The Death of Cesaire

Aime Cesaire has passed away at the age of 94. A poet and writer from Martinique he challenged the establishment around him and is perhaps most known for his letters on anti-colonialism and black consciousness. LiP magazine has an interesting article called Poetry & The Political Imagination: Aime Cesaire, Negritude, and the Applications of Surrealism that highlights Cesair’s thinking:

First published in 1950, Discourse on Colonialism is indisputably one of the key contributions to a wave of anticolonial literature produced during the postwar period. As with much of the radical literature produced during this epoch, Discourse places the colonial question front and center. In fine Hegelian fashion, Césaire argues that colonialism works to “decivilize” the colonizer: Torture, violence, race hatred, and immorality constitute a dead weight on the so-called civilized, pulling the master class deeper and deeper into the abyss of barbarism. The instruments of colonial power rely on barbaric, brutal violence and intimidation, and the end result is the degradation of Europe itself.

Interesting perspective that brings to mind the role of the US in Bosnia, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq. How can the invading armies avoid an abyss of their own creation? I suspect some colonialists saw discord and violence as liabilities that prevented a healthy and stable market from evolving, and thus planned ahead, while others saw the abyss as their only real means of profit (destabilization designed to prevent a more level field of competition).

Cesaire’s work is as relevant today as ever, as people struggle with the concepts of identity and patriotism. The poem “Cahier d’un retour au pays natal” begs a question; What kind of a place can a man can stand proud and command respect? Is that place his home?

Comme il y a des hommes-hyènes et des hommes-
panthères, je serais un homme-juif
un homme-cafre
un homme-hindou-de-Calcutta
un homme-de-Harlem-qui-ne-vote-pas

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

mais est-ce qu’on tue le Remords, beau comme la
face de stupeur d’une dame anglaise qui trouverait
dans sa soupière un crâne de Hottentot?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.