Academic journal article Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies

Of Colonized Mind and Matter: The Dis/Abilities of Negritude in Aimé Césaire's Cahier D'un Retour Au Pays Natal

Academic journal article Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies

Of Colonized Mind and Matter: The Dis/Abilities of Negritude in Aimé Césaire's Cahier D'un Retour Au Pays Natal

Article excerpt

The article analyzes Aimé Césaire's Cahier d'un retour au pays natal in order to demonstrate the varied uses of ability and disability in the written works of the Negritude movement, and specifically how disability, seen as a state acquired via colonialism, gains a negatively charged status. It argues that Cahier's decolonizing call for freedom is accomplished through an ableist rhetoric that equates being free with a nondisabled act of standing, as well as through a disparate association of men with disability and women with ability. The article realizes this argument by reading the varied norm-based dis/abilities Cahier associates with male and female figures. The disabilities in the male figures arise from colonialism, and the recurrent disabled site is the mind, with consequent ramifications for the matter (body). This phenomenon produces what, in the article, are termed psychocorporeal disabilities, which are together both physical and psychological. The singular female in the text is nondisabled, and her mind is overlooked for her essential bio-capacity to produce. The article makes the claim that Cahier, as a text of the liberation-based Negritude movement, realizes its goals in part through a reductive, normative disability-based construction of others, thereby undeniably dismantling one hierarchy (colonial), while unwittingly reaffirming others (gender, disability).

"Et nous sommes debout maintenant, mon pays et

moi,

[. . .]

debout

et

libre" (57, 62)

"And we are standing now, my country and I,

[. . .]

standing

and

free" (44, 48)

This is a sampling of the resounding words of Aimé Césaire's celebrated text, Cahier d'un retour au pays natal (Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, 1939). In Cahier, he works to provide for the colonized black population of the Caribbean a new way of conceiving of themselves, what we can consider a 'nouvelle négritude' ('new Negritude'): the inspiration to accept their blackness, to cast off an ideologically oppressive European colonialism, and to reclaim their heritage. 1 Representing such revalorization as a process of movement, Césaire uses an ability-charged rhetoric that implores the race nègre ("black race") to stand and thus to move into being free, out from an oppressive, colonized, and therefore disabling "vieille négritude" ("old negritude") (59; translation by Eshleman and Smith, 45).

At the heart of this impassioned call, however, resides a select and decidedly strategic use of a rhetoric revolving around able-bodiedness and disability-dis/ abilities-whereby disability takes on a negatively charged status and whereby each is assigned to a gender. The state of disability attributed to men touches on what I term, for the present discussion, psychocorporeal conditions that focus around psychological complexes (and melancholia in postcolonial contexts), which manifest themselves in the mind and the body, and which represent a negative state out of which the colonized must move; the prevalence of these representations prioritizes a concern for the psychological and, by association, intellectual state of men. A movement-conceived state of disability never appears for the woman in the poem, and her psychocorporeal state is never addressed. Instead, she is depicted as a repetitively nondisabled body valorized solely for the corporeal ability of physical productivity. By analyzing the multiple figures of men and the singular figure of woman in Césaire's Cahier and their relationships to dis/ability, I demonstrate how cultural movements such as négritude (hereafter in English, "Negritude"), that seek the liberation of one population, do so, at times, through recourse to reductive, normative-based rhetorical constructions, of which bodily dis/ability is a regular component. As I explore Césaire's imbalanced conceptualizations of liberation and freedom that are couched in dis/ability, and as I discuss the complex representation of the humanizing "new Negritude" that his text points to, I provide further responses to the particular postcolonial variant of the ever-present sociocultural and historical interrogation of what it means to be both disabled and human (Kudlick, 764). …

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