Category Archives: Martinique

Reading Aimé Césaire’s _Cahier d’un retour au pays natal_…

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!)



“On Slavery, Césaire, and Relating to the World”

J’ai trouvé une interview intéressante avec Patrick Chamoiseau qui s’est passé le 10 May 2008, le jour qui commémore l’abolition de l’esclavagisme dans les colonies françaises.  L’article renvoie à quelques points significatifs de notre discussion en classe cette semaine.

Au début, Chamoiseau parle de la mort et du travail d’Aimé Césaire, un autre auteur de Martinique. Il dit que Césaire était attaché à la République Française, mais malgré son amour pour la France, sa réflexion était centrée sur la Martinique au début et puis l’Afrique. Cette déclaration me fait penser de notre discussion en classe mardi de la complexité de l’identification. Évidemment, la manière dont on s’identifie aux Etats-Unis (choisir une boîte qui indique un ethnicité) ne peut pas appliquer aux certaines autres pays ou territoires. Comment doivent les Antillais s’identifier avec seulement une nationalité ou une race ? Comment peut-on les hiérarchiser ? Est-ce que c’est vraiment important de le faire?

I think it’s true that Césaire belongs to the history of France, but to a history that has cast off the shackles of colonialism, that is open to the rest of the world and ready to enter into this famous exchange of memories and experiences. To this extent, Césaire belongs to Africa, he belongs to France, and he belongs to Martinique. It seems obvious to me that we have to confront this complexity. (Chamoiseau)

Une autre partie de l’article que j’aime bien est l’explication de Chamoiseau de « la mondialité » et l’expérience de la multiplicité. Il parle de la phénomène de créolisation et que ce concept mène à l’idée de relation. Aujourd’hui on face le challenge de vivre dans une monde de la diversité profonde, particulièrement en ce qui concerne les structures sociales et les valeurs. Il faut établir un rapport entre plusieurs cultures d’une façon dans laquelle on ne perd pas leurs unicités  d’un procès de la normalisation. La réalité du monde, dit Chamoiseau, est que nous laissons la logique territoriale et, maintenant, nous choisissons nos patries et valoriser la terre avec laquelle nous nous identifions.  Je pense que le passage suivant bien résume le thème central de l’article et aussi de ce cours :

If we understand this process, we can see that the determining factor today is this relationship with the general movement of the world. We can understand nothing, economically, socially, in education and language, nor even in aesthetic absolutes, if we don’t understand that the frame of reference for any individual is global, and that in order to make any sense in terms of effectiveness, efficiency, or relevance all things must be located within, and set in relation to, a global dynamic, and this is what leads us to the concept of mondialité. (Chamoiseau)

Reading Texaco

The novel we’ll be reading for the next two weeks, Texaco, is a sprawling historical epic by Martinican writer Patrick Chamoiseau that attempts nothing less than to tell the story of the people of Martinique from slavery to the present day. It is divided into two “books,” or “tables” in the French version, the first about the 19th century and the second about the 20th century. For next week, please read the first “table.” Pay attention to the ways in which Chamoiseau attempts to tell the history from the bottom up, infusing larger historical events with the everyday experiences, hopes, desires, and relationships of individuals and communities. Pay attention, too, to the use of language, which brings together some creole phrases, references to the landscape and fauna of the island, and a way of writing that is meant to communicate some of the forms of oral story-telling and historical memory in the place he is trying to represent.

This is a long and complex book, so if it helps I would suggest concentrating in particular as you read this first “table” on the issue of freedom and emancipation. How, in Chamoiseau’s narration, did freedom come to Martinique in 1848? What did it mean to the former slaves? How did they attempt to construct a true form of autonomy and freedom in the wake of slavery? One key section that deals with these issues is the “Noutéka des Mornes” that starts in the French edition on page 161.

In the comments section below or in a separate post, write about one of two things: 1. About your favorite passage from the book so far, and why you think it is particularly important or meaningful or 2. About how Chamoiseau illustrates and explores the meaning of “freedom” both as a political and personal process in the novel. Please share your thoughts by Wednesday at 5 p.m.

If you would like to know more about Patrick Chamoiseau this site offers a biography and complete bibliography of his works (in French).

Here is a review in English from the New York Times of the translation of the book.

And here is a video of a television interview with Patrick Chamoiseau after he won the prestigious Prix Goncourt (France’s most important literary prize) for Texaco.

Here is a recent text by Chamoiseau about racism.



Frantz Fanon

Here is a brief excerpt in French from a program aired on RFO, the television station of the French Antilles, on Frantz Fanon’s life and work.

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And here is another interesting video about Fanon’s intellectual and political impact, this one  in English:

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