Prospero, you are the master of illusion.
Lying is your trademark.
And you have lied so much to me
(lied about the world, lied about me)
that you have ended by imposing on me
an image of myself.
underdeveloped, you brand me, inferior,
That ís the way you have forced me to see myself
I detest that image! What's more, it's a lie!
But now I know you, you old cancer,
and I know myself as well.
Aimé Césaire, 25 June, 1913-17 April, 2008.
Martinican poet Aimé Césaire (and it should be added one of France's leading poets), a politician and icon of our Caribbean and wider American region passed away on Thursday at the age of 94. It is impossible, in such a brief diary, to do justice to this towering figure. Nevertheless, it is important, especially for Caribbeanists, to mark his passing and perhaps leave a more extensive and well thought-out consideration of his legacy for later. I will just jot down some brief references to his life and provide a few useful links.
The introductory quote was taken from the final scene of Césaire's version of the Shakespeare play The Tempest, aimed at depicting the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized in the Americas:
This final scene in The Tempest shows Cesaire's attitude towards colonization. The colonizer imposes on the colonized all kinds of lies. The colonizer makes the colonized feel unworthy of living.
It was Aimé Césaire, along with Leopold Senghor, who helped define the concept of Négritude, a movement whose adherents "believed that the shared black heritage of members of the African diaspora was the best tool in fighting against French political and intellectual hegemony and domination."
Regarding his early life,
Aimé Césaire was born in 1913 in Martinique... He left for Paris in 1931 at the age of 18 with a scholarship for school. During his time at the Lycee Louis-le Grand, he helped found a student publication, Etudiant Noir. In 1936 Cesaire started working on his famed Cahier d’un retour au pays natal which was not published until 1939 (and which would become a masterpieces of francophone Caribbean literature). He married fellow student Suzanne Roussi in 1937, and the couple moved back to Martinique with their son in 1939. Both Aime and Suzanne got jobs at the Lycee Schoelcher. In 1945 Cesaire began his political career when he was elected mayor of Fort-de-France and deputy in the Constituent Assembly on the French Communist Party ticket. ... In 1956 Aime Cesaire resigned from the French Communist Party and two years later he began the "Parti Progressiste Martiniquais."
Author Arvin Murch writes:
A communist until the events in Hungary of 1956 caused him to break with the party Cesaire founded the PPM in 1958 and took a large part of the local Communist Party with him. Since then, Cesaire has become a strong advocate of autonomy for Martinique. The heart of this doctrine is that Martiniquais woud have nearly complete control over their own internal affairs, while remaining in a French federal framework. Arvin Murch, Black Frenchmen: The Political Integration of the French Antilles, Cambridge, MA: Schenkman Publishing Company, Inc., 1971: p. 27.
While I realize this is a dreadfully short piece, I would nevertheless like to end by providing a couple of links to other tributes (which in turn contain other useful links):
Antilles - the weblog of The Caribbean Review of Books, a quarterly magazine covering the Caribbean literary scene.
Remembering Aimé Césaire Friday, April 18th, 2008 @ 00:39 UTC by Jennifer Brea.
Footnote: My father knew Aimé Césaire and may have some interesting correspondence from him burried deep in the archive which forms part of his extensive library (which someday I shall get around to organizing).