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Aimé Césaire on Aimé Césaire: A Complementary Reading of “Crevasses” (from Moi, laminaire . . .) Jonathan Ngaté Rien ne délivre jamais que l’obscurité du dire Dire de pudeur et d’impudeur Dire de la parole dure. —Aimé Césaire, “ Configurations” Ta parole écume gonflée de fruits mûrs et non de bulles tôt éclatées [. • ■ ] Ta parole qu’habitent autant de voix qu’il y a de miasmes à balayer —Michel Leiris, “ Mots pour Aimé Césaire” Ce qui est certain, c’est qu[e Césaire] est une référence essentielle pour les écrivains négroafricains francophones. Il est sans contredit le fondement d’une littérature antillaise authentique. —Maryse Condé1 T HE CÉSAIRE I AM INTERESTED IN HERE is not only the man who had very calmly but straightforwardly stated in 1956, in his Lettre à Maurice Thorez, that “ aucune doctrine ne vaut que repenséepar nous, que repenséepour nous, que convertie à nous”2; he is also, for this occasion again, Aimé Césaire in the role of informed and sensitive reader-and-critic of his own work and that of others. Much of great value has already been written about him as a committed and in­ spiring writer, a charismatic political figure and even (if less so) as a literary theorist, but not enough yet about him as a critic whose views have been expressed on numerous occasions in prefaces to other people’s books or in the Discours sur le colonialisme (1954), that essay which, in its uplifting eloquence, is truly a monument to intellectual honesty and moral courage and also the passionate expression of a com­ mitment to political action.3 Vo l . XXXII, No. 1 41 L ’E sprit C réateur From a literary/critical point of view, the opinion I find the most il­ luminating in the Discourse for my purpose here is about the nineteenthcentury French poet, Lautréamont, not only because it is concisely useful, but more importantly because of the way in which it succeeds so clearly in pointing to an unavoidable perspective on Césaire’s own literary texts: the day will come when, with all the elements gathered together, all the sources analyzed, all the circumstances of the work elucidated, it will be possible to give the Chants de Maldoror a materialistic and historical interpretation which will bring to light an altogether unrecog­ nized aspect of this frenzied epic, its implacable denunciation of a very particular form of society, as it could not escape the sharpest eyes around the year 1865. (Discourse 48) No sharper eyes, it seems to me, have been looking into the Black worlds of Africa and the Americas (in their diversity) and into the overall world of the downtrodden since the 1930s than have Aimé Césaire’s. And his uncanny ability to make pointed references to or to engage in a prin­ cipled ransacking of the strongly similar colonial, and now neocolonial, experiences of people from those worlds should help make it clear that the “ nous” (us) of the quotation from the Lettre à Maurice Thorez has very strong implications of racial and cultural as well as intellectual and ideological kinships. For a reader like myself, who has lived through the last decade or so of French colonial rule in Black Africa, Césaire has been nothing if not he through whose eyes I have learned to see my Umwelt, with unsettling clarity, and he with whom I have been reasoning things out through the kind of dialogue made possible by the act of reading. The dialogue, a cross-generational one, has been based on my recognition of the fact that the driving force behind Césaire’s writing has been a burning “ désir d’attester une humanité contestée ou en danger et celui d’être par et pour soi-même,” as Eboussi Boulaga would say.4That this view, which accounts for my attempt at providing a complementary reading of “ Crevasses,” is not an idiosyncratic one will become evident from an overview of the ways in which some important writers and political activists of the post-World War Two generation have been responding to...


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