Friday, 20 Apr 2018
World

Who was Aimé Césaire, who died 10 years ago? [Decoding]

Born in Basse-Pointe, Martinique, in 1913, Aimé Césaire turned 18 when he left his native island for to settle in Paris in 1931. Student in literary prep at the prestigious Lycée Louis le Grand the young man is studious. He is passionate about works of history and philosophy, and especially for French poets like Arthur Rimbaud or Charles Baudelaire. In 1935, he integrates the Ecole normale supérieure (ENS) . Intellectual training in Paris Located in the Latin Quarter, the student saw the intellectual excitement that stirred its streets in the inter-war period. “The Parisian years of Césaire were decisive , says Dominique Combe, head of the Master’s Theory of Literature at ENS and author of a commented version of Notebook of a return to the native country . He does a lot of reading and meetings. This is where he will form his thoughts and write his first poems. ” He crosses the path of Léopold Sédar Senghor , future President of Senegal. Senegalese and Martiniquais befriend each other. Together they speak poetry, history and social issues. It is through Senghor and his many readings that Césaire discovers Africa. “The relationship that Césaire has with Africa goes through the books , explains Dominique Combe. In the 1930s, he is an Antillean intellectual who works on the continent but never set foot there. ” Negritude The two men are among the few black students in Paris. They discover the Metropolis and learn about Parisian cultural life, in an environment still predominantly white and tinged with racism. “Imagine what it means at this time for a young black man to meet at Lycée Louis le Grand or ENS , advance Dominique Combe. What brings Césaire and Senghor closer is their skin color. Together, they will try to understand who they are. ” Césaire and Senghor write in a young magazine, the Black Student. It is in his pages that Césaire publishes his first texts. It is here, too, that he speaks for the first time of “negritude”, an inseparable term of his work. “Negritude, for Césaire, is not a concept but an image Dominique Combe details. It’s the very immediate, very physical perception of what it means to be black in a white environment. ” Beyond perception, negritude is also accompanied by a form of claim against racism: “There is the awareness of one’s black identity, then the defense of that identity.” “Founding father” of the West Indies Aimé Césaire returned to Martinique at the beginning of the second world war, in 1939. The same year he published the poetic work that made his fame: the Notebook of a return to the native country . Passed unnoticed in these troubled times, the notebook will be successful in his second publication, in 1947. Césaire speaks of Africa and negritude, in a style that echoes the surrealist poets of the time. At the end of the war, the poet was elected under the Communist label mayor of Fort-de-France in 1945 and deputy of Martinique the same year. He makes the departmentalization of the Antilles his political fight. Ten years later, he breaks with the Communist Party and created his own political party: the Progressive Martinican Party. He will keep his seat of deputy without interruption until 1993, that of mayor until 2001. Today, Aimé Césaire can be seen as a “founding father” of the West Indies, according to Dominique Combe. A hybrid figure, both literary and political. “We can not dissociate the work of Césaire, he is both a writer and a politician, engaged in terms of ideas but also in the field.” Ten years after his death, the inheritance of the cantor of negritude remains very present.

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