A Different Worldview: Negritude, Monde, and Cosmopolitanism

Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Miller, Christopher


French universalism is in crisis. A long-cherished political concept, universalism demands that French citizens relinquish pre-existing identities: to be French is to enter a collective that subsumes all ethnic, racial, and religious differences. Prominent events, such as the 2005 Paris ethnic riots and 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting, have destabilized the concept in the last two decades. To better understand universalism’s troubles, my dissertation historicizes the concept by looking at how it has been debated and negotiated by intellectuals associated with Negritude, the anticolonial movement that sought to establish a unified black identity amongst peoples of African descent. I demonstrate how Francophone African and Caribbean writers like Aimé Césaire, Léopold Senghor, and Frantz Fanon have long proposed alternative epistemologies to the universal through the sign and concept of monde [world]. A Different Worldview traces an intellectual genealogy of monde in Negritude writing, from the movement’s origins in the interwar period to its wane in the late twentieth century. Contrary to critics who have characterized Negritude as a black essentialism, I show that the movement was actually cosmopolitan in nature. Drawing from philosophy, critical theory, and translation studies, I consider how monde has operated as signifier in Negritude discourse for configuring cosmopolitanism and identity in tandem. Whereas univers, the very word that universalism hinges on, implies oneness and homogeneity, the French monde, enrooted in the Greek kosmos, connotes plurality and fragmentation. Instead of embracing the Republican ideal of unmarked identity, Negritude intellectuals historically employed monde to emphasize particularities of all types, aligning themselves, I contend, with cosmopolitanism. By underscoring the tradition of monde amongst these intellectuals, I establish new dialogues in the history of Francophone thought and demonstrate how thinking from outside the French nation has continually inflected debates on universalism. My first chapter reflects on the significance of monde in French religious, cultural, and literary history. I show how monde has been historically mobilized for contesting the universal, from Renaissance humanists to twentieth-century philosophers, before reaching a critical apex in the work of Negritude intellectuals. Their use of monde in thinking cosmopolitanism, I argue, would set the agenda for iterations of monde in late twentieth century and early twenty-first century postcolonial thought such as Édouard Glissant and Patrick Chamoiseau’s tout-monde [all-world], the 2007 littérature-monde [literature-world] manifesto, and Achille Mbembe and Felwine Sarr’s Afrique-monde [Africa-world]. Chapter two studies the trope of becoming-world in the poetry and essays that Aimé Césaire produced during the Second World War. I use the term “becoming-world” to designate the belief in Negritude discourse that the black individual maintains a relation with the world, and hence, can become one with it. By analyzing Césaire’s contributions to the wartime journal Tropiques [Tropics] (1939-1945) and a rewriting of his Cahier d’un retour au pays natal [Notebook of a Return to the Native Land] (1947), I show that this alliance serves as an allegory for how Negritude conciliates blackness and non-blackness. Chapter three follows monde in Léopold Senghor’s critical essays on black identity (1939-1970) as a marker for understanding Negritude’s complicated relationship with Marxism. Appropriating Catholic metaphysics, Senghor conceptualized the bond between the black individual and the world as a form of black spirituality that opposed the white materiality of Marxism. Becoming-world slowly evolves, I argue, into a source of humanism in Senghorian thought that bridges blackness and whiteness, spirituality and materiality. The fourth and final chapter interrogates intertextual echoes between Frantz Fanon’s Peau noire, masques blancs [Black Skin, White Masks] (1952) and writings by Césaire and Senghor explored in the previous two chapters. Critical of Negritude, Fanon questions almost every reference to monde that Césaire and Senghor make in their texts. Fanon’s approach to monde in his autoethnographic account of black existence, I argue, asks us to reinvent the notion of cosmopolitanism in order to emphasize the human in flux.

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