Aimé Césaire was an African-Martinican francophone poet, author, and politician. He was one of the founders of the négritude movement in Francophone literature.
A. James Arnold is the author of Modernism and Negritude: The Poetry and Poetics of Aimé Césaire (Harvard, 1981), the editor of Césaire's Lyric and Dramatic Poetry, 1946–82 (Virginia, 1990), translated by Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith, and the lead editor of the Paris edition of Césaire's literary works (in progress).
Clayton Eshleman has recently published, among others, a translation of The Complete Poetry of Cesar Vallejo with a Foreword by Mario Vargas Llosa (U of Cal Press, 2007), The Grindstone of Rapport / A Clayton Eshleman Reader (Black Widow Press, 2008) and Anticline (Black Widow Press, 2010). In the spring of 2011, besides Aime Cesaire's Solar Throat Slashed (cotranslated with A. James Arnold), to be published by Wesleyan University Press, he will publish Curdled Skulls, a translation of the poetry of Bernard Bador (Black Widow Press), and, with Lucas Klein, a translation of 31 poems by Bei Dao, called Endure (Black Widow Press). A professor emeritus at Eastern Michigan University, he continues to live in Ypsilanti with his wife Caryl.
In 1948, when Aimé Césaire's Solar Throat Slashed (Soleil Cou coupé)
was published by a small house that showcased non-commercial writing in the Surrealist orbit, the Martinican poet was a Communist Deputy from Martinique. He found himself in the uncomfortable position of representing a party whose literary platform was socialist-realist, whereas his poetics had for a decade explored the most advanced and daring avenues of the avant-garde. The previous year he had published the first French edition of his long poem Notebook of a Return to the Native Land (Cahier d'un retour au pays natal)
as a book and he had participated in the Paris Surrealist Exposition. In 1946 the Gallimard publishing house had issued his first collection of poetry, championed by André Breton. We believe Solar Throat Slashed
is the high point and the major accomplishment of this first period of Césaire's poetic production.
In 1961, immediately after the cascade of declarations of independence by France's former colonies in Africa, Césaire published a bowdlerized version of Solar Throat Slashed
in a new composite collection entitled Cadastre/Cadaster
. Readers of that book or of the translation Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith did for the University of California Press edition of Césaire's Collected Poetry
in 1983, have had no access to the revolutionary poetics that underlay the original, unexpurgated edition of 1948. Césaire had eliminated 31 of the 72 original poems, and had edited more or less severely 29 of those he did reissue. Of the three poems published by Asymptote
, one (À l'heure où dans la chaleur...
) was cut from the 1961 edition, and the other two saw their sexual connotations and their prophetic stance censored so as to bring the texts in line with a more political reading. "To Africa," which was first published in the post-war poetry magazine Poésie 46
, is an excellent example of both processes. The "Africa" of the 1948 poem is the ancestral home of the descendants of slaves, as much or more than it represents the colonized continent. By removing lines that allude to a plague that will
occur in the year 3000, as well as numerous examples of surrealist metaphors with a strong sexual content, Césaire substantially reoriented the poem. "At the Locks of the Void," which in the text we translate here develops a fiercely anti-European stance, was cut very carefully so as to remove the strongest language and the sharpest bite.
Our hope is that the Wesleyan University Press edition of Solar Throat Slashed
, due out in late Spring 2011, will spark a general reassessment of Césaire as a major voice in twentieth century poetry.
—A. James Arnold