A pair of unusual twentieth-century literary collaborations claims
my attention here, linked by a ghostly figure who lived and wrote
some 400 years before either of his collaborators. In each of these
cases, the collaborative endeavor has at its center a question of
identity, and in these pages I will be tracing such questions along
what Susan Stanford Friedman has described as the "geopolitical
axis" of identity, a spatial dimension of difference that "inflects
or mediates any given cultural identity or praxis" (109). The
first collaboration I take up here is that between W. B. Yeats and
Leo Africanus in Yeats's prose manuscript titled simply "Leo
Africanus," the beginnings of which date from around 1915.
The heavily revised manuscript takes the form of an exchange of
letters between the twentieth-century poet and the early sixteenth-century
figure of Leo Africanus, in which the latter asks Yeats to write
to him "as if to Africa" and responds to the poet's concerns
about writing, spirituality, and identity. The second collaboration
takes place between Leo Africanus and Amin Maalouf, who in 1986
published a fictional autobiography of Leo in French (translated
into English in 1988). Maalouf gives voice to Leo Africanus in the
form of an autodiegetic narrative, though Leo Africanus himself
composed a first-person narrative of his travels in A Geographical
Historie of Africa (trans. John Pory in 1600).
In neither of these collaborative projects does Leo Africanus actually
put pen to paper, rendering his agency in these writing projects
ghostly. In Yeats's "Leo Africanus," the authority and
legitimacy of Leo as Yeats's interlocutor are precisely at stake
in the discussion, despite the fact that it is Leo's voice (channeled
through a psychic medium) that commands Yeats to write in the first
place. At the end of the manuscript, Yeats concludes, "I am
not convinced that in this letter there is one sentence that has
come from beyond my own imagination" (38); insofar as Leo has
helped him, he determines, it is merely to "arrange" his
thoughts. In his final words, Yeats decides that while Leo "cannot
write & speak [he] can always listen" to the poet (39).
That Yeats denies the legitimacy of the lengthy letters attributed
to Leo in the manuscript works to achieve two effects: it shores
up Yeats's position as author, and relegates Leo to the realm of
images appropriable by the poet. It is no accident that critics
have been interested in the manuscript almost exclusively to the
extent that it offers insight into the genesis of Yeats's theory
of the mask as antiself developed in "Ego Dominus Tuus,"
in Per Amica Silentia Lunae, and ultimately in A Vision.
After all, the rhetorical parting shot of the dialogue leaves the
author alone to claim his own primacy as composer of the conversation
and as theorist of matters of spiritual and imaginative significance.
Yeats's position might indeed seem simply a matter of common sense
- who else could have written these words, after all? It is worth
remembering, however, that the voice of Leo initiates the conversation,
and the manuscript begins by treating the figure of Leo as though
he has a real, instrumental agency in the exchange: "If you
Africanus, can materialize, or half materialize a body & at
some point of space . . . move & speak, & carry solid objects,
we have the same evidence, for a separate mind, that I have for
my own mind" (25). The text ends, however, by celebrating Yeats's
imagination, the imagistic plenitude of which Leo himself appears
to become a part: with some regret, Leo points out at the close
of his last letter that "your mind has grown curiously, so
full [of] shining images of all kinds, that you have become almost
incapable of hearing & seeing us" (37). When Yeats determines
that finally Leo's "mission was to create solitude" (39)
for the poet, Leo can be understood to suffer from the sort of attenuation
marked in Yeats's poem "Byzantium," in which "an
image, man or shade" becomes "Shade more than man, more
image than a shade," while Yeats becomes the solitary author
both of "Leo Africanus" as text and of Leo Africanus as
By contrast, Amin Maalouf, whose recent work represents a plea for
cosmopolitanism and the acceptance of the multiple allegiances of
contemporary identities, renders this attenuated image of Leo more
robust by recuperating his voice in the novel Leo Africanus.
The collaboration between Maalouf and Leo finds the novelist returning
to A Geographical Historie of Africa and to its attendant
historical contexts in order to cultivate a sense of Leo's most
intimate speech and thought. In this sense, Leo serves as a kind
of ghost-writer of the narrative that bears his name, and Maalouf's
turn to Leo's writing and history in fact challenges Yeats's occlusion
of Leo's contribution to the earlier join production. Maalouf's
novel has Yeats's work distinctly in mind, taking as its epigraph
a line from the "Leo Africanus" manuscript, and the collaboration
between Maalouf and Leo Africanus, in which the former builds upon
the writing and life narrative of the latter, accomplishes several
things in relation to that earlier dialogue. In the first place
it counters the notion that Leo "cannot write & speak,"
allowing Leo to tell his story comprehensively, and ranging across
the closing years of the fifteenth century and his ancestral home
in Granada to the 1520s and North Africa. In the second place, Maalouf
reclaims Leo from the shadowland of Yeats's world repository of
images, the Spiritus Mundi. From this inward and arcane sink of
images, Maalouf calls up Leo Africanus and makes his image one that
crosses political and cultural borders. The line from Yeats's manuscript
on which Maalouf settles for his epigraph is a significant one in
this respect: "Yet do not doubt that I was also Leo Africanus
the traveller." If Leo appears as a figure out of Spiritus
Mundi in Yeats's manuscript, his is an image accessible to the world;
but Maalouf turns Leo into an image of global movement - of border
crossing, cosmopolitanism, and itinerant translocality. The difference
between these two pieces of collaborative writing, in other words,
might be described as a struggle over Leo as a global image: where
Yeats fixes Leo within an aesthetic system, Maalouf holds him up
as a model for global traveling cultures that crosscut cultural
and imperial boundaries.
The traveler's identity of the ghostly Leo Africanus opens up questions
of global territoriality not only in Maalouf's novel, but in Yeats's
poetry. For where Yeats tends to turn inward, toward transhistorical
repositories of world images, Leo moves outward as he traverses
geopolitical boundaries and diverse sociocultural landscapes. In
light of Maalouf's reinvestment of the figure of Leo with a historical
and geopolitical voice, it becomes possible to see in Yeats's manuscript
the images of Leo Africanus and his Africa haunting the spaces between
Yeats's rootedness - the territoriality of his poetry - and his
route-work, the countervailing imagistic tendency that, for instance,
finds central figures in his poetry slouching toward Bethlehem,
sailing to Byzantium, or flying over Europe ("The Second Coming";
"Sailing to Byzantium"; "An Irish Airman Foresees
His Death"). Yeats's "Leo Africanus" manuscript treats
the historical Leo - variously slave trader and slave, explorer
and colonial cartographer, colonized and hybridized subject, world-traveler
and provincial African - as an emanation of Spiritus Mundi, or world-spirit,
but simultaneously enframes Leo within a Western territorial tropography.
I suggest that the persistence of the alien image of Leo - his very
haunting of Yeats - heralds a deterritorialized global as a cultural
emergent arising within the interstices - and in excess - of the
older empires through Leo's nomadic "route work," a kind
of work about which Yeats remains ambivalent, but which Maalouf
has embraced in his most recent writing (see On Identity).
* * *
Yeats's encounter with Leo and Africa begins in the realm of Yeats's
private investigations - that is, in the arcane world of spiritualism
to which, Edward Said claims, Yeats has recourse to escape or resolve
the tensions between his Irish nationalism and his allegiance to
English cultural heritage (80). Yeats met with Africa in the figure
of Leo Africanus, the sixteenth-century North African poet, commercial
traveler, and explorer, who communicated with Yeats for about a
decade through mediums and then through automatic writing. In notes
to a séance held on May 3, 1909, Yeats records the voice
of Leo Africanus saying to him, "I am trying to control - I
have been to you before (Africa name)" (qtd. Adams and Harper
3), and subsequently Yeats recalled that "fifteen or twenty
years earlier" a "shade" "had whispered very
faintly at my ear words which I had thought to be 'Leonora Arguite'
but the medium declared them to be 'Leonora your guide'" ("Leo
Africanus" 24). When Leo - now clearly a masculine figure -
turned up again at a sitting on May 9, 1912, Yeats was convinced
that Leo Africanus was his spiritual guide, and he speculated that
"It is possible that Leo may turn out to be a symbolic being.
Leo, the constellation, the house of the sun" ("Report
of Séance" 20). On July 22, 1915, through the automatic
writing of one Miss Scatcherd, Leo Africanus enjoined Yeats to write
the series of letters that comprise the manuscript that Yeats calls
simply "Leo Africanus." Yeats records the encounter with
Leo and the latter's request in his notes as follows:
[Leo] was drawn to me because in life he had been all undoubting
impulse, all that his
name and Africa might suggest symbolically for his biography was
both symbolical and
actual. I was doubting, conscientious and timid. His contrary and
by association with me
would be made not one but two perfected natures. He asked me to
write him a letter
addressed to him as if to Africa giving all my doubts about spiritual
things and then to
write a reply as from him to me. He would control me in that reply
so that it would be
really from him. (qtd. Adams and Harper 13)
The "timid" and "doubting" poet is asked to
write "as if to Africa," where Africa is both the symbolic
avatar and literal embodiment of "undoubting impulse."
Yeats took up Leo's charge with relish and composed the dialogue
sometime in 1915, after which time Leo continued to appear to Yeats
sporadically until late 1917, when George Yeats began her automatic
writing just after the Yeatses' marriage. Leo also turned up in
George Yeats's writing, although as a hostile "frustrator"
rather than a sympathetic "guide," until March 20, 1919,
when he disappeared for good following the birth of Anne Yeats.
Fascinated by the prospect of having a spiritual double, Yeats began
research into the history of his guide, and discovered that Leo
Africanus (also known as Johannes Leo) lived between 1494 and 1552
and was most famous as the author of the voluminous Geographical
Historie of Africa. Leo was born in Granada into a noble Moorish
family that soon found itself exiled to North Africa. Leo traveled
widely in Africa as an explorer and commercial trader before being
captured by pirates and given as a slave to Pope Leo X. The Pope
discovered his merit as a scholar and therefore awarded him a pension,
simultaneously converting him to Christianity and giving the African
his own names, Johannes and Leo. The new convert Leo Africanus wrote
poems and A Geographical Historie of Africa while at the
papal court, but before his death he returned to Africa, renounced
Christianity, and assumed his Arabic name once again.
For the late Victorians, Leo Africanus's work in his Geographical
Historie of Africa seemed to lend support to Britain's imperial
project, mapping out the landscape and cultural practices of the
continent, and the rise in demand for the Renaissance text was great
enough for the Hakluyt Society in 1896 to issue a reprint of the
English translation made in 1600 of A Geographical Historie of
Africa. Even before this reprint, though, Leo Africanus was
sufficiently well-known to the Victorians to figure in the press
as a popular image. In the Christmas 1890 number of Punch, in a
fold-out section titled "Punch Among the Planets," a cartoon
of Leo Africanus occupies the position of the constellation Leo.
In this anti-imperialist cartoon by Harry Furniss, a dark-skinned,
leonine Leo Africanus appears in imperial military dress, carrying
in one hand a folded tent labeled "Barnum," and in the
other a sack labeled "Profit." Under one arm a large tome
is wedged - a Bible or perhaps a copy of A Geographical Historie
of Africa. A tag is affixed to Leo's tail, reading "LATEST
ADDITION TO THE MODISH MENAGERIE," and Leo's knees seem to
buckle under the weight of his burdens. The imperial uniform suggests
Leo's complicity with the imperial project, but the tag that marks
his status as the "latest addition to the modish menagerie"
also points to his and Africa's domination by the entrepreneurial
imperialism that he unwittingly served by mapping Africa's cultural
geography. If Leo Africanus in Furniss's cartoon is supposed to
be the paradigmatic protoimperialist, paving the way for Barnum's
menagerie and for colonial profit alike, these spoils of imperialism
also represent Leo's and Africa's burden. Leo the African becomes
the "latest addition to the modish menagerie" in the same
way he became a novel kind of slave at Leo X's court. Well before
Yeats's odd acquaintance with Leo Africanus, the figure of the fifteenth-century
wanderer was rendered as an image of ambivalence toward a form of
It is unlikely that Yeats knew or remembered this Punch cartoon,
however, for he saw no irony in repeatedly associating Leo Africanus
with "Leo, the constellation, the house of the sun," and
the manuscript illustrates "a method of creating a mental image"
by the example of a paper game, in which "at the head let us
say might correspond to the sun & so have a lions head to represent
it, while this might be a mans body & so on," thereby unwittingly
recapitulating Punch's satiric cartoon (37). What is more, at first
Yeats found that "plainly Leo Africanus a geographer &
traveller is for me no likely guide" (23). After discovering
that his spiritual counterpart was a poet, however, Yeats seems
to have accepted the naturalness of having Leo for his guide. Yeats
owned a copy of the original Elizabethan translation of A Geographical
Historie of Africa (the manuscript makes clear that he read
it as well), through which he became aware of the kinds of ambivalence
in Leo's relationship to Africa that are expressed in Furniss's
cartoon. At the end of the first book of Leo's Geographical Historie,
for example, Leo compares himself to a "wily bird" called
Amphibia that "could live as well with the fishes of
the sea, as with the fowles of the aire." He concludes that
"Out of this fable I will inferre no other morall, but that
all men doe most affect that place, where they finde least damage
and inconvenience. For mine own part, when I heare the Africans
evill spoken of, I wil affirme my selfe to be one of Granada: and
when I perceive the nation of Granada to be discommended, then will
I professe my selfe to be an African." In this kind of ambivalence
Yeats certainly found additional evidence that Leo was an unusually
apposite figure to serve as his spiritual "double" - early
in his career, for instance, James Joyce denounced the "treacherous
instinct of adaptability" Yeats evinced in his role as aesthete
("Day of the Rabblement" 71).
No less "amphibious" than Leo Africanus, Yeats nevertheless
frequently identified with positions through which he found much
"damage and inconvenience": Yeats's antagonism towards
the English and towards Ireland's subjection to Britain was always
complicated by his pride in his Anglo-Irishness. Yeats's ambivalence
resulted in what he called his "Anglo-Irish solitude, a solitude
I have made for myself, an outlawed solitude," and leads Seamus
Deane to detect in Yeats's work traces of a "colonialist mentality"
at the same time that Declan Kiberd and Edward Said hold up Yeats
as a model of the decolonizing intellectual. The amenability of
Yeats's thought and writing to divergent contexts of colonial complicity
and decolonizing potential suggests the sort of colonial entrapment
that Harry Furniss's cartoon of Leo Africanus dramatizes, and that
serves as the mark of the "amphibian": the ambivalently
native writer whose work serves as an implicit apology (or invitation)
for colonialism finds himself caught up in the machinery of imperialism.
Yeats's "amphibiousness," resenting the English in Ireland
yet celebrating the products of that occupation as a distinctly
Anglo-Irish tradition, is perhaps best expressed in his poetry by
the detachment of "An Irish Airman Foresees his Death"
(1919): "Those that I fight I do not hate, / Those that I guard
I do not love; / My country is Kiltartan Cross" (3-5). Yeats's
ambivalence about racial and political identities finds resolution
here primarily through an expression of identification with a real
Irish landscape, just as Leo's ambivalence about his Africanness
appears to be resolved by Africa, the object of his geographical
study itself, with which he is subsequently identified. Edward Said
argues that decolonizing artists reinvent cartographies of homeland
and are "quite literally grounded," and Yeats's insistence
upon identification with a concrete landscape is a point to which
I will return momentarily (79).
Though Yeats and his spiritual guide Leo Africanus shared a number
of qualities and circumstances, the two soon diverge within the
manuscript called "Leo Africanus." The injunction Yeats
answers in his manuscript is, we recall, "Write as if to Africa
giving all my doubts about spiritual things," and we also recall
that Leo Africanus is identified with Africa, an Africa that Yeats
says is "both symbolical and actual." Yeats's response
to Leo's command, surprisingly enough, is to call into question
both his interlocutor and the injunction itself. "How can I
feel certain of your identity[?]" Yeats asks (22). "Are
you not perhaps becoming a second Leo Africanus a shadow upon the
wall, a strong echo[?]" (27). In answer to this challenge,
We [spirits] are the unconscious as you say . . . . Yet do not
doubt that I was also Leo
Africanus the traveller, for . . . I can still remember the sand,
& many Arab cities . . . .
[There is] no proof [that such] a faculty can be carried from one
mind to another like a
number or a geometrical form. (38)
Yeats replies to Leo's attempt to convince him with a statement
of profound doubt: "I am not convinced that in this letter
there is one sentence that has come from beyond my own imagination.
. . . I think there is no thought that has not occurred to me in
some form or other for many years passed; if you have influenced
me it has been less[,] to arrange my thoughts" (38-39).
The pages in which Leo Africanus attempts to answer Yeats's doubts
clarify to a degree what Africa suggests "symbolically"
and "actually" to Yeats. Symbolically, Leo as Africa appears
as a product of Spiritus Mundi, repository of world images, as Yeats
called it, and Africa is to this extent one of Yeats's others. In
actual terms, Leo asserts that he and Africa exist as discrete entities.
But when Yeats comes to respond in his own voice, what Leo and Africa
"actually" suggest becomes subordinate to what they suggest
"symbolically": "I am not convinced that in this
letter there is one sentence that has come from beyond my own imagination."
In effect, Yeats answers the command, "Write as if to Africa,"
by asserting that everything that Leo and Africa represent already
exists wholly within his own imagination. Though Leo maintains that
his actual existence is sovereign, arguing that the African memory
cannot be transferred to another mind like a geometric form, Yeats
asserts that his encounter with Africa serves less to modify his
thoughts than to arrange them, as a geometric form might.
The fundamental "arrangement" of thought that Yeats takes
away from his encounter with Leo and Africa assumes the "geometrical
form" of a center consolidating its power from the periphery,
and what Joyce calls Yeats's "treacherous adaptability"
comes to look more like what Richard Ellmann describes as Yeats's
drive to incorporate through "eminent domain" - the annexation
of the aesthetic systems of others (3). For Yeats it seems not to
matter whether one believes in the African other to whom one writes,
since Africa enables one to become more conscious of one's own power
and to organize that power more efficiently. This is an imperious
rhetorical move on Yeats's part, but the arrangement of thought
apparently made available to Yeats by Africa is also an imperial
one, for the spatial trope of center annexing its peripheral other
invokes the terms through which imperial capitals expressed their
dominion. And yet because Yeats tends to identify with real landscapes
in his ambivalence and doubt, because Yeats throughout his career
insisted upon the real geographical specificity of Ireland, and
because, as Donald Davie and others have noted, a concrete geography
fundamentally grounds Yeats's poetry, Yeats logically cannot when
asked to write "as if to Africa" answer simply by asserting
that Africa exists only in his head.
Instead, alongside Yeats's imperious arrogation of all that Leo
and Africa signify, we should bear in mind Yeats's apparent imaginative
refusal in his encounter with Leo, a correlative of his suppression
of Leo's voice. If, as Yeats asserts in his essay called "Swedenborg,
Mediums, and the Desolate Places," one must keep simultaneously
in mind both what one believes and what causes one to doubt, then
beside the imperial geometry of the consolidating center we should
keep in mind the haunting difference that peripheral Africa and
the traveling Leo represent in relation to that center. It is precisely
this difference that Maalouf champions in his novel by emphasizing
Leo as a model for what James Clifford calls "traveling cultures,"
a notion that emphasizes the "translocal" as a cultural
dominant and reorients our thinking away from "relations of
dwelling" and toward "relations of travel" (Clifford
7, 22). It is significant, then, that Maalouf does not present Leo
Africanus as a dweller or representative of Africa, as Yeats does,
but rather renders him in perpetual motion. Here the key metaphor
is the flux of the sea, rather than the territoriality of Yeats's
"eminent domain": in Maalouf's book, Leo observes that
"God did not ordain that my destiny should be written completely
in a single book, but that it should unfold, wave after wave, to
the rhythm of the seas. At each crossing, destiny jettisoned the
ballast of one future to endow me with another; on each new shore,
it attached to my name the name of a homeland left behind"
Even those territorial spaces of dwelling - villages and cities
- Leo encounters in Maalouf's novel are shaped fundamentally by
traveling cultures: as one tribal spokesman says to Leo,"We
alone are privileged: we see passing through our villages the people
of Fez, of Numidia, of the land of the Blacks, merchants, notables,
students or ulama; they each bring us a piece of gold, or a garment,
a book to read or copy, or perhaps only a story, an anecdote, a
word; thus, with the passing of the caravans we accumulate riches
and knowledge in the shelter of these inaccessible mountains which
we share with the eagles, the crows and the lions, our companions
in dignity" (Leo Africanus 156-57). The city or village
thus appears as neither a central nor a peripheral space but as
a node in a network that traverses geopolitical and sociocultural
frontiers, and it is the translocal movement and interimperial travel
along this network that Leo Africanus's narrative is designed to
illustrate. Maalouf's novel concludes with the following imperatives:
"When men's minds seem narrow to you, tell yourself that the
land of God is broad; broad His hands and broad His heart. Never
hesitate to go far away, beyond all seas, all frontiers, all countries,
all beliefs" (360). Maalouf's conclusion renders the image
of Leo Africanus not only cosmopolitan, but one that works against
the territorial rhetoric that characterizes Yeats's narrative.
* * *
Yeats's writing forms part of larger movements in aesthetic modernism
that arose in the period that Roland Robertson characterizes as
globalization's "crucial take-off period," the half-century
running from 1870 to 1925 (52). The "Leo Africanus" manuscript
falls broadly within formalist definitions of modernism, insofar
as Yeats cultivates a prose style that resists the transparency
of enlightenment discourses: "I am be[ing] careful to keep
my [style] broken, & even abrupt believing that I could but
keep myself sensitive to influence by avoiding those trains of argument
& deduction which run on railway tracks" (39). To this
extent, both the modernism of which Yeats's writing generally forms
a part and the processes of cultural globalization can be understood
to rise from within the world empires that also reached their fullest
extent in the period. Under this reading, a new sense of globality
as a cultural emergent in many ways appears congruent with the trajectories
of these empires, and from within the British Empire's metropolitan
center, of course, imperial aspirations were often elided with a
global totality. Immanuel Wallerstein's "structural positions
in a world-economy" - core, periphery, and semi-periphery -
recapitulate the metaphorics of empire as a Copernican galaxy, with
the imperial satellite territories orbiting Britain as the central
We would be mistaken, however, to think of such central points in
an imperial or global constellation as simply radiant, however.
For while global expansion generates a centrifugal movement from
a particular center, like Yeats's exercise of "eminent domain"
it also concentrates capital and political and cultural power in
discrete points. Yet the enrichment of these global nodes in this
way also renders them, in Ian Baucom's phrase, "the scenes
of the haunting return of difference" (162), a difference both
temporal and spatial. Inasmuch as the global arises within the interstices
and in ambivalent excess of these empires, it reflects such peripatetic
hauntings and returns of difference as Leo Africanus - the man of
the world and the global image - represents in Yeats's manuscript.
It is a significant consequence of Amin Maalouf's collaboration
with Leo Africanus that we can see both the assertion of the imperial
sovereignty of the modernist author in Yeats's collaboration with
Leo, and the way in which Leo's ghostly presence in the manuscript
marks the opening of deterritorialized networks traversed by translocal
and interimperial figures such as Leo Africanus the traveler, explorer,
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