Refusal of the Shadow

Refusal of the Shadow:Surrealism and the Caribbean

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“Will transform how surrealism is understood.” —Professor Paul Gilroy

In 1932, at the peak of French colonialism, a group of Martiniquan students at the Sorbonne established a Caribbean Surrealist Group, and published a single issue of a journal called Légitime défense. Immediately banned by the authorities, it passed almost unnoticed at the time. Yet it began a remarkable series of debates between surrealism and Caribbean intellectuals that had a profound impact on the struggle for cultural identity. In the next two decades these exchanges greatly influenced the evolution of the concept of negritude, initiated revolution in Haiti in 1946, and crucially affected the development of surrealism itself.

This fascinating book presents a series of key texts—most of them never before translated into English—which reveal the complexity of this relationship between black anti-colonialist movements in the Caribbean and the most radical of the European avant-gardes. Included are René Ménil’s subtle philosophical essays and the fierce polemics of Aimé and Suzanne Césaire, appreciations of surrealism by Haitian writers, lyrical evocations of the Caribbean by André Breton and André Masson, and rich explorations of Haiti and voodoo religion by Pierre Mabille and Michel Leiris.


  • The Surrealists’ absolute refusal to accommodate themselves to the values of colonial Europe aroused the admiration of poets and intellectuals in the French-speaking Caribbean who were leading the resistance to political and cultural suppression. Their encounters are brought vividly to life in these texts by writers whose candid and often fierce debates ... are no less relevant today than they were then.

    Professor Dawn Ades, University of Essex
  • Refusal of the Shadow offers a powerful reminder that there is still much to learn about the complexities of colonialism and its political and cultural negation. There can be no doubt that this invaluable anthology will transform how surrealism is understood. Beyond that, it commands attention for placing Caribbean sensibilities back at the centre of European accounts of modernism’s unfolding.

    Professor Paul Gilroy, author of The Black Atlantic