Thursday, April 17, 2008

Aimé Césaire Died Today

Aimé Césaire, a leading pioneer of the Black Consciousness movement, died today. He was 94 years old.

Césaire's 1953 Discours sur le colonialisme (Discourse on Colonialism) had a profound influence on my early thinking about struggle and revolution.

Discours is a brilliant deconstruction of European colonialism and racism. I am reminded how my students at South Africa's Military Academy in 2006 debated the value of Discours in the historical struggle against apartheid.

Much of those vibrant debates focused on the merits of Césaire's insistance on calling himself a Negro and his groundbreaking articulation of the Negritude (Blackness) concept and movement he developed alongside Léopold Sédar Senghor and Léon-Gontran Damas.

Negritude is primarily focused to reject the mask of inferiority that is thrust onto the colonized. The dialectical struggle between colonizer and colonized is picked up and developed by Frantz Fanon, a contemporary of Césaire, in his Black Skin, White Masks (1967).

As a playwright Césaire is perhaps best known for his radical adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest (1968) which he intended to capture Black American life in a Caribbean setting.

The Tempest can be read as a characterization of the relationship and struggle for power between the white colonizer (Prospero) and the Black colonized native (Caliban).

In the final scene Caliban rejects Prospero and the cancerous lie of colonialism when he says:

Prospero, you are the master of illusion.
Lying is your trademark.
And you have lied so much to me
(lied about the world, lied about me)
that you have ended by imposing on me
an image of myself.
underdeveloped, you brand me, inferior,
That ís the way you have forced me to see myself
I detest that image! What's more, it's a lie!
But now I know you, you old cancer,
and I know myself as well. (162)

From this passage you can see Césaire in Anton Lembede, Robert Sobukwe, Richard Wright, Kwame Ture, Mukasa Dada, Steve Biko, Nikki Giovanni, Amiri Baraka, among others.

We owe Aimé Césaire a great debt for motivating a movement that still stands as the dialectical opposite of colonialism and white racism.

May God rest him in peace.



Ana said...

Kia Ora Brother

I am saddened by his death as well. Cesaire was also fundamental to my development and understanding of anti colonialism and anti racism.
May he rest in peace.
The struggle continues.


Ana said...

A Poetics of Anticolonialism

Ridwan said...

Thank you kindly my sista Sina. We have lost a giant no doubt.

I re-read parts of Discours again last night. I was struck, again, by his insistence that a civilization cannot survive unless it can solve the problems it has created.

Be well Sina. Peace to you.


Angryindian said...

Excellent piece. Forward!

Ridwan said...

Thank you kindly Angryindian. Forward! indeed.

Peace brother,