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Book Reviews Aimé Césaire. Lyric a n d D r a m a tic P o etry '(1948-82). Trans. Clayton Eshlemann and Annette Smith. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1990. Pp. lvi + 235. This collection represents a significant contribution to Aimé Césaire scholarship in the English-speaking world because, in addition to offering its readers the first English transla­ tions of the early Et les Chiens se taisaient (And the Dogs were silent) and the much later moi, laminaire (i, laminaria), it also presents them with a retrospective panoramic account of Césaire’s poetic career—an account that is quite sensitively elucidated by A. James Arnold’s introduction to the work. Arnold’s analysis can claim to be both historically informed and literarily illuminating since its conclusions derive not only from a quite atten­ tive close-reading of the above two texts and other pertinent material of the Césaire corpus, but also from a passably careful consideration of the historical conditions of their production. Arnold begins his analysis by criticizing a longstanding tradition responsible for classi­ fying Césaire as a primarily “ socially committed” poet and for identifying his material too narrowly with the negritudinous “ anti-colonialist” movement of the 1940’s and 50’s. Not only has this tradition limited the “ aesthetic” interest of his work in favor of a “ historically dominant” reading, it has also tended to encourage a certain erroneous impression that Césaire’s work has become anachronistic—and hence “ irrelevant” —with the granting of a nominal independence to formerly colonised African and Caribbean states. In his attempt to counter this narrowly interpretive tradition, however, Arnold does not bracket off the historical interest of Césaire’s work; rather, his strategy is to show how Césaire’s own poetic vision undergoes a certain evolution and transformation in the course of his career. From a somewhat “ revolutionary,” messianic, but “ mythologizing” and “ visionary” stance characterized by heroic representations of the lyrical self—an economy that marked the “ properly negritudinous” early writings of the 1940’s (here epitomized by Et les chiens se taisaient)—as Arnold skillfully demonstrates, Césaire’s poetic vision evolves into a more sober, “ modest,” “ mature” —if largely disillusioned and pessimistic—disposition. It is this latter disposition that prevails in moi, laminaire, in which Arnold sees the portrayal of “ a more convincing and appealing sense of self.” Accordingly, whereas the earlier dramatic poem seems, for Arnold, to be founded on a naïve and somewhat illusory hierarchical opposition between “good” nature (epitomized by Césaire’s negritudinous ideological valorizations and his rebel-hero) and “ bad” culture (represented by Europe and its imperialist institutions), an opposition that proves impossi­ ble to transcend historically except by way of a syncretic myth of sacrifice, death and renewal, the later poem becomes a deconstructive demystifying stock-taking or “ retro­ spective” of Césaire’s poetic career and, more particularly, of his involvement in the negritude movement. In this deconstructive “ stock-taking,” the deficiencies and limitations as well as the ideological mystifications of the movement are laid bare and its claims to a transcendental truth denounced as empty. In the evolution from the earlier to the later work, Césaire’s poetic vision is thus shown to pass from an “ antihistorical,” “ modernist” myth-making phase to one of a “ post-modernist mise en abîme” in which the earlier enthusiastic vision of a revolutionary transformation of existence seems to have given way to a predominantly dismal alienated condition, and the earlier lyrical-heroic persona, to a fragmented, disseminated, and laminarian self. Since this evolutionary itinerary does not finally lead to any sense of alleviation or transcendence of the cultural and historical predicaments thematized in these poems, its interpretation by Arnold as a somewhat happy and “ appealing” process of “ maturation” in the poet’s career might meet with some scepticism on the part of certain readers—but that is another story. P a trick M e n sa h Louisiana State University 110 Sp r in g 1992 ...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
p. 110
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-05
Open Access
No
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