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Link and Lance: Aspects of Poetic Function in Cesaire’s Cadastre —An Analysis of Five Poems E. Anthony Hurley I T WOULD BE DIFFICULT to examine the notion of poetic func­ tion in relation to Aimé Césaire without taking into consideration the tension and ambivalence of Césaire’s situation as a black intellectual and as a poet, functioning within a profoundly alienating white French socio­ cultural context. On the one hand, as a black man, and particularly as a black Martinican-Frenchman, Césaire is constantly confronted by iden­ tity issues, grounded in the unhealed and perhaps unhealable wound of slavery, of colonization, and of relatively forced assimilation into an alien culture, as well as in potential isolation and separation within the black/African diaspora. As a poet and black intellectual, Césaire serves as the voice of a leader for an audience and a people (fellow Blacks) on whom he depends and to whom he is inextricably linked for the integra­ tion of his identity. Césaire’s situation therefore suggests the tension of a poetry that would tend to function simultaneously inwardly and out­ wardly, personally and politically, as both link and lance: as a link for exploring identity issues, a means of searching and solidifying, of facili­ tating and articulating identity; as a lance, a weapon of personal and political liberation, but also an instrument to open the festering wound of alienation and self-hatred in order to create hope and healing. At the same time, Césaire is a citizen of France, albeit black and Martinican, writing poetry in the French language within an established French literary tradition with its own socio-symbolic order. While Césaire’s awareness as an educated black man might tend to incline him towards consciously or unconsciously rejecting or subverting the French social order, he does not become “ un-French,” and both his use of the French language and his renown as a French (Caribbean) writer would tend to validate, and contribute to the survival of, the French social order to which he belongs. A discussion of poetic function in relation to Césaire should therefore take into account the peculiarities of his French Caribbean situation and the ambivalence of his relationship to a metropolitan French literary tradition. The term poetic function itself, however, though part of the 54 Sp r in g 1992 H urley rhetoric of the Western sociocultural tradition, tends to be somewhat elusive. Its meaning, for the purposes of this study, may be said to lie within the parameters of two modern critical and linguistic approaches, advanced by Kristeva and Jakobson. Kristeva’s approach captures the irony of Césaire’s position vis-à-vis metropolitan French society. She posits a revolutionary and subversive function for poetry or poetic language within the context of a socio-symbolic order; poetry thus serves paradoxically both to transform the social order and to ensure its survival: Dans cet ordre socio-symbolique ainsi saturé sinon déjà clos, la poésie—disons plus exacte­ ment le langage poétique—rappelle ce qui fut depuis toujours sa fonction: introduire, à travers le symbolique, ce qui le travaille, le traverse et le menace. Ce que la théorie de l’in­ conscient cherche, le langage poétique le pratique à l’intérieur et à rencontre de l’ordre social: moyen ultime de sa mutation ou de sa subversion, condition de sa survie et de sa révolution. . . .' Kristeva’s approach in relating poetry to the context of a social order shares linkages with Jakobson’s analysis of linguistic communication. Jakobson identifies six constituent factors in linguistic processes: “ destinateur,” “ destinataire,” “ message,” “ contexte,” “ code,” and “ contact.” He relates poetic function to emphasis placed on the “ message” itself: “ l’accent mis sur le message pour son propre compte est ce qui caractérise la fonction poétique du langage. . . .” 2 Césaire’s poetry indeed necessarily emphasizes the “ message,” since it serves as a concrete manifestation of a communication link between poet and self and poet and people. In this study, therefore, poetic function will refer to the role of the poet and of the poem in relation to the sociopolitical con­ text within which the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 54-68
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-05
Open Access
No
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