Monday, November 30, 2009

Jen Bouchard, "The Essays of Suzanne Césaire"

Jen Westmoreland Bouchard

(Re)Writing the Martinican Subject: Surrealism and Natural Imagery in the Essays of Suzanne Césaire

“Qu’est-ce que le Martiniquais fondamentalement, intimement, inaltérablement ? Et comment vit-il?”[1] These seemingly simple questions, which encompass a broad range of philosophical and moral implications, are at the base of the socio-literary project of Suzanne Césaire, co-founder of the Tropiques journal. Though her work is often overshadowed by that of her influential husband, writer and politician Aimé Césaire, the notions she unearthed during through her work in Tropiques laid the foundation for future defining Caribbean movements such as Antillanité and Créolité. In her two best know essays, “Le Grand camouflage” and “Malaise d’une civilisation,” Suzanne Césaire unpacks myriad colonial stereotypes associated with the disenfranchised Martinican subject, in order to restore to him his lost and mutated voice. Throughout both essays, Césaire employs a highly descriptive register of organic and natural imagery to assist her in defining and uncovering the Martinican identity. This vocabulary, highly influenced by the work of André Breton and the Surrealist practice of automatic writing, aided Suzanne and fellow Tropiques contributors, René Ménil and Aimé Césaire, in their location of the essence of the Martinican identity.

Tropiques was founded in 1941, shortly after Suzanne and Aimé Césaire returned to Fort- de –France after completing their studies in France. During their time in the Métropôle, both Césaires were members of the Association des étudiants martiniquais. It was during her time with this group that Suzanne became interested and engagée[2] in issues of black identity, assimilation, and colonialism. She brought these notions back with her to Martinique and began teaching with Aimé at Lycée Schoelcher in Fort-de-France. Along with their colleagues, René Ménil, Lucie Thésée, and Artistide Maugée, they launched the first issue of Tropiques in April, 1941. The journal was designed to serve a dual purpose : instigate the renewal of Martinican culture and identity, and provide a form of active resistance against the Vichy régime (to which France had recently fallen). Since Vichy officials censored all material they deemed subversive at the time, the Tropiques editors were forced to camouflage their publication as a journal of West Indian folklore. The abstract nature of Surrealist prose also aided in disguising their anti-colonial message. Despite the repression and intolerance of the Vichy regime, Tropiques survived and became an influential forum for Surrealist discourse. The essays published in Tropiques were critical to the evolution of a sophisticated anti-colonial stance, and eventually led to the development of a postcolonial future and re-birth of a Martinican culture. The editors of Tropiques promoted a vision of liberty that drew from modernism and a profound affinity for pre-colonial African thought and practice. This unique approach to the colonial condition produced an ideological merging of Négritude, Surrealism, and Marxism.

Surrealism and Négritude

Both Aimé and Suzanne Césaire employed a "Negritude inflected with Surrealism- a poetic movement steeped in Hegelian dialectics and Freudian psychoanalysis, equally committed to a human freedom."[3] Suzanne’s acceptance of Surrealism as a viable critical mode allowed her to expand Négritude’s African parameters to include the Caribbean, specifically the Martinican, situation. She theorized a specific sort of Négritude that encompassed the racial and cultural métissage of the Martinican subject. Césaire based her understanding of Négritude on a hybridized state, an adaptation of the theory that could still survive within the essentializing theoretical parameters of Négritude thought. Since hybridity is inherent in the Surrealist state (somewhere between waking and sleeping), Surrealism was essential to the theoretical formation of her Négritude perspective.[4] Her recognition and avowal of the Martinican subject as a hybrid entity allowed her to transcend the fixed binary structure of the time: whites-blacks, Europeans-Africans, civilized- savages. Moreover, her adherence to a hybrid definition of the Martinican subject was based on the complex history of the island. The majority of those who were considered “Martinican” (excluding the Europeans) at the time, were from a variety of backgrounds: African (primarily West African), Hispanic, European, and East Indian. In addition to revolutionizing theoretical discourse at the time, Suzanne’s brand of Négritude also offered an intellectual base for the innately hybridizing theories of Antillanité, created by Eduard Glissant, a formed student of the Césaires, and Créolité, conceptualized by Raphael Confiant, Patrick Chamoiseau, and Jean Bernabé.

René Ménil’s 1932 pamphlet entitled “Légitime defense,” (titled after Breton’s 1926 work), clearly states that the future of Martinicans was tied to Surrealism. His myriad reasons behind this declaration were essential to the foundation of Tropiques as a literary forum. As Sharpley-Whiting observes:

“On an artistic level, Surrealism rejected aesthetics, moral concerns, and literary and artistic values as elitist, repressive, and requiring conformity. Such values and ideas clashed with the Surrealist credo of calling into question "reality"- which was seen as essentially rooted in exploitation and inequality- with the hope of creating a “superior reality,” a sur-réalité…The mind was to be freed of rationalism, logic, reason, and Cartesian philosophy, the supposed cornerstones of Western bourgeois culture and ideology, which occasioned auto censorship and repression of basic drives.”[5]

Thus, the Surrealist practices of automatic writing aided in re-establishing a Martinican culture (as subjects were encouraged to reject Western notions of formalism), by revealing the soul of the Martinican poet, (which, in turn, re-established a Martinican identity). Like Ménil, Suzanne viewed Surrealism as a way in which one could get in touch with the essence of the Martinican subject in order to liberate him or her from the oppressive mentality of the colonizer.

“Telle est l’activité surréaliste, une activité totale : la seule qui peut libérer homme en lui révélant son inconscient, une de celles qui aidera à libérer les peuples…Mais, lorsqu’en 1943 la liberté elle-même se trouve menacée dans le monde entière, le surréalisme qui n’a pas cessé un seul instant de se tenir au service de la plus grande émancipation de l’homme, se veut résumé tout entier en ce seul mot magique: liberté,”[6]

According to Césaire, this liberty can be achieved only through a full knowledge and acceptance of one’s cultural identity. In order to more accurately describe the psychological state of the Martinican, Césaire turned to the work of the nineteenth century Prussian ethnographer, Léo Frobenius.

The Ethiopian State

Suzanne Césaire addresses the notion of basic drives in her discussion of the “Ethiopian subject” in the work of Léo Frobenius. Frobenius was the first person to recognize the historicity of African cultures, which others referred to as being "without history" or "backward", and to grant them full equality.[7] Frobenius combined history, archeology, cultural morphology, and ethnography in his cultural studies. His work carried great meaning for Césaire and Senghor, who often cited him in their essays. Regarding Frobenius’ valuing of concepts such as emotion and intuition, Senghor writes that Frobenius redefined “concepts or synonyms which we confront when we are considering Negroes…It is easy to guess the consequences of this discovery and the increased self-confidence which it gave us.” Frobenius was the first person who attempted to illuminate the apparent darkness of African history and to bring those African cultures conceived by him into a historical relationship. He theorized a flexible binary into which he attempted to classify all civilizations: Ethiopian and Hamitic. According to Frobenius, each type of civilization subscribes to a different mode of interpreting reality : “intuitive” or “mechanistic.” The Ethiopian mode processes reality intuitively rather than mechanistically, and therefore leads to outbursts of emotion which lend themselves to the creation of art and poetry. In addition, this style is one of great abandon, always in harmony with nature, whereas the Hamitic mode is primarily concerned with struggle, strife, and the domination of nature. Frobenius states that each culture vacillates constantly between the two poles and cannot be purely classified into one discrete category. He also stresses this binary should not be a tool for moralistic judgment, only a way of comprehending different modes of being.

“As for superiority, every culture we know has oscillated between the two poles of mechanism and intuition…However, in advancing the theory that we are moving into a new cultural era, the advent of which can be felt rather than proved, I am bound to support the revival of an intuitive attitude. It must also stressed that there is no such thing as an absolutely mechanistic or an absolutely intuitive outlook. It is a question rather of the predominance of one or the other or two tendencies.”[8]

Suzanne Césaire’s work recognizes that the Martinican subject falls somewhere in between these two poles. However, she is clear that the culture lends itself more readily to an Ethiopian mode of existence. Through the colonization of Martinique by France, the Martinican was forced to repress his or her Ethiopian mode of behavior. Suzanne Césaire attempted to unearth this Ethiopian side of the Martinican poet as a way to re-establish a Martinican cultural identity. “Le problème actuel est de déterminer si l’attitude éthiopienne que nous avons découverte comme étant l’essence même du sentiment de la vie chez le Martiniquais peut être le point de départ d’un style culturel viable, donc grandiose.”[9] In doing so, her brand of Négritude, which includes the possibility for a hybrid Martinican subject (not purely Ethiopian, but somewhere between the two pole of Hamitic and Ethiopian) is still essentializing, as it does not allow the opportunity for individuality among Martinican subjects. She attempts to define an essential Martinican mode of existence, rather than a subjective mode of experiencing Martinican culture.

Breton and the Césaires

In a 1945 interview with René Bélance, André Breton refers to this Ethiopian mode of existence:

“Le surréalisme a partie liée avec les peuples de couleur, d’une part parce qu’il a toujours été à leurs côtés contre toutes les formes d’impérialisme et de brigandage blancs, ainsi qu’en témoignent les manifestes publiés à Paris contre la guerre du Maroc, contre l’exposition coloniale, etc. ; d’autre part, parce que les plus profondes affinités existent entre la pensée dite “primitive” et la pensée surréaliste, qu’elles visent l’une et l’autre à supprimer l’hégémonie du conscient, du quotidien, pour se porter à la conquête de l’émotion révélatrice.”[10, 11]

The Césaire’s conquest of revelatory emotion was highly influenced by their meeting with Breton in 1941, shortly after the publication of the first issue of Tropiques. Breton left France in 1941 to escape the oppressive intolerance of the Vichy Regime. En route to his destination in America, he was detained in Martinique after being identified as a suspect by local governmental officials, namely l’Amiral Georges Robert. During this time, Breton and the Césaires had ample time to discuss the influence of Surrealism on the re-emerging Martinican identity. Aimé Césaire speaks fondly of this encounter with Breton:

“Breton nous a apporté la hardiesse ; il nous a aidés à prendre une opinion franche : il a abrégé nos recherches et nos hésitations…Breton m’a littéralement fasciné. C’était un homme d’une culture extraordinaire, avec un sens étonnant de la poésie, il la renflait, comme n’importe quel pollen dans l’air. La rencontre avec Breton a été pour moi une chose très importante, comme avait été importante pour moi la rencontre avec Senghor dix ou quinze ans plus tôt. J’ai rencontré Breton à une croisée des chemins : à partir de ce moment-là ma voie a été toute tracée ; c’était la fin des hésitations, la fin de la recherche, si l’on peut dire- car, en fait, dans ce domaine, rien n’est jamais terminé.”[12]

Breton’s Surrealist work highly influenced the Césaire’s conception of Négritude as well as the design of their socio-political mission. Perhaps the greatest influence on Suzanne Césaire’s writing was Breton’s use of natural imagery to explore the human condition. An extensive use of organic imagery can first be observed as early on as the crystals and coral reefs in L’amour fou. In this work, he provides the following description of crystal during his discussion of the notion of Convulsive Beauty:

“Nul plus haut enseignement artistique ne me paraît pouvoir être reçu que du cristal. L’œuvre d’art, au même titre d’ailleurs que tel fragment de la vie humaine considérée dans sa signification la plus grave, ma paraît dénuée de valeur si elle ne présente pas la dureté, la rigidité, la régularité, le lustre sur toutes ses faces intèrieures, extèrieures du cristal.”[13]

Here, Breton associates the natural element of crystal with the human condition. His comments about the beauty of crystal and the light of each of its faces could also be read as a discussion of feminine beauty, a recurring theme in Breton’s work. This same use of natural imagery can be observed in the pieces he wrote about his experience in Martinique.

As a result of his stay in Martinique, Breton was compelled to write two influential pieces: ‘‘Martinique, charmeuse de serpents,’’ and ‘‘Pour Madame,’’ both published in Tropiques. ‘‘Pour Madame,’’ was written for Suzanne Césaire, with whom Breton shared an intimate intellectual relationship. In her work of historical fiction describing the encounter between Breton and the Césaire’s, Ronnie Scharfman creates a voice for Suzanne Césaire through which she conveys the details of their relationship.

“Je constate avec certitude et sans rougir que pendant quelques semaines glorieuses il m’écrivait, ou bien il écrivait à travers de moi. J’ai joué le rôle de muse, de médiatrice surréaliste entre son ancien monde et le nouveau. Moi, à mon tour j’écrivais sur lui, de lui, pour lui. J’avoue qu’André m’a profondement inspirée.”[14]

Suzanne served as the creative muse for Breton, especially in his writing of ‘‘Pour Madame.’’ In this passage, much like in Amour Fou, Breton employs organic imagery to evoke an aura or sentiment of femininity:

“Puis les cloches de l’école essaiment aux quatres coins les petites chabines rieuses, souvent plus claires de cheveux que de teint. On cherche, parmi les essences natives, de quel bois se chauffent ces belles chairs d’ombre prismée : cacaoyer, caféier, vanille dont les feuillages imprimés parent d’un mystère persistant le papier des sacs de café dans lequel va se blottir de désir inconnu de l’enfance. En vue de quel dosage intime, de quel équilibre durable entre le jour et la nuit comme on rêve de retenir la seconde exacte ou, par temps très calme, le soleil en s’enfonçant dans la mer réalise le phénomène du “diamant vert” - cette recherche, au fond du creuset, de la beauté féminine ici bien plus souvent accomplie qu’ailleurs et qui ne m’est jamais apparu plus éclatante que dans un visage de cendre blanche et de braises?”[15]

Breton employs the natural images of Martinique, or “les essences natives” of “cacaoyer, caféir, vanille” to evoke a sense (or scent) of desire for the feminine subject about whom he writes. He writes of the “belles chairs d’ombre prismée” and the “visage de cendre blanche et de braises,” to illustrate the natural, organic skin tone of the Martinican female subject by whom he is entranced. This intimate use of imagery to describe the highly individual condition of love or desire contrasts with Breton’s use of imagery to articulate a collective condition in “Martinique, charmeuse de serpents.”

In “Martinique, charmeuse de serpents,” he utilizes the same register of organic vocabulary, this time addressing the physical landscape and cultural norms of the Martinican subject. Here, he addresses the melancholia of the Martinican community. The imagery of the mountainous landscape and celestial bodies enhances the power of this description of the Martinican psychological state. “Nos amis l’appellent le siffleur des montagnes, écoute : ils sont plusieurs et leurs chants conjugés composent autour de la belle liane en forme d’étoile que nous allons avoir peine à cueillir, une aura mélancolique.”[16] Breton associates the collective voice of Martinique to the permanence of the mountains and the stars. The distress of the Martinican collective rises above the physical borders of the island, into the celestial realm. His choice of vocabulary amplifies the disenfranchised state of the Martinican as a collective entity and touches on a deep sense of melancholia.

Suzanne Césaire writes of this same collective melancholia in “Malaise d’une civilisation.” Just as Breton connects the Martinican community to its natural surroundings, so does Césaire to begin her essay. She begins by exploring the geographical setting of Martinique in hopes of eventually comprehending the condition of the Martinican subject. “Interrogeons la vie de cette île qui est nôtre. Que voyons-nous ? D’abord la position géographique de cette parcelle de terre : tropicale. Ici, les Tropiques.”[17] Her insistence on the term tropiques lends itself to a connection with the term tropisme, relating to the instinctual behavior or natural mode of plants. Working under the following definitions[18] of tropisme, “Croissance orientée dans l’espace, chez les végétaux et les animaux fixés, sous l’influence d’une excitation extérieure, “ one could argue the identity of the Martinican subject might be defined through his or her instinct or natural orientation. This notion connects to the Surrealist practice of automatic writing. During this process, the subject submits oneself to his or her subconscious, thereby revealing his or her natural instincts and desires. The natural orientation of the subject is revealed, without pretense, thereby opening a new avenue for comprehension of the true self. However, the following definition, “Force obscure qui pousse un groupe, un phénomène à prendre une certaine orientation,” lends itself to a more colonial reading of the Martinican subject, who has been forced to adapt his or her mode of behavior in order to conform to the norms and desires of the dominant hegemony. This definition contradicts the Surrealist credo, since it privileges structure, hegemony, and order over chance and instinct. To offer my opinion on Suzanne’s conception of the term, I believe it would mirror the experience of the Martinican, a hybrid of the two definitions stated above. Originally, the Martinican was free to follow his natural instincts and desires. With the onset of colonialism, he was forced to adapt his mode of behavior to the life imposed on him by the colonizer.

Later in the essay, Césaire compares the life of the Martinican to that of a plant, brutally transplanted from their natural mode of existence into colonial soil. In the following passage, she lists the various ways in which the Martinican (including the subject’s African ancestors) has been forced to adapt. She goes on to describe the Martinican as a plant, a technique that subverts the dominant discourse (which states that the Martinican is lazy and idle). She proposes a new phrase to describe the activity of the Martinican “il végète,” rather than “il est paresseux.” “Son indolence ? celle du végétal. Ne dites pas : ‘il est paresseux’ dites : ‘il végète,’ et vous serez doublement dans la vérité. Son mot préféré : ‘laissez porter.’ Entendez qu’il se laisse porter par la vie, docile, léger, non appuyé, non rebelle ---amicalement, amoureusement.” This way of viewing the Martinican corresponds with the Ethiopian mode of life. Césaire states that the Martinican has not become disenfranchised as a result of his Ethiopian state, however, the fact that he was forced to assimilate to a lifestyle different from his own, that of the “Hamitic” colonizer. This, and the fact that he was forced to adhere to the social guidelines of a harshly oppressive colonial regime, were the causes of his psychological alienation. Sharpley-Whiting reminds us of the specific history of Martinique:

“A legacy of slavery, colonialism, and modern capitalism has effectively altered the balance between humanity and the island’s natural beauty, harnessing first the slave and then the worker to the land; fusing racism, wage labor, and class exploitation into modern capitalism... Césaire reminds her reader that Martinicans, both métis and black, were socially politically, and culturally disenfranchised. Assimilation was initially strictly forbidden, but deference to whites was demanded as early as 1764. By 1788 the primary occupation open to free men of color was manual labor, "the hoe and the cutlass." The abolition of slavery did not result in an opening up of economic avenues for the Martinicans on the island…An almost slavish desire for assimilation to Frenchness preoccupied the psychic impulses of Martinicans.”[19]

Mimicry and Camouflage

Inherent in the process of assimilation is a certain level of mimicry of French cultural norms. Césaire discusses the dangers of mimicry in the colonial structure, blaming this mentality for the current melancholic state of the Martinican.

“Mais sa conscience, ou plutôt sa préconscience accepte le désir hamitique de lutte. Course à la fortune. Aux diplômes. Arrivisme. Lutte rapetissée à la mesure de la bourgeoisie. Course aux singeries. Foire aux vanités. Le plus grave est que le désir d’imitation, naguère vaguement conscient---puisqu’il était réaction de défense contre une société oppressive---est passé maintenant au rang des redoutables forces secrètes de l’inconscient.”[20]

According to Césaire, the act of mimicking the colonizer profoundly alters the psyche of the Martinican, allowing him to lose himself in his drive to emulate the colonizer. In a 1922 essay entitled “Lâchez tout,” in which Breton rails against the Dada movement, he also warns against the dangers of mental mimicry:

“Nous sommes soumis à une sorte de mimique mentale qui nous interdit d’approfondir quoi que ce soit et nous fait considérer avec hostilité ce qui nous a été le plus cher. Donner sa vie pour une idée, Dada ou celle que je développe en ce moment, ne saurait prouver qu’en faveur d’une grande misère intellectuelle. Les idées ne sont ni bonnes ni mauvaises, elles sont : à concurrence pour moi de déplaisir ou de plaisir, bien dignes encore de me passionner dans un sens ou dans l’autre. Pardonnez-moi de penser que, contrairement au lierre, je meurs si je m’attache.”[21]

His natural image of the ivy in the last phrase recalls Césaire’s description of the Martinican subject as plant. Just like Breton, the Martinican will die if he or she clings too hard to the Western ideals of the colonizer. During a certain period, Breton worked closely with the biologist, Roger Caillois, who researched mimicry in nature. Caillois and Breton often write of vertigo, the stomach-lurching feel of hollow ground; the dream-sensation of falling. He also addresses a parallel vertigo of the psyche in which we lose the boundaries of ourselves and become completely dissociated. As Caillois once said, describing insect behavior: "I know where I am, but I do not feel as though I’m at the spot where I find myself."[22] In subscribing to Western rhetoric, the Martinican subject loses the “spot where he finds himself” and becomes dislocated from his cultural identity. The term mimicry should also be viewed as synonymous with the term camouflage (used in the title of Césaire’s essay). Caillois described the ability of chameleons to camouflage themselves, by taking on the colors of their surroundings, in psychoanalytic terms as the "dissolution of the self." This idea is often associated with Lacan's Mirror Stage of self-awareness. Here, Caillois employs the natural image of the chameleon to evoke a psychological sublimation of the subject’s own traits by that of the dominant force (that which is being imitated). In “Le Grand camouflage,” Césaire uses this same register of natural vocabulary to evoke not the complete dissolution of the Martinican, but his merging with the qualities of the White bourgeois, thereby becoming a hybrid subject. I am writing specifically about her use of the terms “s’épanouir” and “fleur” in the following passage.

“Le voici avec sa double force et sa double férocité, dans un équilibre dangereusement menacé : il ne peut pas accepter sa négritude, il ne peut pas se blanchir. La veulerie s’empare de ce cœur divisé, et, avec elle, l’habitude des ruses, le goût des « combines » ; ainsi s’épanouit aux Antilles, cette fleur de la bassesse humaine, le bourgeois de couleur.”[23]

Césaire’s concerns regarding the prevalence of mimicry among Martinicans is echoed later in the work of Frantz Fanon, who claims that the goals the colonizer puts forth for the colonized are consistently unattainable, leaving the colonized in a constant state of inferiority and “doubling.” In the following passage, Fanon describes the experience of the colonized Martinican child as his or her self-conception begins to change.

“Peu à peu, on voit se former et cristalliser chez le jeune Antillais une attitude, une habitude de penser et de voir, qui sont essentiellement blanches…Mais c’est que l’Antillais ne pense pas noir ; il se pense Antillais. Le nègre vit en Afrique. Subjectivement, intellectuellement, l’Antillais se comporte comme un Blanc…Pour le nègre, il y a un mythe à affronter. Un mythe solidement ancré. Le nègre l’ignore, aussi longtemps que son existence se déroule au milieu des siens ; mais au premier regard blanc, il ressent le poids de sa mélanine.”[24]

Fanon began to see that by speaking French, the language of the colonizer, the Martinican began to internalize the colonizer's values, thereby equating Blackness with evil. In such a situation, according to Fanon, the Black man wants to see himself as white and therefore becomes alienated from his true self. In essence, the Martinican is living a dual-existence. He conducts himself as a white man, but the moment he looks in the mirror or is gazed upon or “othered” by the white man, he once again experiences the weight of his blackness. In addition, Fanon eloquently articulates the tension which exists at a muscular level within the colonized subject. He also writes of the subject’s physical response of the subject, namely nausea brought on by the colonial condition. I cannot help but wonder if he took his cue from the highly descriptive passages describing the internal violence and pain of the Martinican subject in Césaire’s “Le Grand camouflage.”

“En attendant, le serf antillais vit misérablement, abjectement sur les terres de « l’usine » et la médiocrité de nos villes-bourgs est un spectacle à nausée. En attendant les Antilles continuent d’être paradisiaques et ce doux bruit de palmes…L’ironie était ce jour-là un vêtement luisant d’étincelles, chacun de nos muscles exprimait de manière personnelle une parcelle du désir éparpillé sur les manguiers en fleurs.”[25]

In this passage, Césaire expresses the cruel irony of the Martinican condition: he is of the island, however he may not reap the benefits of his heritage and his labor. According to Césaire, the only way for the Martinican to be truly free is to liberate himself from this double-consciousness and embrace his cultural heritage for what it truly is. Césaire’s essentialized Martinican is a hybrid subject, an amalgam of African, Hispanic, and European origins. However, his Martinican identity should not be conflated with that of the European colonizer whom he has mimicked and idolized for so long. He must embrace his pre-colonized hybrid nature in order to take the first steps on his path to psychological freedom.


Through her use of organic imagery, Suzanne Césaire began to relocate a Martinican identity intimately tied to the Ethiopian state of existence (as defined by Frobenius). In addition, she evoked the historical experience of the Martinican people on a physical and psychological level through her use of physical imagery and her examination of mimesis. One finds this same registry of imagery at play in the work of André Breton. Though his project was not specifically focused on relocating a true “French” identity, he encouraged rejection of order and paradigmatic constructions in favor of chance and instinct (two qualities that describe the “Ethiopian state” of the Martinican). Due to the close nature of their relationship, one cannot but assume that the work of André Breton powerfully influenced Césaire’s writing, specifically her use of natural imagery to evoke a collective Martinican expereince in “Le Grand camouflage” and “Malaise d’une civilisation.” With the aide of Bretonian Surrealism, Suzanne Césaire was able to propose answers to the questions posed at in the opening of this paper (“Qu’est-ce que le Martiniquais fondamentalement, intimement, inaltérablement ? Et comment vit-il?”[26]). In “Le Surréalisme et nous,” she writes:

“On sait où nous en sommes ici à la Martinique. Notre tâche d’homme, la flèche de l’histoire nous indiquait vertigineusement : une société tarée en ses origines par le crime, appuyée en son présent sur l’injustice et l’hypocrisie, rendue par la mauvaise conscience peureuse de son devenir, doit moralement, historiquement, nécessairement disparaître. Et parmi les puissantes machines de guerre que le monde moderne met à notre disposition "leddites et cheddites" notre audace a choisi le surréalisme qui lui offre actuellement les chances les plus sûres de succès.”[27]

Through the analytical mode of Surrealism, Suzanne Césaire began the enormous task of uncovering the history of the Martinican and unearthing his identity as a means of colonial resistance. These important steps laid the foundation for the next generation of revolutionary writers, such as Fanon, Glissant, and the creators of Créolité, to carry on the struggle toward identity location and liberation.

Works Cited

Breton, André. “Lâchez Tout,” Les Pas perdus. Paris: Gallimard, 1969.

---. Manifestes du Surréalisme. Paris: Gallimard, 1924.

---. “Martinique, charmeuse de serpents.” Tropiques: Collection Complète, 1941-1945. Paris: Éditions Jean Michel Place, 1978.

---. “Pour Madame,” Tropiques: Collection Complète, 1941-1945. Paris: Éditions Jean Michel Place, 1978.

---. L’Amour fou. Paris : Gallimard, 1937.

---. trans. Mary Ann Caws. Mad Love. Omaha : University of Nebraska Press, 1987.

Caillois, Roger. “Mimicry and Legendary Psychasthenia,”(1932). October: the First Ten Years. Cambridge: Cambridge Press, 1984.

Césaire, Suzanne. “Le Grand camouflage,” Tropiques: Collection Complète, 1941-1945. Paris: Éditions Jean Michel Place, 1978.

---. “Le Surréalisme et nous,” Tropiques: Collection Complète, 1941-1945. Paris: Éditions Jean Michel Place, 1978.

---. “Malaise d’une civilisation,” Tropiques: Collection Complète, 1941-1945. Paris: Éditions Jean Michel Place, 1978.

Fanon, Frantz. Peau noire, masques blancs. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1952.

Frobenius, Léo, “Nature of Culture,” Léo Frobenius: An Anthology, ed. E. Haberland Wiesbaden, Germany: Franz Steiner Verlag GMBH, 1973.

Rosement, Franklin, ed. What is Surrealism? Selected Writings of André Breton. London: Pluto, 1978.

Rosemont, Penelope, ed. Surrealist Women: An International Anthology. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998.

Sharpley-Whiting, T. Denean. Negritude Women. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2002.


1. Suzanne Césaire, ‘‘Malaise d’une civilisation,’’ Tropiques : Collection Complète, 1941-1945 (Paris : Éditions Jean Michel Place, 1978), 85.

2. Term denoting political involvement.

3. T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, Negritude Women. (Minneapolis, MN : University of Minnesota Press, 2002), 83.

4. As decribed by Breton in the Manifestes du Surréalisme, (Paris : Gallimard, 1924).

5. Sharpley-Whiting, 84.

6. Suzanne Césaire, ‘‘Le Surréalisme et nous,’’ Tropiques, XIII, 14.

7. Sharpley-Whiting, 90. Text originally taken from : Léo Frobenius : An Anthology, ed. E. Haberland Wiesbaden, (Germany : Franz Steiner Verlag GMBH, 1973).

8. Sharpley-Whiting, 92. Text originally taken from : Frobenius, Léo, ‘‘Nature of Culture,’’ Léo Frobenius : An Anthology, ed. E. Haberland Wiesbaden, (Germany : Franz Steiner Verlag GMBH, 1973).

9. Suzanne Césaire, ‘‘Malaise d’une civilisation,’’ 86.

10. My emphasis.

11. Franklin Rosement, ed. What is Surrealism? Selected Writings of André Breton. (London : Pluto, 1978), 275.

12. Tropiques, ‘‘Introduction,’’ vii.

13. André Breton, L’amour fou, (Paris : Gallimard, 1937), 16-17.

14. Ronnie Scharfman, ‘‘De grands poètes noirs : Breton rencontre les Césaire,’’ Nouveau monde, autres mondes : Surréalisme et Amériques. Eds. D. Lefort, P. Rivas, et J. Chénieux-Gendron. (Paris : Lachenal et Ritter, 1995), 235.

15. André Breton, ‘‘Pour Madame,’’ Tropiques III, 41.

16. André Breton, ‘‘Martinique, charmeuse de serpents,’’ Tropiques XI, 119.

17. Suzanne Césaire, ‘‘Malaise d’une civilisation,’’ Tropiques, V, 45.

18. Found in Le Petit Larousse, (Paris : Larousse, 1999.

19. Sharpley-Whiting, 95.

20. Suzanne Césaire, ‘‘Le Grand Camouflage,’’ Tropiques, XIII, 268.

21. André Breton, ‘‘Lâchez Tout, ‘’ Les Pas perdus. (Paris : Gallimard, 1969), 110.

22. Roger Caillois, ‘‘Mimicry and Legendary Psychasthenia,,’’ (1932) (October: the First Ten Years. Cambridge : Cambridge Press, 1984), 76.

23. Suzanne Césaire, ‘‘Le Grand Camouflage,’’ 268.

24. Frantz Fanon, Peau noire, masques blancs. (Paris : Éditions du Seuil, 1952), 120.

25. Suzanne Césaire, ‘‘Le Grand Camouflage,’’ 267.

26. Suzanne Césaire, ‘‘Malaise d’une civilisation,’’85.

27. Suzanne Césaire, ‘‘Le Surréalisme et nous,’’ 16.

Jen Westmoreland Bouchard holds a B.A. in French and a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Fine Arts from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, and a M.A. in French and Francophone Studies from University of California-Los Angeles. She has presented her research on Francophone women’s writing, postcolonial literatures and world language pedagogy throughout the United States and Europe. Bouchard is currently a faculty member in the World Languages Department of Normandale Community College in Bloomington, Minnesota and a French instructor at Holy Family Catholic High School in Victoria, Minnesota. Her recent articles and chapters have appeared in The Journal of African Literature and Culture, The Journal of Pan African Studies, Migrations and Identities (Liverpool University Press), and in myriad anthologies and reference volumes published through Gale Cengage Learning, Pencraft International Press, Diversion Press, Greenwood Press, M.E. Sharpe, Wiley-Blackwell, ABC-CLIO, Handel African Books Network, and Facts on File. Bouchard serves on the editorial board of The Journal of African Literature and Culture. She is a film, literary and arts reviewer writer for Global Woman Magazine and a travel writer for Europe Up Close (http://www.europeupclose.com/). Bouchard is the owner of a freelance writing, editing and translation company, Lucidité Writing, LLC (http://www.luciditewriting.com/).

RECONFIGURATIONS: A Journal for Poetics & Poetry / Literature & Culture, http://reconfigurations.blogspot.com/, ISSN: 1938-3592, Volume Three (2009): Immanence/ Imminence

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