Engagement and the Language of the Subject in the Poetry of Aime Cesaire

Engagement and the Language of the Subject in the Poetry of Aime Cesaire

Engagement and the Language of the Subject in the Poetry of Aime Cesaire

Engagement and the Language of the Subject in the Poetry of Aime Cesaire

Excerpt

With the recent publication of two major volumes in this country, the work of the Martinican poet Aimé Césaire can finally reach the English-speaking reader in a meaningful way. It is a fitting and moving tribute to this great poet, playwright, essayist, and political activist that his Collected Poetry, magnificently translated byClayton Eshleman andAnnette Smith, gloriously illustrated with works by Wifredo Lam, should appear in such a beautiful bilingual edition in 1983, the year of Césaire's seventieth birthday. The translation is a stunning accomplishment, given the difficulties of the Césairian text. In their introduction the translators themselves point to "the schizophrenic exercise one goes through when translating Césaire," noting also that "the problems raised by the syntax, however, are far from equaling the lexicological ones."

Two years earlier, the first significant introduction to Césaire's life and work was published in English. A. James Arnold Modernism and Negritude: The Poetry and Poetics of Aimé Césaire is a comprehensive and thoroughly researched study, which places both Césaire and his work in their social, political, historical, and literary contexts. These two books can be read felicitously as companion pieces, each illuminating the other. Their publication testifies to the growing recognition that Césaire's œuvre is receiving in the Anglophone world, and their appearance should he hailed.

Yet even in the Francophone world, the difficulty of Césaire's corpus has baffled critics outside of those Third World countries where his appeal as a spokesman for cultural decolonization was immediate. Despite André Breton "discovery" of the Cahier in 1941. in which he declared that "ce poème n'était rien moms que le plus grand monument lyrique de "ce temps," and the critical authority which Jean-Paul Sartre "Orphée noir" essay lent to Césaire's poetic project. Michel Leiris felt he needed to entitle an article dated 1965, Qui est Aim Cesaire? It is not surprising that a powerful œuvre such as Césaire's has often been criticized as "hermetic" and "exotic." on the one hand, and politically subversive or limited by the ideology of negritude, on the other. But the absence of a problematic that would simultaneously ar-

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