Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Aimé Césaire.

with 5 comments

Aimé Césaire died in 2008.

He was one of the greatest writers and poets of the 20th century.

He was also a political activist of the left with a background in anti-Stalinist socialism.

He was known as a supporter of ‘negritude’ – a cultural movement of affirming black identity, which was strongly anti-racist (reader of the poetry above and below will realise that he was far from a supporter of what is now called ‘identity politics’)

Sadly largely unknown in the English-speaking world, even by many ‘Africanists’, his passing was marked in the Francophone countries with mourning and a celebration of his life. *

I was reminded of his stature  when re-reading last week David Macey’s biography of Frantz Fanon, which is in itself a book well worth reading several times and describes his importance.

Wikipedia notes,

Like many left intellectuals in France, Césaire looked in the 1930s and 1940s toward the Soviet Union as a source of human progress, virtue, and human rights, but Césaire later grew disillusioned with Communism. In 1956, after the Soviet Union’s suppression of the Hungarian revolution, Aimé Césaire announced his resignation from the PCF in a text entitled Lettre à Maurice Thorez. In 1958 he founded the Parti Progressiste Martiniquais.

His writings during this period reflect his passion for civic and social engagement. He wrote Discours sur le colonialisme (Discourse on Colonialism) (1950; English translation 1953), a denunciation of European colonial racism, decadence, and hypocrisy that was republished in the French review Présence Africaine in 1955. In 1960, he published Toussaint Louverture, based on the life of the Haitian revolutionary. In 1968, he published the first version of Une Tempête, a radical adaptation of Shakespeare’s play The Tempest for a black audience.

The surrealist André  Breton described the poem below as, ” nothing less than the greatest lyrical monument of our times.”

I have tried to find an adequate translation, but, alas, one is not up on the Web.

Cahier d’un retour au pays natal

« ma négritude n’est pas une pierre, sa surdité ruée contre la clameur du jour
ma négritude n’est pas une taie d’eau morte sur l’œil mort de la terre
ma négritude n’est ni une tour ni une cathédrale  »

« l’homme-famine, l’homme-insulte, l’homme-torture
on pouvait à n’importe quel moment le saisir le rouer
de coups, le tuer – parfaitement le tuer – sans avoir
de compte à rendre à personne sans avoir d’excuses à présenter à personne
un homme-juif
un homme-pogrom
un chiot
un mendigot »

* You can however find a copy in Suffolk libraries.

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Written by Andrew Coates

August 24, 2012 at 4:11 pm

5 Responses

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  1. Good to see an article on Césaire! Might be worth noting that he was a long-time comrade of Breton within the international Surrealist movement.

    uplandtrout

    August 24, 2012 at 4:33 pm

  2. Shared on Facebook. Long ago as a student of French at university I read Aime Cesaire and was enraptured.

    jacobbauthumley

    August 25, 2012 at 3:16 am

  3. Fanon was a silly ninny; he wrote that the Algerians hid the faces of “their” women from “the bold stare” of the colonists, either wholly unaware or – worse – pretending the be unaware of the fact that the social and cultural retardation of Islam has nothing to do the the presence or the absence of kuffars

    Billy Corr

    August 25, 2012 at 9:08 pm

  4. Thanks Jacob.

    One of the main purposes of this Blog is to make francophila real by bringing people like him to English speakers’ attention.

    Andrew Coates

    August 26, 2012 at 12:16 pm

  5. a great poet and a great thinker

    entdinglichung

    September 3, 2012 at 12:52 pm


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