The interwar period witnessed an unprecedented emergence of anticolonial movements in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Their vanguard intellectuals were preoccupied with the education of future postcolonial citizens, hoping to teach independent thought and enable participation in a nonimperial world. In order to undo the cultural destruction of colonialism, they sought to reimagine indigenous collective forms at the same time as drawing upon structures and technologies of modern public education.
In Indigenous Vanguards, Ben Conisbee Baer provides a theoretical and historical account of the relationships between modern literature, representations of indigeneity by cultural vanguards, and practices of teaching and learning in colonial zones from the 1920s to the 1940s. He shows how modernizing educative projects existed in complex tension with impulses to indigenize liberation movements, and how this tension manifests as a central aspect of modernist aesthetics. Offering new readings of figures such as Alain Locke, Léopold Senghor, Aimé Césaire, D. H. Lawrence, Rabindranath Tagore, and Mahatma Gandhi, Baer draws unexpected connections among colonial intellectuals and artists that underscore the importance of class and educational continuities. The first study of modernism and colonialism that encompasses the central place of teaching and learning both in modernist aesthetics and on the part of writer-activists, Indigenous Vanguards forges new links between literary modernism and postcolonialism in a transnational, multilingual frame.
Ben Conisbee Baer is associate professor of comparative literature at Princeton University. He translated and introduced Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay’s landmark modern Bengali novel, The Tale of Hansuli Turn (Columbia, 2011).