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Revue littéraire no. 2 Posted by on May 12, 2010 in Culture, History, Literature, People, Vocabulary

After the fun of Balzac’s Sarrasine , it’s time for our deuxième revue littéraire! Aimé Césaire was un poète, un écrivain et un homme politique Martiniquais: a Martinican poet, writer and politician. Né en (born in) Martinique en 1913, Césaire a démenagé (moved) to Paris for high school.

There, he began an academic career that included the founding of a movement acknowledging the artistic and cultural contributions of blacks, la négritude. His 1950 speech “Discours sur le colonialisme” is a landmark in the study of colonialism.

Discours sur le colonialisme is spectacularly well-written; an important document in intellectual history; and, à mon avis, un chef-d’oeuvre de l’écriture française.  Because its history and its writing are both so rich, and I feel so strongly about the book, on va prendre quelques posts pour le traiter: we are going to take a few posts to process it.

I bought my copy of Aimé Césaire’s pamphlet-sized bouquin (book) at Présence Africaine, une librairie célèbre (a famous bookstore) in the 5th arrondissement of Paris. Discours sur le colonialisme is reportedly one of their top sellers, and certainly the only reason I learned about and visited la librairie.

Présence Africaine a été fondée par (was founded by) un intellectuel sénégalais, Alioune Diop, en 1947. Diop declared dans le premier numéro (in the first edition) que « la revue ne se place sous l’obédience d’aucune idéologie ou politique. Elle veut s’ouvrir à la collaboration de tous les hommes de bonne volonté (Blancs, Jaunes ou Noirs), susceptibles de nous aider à définir l’originalité africaine et de hâter son insertion dans le monde moderne ». This openness to “tous les hommes de bonne volonté,” all men of goodwill, se sent toujours chez Présence Africaine: is still felt at Présence Africaine. Like decades of students before me, I felt at home there.

At a time when I was searching for something authentic and real in Paris, Présence Africaine proved that what I was looking for existed in la francophonie (the French-speaking world). After living there for several weeks, Paris hadn’t hooked me: it was too beautiful, too self-satisfied, too expensive.  For me, Paris is like a beautiful woman you try to seduce: yes, she’s lovely to be with and that makes you feel good, but she really doesn’t care about you because she has so many other, probably better options. Paris is not looking to settle down, and she definitely won’t hold hands.

Présence Africaine is as much about welcoming outsiders as anything else, and in that alone it is unique and special. I spent an hour in this small bookstore, listening to people talk, looking at books I could possibly, someday, maybe begin to read. I left with Discours sur le colonialisme, Aimé Césaire’s condemnation of European colonization.

Chez moi (at home), I pored over Discours sur le colonialisme, fascinée par the challenge of its language and the importance of its subject. I handed in my paper on it many days late, more determined to do justice to the book than to be punctual. Its language and intellectual firepower still thrill me, et je veux que vous le connaissiez aussi—and I want you to be introduced to it too. We’ll spend another post là-dessus on Thursday, exploring Discours and its place in the intellectual and political history of Europe.

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