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Saturday, November 3 • 9:00am - 10:30am
5.E. African-American Presence in Surrealism: Ted Joans & Jayne Cortez

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PANEL. African-American Presence in Surrealism: Ted Joans & Jayne Cortez 

"Pan-African Surrealism, Its Influences and Expressions in the Works
of African-American Surrealists Jayne Cortez and Ted Joans."

Penelope Rosemont
Independent Artist
In 1941, André Breton encountered the journal Tropics while fleeing fascism. In the middle of the Carribean Sea, there was a brief stop on the island of Martinique (still under Vichy) and he left the ship and went into town to try to buy a ribbon for his daughter Aube. In an Objective Chance encounter, the shop displayed a copy of the new journal. Breton met Suzanne and Aimé Césaire and was stunned that such a thing could happen in such a time and place. While the war was tearing Europe to pieces this journal was an expression of surrealism unsurpassed. He considered Césaire’s poem “Return to my Native Land,” a truly great poem and Césaire the greatest poet in the French language. The influence of these Caribbean surrealists and their works was felt by the Chicago Surrealist group. My first encounter Ted Joans was on a street in Paris. Paris is a busy place but I said “You must be Ted Joans!” and he replied “Ah, you are one of the Americans going meetings at the cafe.” We stayed in touch and he visited us in Chicago, and wrote for Arsenal: Surrealist Subversion, the journal that we edited and published. Surrealism and poetry were what Ted lived for. It was through Ted that we met our friend and fellow-surrealist Jayne Cortez who lived in New York with sculptor Mel Reynolds. Jayne was totally unique as a surrealist poet with a jazz rhythm and an African-American apocalyptic sensibility. Her greatness is unsurpassed and her work is worthy of world recognition. She published many books of poetry and did sensational readings. Like many surrealists, and especially women surrealists, her work was too exceptional, too amazing to be acceptable.

"The Teducation of Our Thang"
Aldon L. Nielsen
Pennsylvania State University

In his zeal to present poet Will Alexander as sui generis, Eliot Weinberger, introducing a selection of the poet's work in the journal Sulfur, claimed not only that Alexander “lives entirely outside of the pobiz world of prizes, grants, readings, teaching positions,” but that he stands as the only American progeny of Aimé Césaire. The former claim may seem simply silly in retrospect, given Alexander's publications with a major New York press and his receipt of one of the larger poetry prizes, but the latter claim has the effect of wiping out at one blow the entire history of black engagements with surrealism from the time of Langston Hughes and Mercer Cook's early contacts with the emerging Presence Africaine group, through poets such as LeRoi Jones, Jayne Cortez, Bob Kaufman and Ted Joans, to contemporaries of Alexander's such as Julie Patton. Alexander himself routinely cites these poets along with early European surrealists and African writers as his major influences. The proposed paper will trace an internationalist, African-inflected surrealism in the works of Ted Joans. Centering on the books Our Thang, The Hipsters and Flying Piranha, the paper will read the interactions of Joans's poetry with his own art works and those of Joyce Mansour and Laura Corsiglia, and will take up Joans's many performances with jazz artists.

"Afrosurrealism as a Counterculture of Modernity"
Jonathan Eburne
Pennsylvania State University

The term “Afrosurrealist” is a neologism that has come to designate something other than a name for the participants in the surrealist movement who were Black, of African descent—though it hardly excludes them. Sometimes a genealogy, sometimes a tradition, sometimes an archive, Afrosurrealism is an anthologizing denomination that designates a surrealism that is Black, or rather, a surrealism for which race and racial politics form its constitutive priority. Unlike the surrealism of 1920s Paris or 1950s Mexico City or 1960s Prague or even 1970s Chicago, it does not designate a formally self-constituting group or movement, but instead a peripatetic set of intellectual practices for which Afrosurrealism provides the name. The operative specificity of Afrosurrealism lies in naming a priority that comprehends rather than follows European surrealism. It appeals, I argue, to the forms and fissures—one might even say “traditions”—of Black experimental art and thought throughout modernity, between and among poets and artists affiliated with (or ascribed to) the Black Arts Movement, the Harlem Renaissance, Négritude, Pan-Africanism, and Afrofuturism. “Afrosurrealism” names such continuities and discontinuities from a retro-analytic position in a way that both discloses the impression of colonial subjectivity within so-called “orthodox” surrealism and naming a proliferating series of genealogies compiled in its name. This presentation frames the work of Jayne Cortez and Ted Joans within the anthologizing and genealogical imperatives that feature their work and to which it likewise contributes.

avatar for Jonathan Eburne

Jonathan Eburne

Comparative Litearture, English, French and Francophone Studies, Pennsylvania State University

Aldon Nielsen

Pennsylvania State University

Penelope Rosemont

Independent Artist

avatar for Abigail Susik

Abigail Susik

Associate Professor of Art History, Willamette University
Abigail Susik received her doctorate with distinction in twentieth-century Art History and Theory from Columbia University in 2009, and is currently an Associate Professor of Art History at Willamette University in Oregon. She is the author of many articles on dada and Surrealism... Read More →

Saturday November 3, 2018 9:00am - 10:30am EDT
Room E. Bertrand Library: East Reading Room (second floor)