To "Africa" with Aimé Césaire
Professor A James Arnold
University of Virginia
Thursday, February 9, 2012, 3:45 pm
Florida State University
Aimé Césaire has been read for a half-century in the light of his anti-colonial writings of the 1950s, which were accompanied by new editions of two major collections of poetry, his one long poem, and a lyrical tragedy, all of which had been first published in the 1940s. The poetics that had inspired his first and most fertile creative decade (1939 to 1949) was effectively buried by the political ends Césaire envisioned from the 1950s onward. Nearly all critical attention to his poetry has drawn exclusively on the re-editions that appeared from 1956 to 1961. In short, there is an unknown Césaire waiting to be rediscovered.
"To ‘Africa’ with Aimé Césaire" will focus on this process of rewriting as it was brought to bear on a major poem, first published in a magazine in 1946, then in a first revision in Solar Throat Slashed / Soleil cou coupé in 1948, before being entirely rewritten for the revised collection entitled Cadaster / Cadastre (1961). Examination of the poem’s editorial history will involve the Cuban painter Wifredo Lam, to whom it was dedicated, André Breton, Benjamin Péret, and other Paris surrealists who worked in the western hemisphere during World War II.
A close reading of the successive states of the poem will demonstrate how the referent "Africa" shifted in very significant ways between 1946 and 1961. The problematic and slippery term Negritude will also be shown to move between interpretive paradigms, depending on the poet’s audience and purpose.
A. James Arnold taught French and Comparative Literature at the University of Virginia from 1966 to 2007. During his forty-year career he was a visiting fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge, and the University of Queensland, and visiting professor at the universities of Paris III-Sorbonne Nouvelle, Leiden, and Potsdam. His research was funded by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Fulbright-Hays programs, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. The International Comparative Literature Association sponsored his three-volume edited History of Literature in the Caribbean (1994-2001). He authored critical studies of Paul Valéry, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Aimé Césaire, and edited over thirty volumes in the New World Studies and CARAF Books series, both of which he created at the University of Virginia Press. Wesleyan University Press published his co-translation of Césaire’s Solar Throat Slashed in 2011. He is lead editor of Césaire’s literary works (in progress under the sponsorship of the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie and the Institut des Textes et Manuscrits Modernes at the École Normale Supérieure, Paris).