restricted access Soleil cou coupé (1948)
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SOLEIL COU COUPÉ 307 SOLAR THROAT SLASHED Solar Throat Slashed may well be Césaire’s most important collection, since it brought to fruition in 1948 the poetics he used to subvert the imperial literary canon from 1941 onward. It is certainly the least known and understood aspect of his corpus because 27 of its 72 poems were cut from the revised edition published under the title Cadastre in 1961. Of the 43 poems published in Cadastre, only 20 underwent little or no significant modification. Readers of the severely truncated 1961 version could not know that Césaire originally published many of its poems in surrealist magazines between 1946 and 1947 or that “Noon Knives” was his contribution to the 1947 international surrealist exhibition at the Maeght gallery in Paris. Although Césaire was a Communist deputy from Martinique in the French Chamber of Deputies from 1946 to 1956, his poetic contributions to party publications were few prior to 1950. These details can be found in the notes to the poems. We have marked with an asterisk following the title those poems that Césaire sacrificed to his political turn in the mid-1950s. Clayton Eshleman has said of Césaire’s regrettable self-censorship in Cadastre that he effectively destroyed “his most fulgurating collection of poetry. Animistically dense, charged with eroticism and blasphemy, and imbued with African and Vodun spirituality, this book takes the French surrealist adventure to new heights and depths. A Césaire poem is a crisscrossing intersection in which metaphoric traceries create historically aware nexuses of thought and experience, jagged solidarity, apocalyptic surgery, and solar dynamite. Facing the locks of the void, Césaire proclaims: What have I to discard? Everything by god everything. I am stark naked. I have discarded everything. My genealogy. My widow. My companions. I await the boiling, I await the baptism of sperm. I await the wingbeat of the great seminal albatross supposed to make a new man of me. I await the immense tap, the vertiginous slap that shall consecrate me as a knight of a plutonian order.” (CST, 175) 309 In order to readjust his collection to a vision consonant with the immediate post-colonial period, especially with regard to African independence, Césaire chose in 1961 to delete the great majority of poems that were permeated by mythological and sexual imagery. The prophetic stance of the poetic “I” in 1948 was minimized through the same process and replaced with a more resolute political posture. Readers who know Césaire’s poetry only in the versions that begin with the heavily revised Notebook of a Return to the Native Land in 1956 will be surprised by the religious imagery and the pervasive climate of spirituality in Solar Throat Slashed. Césaire alludes to Vodun in “Gallantry of History,” “All the Way from Akkad, from Elam, from Sumer,” and “March of Perturbations.” He blasphemes against Christianity and its complicity with colonialism in “To Africa,” “Noon Knives,” and “From a Metamorphosis,” referring to “the commandant’s God” in “All the Way from Akkad, from Elam, from Sumer.” In the poem “Calm,” he invokes the “towers of silence” on which the ancient Zoroastrians exposed their dead, and in “To Africa,” he alludes to the Babylonian divinity Ishtar. The speaker in the poem not infrequently adopts a prayerful rhetoric that relies heavily on anaphoric devices suggestive of litany. In at least two instances (“To Africa” and “Blues”), Césaire invokes the Babylonian captivity, thus assimilating the dispersion of the African diaspora to the destruction of the kingdom of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar. “Blues” is Césaire’s modernist turn on Psalm 137 (“By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion”). Sometimes the reader can, as is the case in “Blues,” seize the spiritual intertext so as to gain a culturally informed sense of the direction in which the poem intends to take us. Césaire’s reliance on the biblical book of Revelation (in French, l’Apocalypse) is evident in the poem “The Sun’s Knife-Stab in the Back of the Surprised Cities,” which uses surrealist means to present a utopian vision as an epiphany. Poems of this type were systematically eliminated from the 1961 reframing of the collection for Cadastre. They remained lost to Césaire’s body of work until Wesleyan University Press published our bilingual edition in 2011. ...

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