Aimé Césaire (1913-2008)

Original text here.

Martinican poet, playwright, and politician, one of the most influential authors from the French-speaking Caribbean. Aimé Césaire formulated with Léopold Senghor and Léon Gontian Damas the concept and movement of négritude, defined as “affirmation that one is black and proud of it”. Césaire’s thoughts about restoring the cultural identity of black Africans were first fully expressed in Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (Return to My Native Land), a mixture of poetry and poetic prose. The work celebrated the ancestral homelands of Africa and the Caribbean. It was completed in 1939 but not published in full form until 1947.

my negritude is not a stone
nor a deafness flung against the clamor of the day
my negritude is not a white speck of dead water
on the dead eye of the earth
my negritude is neither tower nor cathedral

it plunges into the red flesh of the soil
it plunges into the blaxing flesh of the sky
my negritude riddles with holes
the dense affliction of its worthy patience.

Aimé Césaire was born in Basse-Pointe, Martinique, in the French Caribbean. His father, Fernand Elphège, was educated as teacher, but later worked as a manager of a sugar estate. Eléonore, Césaire’s mother, was a seamstress. In Cahier Césaire described his childhood in a harsh light: “And the bed of planks from which my race has risen, all my race from this bed of planks on its feet of kerosene cases, as if the old bed had elephantiasis, covered with a goat skin, and its dried banana leaves and its rags, the ghost of a mattress that is my grandmother’s bed (above the bed in a pot full of oil a candle-end whose flame looks like a fat turnip, and on the side of the pot, in letters of gold: MERCI).” Césaire’s family was poor, but his parents invested in the education of their children. To faciliate the studies of their talented son, they moved Basse Pointe to Fort-de-France, the capital. Amog Césaire’s classmate at the Lycee Schoelcher in Fort-de-France was Léon Damas, who later contributed to négritude.

Césaire had excellent grades in school. At the age of 18 he went to Paris on a scholarship to continue his education. He attended the Lycée Louis-le Grand, the École Normale Supérieure, and ultimately the Sorbonne, where he studied Latin, Greek, and French literature. In 1935 he went to Yugoslavia with Peter Guberina,

During his years in Paris Césaire met other Caribbean, West African, and African American students, but the most important acquaintance was Léopold Senghor, a poet and later the first president of independent Senegal. Senghor’s Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache (1948) became an important landmark of modern black writing in French.

In 1937 Césaire married Suzanne Roussi; they had four sons and two daughters. Two years later Césaire moved with his family back to Martinique, where he started to work as a teacher at the Lycee Schoelcher. Among his students were Frantz Fanon and Édouard Glissant. In Haiti, where the Provisional French government sent him as a cultural ambassador, Césaire lectured on French poetry. His first play, La tragédie du roi Christophe (1963, The Tragedy of King Christophe), drew on one of Haiti’s earliest leaders, Henri Christophe.

During World War II Césaire was close with André Breton, who spent the war years in the United States and West Indies. Breton encouraged Césaire to use surrealism as a political weapon. These poems were collected in Les Armes miraculeuses (1946), Soliel cou coupe (1948, Beheaded Sun), and Corps perdu (1950, Disembodied / Lost Body). Cahier d’un retour au pays natal was described by Breton “the greatest lyrical monument of our time”.

Since the end of the war Césaire divided his time between Paris and Martinique. A member of the Communist Party, Césaire participated in political action and supported the decolonization of the French colonies of Africa. He co-founded with his wife Suzanne and other Martinican intellectuals the cultural journal Tropiques, in which he published his early poetry. In 1945 Césaire was elected mayor of Fort-de-France and he was one of the island’s deputies in the French National Assembly. Césaire resigned from the Communist Party in 1956 and depicted this decision in Lettre à Maurice Thorez (1956, Letter to Maurize Thorez). In 1958 he founded the Martinican Progressive Party.

Disappointed to government’s promises of socioeconomic improvements in Martinique, Césaire ceased to speak after 1950s in parliament and did not publish poetry for several years. However, he was active in international forums for the liberation of the Third World.

Between the years 1939 and 1955, Césaire mainly focused on poetry. His poems usually concerned with slavery, freedom, and paradise, language is distorted in opposution to the colonial French. “I am talking of millions of men who have been skillfully injected with fear, inferiority complexes, trepidation, servility, despair, abasement.” (from Discours sur le colonialisme, 1955) Césaire’s comrades in the French Communist Party attacked his linguistically difficult works for obscurity. In the 1950s he began to write more accessibly, but his international reputation was not established until towards the end of the fifties.

Césaire criticism of European civilization and colonial racism in Discours sur le colonialisme (1955) influenced deeply Frantz Fanon‘s revolutionary manifesto Black Skin, White Masks (1967), an examination of psychic, cultural and social damages inflicted by colonialism. Césaire paralles the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized with the relationship between Nazis and their victims. “People are astounded, they are angry. They say: “How strange that is. But then it is only Nazism, it wont last.” And they wait, and they hope; and they hide the truth from themselves: It is savagery, the supreme savagery, it crowns, it epitomizes the day-to-day savageries; yes, it is Nazism, but before they became its victims, they were its accomplices; that Nazism they tolerated before they succumbed to it, they exonerated it, they closed their eyes to it, they legitimated it because until then it had been employed only against non-European peoples; that Nazism they encouraged, they were responsible for it, and it drips, it seeps, it wells fro every crack in western Christian civilization until it engulfs that civilization in a bloody sea.”

Et les chiens se taisaient (1956, And the Dogs Kept Quiet), a story about the blacks and their humiliation, marked Césaire’s transition from poetry to drama. La tragédie du roi Christophe, the first part of his trilogy, was about an early-19th-century Haitian ruler, Henri Christophe, who faced the task of building a state after independence. In Une saison au Congo (1966, A Season in the Congo), the second part of the trilogy, Césaire dealt with the tragedy of Patrice Lumumba and his assassination. In the play Lumumba is a poet-leader who inflames the African conscience, but fails to unify his own country. The trilogy was finished by Une Tempète (1968), a radical rewriting of Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. Césaire portrayed Prospero, the white man, as a decadent colonizer; Caliban, the man of instinct, has a black cultural heritage, he rebels for his freedom, but fails and accuses Prospero: “Prospero, you are the master of illusion. / Lying is your trademark.” Ariel, a mulatto slave, is pressed between these opposite forces of Caliban and Prospero. Une Tempète was first published in the journal Présence africaine in 1968. Caliban’s first word is “Uhuru”, which is Swahili for “freedom”. “Call me X”, says Caliban in the 1969 text, echoing the radical voice of Malcolm X.

In 1993 Césaire retired from politics, but he remained a fervent anticolonialist, and in 2005 he refused to meet with Nicolas Sarkozy, the minister of the interior at that time. Césaire died on April 17, 2008, in Fort-de-France.

For further reading: Aimé Césaire by Gregson Davies, Abiola Irele (1997); Critical Perspectives on Aimé Césaire, ed. by Thomas Hale (1992); Aimé Césaire by Janis L. Pallister (1991); Modernism and Negritude: the Poetry and Poetics of Aimé Césaire by A. James Arnold (1981); Aimé Césaire by Susan Frutkin (1973); Aimé Césaire by L. Kesteloot (1962) – For further information: Césaire BibliographyAimé CésaireCésaire’s Discourse on ColonialismAimé Césaire

Selected works:

  • Les Armes miraculeuses, 1946
  • Et les chiens se taisaient, 1946
  • Cahier d’un retour au pays natal, 1947 – Memorandum on my Martinique (trans. by Ivan Goll and Lionel Abel) / Return to My Native Land (trans. by Emil Snyder) / Notebook of a Return to the Native Land (trans. by Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith)
  • Soliel cou coupe, 1948 – Beheaded Sun
  • Corps perdu, 1950 – Disembodied / Lost Body
  • Discours sur le colonialisme, 1955 – Discourse on Colonialism
  • Cahier díun retour au pays natal, 1956
  • Et les chiens se taisaient, 1956
  • Lettre à Maurice Thorez, 1956 – Letter to Maurize Thorez
  • Ferrements, 1960
  • Cadastre, 1961 (rev. version of Soleil cou coupé and Corps perdu)
  • Toussaint Louverture: La révolution française et le problème colonial, 1962
  • La Tragedie du roi Christophe, 1963 – The Tragedy of King Christophe
  • Une Saison au Congo, 1966 – A Season in Congo
  • Une Tempete, 1968 (first version, based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest)
  • Une Saison au Congo, 1973
  • Une Tempète, 1974
  • Euvres Completes, 1976 ( 3 vols.)
  • Moi, laminaire, 1982
  • Aimé Césaire: The Collected Poetry, 1983 (trans. by Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith)
  • Non-vicious circle: twenty poems of Aime Cesaire, 1984
  • Lost body / Corps perdu, 1986 (illustrations by Pablo Picasso)
  • Lyric and dramatic poetry, 1946-82, 1990 (trans. by Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith)
  • La Poesie, 1994
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Valentine de Saint-Point , Futurist Manifesto of Lust

Futurist Manifesto of Lust


Valentine de Saint-Point

A reply to those dishonest journalists who twist phrases to make the Idea seem ridiculous;
to those women who only think what I have dared to say;
to those for whom Lust is still nothing but a sin;
to all those who in Lust can only see Vice, just as in Pride they see only vanity.

Lust, when viewed without moral preconceptions and as an essential part of life’s dynamism, is a force.

Lust is not, any more than pride, a mortal sin for the race that is strong. Lust, like pride, is a virtue that urges one on, a powerful source of energy.

Lust is the expression of a being projected beyond itself. It is the painful joy of wounded flesh, the joyous pain of a flowering. And whatever secrets unite these beings, it is a union of flesh. It is the sensory and sensual synthesis that leads to the greatest liberation of spirit. It is the communion of a particle of humanity with all the sensuality of the earth.

Lust is the quest of the flesh for the unknown, just as Celebration is the spirit’s quest for the unknown. Lust is the act of creating, it is Creation.

Flesh creates in the way that the spirit creates. In the eyes of the Universe their creation is equal. One is not superior to the other and creation of the spirit depends on that of the flesh.

We possess body and spirit. To curb one and develop the other shows weakness and is wrong. A strong man must realize his full carnal and spiritual potentiality. The satisfaction of their lust is the conquerors’ due. After a battle in which men have died, it is normal for the victors, proven in war, to turn to rape in the conquered land, so that life may be re-created.

When they have fought their battles, soldiers seek sensual pleasures, in which their constantly battling energies can be unwound and renewed. The modern hero, the hero in any field, experiences the same desire and the same pleasure. The artist, that great universal medium, has the same need. And the exaltation of the initiates of those religions still sufficiently new to contain a tempting element of the unknown, is no more than sensuality diverted spiritually towards a sacred female image.

Art and war are the great manifestations of sensuality; lust is their flower. A people exclusively spiritual or a people exclusively carnal would be condemned to the same decadence—sterility.

Lust excites energy and releases strength. Pitilessly it drove primitive man to victory, for the pride of bearing back a woman the spoils of the defeated. Today it drives the great men of business who run the banks, the press and international trade to increase their wealth by creating centers, harnessing energies and exalting the crowds, to worship and glorify with it the object of their lust. These men, tired but strong, find time for lust, the principal motive force of their action and of the reactions caused by their actions affecting multitudes and worlds.

Even among the new peoples where sensuality has not yet been released or acknowledged, and who are neither primitive brutes nor the sophisticated representatives of the old civilizations, woman is equally the great galvanizing principle to which all is offered. The secret cult that man has for her is only the unconscious drive of a lust as yet barely woken. Amongst these peoples as amongst the peoples of the north, but for different reasons, lust is almost exclusively concerned with procreation. But lust, under whatever aspects it shows itself, whether they are considered normal or abnormal, is always the supreme spur.

The animal life, the life of energy, the life of the spirit, sometimes demand a respite. And effort for effort’s sake calls inevitably for effort for pleasure’s sake. These efforts are not mutually harmful but complementary, and realize fully the total being.

For heroes, for those who create with the spirit, for dominators of all fields, lust is the magnificent exaltation of their strength. For every being it is a motive to surpass oneself with the simple aim of self-selection, of being noticed, chosen, picked out.

Christian morality alone, following on from pagan morality, was fatally drawn to consider lust as a weakness. Out of the healthy joy which is the flowering of the flesh in all its power it has made something shameful and to be hidden, a vice to be denied. It has covered it with hypocrisy, and this has made a sin of it.

We must stop despising Desire, this attraction at once delicate and brutal between two bodies, of whatever sex, two bodies that want each other, striving for unity. We must stop despising Desire, disguising it in the pitiful clothes of old and sterile sentimentality.

It is not lust that disunites, dissolves and annihilates. It is rather the mesmerizing complications of sentimentality, artificial jealousies, words that inebriate and deceive, the rhetoric of parting and eternal fidelities, literary nostalgia—all the histrionics of love.

We must get rid of all the ill-omened debris of romanticism, counting daisy petals, moonlight duets, heavy endearments, false hypocritical modesty. When beings are drawn together by a physical attraction, let them—instead of talking only of the fragility of their hearts—dare to express their desires, the inclinations of their bodies, and to anticipate the possibilities of joy and disappointment in their future carnal union.

Physical modesty, which varies according to time and place, has only the ephemeral value of a social virtue.

We must face up to lust in full conciousness. We must make of it what a sophisticated and intelligent being makes of himself and of his life; we must make lust into a work of art. To allege unwariness or bewilderment in order to explain an act of love is hypocrisy, weakness and stupidity.

We should desire a body consciously, like any other thing.

Love at first sight, passion or failure to think, must not prompt us to be constantly giving ourselves, nor to take beings, as we are usually inclined to do so due to our inability to see into the future. We must choose intelligently. Directed by our intuition and will, we should compare the feelings and desires of the two partners and avoid uniting and satisfying any that are unable to complement and exalt each other.

Equally conciously and with the same guiding will, the joys of this coupling should lead to the climax, should develop its full potential, and should permit to flower all the seeds sown by the merging of two bodies. Lust should be made into a work of art, formed like every work of art, both instinctively and consciously.

We must strip lust of all the sentimental veils that disfigure it. These veils were thrown over it out of mere cowardice, because smug sentimentality is so satisfying. Sentimentality is comfortable and therefore demeaning.

In one who is young and healthy, when lust clashes with sentimentality, lust is victorious. Sentiment is a creature of fashion, lust is eternal. Lust triumphs, because it is the joyous exaltation that drives one beyond oneself, the delight in possession and domination, the perpetual victory from which the perpetual battle is born anew, the headiest and surest intoxication of conquest. And as this certain conquest is temporary, it must be constantly won anew.

Lust is a force, in that it refines the spirit by bringing to white heat the excitement of the flesh. The spirit burns bright and clear from a healthy, strong flesh, purified in the embrace. Only the weak and sick sink into the mire and are diminished. And lust is a force in that it kills the weak and exalts the strong, aiding natural selection.

Lust is a force, finally, in that it never leads to the insipidity of the definite and the secure, doled out by soothing sentimentality. Lust is the eternal battle, never finally won. After the fleeting triumph, even during the ephemeral triumph itself, reawakening dissatisfaction spurs a human being, driven by an orgiastic will, to expand and surpass himself.

Lust is for the body what an ideal is for the spirit—the magnificent Chimaera, that one ever clutches at but never captures, and which the young and the avid, intoxicated with the vision, pursue without rest.

Lust is a force.

Entartete Kunst

Rene Depestres, an interview of Aime Cesaire at the Cultural Congress of Havana, 1967

A.C.: I don’t deny French influences myself. Whether I want to or not, as a poet I express myself in French, and clearly French literature has influenced me. But I want to emphasize very strongly that—while using as a point of departure the elements that French literature gave me—at the same time I have always strived to create a new language, one capable of communicating the African heritage. In other words, for me French was a tool that I wanted to use in developing a new means of expression. I wanted to create an Antillean French, a black French that, while still being French, had a black character.

R.D.: Has surrealism been instrumental in your effort to discover this new French language?

A.C.: I was ready to accept surrealism because I already had advanced on my own, using as my starting points the same authors that had influenced the surrealist poets. Their thinking and mine had common reference points. Surrealism provided me with what I had been confusedly searching for. I have accepted it joyfully because in it I have found more of a confirmation than a revelation. It was a weapon that exploded the French language. It shook up absolutely everything. This was very important because the traditional forms—burdensome, overused forms—were crushing me.

R.D.: This was what interested you in the surrealist movement…

A.C.: Surrealism interested me to the extent that it was a liberating factor.

R.D.: So you were very sensitive to the concept of liberation that surrealism contained. Surrealism called forth deep and unconscious forces.

A.C.: Exactly. And my thinking followed these lines: Well then, if I apply the surrealist approach to my particular situation, I can summon up these unconscious forces. This, for me, was a call to Africa. I said to myself: it’s true that superficially we are French, we bear the marks of French customs; we have been branded by Cartesian philosophy, by French rhetoric; but if we break with all that, if we plumb the depths, then what we will find is fundamentally black.

R.D.: In other words, it was a process of disalienation.

A.C.: Yes, a process of disalienation; that’s how I interpreted surrealism.

R.D.: That’s how surrealism has manifested itself in your work: as an effort to reclaim your authentic character, and in a way as an effort to reclaim the African heritage.

A.C.: Absolutely.

R.D.: And as a process of detoxification.

A.C.: A plunge into the depths. It was a plunge into Africa for me.

R.D.: It was a way of emancipating your consciousness.

A.C.: Yes, I felt that beneath the social being would be found a profound being, over whom all sorts of ancestral layers and alluviums had been deposited.

Francis Picabia, 1879-1953

Jorge Luis Borges, Arte Poética (translated by W.S. Merwin)

Arte Poética
Mirar el río hecho de tiempo y agua
Y recordar que el tiempo es otro río,
Saber que nos perdemos como el río
Y que los rostros pasan como el agua.
Sentir que la vigilia es otro sueño
Que sueña no soñar y que la muerte
Que teme nuestra carne es esa muerte
De cada noche, que se llama sueño.

Ver en el día o en el año un símbolo
De los días del hombre y de sus años,
Convertir el ultraje de los años
En una música, un rumor y un símbolo,
Ver en la muerte el sueño, en el ocaso
Un triste oro, tal es la poesía
Que es inmortal y pobre. La poesía
Vuelve como la aurora y el ocaso.
A veces en las tardes una cara
Nos mira desde el fondo de un espejo;
El arte debe ser como ese espejo
Que nos revela nuestra propia cara.
Cuentan que Ulises, harto de prodigios,
Lloró de amor al divisar su Itaca
Verde y humilde. El arte es esa Itaca
De verde eternidad, no de prodigios.
También es como el río interminable
Que pasa y queda y es cristal de un mismo
Heráclito inconstante, que es el mismo
Y es otro, como el río interminable.
Jorge Luis Borges (1960)

Ars Poetica
To look at the river made of time and water
And remember that time is another river,
To know that we are lost like the river
And that faces dissolve like water.
To be aware that waking dreams it is not asleep
While it is another dream, and that the death
That our flesh goes in fear of is that death
Which comes every night and is called sleep.
To see in the day or in the year a symbol
Of the days of man and of his years,
To transmute the outrage of the years
Into a music, a murmur of voices, and a symbol,
To see in death sleep, and in the sunset
A sad goldsuch is poetry,
Which is immortal and poor. Poetry
returns like the dawn and the sunset.
At times in the evenings a face
Looks at us out of the depths of a mirror;
Art should be like that mirror
Which reveals to us our own face.
They say that Ulysses, sated with marvels,
Wept tears of love at the sight of his Ithaca,
Green and humble. Art is that Ithaca
Of green eternity, not of marvels.
It is also like the river with no end
That flows and remains and is the mirror of one same
Inconstant Heraclitus, who is the same
And is another, like the river with no end.
Translation by William S. Merwin

Borges: The Metaphor I 1/2

Borges: The Metaphor I 2/2

François Dufrene: “J’interroge et j’invective,” 1951

Isidore Isou: Traité de bave et d’éternité , 1951

Isidore Isou’s film Traité de bave et d’éternité (1951) – dubbed from UBUWEB

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