Légitime défense: From Communism and Surrealism to Caribbean Self-Definition

Lori Cole


Eight Martinican students living in Paris announce their struggle for literary and political agency in the 1932 declaration Légitime defense. Explicitly indebted to Communism and Surrealism, the declaration appropriates these movements’ rhetoric and redirects it to their own condition. Although Communism and Surrealism’s revolutionary zeal and opposition to the 1931 Colonial Exposition in Paris position them as apt models for the students, their platforms both work to reinscribe the non-Western within a primitivist binary. Through their use of the manifesto, the Martinican students enter into an aesthetic and political debate from a position of authority, both poaching their predecessors’ authority and initiating their own historical trajectory. By defining the Martinican subject within the legacy of Marx and Breton, the eight signatories situate themselves at the intersection of political and artistic revolutionary politics that both reinscribe and resist European distinctions between center and periphery, civilized and primitive, self and other.

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