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Friday, April 18, 2008

Aime Cesaire: A Tribute

One of the greatest poet of negritude, Aime Cesaire has died in Martinique, the Island that has graced us with two finest sons of African/Human emancipation, the other one being Frantz Fanon. In one of his famous poems 'Return to my Native Land', Cesaire declares that "No race has a monopoly on beauty or intelligence or strength" therefore "there is room for everyone at the rendezvous of victory." By way of tribute I take the liberty to modify and post the following entry that I wrote for 'A Dictionary of Continental Philosophy':

Aime Cesaire (1913-2008) was a Franco-Martiniquean poet and politician who was a cofounder of the négritude movement. His critique on colonialism and capitalism has once again become one of the key resources in post-colonial thought and struggle. Cesaire’s (1955) Discourse on Colonialism (1955), which was written before he became disillusioned with Communism’ emphasis on class struggle at the expense of racial struggle, offers a powerful Marxist critique of European/Western civilization’s incapability to solve the problems it has created.

He saw the problems of the proletariats and the colonization problem as the major problems that bourgeois-ruled Europe sought to treacherously and hypocritically evade. Although he admit that ‘it is a good thing to place different civilizations in contact with each others’, he question the way colonial expeditions employed the ‘dishonest equations Christianity =civilization, paganism= savagery’ to establish a kind of contact that was decivilising and dehumanising to both the colonizer and the colonized.

Césaire quotes a number of European pro-racism and pro-colonial texts from various disciplines and authors such as Ernest Renan, Carl Sigers and Jules Romains and Comte de Gobineau, as he employ at length the controversial example of Nazism’s ‘boomerang effect’ on Europe as his point of departure in exposing the subtle complicity of some European bourgeois philosophers in paving the way for the decadence of Western civilization:

‘People are surprised, they become indignant. They say:“ How strange! But never mind-it’s Nazism, it will pass!” And they wait, and they hope; and they hide the truth from themselves, that it is barbarism, the supreme barbarism, the crowning barbarism that sums up all the daily barbarisms; that it is Nazism, yes, but that before they were its victims, they were its accomplices; that they tolerated Nazism before it was inflicted on them, that they absolved it, shut their eyes to it, legitimised it, because, until then, it had been applied only to non-European peoples; that they have cultivated Nazism, that they are responsible for it, and that before engulfing the whole edifice of Western, Christian civilization in its reddened waters, it oozes, seeps, and trickles from every crack."

Césaire saw the presence of this heritage in the post-war European bourgeois class and his poetic discourse was therefore a dialectical call for the destruction of this class. This class has yet to commit what Marxists refers to as 'class suicide'. No wonder class struggles continues. Aluta continua!

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