An Introduction to Caribbean Francophone Writing: Guadeloupe and Martinique

By Sam Haigh | Go to book overview

2
Critical Approaches to the Literatures of
Decolonization: Aimé Césaire's Cahier
dun retour au pays natal
Angela Chambers

Aimé Césaire's main literary works were published between 1939 and 1982, a period of profound change in the relationship between colonial powers and their colonies. Césaire and his contemporaries did not merely use literary forms for ideological and political ends, to demand equality and independence, but, through their creative work, participated in the process of decolonization by affirming the existence of new cultures and creating new and different literary voices.

In a successful process of colonization, the creator of cultural values is the colonizer. And the consumer is the colonized … But cultural creation, precisely because it is creation, disturbs this system. It destroys it. Starting with the colonial hierarchy, as it makes the colonized, the consumers, into creators.1

It is thus hardly surprising that the interpretation of the literary texts produced both during and after the period of decolonization has posed major problems for authors and critics alike. The critical models which were developed for the national literatures of the colonial powers proved to be totally inappropriate for the study of texts produced in the colonies and former colonies, as they tended to situate the authors and their works in relation to the national literary tradition, thus defining them as marginal and different. From the publication of the first version of the Cahier d'un retour au pays natal (Notebook of a Return to My Native Land2) in 1939

____________________
1
Aimé Césaire (1959), ‘L'homme de culture et ses responsabilités', Présence Africaine, XXIVXXV, p.117. Unless otherwise stated, translations of French prose texts are by the author of this chapter.
2
All references to Césaire's Cahier d'un retour au pays natal, which was first published in 1939 in the Parisian journal Volontés, will be to the recent bilingual edition: Aimé Césaire (1995), Notebook of a Return to My Native Land, trans. Mireille Rosello with Anne Pritchard, Newcastle Upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Books. The Cahier will subsequently be referred to as the Notebook

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