In July 1989, as part of the celebration of the Bicentennial of the French Revolution, the great Martinican poet, playwright, and essayist Aimé Césaire was a special invitee of the Avignon Theatre Festival. I led a round table with him then in the context of the Institut d'Études Françaises of Bryn Mawr College. In his remarks he also read two unpublished poems. One of them, "Parcours," which I translate here as "Journey," is the subject of this article. This piece constitutes a reading of the poem as the poet's looking back, metaphorically, on his poetic journey, fifty years after the publishing of his epic poem, "Cahier d'un retour au pays natal" in 1939. This theme of looking back becomes a way to meditate on my own intellectual trajectory as a scholar of Césaire's poetry. I conclude with a poem of my own, on "Rereading Césaire Thirty Years On."
Revisiting the Poetry
This article considers how the life of Aimé Césaire constitutes a template for the black presence in Paris. It concentrates on three themes: Paris as a (conflicted) symbol of liberty; Paris as an artistic and intellectual center; and Paris as a global city. It shows how, as the life of Césaire exemplifies, the black communities of Paris have seen the French capital as both a site of diasporic encounters and as a beacon of liberty. Like Césaire, the black presence in Paris has both challenged and underscored traditions of French universalism.
Nouveaux élans, nouveaux défis
Thomas A. Hale and Kora Véron
Aimé Césaire's dramatic break from the French Communist Party in 1956 raises questions not only about the reasons for his resignation, but more importantly, about how he overcame the negative consequences of the rupture to give a new impetus to his career as the principal political leader in Martinique. A close examination of his writings from 1945 to 1959, based especially on his lesser-known declarations, essays, interviews, and speeches, as well as on his more widely-disseminated poetry and history, reveals a more nuanced explanation for the rupture. Above all, these texts offer new insights into how he was able to recover his political momentum by building new alliances both at home and abroad.
Sept leçons de leadership
The Caribbean has yielded many leaders with statesmanship abilities that are on par with the very best in the world; it is to one of these that the present essay is devoted. Specifically, it attempts to understand the nature of the political leadership that Aimé Césaire has epitomized for more than fifty years in his native Martinique and abroad. In doing so, it examines what accounts for his political appeal and his capacity to pursue his political vision. The essay also suggests some insights that the rest of the world could draw from Césaire's experience.
Une histoire inachevée?
The double commitment of Aimé Césaire on the political and literary fronts as well as the comparison between his achievements in these two fields of activity have drawn various interpretations, often impassioned. This contribution proposes to throw light on some apparent or real paradoxes that underlie his political thought and action. It also tries to evaluate his role through his literary commitment and his investment in the political field by taking into account the specific logics at work in each of these spheres, without neglecting their own temporality, as well as their possible contradictions or complementarities.
Francis Abiola Irele
This essay examines the centrality of Aimé Césaire's work in the emergence of a black poetic and intellectual discourse in French, and his influence, in terms both of theme and idiom, on generations of Francophone writers, an influence that can be discerned in the work of Tchikaya u Tamsi, Jean-Baptiste Tati-Loutard, Lamine Sall and Sylvie Kandé in Africa, and Frantz Fanon, Edouard Glissant, René Depestre, and Daniel Maximin in the French Caribbean region. The relationship of Césaire's work to the Créolité movement is discussed, as is the impact of his work on Anglophone Caribbean writers, such as Kamau Brathwaite of Barbados and Lansana Sekou of St Martin, as evidence of the enduring legacy of his work.
William F.S. Miles
On 17 April 2008, at the age of ninety-four, the foremost Black French intellectual-cum-politician of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries passed away. Born in the northwestern fishing village of Basse Pointe on the southeastern Caribbean island of Martinique on 26 June 1913, Aimé Césaire rose from humble beginnings to become a giant in the annals of colonial and postcolonial francophone literature. As the holder of several elected offices, from city mayor of the capital of Martinique to representative in the National Assembly of France, he was also a significant political actor. He was largely responsible for the legislation that, following World War II, elevated four of France’s “Old Colonies” in the West Indies and Indian Ocean into full French states (départements). A dozen years later he founded a political party that would struggle to roll back the very assimilating, deculturalizing processes that statehood (départementalisation) unleashed.
This essay is an intimate account of my encounter with Aimé Césaire. I first met him in high school. I was seventeen years old, and I had never read any work comparable to his Notebook of a Return to the Native Land. That book left me confused. The more I read the less I understood. A student in lettres modernes at Université Charles De Gaulle, I became tormented by identity issues. My years in France introduced me to racism, to an other who observed me without seeing me—between us centuries of violence, stereotypes, misunderstanding, unrequited love, unresolved conflict, unshared suffering. How do you get rid of the cutting glance that murders the Promise of Tomorrow? Césaire gave me an answer to that question.
Critics question the articulation between Césaire's immense literary works and his comparatively modest political legacy. They contend that the ferociousness of his case against slavery and colonialism clashes with the tepid way in which he tiptoed the Martinican people onto its political route, cautiously steering clear of the full-fledged self-rule option. The case I am making in this paper is that it would be terribly misleading, let alone unfair, to assume that Césaire was all lip-service, La Lettre à Maurice Thorez being a case in point. Rather, Césaire's political genius is to have managed to take his ideals down a few pegs to be in tune with the people, because he knew as a poet that emancipation is not a place to reach but a way to walk. In that respect, Césaire implemented what I have come to conceptualize as "dependence-resource."
Long Live Césaire! Recuperations and Reparations
A. James Arnold
Events surrounding Aimé Césaire's funeral in Martinique (April 2008) brought to the fore a number of unresolved contradictions that have swirled around his literary production, as well as his political legacy, for decades. Did Césaire really mean to speak for a culturally and historically determined group of dispossessed colonials and former colonials, as he often stated from the 1960s onward? Or did he intend to appeal to a biologically determined collective unconscious, as he sometimes stated in less guarded moments? Finally, should Césaire's ambiguous statements about the movement to require reparations from the French state for centuries of enslavement in the Antilles be taken as an endorsement of such demands? None of these questions were resolved in the flood of writing about Césaire's importance and significance in the year of his death.