I thought I would let you know about an exciting project I’m working on . It’s a book on one of the most influential Francophone poets and intellectuals in the twentieth century. Aimé Fernand David Césaire , simply known as Aimé Césaire, was born in the island of Martinique on June 26, 1913 and passed away six years ago on April 12, 2008. He studied in Paris in the 30s along with his friends Léopold Sédar Senghor and Léon Damas, the founders of the Negritude movement. Césaire was poet, statesman, and intellectual. André Breton, the father of surrealism dubbed him “Un grand poet noir,” a racialist epithet I dissapprove. Césaire was a militant anticolonial writer, an advocate for social justice, social equality, human rights, black humanity and dignity. His two most important works are his tour-de force- poem (1) Cahier d’un retour au pays natal ( Paris: Volontés,1939), an epic that gave birth to the Negritude movement. Cesaire coined the word “negritude” as a counter discourse to Western modernity and the West’s idea of ordering of the world, and its assessment of (black) humanity; and (2) his seminal essay Discours sur le colonialisme ( Paris: Présence Africaine , 1955), which is arguably one of the most important anticolonial essays written in Western scholarship. Discours is a militant and counter response to European colonialism, imperialistic project, and their deadly mechanisms.
My book tentatively entitled Aimé Césaire, Haiti, and Caribbean Modernity (2012) will contribute to Césairian discourse of negritude and his vision of a new humanism. The book will give a fresh reading of Cesaire’s poetics, address precisely its indebtedness and relations to Haiti. Cesaire’s poetic discourse including his creative process were influenced by revolutionary Haiti and the life and deeds of Haiti’s foremost military general and first postcolonial leader, Toussaint Louverture. In Cahier d’un retour au pays natal, Cesaire posits that Haiti is where negritude stood for the first time and believed in its humanity. For Cesaire, Caribbean modernity began with the Haitian Revolution; and that West Indians, borrowing the phrase from C.L. R. James, became a people at the event of the Haitian Revolution, a peculiar event in the historical narrative and genesis of the Caribbean people. The project will read Cesaire in light of the Haitian Revolution, the cradle of blackness and Caribbean modernity, and argue that Cesaire’s poetic consciousness as an anticolonial writer owes its expression to Haiti. The historical achievement of Africans in Saint-Domingue-Haiti, and the fact that Haiti became the first independent state in the New World, was significant to Cesaire’s articulation of his negritude philsophy, his idea of black humanity, and his argument of the responsibility of the black race to universal civilisation. I will contend for a new vision of Caribbean modernity rooted in a Cesairian ethics and hermeneutics of difference . Cesaire’s Caribbean modernity was shaped by the discourse of the Haitian Revolution. The Haitian Revolution, Cesaire would argue, was the “big bang of antillean cosmos.” Finally, I believe that Cesaire is has a lot to contribute to modern discourse on universalism, ethics, and human rights. His voice still speaks today, his message for us in the twenty-first century is simply salvific. Cesaire’s political discourse is nothing less than his relentless activism for social justice and equality, human emancipation and human rights , which many believe the Haitian Revolution inaugurated.
Your faithful servant,