the reader. One would think that the objectivity of this document would be clear, but in reality it is just as muddied as everything else in the anthology. Rickword clearly sets up some ideas of white culpability in the horrors of certain black experiences. However if we think about Zora Neal Hurston’s opinon as voiced by Winkiel that, “rather than inscribing these remnants onto a premodern past, Hurston demands that they be understood as a confrontation of dominant narratives of modernity in the present moment.” then Rickword’s piece becomes less powerful. He is so focused on presenting an alternative history and ascribing blame for past actions that he, and Cunard, fail to trace the problems of their present to these artifacts that Rickword is presenting.

And much in the way that Hurston explains the white adoption of black music, we can read Rickword’s piece and the entire anthology as whites “adopting and reinterpreting” black history. Rickword practically turns his forward into an anti-capitalist treatise. Had a black writer constructed the forward the context of the slavery papers would feel much different. Instead, we still have a white writer being the one with agency, presenting and interpreting purely black experiences. Moreover, much of the first person accounts from slave ships are from white witnesses who for the most part only account for what they can see, but occasionally attempt to assign motive or emotion to slaves, which is a troubling endeavor.

Slavery Papers certainly sets out to, as Winkiel says, break “from narratives of Western progress and bourgeois complacency.” It also succeeds at this, both in presenting a history that could otherwise be silent and being disturbing enough to shake some of that complacency. However, as Robert McNamara says, both seeing and believing are often wrong, which makes the project of developing “alternative histories” difficult. Rickword is trying to expound on something he really doesn’t have a firm grasp on and furthermore, the whites giving this primary accounts are troubled by their privileged point of view. Slavery Papers is still told through a white lens by nature of the forward and being in Cunard’s anthology. Yet, despite all of the problems surrounding the context of the piece, it remains an extremely powerful read. Rickword succeeds at laying bare the horror of the slave trade in a way that shakes and effects the reader. He ends up fulfilling the first half of Winkiel’s claim, but on the second account the situation remains much less clear.

– Julian Rosolie

Week 7 blogs: Cunard’s NEGRO ANTHOLOGY

All undergrads are to post blogs for this week. In your blog post, identify one or two claims from the assigned essay by Laura Winkiel that you find particularly intriguing, surprising, complicated, or otherwise worthy of further discussion. Use one (or more) of the readings you selected from Cunard’s Negro: An Anthology to engage with, challenge, or further develop Winkiel’s argument. In other words, your goal is to explore an argument from the secondary resource (Winkiel) by returning to the primary source (Cunard), adding depth to our understanding of both.

Nancy Cunard
Man Ray, photograph of Nancy Cunard (1926). Courtesy of http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/265168 .

You may, if you like, continue to build on the issues we addressed in class, e.g. the anthology as modernist form; Cunard’s “romanticizing” of Africa/African-Americans, and/vs. her self-awareness of her own anthropological perspective; etc. However, your main focus should be on engaging with a claim made in Winkiel’s article.

Due date: Friday, May 15, 11:59 p.m. 700-800 words or so. Please label your posting “Blog 5.”