Aimé Césaire’s Cahier d’un retour au pays natal has been identified as a “revolutionary” text, not only because of its content, but also because of its linguistic particularities. In the poem, different linguistic registers and semantic fields combine in order to convey the experience of the poetic subject who “returns” to the native land. Using complex medical terminology and references to popular culture, Césaire’s text portrays the different dimensions of that new vision of the motherland (physical, spatial, philosophical, etc.). Because of its richness of vocabulary and its metaphors, personifications, and other poetic images, the Cahier is frequently condemned as hard to read. Critics have identified around 150 words that are difficult to understand for an average reader the first time they face the text. For this reason, the poem is described as “hermetic” and “impenetrable”. I would like to know what your experience reading the Cahier was. Did you think it was a completely inaccessible text? Were you able to understand the references Césaire includes in the poem? Do you think the previous texts we’ve read in class helped you better understand the Cahier?
When reading the Cahier I also want you to pay special attention to the IMAGES and SOUNDS that Césaire transmits through the written text. Notice the density of the Caribbean vegetation, the sounds in the little church, the red blood, etc. The iconography of the poem is fascinating, and we will go more into detail about it in class on Tuesday.
Here’s a video of Césaire describing how he met Léopold Sédar Senghor when he first got to Paris as a “lycéen”. We will talk more about Sédar Senghor and the concept of “négritude” on Tuesday. (PS: Césaire’s narration is adorable!)