The transatlantic mysteries of Paris: Chester Himes, surrealism, and the Série Noire

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Abstract

This essay examines Chester Himes's transformation, in 1957, from a writer of African American social protest fiction into a "French" writer of Harlem crime thrillers. Instead of representing the exhaustion of his political commitment, Himes's transformation from a "serious" writer of didactic fictioṅ into an exiled crime novelist represents a radical change in political and literary tactics. In dialogue with the editor and former surrealist Marcel Duhamel, Himes's crime fiction, beginning with La reine des pommes (now A Rage in Harlem), invents a darkly comic fictional universe that shares an affinity with the surrealist notion of black humor in its vehement denial of epistemological and ethical certainty. Rejecting the efforts of Richard Wright and the existentialists to adopt an engaged form of political writing, Himes's crime fiction instead forges a kind of vernacular surrealism, one independent of the surrealist movement but nevertheless sharing surrealism's insistence on the volatility of written and political expression. (JPE)

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)806-821+976
JournalPMLA
Volume120
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory

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