Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings

By Charles Lemert | Go to book overview

Aimé Césaire ( 1913-) was born in Martinique, where he attended school. He then studied at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, before returning to Martinique. Throughout his life, Césaire has been active in political life and government in Martinique. He is known as much for his poetry and drama as for Discourse on Colonialism ( 1955), from which the selection is taken. "Between Colonizer and Colonized" represents the early thinking of social theorists in the late-colonial world: The text's systematic critique of colonialism expresses the distinctive view of the colonial subject in the colonialist's language. Albert Memmi The Colonizer and the Colonized ( 1959) is another important example of the early social theory of those who became postcolonial subjects. One of the unique features of this perspective is that it resists categorization as either a race- or class-based point of view. Many today would consider theories written from the postcolonial point of view as those most completely sensitive to the many factors at play in the systematic oppression of people anywhere.


Between Colonizer and Colonized

Aimé Césaire ( 1955)

But let us speak about the colonized.

I see clearly what colonization has destroyed: the wonderful Indian civilizations-- neither Deterding nor Royal Dutch nor Standard Oil will ever console me for the Aztecs and the Incas.

I see clearly the civilizations, condemned to perish at a future date, into which it has introduced a principle of ruin: the South Sea islands, Nigeria, Nyasaland. I see less clearly the contributions it has made.

Security? Culture? The rule of law? In the meantime, I look around and wherever there are colonizers and colonized face to face, I see force, brutality, cruelty, sadism, conflict, and, in a parody of education, the hasty manufacture of a few thousand subordinate functionaries, "boys," artisans, office clerks, and interpreters necessary for the smooth operation of business.

I spoke of contact.

Between colonizer and colonized there is room only for forced labor, intimidation, pressure, the police, taxation, theft, rape, compulsory crops, contempt, mistrust, arrogance, self-complacency, swinishness, brainless elites, degraded masses.

No human contact, but relations of domination and submission which turn the colonizing man into a classroom monitor, an army sergeant, a prison guard, a slave driver, and the indigenous man into an instrument of production.

My turn to state an equation: colonization = "thingification."

I hear the storm. They talk to me about progress, about "achievements," diseases cured, improved standards of living.

I am talking about societies drained of their essence, cultures trampled underfoot, institutions undermined, lands confiscated, religions smashed, magnificent artistic creations destroyed, extraordinary possibilities wiped out.

____________________
Excerpt from Joan Pinkham, trans., Discourse on Colonialism ( New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972 1955]), pp. 20-25. Copyright 1972 by Monthly Review Inc. Reprinted by permission of Monthly Review Foundation.

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