Modernist manifestos

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Modernist manifestos

  1. 1. The  Founding  and  Manifesto  of  Futurism      F.T. MarinettiWe had stayed up all night, my friends and I, under hanging mosque lamps with domes of filigreed brass, domesstarred like our spirits, shining like them with the prisoned radiance of electric hearts. For hours we had trampled ouratavistic ennui into rich oriental rugs, arguing up to the last confines of logic and blackening many reams of paperwith our frenzied scribbling.An immense pride was buoying us up, because we felt ourselves alone at that hour, alone, awake, and on our feet,like proud beacons or forward sentries against an army of hostile stars glaring down at us from their celestialencampments. Alone with stokers feeding the hellish fires of great ships, alone with the black spectres who grope inthe red-hot bellies of locomotives launched on their crazy courses, alone with drunkards reeling like wounded birdsalong the city walls.Suddenly we jumped, hearing the mighty noise of the huge double-decker trams that rumbled by outside, ablazewith colored lights, like villages on holiday suddenly struck and uprooted by the flooding Po and dragged over fallsand through gourges to the sea.Then the silence deepened. But, as we listened to the old canal muttering its feeble prayers and the creaking bones ofsickly palaces above their damp green beards, under the windows we suddenly heard the famished roar ofautomobiles.“Let’s go!” I said. “Friends, away! Let’s go! Mythology and the Mystic Ideal are defeated at last. We’re about to seethe Centaur’s birth and, soon after, the first flight of Angels!... We must shake at the gates of life, test the bolts andhinges. Let’s go! Look there, on the earth, the very first dawn! There’s nothing to match the splendor of the sun’sred sword, slashing for the first time through our millennial gloom!”We went up to the three snorting beasts, to lay amorous hands on their torrid breasts. I stretched out on my car like acorpse on its bier, but revived at once under the steering wheel, a guillotine blade that threatened my stomach.The raging broom of madness swept us out of ourselves and drove us through streets as rough and deep as the bedsof torrents. Here and there, sick lamplight through window glass taught us to distrust the deceitful mathematics ofour perishing eyes.I cried, “The scent, the scent alone is enough for our beasts.”And like young lions we ran after Death, its dark pelt blotched with pale crosses as it escaped down the vast violetliving and throbbing sky.But we had no ideal Mistress raising her divine form to the clouds, nor any cruel Queen to whom to offer our bodies,twisted like Byzantine rings! There was nothing to make us wish for death, unless the wish to be free at last from theweight of our courage!And on we raced, hurling watchdogs against doorsteps, curling them under our burning tires like collars under aflatiron. Death, domesticated, met me at every turn, gracefully holding out a paw, or once in a while hunkeringdown, making velvety caressing eyes at me from every puddle.
  2. 2. “Let’s break out of the horrible shell of wisdom and throw ourselves like pride-ripened fruit into the wide, contortedmouth of the wind! Let’s give ourselves utterly to the Unknown, not in desperation but only to replenish the deepwells of the Absurd!”The words were scarcely out of my mouth when I spun my car around with the frenzy of a dog trying to bite its tail,and there, suddenly, were two cyclists coming towards me, shaking their fists, wobbling like two equally convincingbut nevertheless contradictory arguments. Their stupid dilemma was blocking my way—Damn! Ouch!... I stoppedshort and to my disgust rolled over into a ditch with my wheels in the air...O maternal ditch, almost full of muddy water! Fair factory drain! I gulped down your nourishing sludge; and Iremembered the blessed black beast of my Sudanese nurse... When I came up—torn, filthy, and stinking—fromunder the capsized car, I felt the white-hot iron of joy deliciously pass through my heart!A crowd of fishermen with handlines and gouty naturalists were already swarming around the prodigy. With patient,loving care those people rigged a tall derrick and iron grapnels to fish out my car, like a big beached shark. Up itcame from the ditch, slowly, leaving in the bottom, like scales, its heavy framework of good sense and its softupholstery of comfort.They thought it was dead, my beautiful shark, but a caress from me was enough to revive it; and there it was, aliveagain, running on its powerful fins!And so, faces smeared with good factory muck—plastered with metallic waste, with senseless sweat, with celestialsoot—we, bruised, our arms in slings, but unafraid, declared our high intentions to all the living of the earth:Manifesto of Futurism 1. We intend to sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and fearlessness. 2. Courage, audacity, and revolt will be essential elements of our poetry. 3. Up to now literature has exalted a pensive immobility, ecstasy, and sleep. We intend to exalt aggresive action, a feverish insomnia, the racer’s stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap. 4. We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes, like serpents of explosive breath—a roaring car that seems to ride on grapeshot is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace. 5. We want to hymn the man at the wheel, who hurls the lance of his spirit across the Earth, along the circle of its orbit. 6. The poet must spend himself with ardor, splendor, and generosity, to swell the enthusiastic fervor of the primordial elements. 7. Except in struggle, there is no more beauty. No work without an aggressive character can be a masterpiece. Poetry must be conceived as a violent attack on unknown forces, to reduce and prostrate them before man. 8. We stand on the last promontory of the centuries!... Why should we look back, when what we want is to break down the mysterious doors of the Impossible? Time and Space died yesterday. We already live in the absolute, because we have created eternal, omnipresent speed. 9. We will glorify war—the world’s only hygiene—militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom- bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for woman. 10. We will destroy the museums, libraries, academies of every kind, will fight moralism, feminism, every opportunistic or utilitarian cowardice. 11. We will sing of great crowds excited by work, by pleasure, and by riot; we will sing of the multicolored, polyphonic tides of revolution in the modern capitals; we will sing of the vibrant nightly fervor of arsenals and shipyards blazing with violent electric moons; greedy railway stations that devour smoke-plumed serpents; factories hung on clouds by the crooked lines of their smoke; bridges that stride the rivers like giant gymnasts, flashing in the sun with a glitter of knives; adventurous steamers that sniff the horizon; deep-chested locomotives whose wheels paw the tracks like the hooves of enormous steel horses bridled by
  3. 3. tubing; and the sleek flight of planes whose propellers chatter in the wind like banners and seem to cheer like an enthusiastic crowd.Mina  Loy,  Feminist  Manifesto  Women if you want to realize yourselves-you are on the eve of a devastating psychological upheaval-all your petillusions must be unmasked—the lies of centuries have got to go—are you prepared for the Wrench–? There is nohalf-measure—NO scratching on the surface of the rubbish heap of tradition, will bring about Reform, the onlymethod is Absolute DemolitionCease to place your confidence in economic legislation, vise-crusades & uniform education-you are glossing overReality.Professional & commercial careers are opening up for you—Is that all you want?And if you honestly desire to find your level without prejudice—be Brave & deny at the outset—that pathetic clap-trap war cry Woman is the equal of man-ForShe is NOTThe man who lives a life in which his activities conform to a social code which is protectorate of the feminineelement—–is no longer masculineThe women who adapt themselves to a theoretical valuation of their sex as a relative impersonality, are not yetFeminineLeave off looking to men to find out what you are not —–seek within yourselves to find out what you areAs conditions are at present constituted—you have the choice between Parasitism, & Prostitution —-or NegationMen & women are enemies, with the enmity of the exploited for the parasite, the parasite for the exploited—atpresent they re at the mercy of the advantage that each can take the others sexual dependence—-. The only point atwhich the interests of the sexes merge—is the sexual embrace.The first illusion it is to your interest to demolish of women into two classes the mistress, & the mother every well-balanced & developed woman knows that is not true. Nature has endowed the complete functions—-there are norestrictions on the woman who is so incompletely evolved as to be un-self-conscious in sex, will prove a restrictiveinfluence on the temperamental expansion of the next generation; the woman who is a poor mistress will be anincompetent mother—an inferior mentality—& will enjoy an inadequate apprehension of Life.To obtain results you must make sacrifices & the first and greatest sacrifice you have to make is of your ”virtue”The fictitious value of a woman as identified with her physical purity—is too easy to stand-by—rendering herlethargic in the acquisition of intrinsic merits of character by which she could obtain a concrete value—-therefore,the fist self-enforced law for the female sex, as a protection of the man made bogey of virtue—which is the principalinstrument of her subjection, would be the unconditional surgical destruction of virginity through-out the femalepopulation at puberty—-.The value of man is assessed entirely according to his use or interest to the community, the value of woman dependsentirely on chance, her success or in success in maneuvering a man into taking the life-long responsibility of her—
  4. 4. The advantages of marriage are too ridiculously ample—Compared to all other trades—for under modern conditions a woman can accept preposterously luxurious supportfrom a man (with-out the return of an sort—even offspring)—as a thank offering for her virginity.The woman who has not succeeded in striking that advantageous bargin—-is prohibited from any but surreptitiousre-action to Life-stimuli—-&entirely debarred maternity.Every woman has a right to maternity—-Every woman of superior intelligence should realize her race-responsibility, in producing children in adequateproportion to the unfit or degenerate members of her sex—-Each child of a superior woman should be the result f a definite period of psychic development in her life—-& andnot necessarily of a possible irksome & outworn continuance of an alliance—spontaneously adapted for vitalcreation n the beginning but not necessarily harmoniously balanced as evolution.For the harmony of race, each individual should be the expression of an easy & ample interpenetration of th male &female temperaments—free of stressWoman must become more responsible for the child than man—-Woman must destroy in themselves, the desire to be loved—The feeling that it is a personal insult when a man transfers his attention from her to another womanThe desire for comfortable protection instead of an intelligent curiosity & courage in meeting & resisting thepressure of life sex or so called love must be reduced to its initial element, honour, grief, sentimentality, pride and &consequently jealousy must be detached from it.Woman for her happiness must retain her deceptive fragility of appearance, combined with indomitable will,irreducible courage, & abundant health the outcome of sound nerves—Another great illusion is that woman must use all her introspective and clear-sightedness & unbiased bravery todestroy—for the sake of her self respect is the impurity of sex the realization in defiance of superstition that there isnothing impure in sex—except in the mental attitude to it—will constitute an incalculable & wider socialregeneration than it is possible for our generation to imagine.Pounds "A Retrospect" - Including "AFew Donts" Ezra Pound - "A Retrospect"[A group of early essays and notes which appeared under this title in Pavannes and Divagations (1918). A FewDonts was first printed in Poetry, I, 6 (March 1913).There has been so much scribbling about a new fashion in poetry, that I may perhaps be pardoned this briefrecapitulation and retrospect.In the spring or early summer of 1912, H.D., Richard Aldington and myself decided that we were agreed upon thethree principles following:
  5. 5. 1. Direct treatment of the thing whether subjective or objective.2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.3.As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.Upon many points of taste and of predilection we differed, but agreeing upon these three positions we thought wehad as much right to a group name, at least as much right, as a number of French schools proclaimed by Mr Flint inthe August number of Harold Monros magazine for 1911.This school has since been joined or followed by numerous people who, whatever their merits, do not show anysigns of agreeing with the second specification. Indeed vers libre has become as prolix and as verbose as any of theflaccid varieties that preceded it. It has brought faults of its own. The actual language and phrasing is often as bad asthat of our elders without even the excuse that the words are shovelled in to fill a metric pattern or to complete thenoise of a rhyme-sound. Whether or no the phrases followed by the followers are musical must be left to the readersdecision. At times I can find a marked metre in vers libres, as stale and hackneyed as any pseudo-Swinburnian, attimes the writers seem to follow no musical structure whatever. But it is, on the whole, good that the field should beploughed. Perhaps a few good poems have come from the new method, and if so it is justified.Criticism is not a circumscription or a set of prohibitions. It provides fixed points of departure. It may startle a dullreader into alertness. That little of it which is good is mostly in stray phrases; or if it be an older artist helping ayounger it is in great measure but rules of thumb, cautions gained by experience.I set together a few phrases on practical working about the time the first remarks on imagisme were published. Thefirst use of the word Imagiste was in my note to T. E. Hulmes five poems, printed at the end of my Ripostes in theautumn of 1912. I reprint my cautions from Poetry for March, 1913. A FEW DONTSAn Image is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time. I use the termcomplex rather technical sense employed by the newer psychologists, such as Hart, though we may not agreeabsolutely in our application.It is the presentation of such a complex instantaneously which gives that sense of sudden liberation; that sense offreedom from time limits and space limits; that sense of sudden growth, which we experience in the presence of thegreatest works of art.It is better to present one Image in a lifetime than to produce voluminous works.All this, however, some may consider open to debate. The immediate necessity is to tabulate A LIST OF DONTSfor those beginning to write verses. I can not put all of them into Mosaic negative.To begin with, consider the three propositions (demanding direct treatment, economy of words, and the sequence ofthe musical phrase), not as dogma - never consider anything as dogma - but as the result of long contemplation,which, even if it is some one elses contemplation, may be worth consideration.Pay no attention to the criticism of men who have never themselves written a notable work. Consider thediscrepancies between the actual writing of the Greek poets and dramatists, and the theories of the Graeco-Romangrammarians, concocted to explain their metres. LANGUAGEUse no superfluous word, no adjective which does not reveal something.
  6. 6. Dont use such an expression as dim lands of peace. It dulls the image. It mixes an abstraction with the concrete. Itcomes from the writers not realizing that the natural object is always the adequate symbol.Go in fear of abstractions. Do not retell in mediocre verse what has already been done in good prose. Dont think anyintelligent person is going to be deceived when you try to shirk all the difficulties of the unspeakably difficult art ofgood prose by chopping your composition into line lengths.What the expert is tired of today the public will be tired of tomorrow.Dont imagine that the art of poetry is any simpler than the art of music, or that you can please the expert before youhave spent at least as much effort on the art of verse as an average piano teacher spends on the art of music.Be influenced by as many great artists as you can, but have the decency either to acknowledge the debt outright, orto try to conceal it.Dont allow influence to mean merely that you mop up the particular decorative vocabulary of some one or twopoets whom you happen to admire. A Turkish war correspondent was recently caught red-handed babbling in hisdespatches of dove-grey hills, or else it was pearl-pale, I can not remember.Use either no ornament or good ornament.From The New Republic, 30 (April 12, 1922): 5-6.View Image of Page 5The Novel DémeubléTHE novel, for a long while, has been over-furnished. The property-man has been so busy on its pages, theimportance of material objects and their vivid presentation have been so stressed, that we take it for granted whoevercan observe, and can write the English language, can write a novel. Often the latter qualification is consideredunnecessary.In any discussion of the novel, one must make it clear whether one is talking about the novel as a form ofamusement, or as a form of art; since they serve very different purposes and in very different ways. One does notwish the egg one eats for breakfast, or the morning paper, to be made of the stuff of immortality. The novelmanufactured to entertain great multitudes of people must be considered exactly like a cheap soap or a cheapperfume, or cheap furniture. Fine quality is a distinct disadvantage in articles made for great numbers of people whodo not want quality but quantity, who do not want a thing that "wears," but who want change,—a succession of newthings that are quickly threadbare and can be lightly thrown away. Does anyone pretend that if the Woolworth-storewindows were piled high with Tanagra figurines at ten cents, they could for a moment compete with Kewpie bridesin the popular esteem? Amusement is one thing; enjoyment of art is another.Every writer who is an artist knows that his "power of observation," and his "power of description," form but a lowpart of his equipment. He must have both, to be sure; View Image of Page 6 but he knows that the most trivial ofwriters often have a very good observation. Mérimée said in his remarkable essay on Gogol: "Lart de choisir parmiles innombrable traits que nous offre la nature est, après tout, bien plus difficile que celui de les observer avecattention et de les rendre avec exactitude."There is a popular superstition that "realism" asserts itself in the cataloguing of a great number of material objects,in explaining mechanical processes, the methods of operating manufacturies and trades, and in minutely andunsparingly describing physical sensations. But is not realism, more than it is anything else, an attitude of mind onthe part of the writer toward his material, a vague definition of the sympathy and candor with which he accepts,
  7. 7. rather than chooses, his theme? Is the story of a banker who is unfaithful to his wife and who ruins himself byspeculation in trying to gratify the caprices of his mistresses, at all reinforced by a masterly exposition of thebanking system, our whole system of credits, the methods of the Stock Exchange? Of course, if the story is thin,these things do reinforce it in a sense,—any amount of red meat thrown into the scale to make the beam dip. But arethe banking system and the Stock Exchange worth being written about at all? Have such things any place inimaginative art?The automatic reply to this question is the name of Balzac. Yes, certainly, Balzac tried out the value of literalness inthe novel, tried it out to the uttermost, as Wagner did the value of scenic literalness in the music drama. He tried it,too, with the passion of discovery, with the inflamed zest of an unexampled curiosity. If the heat of that furnacecould not give hardness and sharpness to material accessories, no other brain will ever do it. To reproduce on paperthe actual city of Paris; the houses, the upholstery, the food, the wines, the game of pleasure, the game of business,the game of finance: a stupendous ambition—but, after all, unworthy of an artist. In exactly so far as he succeeded inpouring out on his pages that mass of brick and mortar and furniture and proceedings in bankruptcy, in exactly so farhe defeated his end. The things by which he still lives, the types of greed and avarice and ambition and vanity andlost innocence of heart which he created—are as vital today as they were then. But their material surroundings, uponwhich he expended such labor and pains . . . . the eye glides over them. We have had too much of the interiordecorator and the "romance of business" since his day. The city he built on paper is already crumbling. Stevensonsaid he wanted to blue-pencil a great deal of Balzacs "presentation"—and he loved him beyond all modernnovelists. But where is the man who could cut one sentence from the stories of Mérimée? And who wants any moredetail as to how Carmencita and her fellow factory girls made cigars? Another sort of novel? Truly. Isnt it a bettersort?In this discussion another great name automatically occurs. Tolstoi was almost as great a lover of material things asBalzac, almost as much interested in the way dishes were cooked, and people were dressed, and houses werefurnished. But there is this determining difference; the clothes, the dishes, the moving, haunting interiors of thoseold Moscow houses, are always so much a part of the emotions of the people that they are perfectly synthesized;they seem to exist, not so much in the authors mind, as in the emotional penumbra of the characters themselves.When it is fused like this, literalness ceases to be literalness—it is merely part of the experience.If the novel is a form of imaginative art, it cannot be at the same time a vivid and brilliant form of journalism. Out ofthe teeming, gleaming stream of the present it must select the eternal material of art. There are hopeful signs thatsome of the younger writers are trying to break away from mere verisimilitude, and, following the development ofmodern painting, to interpret imaginatively the material and social investiture of their characters; to present theirscene by suggestion rather than by enumeration. The higher processes of art are all processes of simplification. Thenovelist must learn to write, and then he must unlearn it; just as the modern painter learns to draw, and then learnswhen utterly to disregard his accomplishment, when to subordinate it to a higher and truer effect. In this directiononly, it seems to me, can the novel develop into anything more varied and perfect than all of the many novels thathave gone before.One of the very earliest American novels might well serve as a suggestion to later writers. In The Scarlet Letter howtruly in the spirit of art is the mise-en-scène presented. That drudge, the theme-writing high school student, couldscarcely be sent there for information regarding the manners and dress and interiors of the Puritans. The materialinvestiture of the story is presented as if unconsciously; by the reserved, fastidious hand of an artist, not by thegaudy fingers of a showman or the mechanical industry of a department store window-dresser. As I remember it, inthe twilight melancholy of that book, in its consistent mood, one can scarcely ever see the actual surroundings of thepeople; one feels them, rather, in the dusk.Whatever is felt upon the page without being specifically named there—that, it seems to me, is created. It is theinexplicable presence of the thing not named, of the over-tone divined by the ear but not heard by it, the verbalmood, the emotional aura of the fact or the thing or the deed, that gives high quality to the novel or the drama, aswell as to poetry itself.
  8. 8. Literalness, when applied to the presenting of mental reactions and of physical sensations seems to be no moreeffective than when it is applied to material things. A novel crowded with physical sensations is no less a cataloguethan one crowded with furniture. A book like The Rainbow by Mr. Lawrence, sharply reminds one how vast adistance lies between emotion and mere sensory reactions. Characters can be almost de-humanized by a laboratorystudy of the behavior of their bodily organs under sensory stimuli—can be reduced, indeed, to mere animal pulp.Can one imagine anything more terrible than the story of Romeo and Juliet, rewritten in prose by Mr. Lawrence?How wonderful it would be if we could throw all the furniture out of the window; and along with it, all themeaningless reiterations concerning physical sensations, all the tiresome old patterns, and leave the room as bare asthe stage of a Greek theatre, or as that house into which the glory of Pentecost descended; leave the scene bare forthe play of emotions, great and little—for the nursery tale, no less than the tragedy, is killed by tasteless amplitude.The elder Dumas enunciated a great principle when he said that to make a drama, a man needed one passion, andfour walls. WILLA SIBERT CATHER.
  9. 9.  
  10. 10.  Hughess "The Negro Artist and the RacialMountain" (1926)One of the most promising of the young Negro poets said to me once, "I want to be a poet--not aNegro poet," meaning, I believe, "I want to write like a white poet"; meaning subconsciously, "Iwould like to be a white poet"; meaning behind that, "I would like to be white." And I was sorrythe young man said that, for no great poet has ever been afraid of being himself. And I doubtedthen that, with his desire to run away spiritually from his race, this boy would ever be a greatpoet. But this is the mountain standing in the way of any true Negro art in America--this urgewithin the race toward whiteness, the desire to pour racial individuality into the mold ofAmerican standardization, and to be as little Negro and as much American as possible.But let us look at the immediate background of this young poet. His family is of what I supposeone would call the Negro middle class: people who are by no means rich yet neveruncomfortable nor hungry--smug, contented, respectable folk, members of the Baptist church.The father goes to work every morning. He is a chief steward at a large white club. The mothersometimes does fancy sewing or supervises parties for the rich families of the town. The childrengo to a mixed school. In the home they read white papers and magazines. And the mother oftensays "Dont be like niggers" when the children are bad. A frequent phrase from the father is,"Look how well a white man does things." And so the word white comes to be unconsciously asymbol of all virtues. It holds for the children beauty, morality, and money. The whisper of "Iwant to be white" runs silently through their minds. This young poets home is, I believe, a fairlytypical home of the colored middle class. One sees immediately how difficult it would be for anartist born in such a home to interest himself in interpreting the beauty of his own people. He isnever taught to see that beauty. He is taught rather not to see it, or if he does, to be ashamed of itwhen it is not according to Caucasian patterns.For racial culture the home of a self-styled "high-class" Negro has nothing better to offer. Insteadthere will perhaps be more aping of things white than in a less cultured or less wealthy home.
  11. 11. The father is perhaps a doctor, lawyer, landowner, or politician. The mother may be a socialworker, or a teacher, or she may do nothing and have a maid. Father is often dark but he hasusually married the lightest woman he could find. The family attend a fashionable church wherefew really colored faces are to be found. And they themselves draw a color line. In the Norththey go to white theaters and white movies. And in the South they have at least two cars andhouse "like white folks." Nordic manners, Nordic faces, Nordic hair, Nordic art (if any), and anEpiscopal heaven. A very high mountain indeed for the would-be racial artist to climb in order todiscover himself and his people.But then there are the low-down folks, the so-called common element, and they are the majority---may the Lord be praised! The people who have their hip of gin on Saturday nights and are nottoo important to themselves or the community, or too well fed, or too learned to watch the lazyworld go round. They live on Seventh Street in Washington or State Street in Chicago and theydo not particularly care whether they are like white folks or anybody else. Their joy runs, bang!into ecstasy. Theirreligion soars to a shout. Work maybe a little today, rest a little tomorrow. Play awhile. Sing awhile. 0, lets dance!Thesecommon people are not afraid of spirituals, as for a long time their more intellectual brethren were, and jazz is theirchild. Theyfurnish a wealth of colorful, distinctive material for any artist because they still hold their own individuality in theface ofAmerican standardizations. And perhaps these common people will give to the world its truly greatNegro artist, the one who is not afraid to be himself. Whereas the better-class Negro would tellthe artist what to do, the people at least let him alone when he does appear. And they are notashamed of him--if they know he exists at all. And they accept what beauty is their own withoutquestion.Certainly there is, for the American Negro artist who can escape the restrictions the moreadvanced among his own group would put upon him, a great field of unused material ready forhis art. Without going outside his race, and even among the better classes with their "white"culture and conscious American manners, but still Negro enough to be different, there issufficient matter to furnish a black artist with a lifetime of creative work. And when he choosesto touch on the relations between Negroes and whites in this country, with their innumerableovertones and undertones surely, and especially for literature and the drama, there is aninexhaustible supply of themes at hand. To these the Negro artist can give his racialindividuality, his heritage of rhythm and warmth, and his incongruous humor that so often, as inthe Blues, becomes ironic laughter mixed with tears. But let us look again at the mountain.A prominent Negro clubwoman in Philadelphia paid eleven dollars to hear Raquel Meller sing Andalusian popularsongs.But she told me a few weeks before she would not think of going to hear "that woman," Clara Smith, a great blackartist, singNegro folksongs. And many an upper -class Negro church, even now, would not dream of employing a spiritual initsservices. The drab melodies in white folks hymnbooks are much to be preferred. "We want to worship the Lordcorrectlyand quietly. We dont believe in shouting. Lets be dull like the Nordics," they say, in effect.
  12. 12. The road for the serious black artist, then, who would produce a racial art is most certainly rockyand the mountain is high. Until recently he received almost no encouragement for his work fromeither white or colored people. The fine novels ofChesnutt go out of print with neither race noticing their passing. The quaint charm and humor of Dunbars dialectversebrought to him, in his day, largely the same kind of encouragement one would give a sideshow freak (A colored manwritingpoetry! How odd!) or a clown (How amusing!).The present vogue in things Negro, although it may do as much harm as good for the buddingartist, has at least done this: it has brought him forcibly to the attention of his own people amongwhom for so long, unless the other race had noticed him beforehand, he was a prophet with littlehonor.The Negro artist works against an undertow of sharp criticism and misunderstanding from hisown group and unintentional bribes from the whites. "Oh, be respectable, write about nicepeople, show how good we are," say the Negroes. "Be stereotyped, dont go too far, dont shatterour illusions about you, dont amuse us too seriously. We will pay you," say the whites. Bothwould have told Jean Toomer not to write Cane. The colored people did not praise it. The whitepeople did not buy it. Most of the colored people who did read Cane hate it. They are afraid of it.Although the critics gave it good reviews the public remained indifferent. Yet (excepting thework of Du Bois) Cane contains the finest prose written by a Negro in America. And like thesinging of Robeson, it is truly racial.But in spite of the Nordicized Negro intelligentsia and the desires of some white editors we havean honest American Negro literature already with us. Now I await the rise of the Negro theater.Our folk music, having achieved world-wide fame, offers itself to the genius of the greatindividual American composer who is to come. And within the next decade I expect to see thework of a growing school of colored artists who paint and model the beauty of dark faces andcreate with new technique the expressions of their own soul-world. And the Negro dancers whowill dance like flame and the singers who will continue to carry our songs to all who listen-theywill be with us in even greater numbers tomorrow.Most of my own poems are racial in theme and treatment, derived from the life I know. In manyof them I try to grasp and hold some of the meanings and rhythms of jazz. I am as sincere as Iknow how to be in these poems and yet after every reading I answer questions like these frommy own people: Do you think Negroes should always write about Negroes? I wish you wouldntread some of your poems to white folks. How do you find anything interesting in a place like acabaret? Why do you write about black people? You arent black. What makes you do so manyjazz poems?But jazz to me is one of the inherent expressions of Negro life in America; the eternal tom-tombeating in the Negro soul--the tom-tom of revolt against weariness in a white world, a world ofsubway trains, and work, work, work; the tom-tom of joy and laughter, and pain swallowed in asmile. Yet the Philadelphia clubwoman is ashamed to say that her race created it and she doesnot like me to write about it, The old subconscious "white is best" runs through her mind. Yearsof study under white teachers, a lifetime of white books, pictures, and papers, and white
  13. 13. manners, morals, and Puritan standards made her dislike the spirituals. And now she turns up hernose at jazz and all its manifestations--likewise almost everything else distinctly racial. Shedoesnt care for the Winold Reiss portraits of Negroes because they are "too Negro." She doesnot want a truepicture of herself from anybody. She wants the artist to flatter her, to make the white worldbelieve that all negroes are as smug and as near white in soul as she wants to be. But, to mymind, it is the duty of the younger Negro artist, if he accepts any duties at all from outsiders, tochange through the force of his art that old whispering "I want to be white," hidden in theaspirations of his people, to "Why should I want to be white? I am a Negro--and beautiful"?So I am ashamed for the black poet who says, "I want to be a poet, not a Negro poet," as thoughhis own racial world were not as interesting as any other world. I am ashamed, too, for thecolored artist who runs from the painting of Negro faces to the painting of sunsets after themanner of the academicians because he fears the strange unwhiteness of his own features. Anartist must be free to choose what he does, certainly, but he must also never be afraid to do whathe must choose.Let the blare of Negro jazz bands and the bellowing voice of Bessie Smith singing the Bluespenetrate the closed ears of the colored near intellectuals until they listen and perhapsunderstand. Let Paul Robeson singing "Water Boy," and Rudolph Fisherwriting about the streets of Harlem, and Jean Toomer holding the heart of Georgia in his hands,and Aaron Douglass drawingstrange black fantasies cause the smug Negro middle class to turn from their white, respectable,ordinary books and papers tocatch a glimmer of their own beauty. We younger Negro artists who create now intend to expressour individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we areglad. If they are not, it doesnt matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too. The tom-tomcries and the tom-tom laughs. If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, theirdispleasure doesnt matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how,and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves.THE NATION, 1926  

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