Aimé Césaire (1913-2008)

According to Nick Nesbitt, Césaire was the Toussaint L’Ouverture of the black Francophone cultural revolution in the 1930s and 1940s. It was a “revolution” that “proceeded . . . not through the redeployment of absolute terror, violence, and destruction, but via a reconstruction in human understanding and experience. This was a transformation whose weapons were the humanist arms of imagination, communication, and insight: poetry, literature, theater, philosophy, and polemical tracts” (Voicing Memory xii-xiii).

This revolution is most forceful in Notebook of a Return to the Native Land. One cannot summarize this work; one can only read and feel.

For Césaire and the dreams he continues to inspire.

And we are standing now, my country and I, hair in the wind, my hand puny in its enormous fist and now the strength is not in us but above us, a voice that drills the night and the hearing like the penetrance of an apocalyptic wasp. And the voice complains that for centuries Europe has force-fed us with lies and bloated us with pestilence,
for it is not true that the work of man is done
that we have no business being on earth
that we parasite the world
that it is enough for us to heel to the world whereas the work of man has only begun
and man must still overcome all the interdictions wedged in the recesses of his fervor
and no race has a monopoly on beauty, on intelligence, on strength
and there is room for everyone at the convocation of conquest
and we know now that the sun turns around our earth lighting the parcel designated by our will alone and that every star falls from sky to earth at our omnipotent command.

Aimé Césaire, Notebook of a Return to the Native Land (1939)