Joseph Zobel: Négritude's Novelist? The Transnational Politics of a French Caribbean Author working between the Caribbean, Africa and Europe

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Languages Cultures Art History & Music

Abstract

Dr Louise Hardwick proposes a re-reading of the legacy of the major French Caribbean author, Joseph Zobel (1915-2006). To date, Zobel is best-known for writing one of the most important Caribbean childhood memoirs on schooling and colonialism, La Rue Cases-Nègres / Black Shack Alley (1950), but the author also published several other novels and collections of short stories and poetry. These lesser-known works reveal his deep concern with discussing the complex social, political and economic situation of the French Caribbean population, whose identity is shaped by their ties to France, Europe, Africa and the Caribbean. After growing up in the Caribbean, Zobel moved to France, and then spent almost twenty years in Africa; Dr Hardwick will demonstrate how these transnational experiences influenced his literature.

At a time when other Caribbean authors were writing to persuade and convince a European readership of the dignity and beauty of their culture in the wake of centuries of colonialism and slavery, Zobel stands out for his remarkable determination to write literature destined for the people, rather than targeting elite readers. For this reason, Dr Hardwick will explore how his literature attempts to democratize knowledge and reach a wider audience. For example, Zobel's first novel, Diabl'-là, was written in 1942, but was banned from publication during World War Two in Vichy-controlled Martinique because it encouraged poor Martinicans to desert the sugar cane plantations and work to achieve their own autonomy. Seen as a threat for its potential to politically awaken Martinicans, the novel was only published in 1946 and remains an under-appreciated classic of Caribbean literature.

The project will also consider the influence of Negritude, the prominent Francophone black consciousness movement, on Zobel's literature, arguing that Zobel's focus on economic realities develops our understanding of Negritude in an important new direction. The movement is usually concted with poetic and stylistic literary developments, which authors used to produce startling images through experiments with language and form. However, by re-reading Zobel, Dr Hardwick will argue that in addition to what we already understand about Negritude's formal experimentation, it is essential to reappraise the importance of the representation of material conditions, environmental criticism and class consciousness in literature from the Negritude period.

Her Fellowship will draw on close literary analysis and archival research in the Caribbean, working with a team of librarians and curators in Martinique at the Schoelcher Library and the Zobel archives. It will use this material to draw attention to previously unexplored aspects of Zobel's cultural production, in particular determining the importance of economics, politics, literary style, gender and ecocriticism in Zobel's work. Dr Hardwick will give a series of public talks about her findings in Birmingham, London and the Caribbean, working with the Midlands Art Centre, the British Library, and the Bibliothèque Schoelcher and Ecomuseum in Martinique.

More broadly, the project will analyse how Zobel's literature can be better understood and placed in a global framework through reference to works written in English by authors Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, Claude MacKay, George Lamming and Sam Selvon. It offers a concrete example of how the arts and humanities play an essential role in discussing and understanding important cultural issues surrounding identity, race and society, and continues the work being undertaken as part of the AHRC's 'Translating Cultures' theme.

Planned Impact

The Fellowship is conceived so as to reach beneficiaries within the Public Sector, specifically in the UK and in France, but also internationally via online dissemination and media coverage. I will work in collaboration with a team of named beneficiaries working in the Public Sector including Dr Philip Hatfield at the British Library (BL) in London, Craig Ashley at the Midlands Art Centre (MAC) in Birmingham and the Director of Museums in Martinique, Mme Lyne-Rose Beuze (and Sylvie Sainte-Agathe, who is responsible for the Zobel archives). Their working practices will be directly impacted by my research; my insights into Zobel's work, career and international significance have the potential to alter the way these beneficiaries present information about the Caribbean to the general public, building bridges between academic research and the public sector. In Martinique, my research into Zobel's international significance (for example, his affinities with the Harlem Renaissance) will impact the way in which his archival material is used in museum displays. I have been invited by Lynne-Rose Beuze to speak at events in Martinique in April 2015 to mark the centenary of Zobel's birth. Moreover, beyond the immediate life of the project, my training with Dr Richard Clay on the Heritage & Cultural Learning Hub (which offers tailored support in the field of digital technology and innovation) will mean that in future, I will be able use compatible technology at the Library of Birmingham to widen my public engagement work and audience reach, supported by UoB, which is committed to promoting public engagement of funded research. I will explore the potential of extending audience reach by converting aspects of my research into digital content in 2017, for use on the touchscreens at the Library of Birmingham. This is timed to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Martinique becoming a French overseas department, to capture public attention. Additionally, Martinican journalist and local TV presenter Rodolf Etienne (who has already published an interview with me in the French Caribbean press) has committed his support to my Zobel project in the form of newspaper articles about my research.

The research has the long-term potential to contribute to the nation's social and cultural well-being, by increasing awareness of the themes explored in the Fellowship. Major milestones will be in 2015, the centenary of Zobel's birth, when I carry out a series of impact events (when appropriate, I will use questionnaires to gather feedback and measure progress against the 'Pathways to Impact' document). The research will be of particular interest to African-Caribbean and African populations in the UK. The BL and MAC have fostered close links with these communities, particularly in London and the Midlands (for example, the BL has dedicated webpages on Caribbean and African holdings and in 2011, the MAC held an exhibition of photography by Jamaican-born Vanley Burke). My 2015 Lecture and Film Introduction will strengthen these ties, bringing Zobel's significance to public attention. In addition, in Martinique, little is known by the public about how Zobel is understood abroad by foreign readers, and my research and public activities will demonstrate his international cultural appeal. The public will be invited to attend my engagement activities and to consult the website. This has the potential to increase public understanding of the issues at stake. The project aims to increase public appreciation of research carried out in the arts, particularly concerning the role played by the arts in translating other cultures. It will also highlight the importance of learning modern foreign languages in a globalized world. The project will generate a modest commercial impact through sales of film tickets at the MAC, and has longer-term potential to promote tourism to the Caribbean and to lead to future translations of Zobel's untranslated works into English.

Publications

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Hardwick L (2016) Towards Biopolitical Ecocriticism: The Example of the in French Studies

 
Title Exhibition in Martinique 
Description Exhibition on Joseph Zobel over two floors of the Mediatheque public library in Riviere-Salee Martinique (produced in collaboration with the library) 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2015 
Impact The exibition was part of initiatives to combat illiteracy in Riviere-Salee (French Caribbean). It increased interest in Zobel and led to increased borrowing figures for his books, as well as leading to several enquiries at the library about his work. 
 
Description Understanding of the life and literary works of a major Caribbean author writing in French
Exploitation Route Community groups, particularly those with an interest in cultures of the Caribbean and in Modern Languages; Schools with an interest in stimulating excitement in MFL teaching; groups working on environmental concerns, particularly food security and issues which intersect with ecocriticism; charities and businesses interested in cinema, literature, culture
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Security and Diplomacy

URL http://www.josephzobel.wordpress.com
 
Description My research has been reported on in the UK and French Caribbean press.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description Teaching Francophone Caribbean literature through Zobel
Geographic Reach North America 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact Changes in public attitudes on social issues (literature, race, and identity)
 
Description AHRC BGP2 Midlands 3 Cities
Amount £70,000 (GBP)
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2014 
End 09/2017
 
Description AHRC Cultural Engagement Fellowship (Dr Claire Peters)
Amount £40,000 (GBP)
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2016 
End 08/2016
 
Description EU Climate-KIC Pioneers into Practice Scheme
Amount € 2,000 (EUR)
Organisation Climate-KIC 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2016 
End 11/2016
 
Description ILAS
Amount £1,000 (GBP)
Organisation Institute for Latin American Studies 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2017 
End 03/2017
 
Description PhD funding
Amount £100,000 (GBP)
Organisation Government of Algeria 
Sector Public
Country Algeria
Start 10/2016 
End 10/2020
 
Description Charity Placement (SWA) 
Organisation Small Woods Association
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Placement funded through EU Climate-KIC Pioneers into Practice. Discussed practical applications of my research into Ecocriticism, including heritage aspects. Discussed interdisciplinary links between ecocriticism and social forestry. Provided training materials for SWA team to begin to explore these links.
Collaborator Contribution Provided working space and time for meetings with key team members
Impact Multi-disciplinary: social forestry; woodland management; french studies; literature; ecocriticism - training materials for SWA team on ecocriticism
Start Year 2016
 
Description Emory Vis Fell 
Organisation Emory University
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Generating new insights
Collaborator Contribution Sharing of research methodologies relating to cultural research on environmental themes
Impact Forthcoming research (as yet unpublished)
Start Year 2013
 
Description Film screening at MAC 
Organisation Midland Arts Centre (mac)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Film screening of Zobel film adaptation Sugar Cane Alley, with introduction and Q&A afterwards
Collaborator Contribution provided venue, screening slot and in-kind support (marketing and publicity)
Impact Film screening - Increase in diversity of audience at MAC - increased diversity of films available at MAC (foreign language film)
Start Year 2016
 
Description Film screening in Newtown at The Drum 
Organisation The Drum
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Introduced film screening of "Frantz Fanon" by Isaac Julien with audience reflections afterwards.
Collaborator Contribution Provided venue and in-kind support (advertisements including online)
Impact Film screening Increase in young visitors to The Drum
Start Year 2016
 
Description 3 Film Screenings across Birmingham 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact 3 film screeningswith Introductions and discussion sessions after the screening. They took place at Mockingbird (Digbeth), MAC (Edgbaston) and The Drum (New Town). Approximately 100 members of the general public attended and the films sparked lively discussion into identity, race, diversity, gender, modern languages, and culture. Feedback from each event recorded a keen level of interest in similar future events
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Francophone Postcolonial Film Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact 7 members of public attended free workshop at Mockingbird Cinema in Digbeth on Francophone Postcolonial film. This sparked questions and lively discussion, and excellent feedback was gathered on questionnaires. The school represented (Holte School, Lozells) reported increased interest in modern langagues and the topics presented, and teachers requested similar future events
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Media interviews (Martinique) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact TV, Radio and newspaper interviews were given in Martinique (French Caribbean) on my research in the context of the Joseph Zobel centenary. This led to invitations to make additional schools visits and to give public talks, and led some members of the public to contact me via my blog, reporting that my research had changed the way they thought about Zobel.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.josephzobel.wordpress.com
 
Description Mediatheque exhibition (Martinique) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Over 500 people attended an exhibition at the Mediatheque public library in Riviere Salee, Martinique, marking the Centenary of Joseph Zobel. I co-produced the exhibition in collaboration with a librarian.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Public Lecture (Martinique) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk at the Centre Culturel in Rivere-Salee. Approx. 100 people attended, and the talk sparked questions and discussion afterwards. The local community reported increased interest in Joseph Zobel as a result.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description School Visit (Martinique) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Invited talk to 100 school pupils at their school, the Lycee Joseph Zobel, in Riviere-Salee, Martinique, as part of the Joseph Zobel Centenary celebrations
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description WDYTYA? Liz Bonnin 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I provided advice to the team making an episode of BBC1 programme WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? on a celebrity with ancestry in Martinique. There was increased traffic to my Twitter and blog as a direct result of my participation and my social media blogs/tweets about my contribution.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016