restricted access Les Armes miraculeuses (1946)
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LES ARMES MIRACULEUSES 63 THE MIRACULOUS WEAPONS Many of the twenty-six poems that constitute the first half of this collection, published in 1946 by Gallimard, appeared in the pages of the Martinican periodical Tropiques (1941‑1945); most of the others in a wide variety of little magazines sympathetic to André Breton’s surrealist group, which had been dispersed throughout the western hemisphere. Aimé Césaire, his wife Suzanne, and their fellow Fort-de-France secondary school teachers auto-financed their publication, which encouraged the rising generation to read the surrealists, Nietzsche, and the German ethnographer Frobenius, as well as Lautréamont, Rimbaud, and Mallarmé. During the war, their effort was a form of cultural resistance to the stultifying atmosphere of military occupation under the orders of Vichy France. Retrospectively, we see Césaire experimenting with new poetic forms. For instance, his use of free associative metaphor increased markedly after André Breton’s 1941 enforced stay in Martinique as a political undesirable. Shorter lyric pieces, frequently structured as surrealist epiphanies, are grouped around long poems that have a broader scope and a more complicated dynamic. “The Thoroughbreds” outlines the coming to consciousness of a culture hero who embraces the characteristics of Frobenius’s “Ethiopian plant man,” a view of Africa that Tropiques praised in 1941. In “Serpent Sun,” Césaire writes back against the stable vision of Paul Valéry’s “Marine Cemetery” by evoking a transformative world in which the serpent displaces Christian imagery. The serpent motif recurs throughout the volume. In the middle of the collection, “The Miraculous Weapons” makes the case for “the great machete blow of red pleasure” in a Rimbaldian anarchistic vision marked by erotic imagery. The solar focus of “The Great Noon” prepares the reader for the overarching Osiris myth that structures “And the Dogs Were Silent.” “The Great Noon” may hark back to Nietzsche’s Zarathustra as well. When VVV printed “Batuque” in 1944, the context clearly implied that this rhythmically un-French poem was a “miraculous weapon” in the cultural war surrealism was waging against fascist obscurantism throughout 65 the Americas. Its rhythmic intensity and incantatory energy lull our rational faculty while stimulating our sensitivity through non-rational means. “And the Dogs Were Silent” originated in 1941 as a historical play on Toussaint Louverture and the revolution in Saint-Domingue that resulted in Haitian independence in 1804. Faced with the impossibility of reconciling historical events with the mythic consciousness that infused his lyric poetry, Césaire rewrote “Dogs” after 1943 as an oratorio. Between the two world wars, eminent modernist poets such as Eliot wrote plays in verse. E. Ruhe traced the form of Dogs to Paul Claudel’s Le Livre de Christophe Colomb (RIC). Césaire’s admiration for Claudel’s free verse plays is well known, despite the conservative Catholic ideology with which they are imbued. In our view, Césaire modified the oratorio form used by Claudel while emptying out its ideological contents. These he replaced with numerous references to vegetation gods of Egypt and the Near East. His Rebel was conceived as a Nietzschean tragic hero whose sacrifice would spiritually transform the heirs of slave culture on the model of Alain Locke’s New Negro. The tragic poetry of this pendant to the lyric poems was meant to set in an elevated cultural context both the longer cosmogonies and the brief epiphanies of the first half of the volume. The trajectory of the negritude ideal in Césaire’s poetry can be traced from the strangling of the speaker toward the end of the 1939 Notebook to the “Lynch” poems in The Miraculous Weapons, culminating in the sacrifice of the Rebel in Dogs. The oratorio remained an integral part of the collection from 1946 through the 1970 edition. The poem “Gunnery Warning” opens the framing device for the collection, and “Postface: Myth” closes it. ...

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