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Submitted by Rosalind M. Fennell on Sunday, 11/13/2011, at 4:58 PM
The concept of the erotic has thus far been most prominently displayed throughout our conversation of Senghor’s poem entitled “Black Woman”. The poem’s eroticism is most clear in its allusions to black woman’s naked body, her “charred hill tops,” and “ripe fruit”, etc. The image of the black woman is one of a naked body that is simultaneously maternal and erotic. The poem’s imagery paints the black woman as a symbol of rebirth. Her erotic being is the place of physical birth but moreover, her erotic being inspires the rebirth of African civilization. As Senghor writes her’s (black woman’s) mouth as the “moth that gives music to my mouth,” he describes black woman, her beauty and eroticism, as the powerful inspiration of his poetry and creativity. It is the work of the poet and the artists to create and transform African civilization and to facilitate an African renaissance. In this sense, the erotic being of the black woman, as naked and dark, is transformative. Senghor maps out the “promise land” onto the naked body of black woman.
The discussion of the erotic in Senghor’s “Black Woman” leads to questions about the role of gender and sexual difference in his imagination of negritude and renaissance. There is a level of Senghor’s abstraction of black woman that is also concrete. Womanhood becomes a figurative image of women as symbols of birth and growth. The erotic in the poem speaks to what draws, seduces, and creates and engages in negritude’s most fundamental level of the reversal of meaning (black as beautiful, etc.). In a “negative light”, Senghor’s poem and his interpretation of the role of the erotic are an example of the patriarchal nature of the movement for negritude liberation. It puts the man in front as the center of the revolution while women’s bodies become the canvas on which the liberation of the black man is painted. In this light, women are necessary only as objects and not as fellow subjects. It is the black male poet who plays the privileged role in the revolution and women are being used so that they can best play this role.
In exalting black women, Senghor also makes black women and the idea of black women instrumental. It does not seem so much that black woman (and black women) is worthy of praise in her own right but instead because of what she does for black men: she births them, she nourishes them, she pleases them sexually, she inspires their art. Yet, for Senghor, the role of women is crucial for his cultural and political revolution. The relationship between black bodies is essential to the movement. Colonialism as a total all encompassing institution hugely focused on breaking the most fundamental and human bonds between people. Senghor’s idea seems to be that in order to rebuild those bonds, the starting place must be love and eroticism, emphasizing positive and harmonious relationships between black bodies and their freedom and pleasure as agents in the world. Thus the question of beauty and eroticism is fundamental. But, one must also question whether love creating, erotic beauty in itself is valued by Senghor or its values, and the value of women in this process, comes only out of their serving to inspire the poet. If it is the case that beauty itself does not inspire the revolution but instead inspires the poet who then inspires revolution, where is the place and value of black woman’s experience of colonialism, her creativity, her desires for the future?