Freedom Time: Negritude, Decolonization, and the Future of the World

By Lambert, Michael | Anthropological Quarterly, Spring 2016 | Go to article overview

Freedom Time: Negritude, Decolonization, and the Future of the World


Lambert, Michael, Anthropological Quarterly


Gary Wilder, Freedom Time: Negritude, Decolonization, and the Future of the World. Durham: Duke University Press, 2015. 384 pp.

Aimé Césaire and Léopold Sédar Senghor were two intellectual and political iconoclasts of imperial France in the 20th century. Born in the early years of the century (Senghor in 1906 and Césaire in 1913) in the distant reaches of the French Empire (Senghor in Senegal and Césaire in Martinique), these two men would meet as students in Paris where they joined forces as founders of the influential nègritude movement. After World War II, they each returned to their respective homelands where they would become leading political figures. Césaire would serve as longtime elected mayor of Fort-de-France and deputy to the French National Assembly. Senghor would win election as deputy to the French National Assembly and then, following independence, serve for 20 years as Senegal's first president. Following the end of their political careers, both men, despite having had origins far from metropolitan France, would be honored as favored sons of the French republic. In 1983, Senghor became the first African elected to the prestigious Académie française, and, in 2011, a plaque honoring Césaire was installed in the Panthéon in Paris.

The complex relationship that held between these authors and France sets the stage for Freedom Time. The apparent conservatism of Césaire and Senghor-pioneers of a francophone countercultural movement who had established themselves as leading politicians and public intellectuals in their homeland - presents itself as a bit of a puzzle. Following World War II, while much of the colonized world, from Ghana to Vietnam, was advocating for independence and national sovereignty, Césaire and Senghor imagined a very different path out of the colonial era. Neither advocated for outright independence or the territorial sovereignty of their respective homelands. Instead, they proposed a future in which the colonial arrangement would be undone, but some form of political integration with France would be maintained. Aimé Césaire, as elected deputy of Martinique to the French assembly, would help negotiate the political incorporation of Martinique into France as an overseas department which enjoyed, at least in principle, the same rights and responsibilities as any other French department. And Senghor, while his homeland of Senegal would become independent in 1960, during the years leading up to independence advocated for a different outcome. Rather than advocate for Senegalese territorial sovereignty, Senghor proposed a continued political relationship between former French imperial territories in Africa and metropolitan France, albeit one that was not colonial. This relationship would take the form of a "federation of federations within a larger confederation" (153).

Some scholars have been at a loss to make sense of the seemingly conservative positions of these two intellectual and political icons of the 20th century. Are they to be read as proto-nationalists, precursors to a more radical and nationalist Frantz Fanon, or simply dismissed as conservative stooges, dupes who unwittingly laid the groundwork for the French neocolonial project that, in the case of Africa, came to be famously known as frangafrique? In this book, Gary Wilder unabashedly revisits the political projects of Césaire and Senghor. Wilder does not hide his admiration for what Senghor and Césaire aspired to achieve. He takes at face value their political visions-for a world in which colonialism will be undone without the former colonies claiming territorial sovereignty-as proposals to be taken seriously, both then and now. While the text possesses a rueful "what if" tone, Wilder is not merely looking back on a future that never came to be. Rather, ultimately his aim is to look at our time forward. He revisits the controversial positions of these francophone public intellectuals to highlight the relevance of their ideas to those currently "attempting to rethink democracy, solidarity, and pluralism beyond the limitations of methodological nationalism" (3). …

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