how to erase history with a no.2 pencil

speculative versionism

After all the pieces of the puzzle have been laid out on the table, and a picture of the different building blocks emerges, we can start thinking about each of the stages, represented by each of the columns in figure p, as speculative versions of the text. We can define a speculative version as a version of the text captured at a given moment in an plausible genesis, and reconstructed from the reconstructed material state of a text. A speculative version can be constructed, for example, by choosing the blocks of pages formed by P1 and P2, without the corrections in ink, but with the corrections in pencil. Even if computers make it relatively easy for us to generate all possible speculative versions based on encoded bibliographic and textual evidence, the exercise could still be useful to scholars working without the technology and we may not necessarily want all possibilities.1

In order to understand the development of the typescript from what I see as its beginnings as a full-blown historical drama to the mixed text we find in Saint-Dié, and as an example of what we can gain from speculative versions, I want to revisit the reconstruction of the genesis, this time focusing on the drama itself, and further refine the arguments for our genetic gambit.

[research: Kari Kraus, Jerome McGann, et al on deformance]

revolution rising

If we gathered the pages of P1, and made a critical edition based on the original type, we end up with a relatively coherent speculative version. Let’s call this version “Revolution Rising.” The pages marked with P1 contain the largest number of historical references: names, locales and events which correspond more or less to the early period of the Haitian Revolution. The curtain opens on a plantation in Saint-Domingue (Haiti). A few white girls play outside. The Chorus, a Reciter, and a Recitress (CRR) enter the stage to warn the girls of impending dangers: “Rentrez chez-vous jeunes filles, il n’est plus temps de jouer, les orbites de la mort poussent des yeux fulgurants à travers le mica blême.2 The girls respond to that poetical warning in plain French: “C’est une devinette?3 After two further, brief exchanges, the girls begin to mock the odd strangers: “Hou, hou.”4 The mother appears at the door and, sensing the true danger of the situation, she asks the girls to come inside. Thus begins the earliest form of the drama.

In the next scene, the Chorus, the Reciter, and the Recitress bury an imaginary body while reciting the words “Adieu, Saint-Domingue.” The mock burial sets the stage for the carnage that characterizes the drama. Combined with the preceding episode, these initial gestures set Saint-Domingue as the main subject of the story. This frame is completely different from the one we get in all future versions. For example, as early as P25 the frame changes to focus on the death of Toussaint (Le Rebelle in the published versions). In other words, though Toussaint was an important character from the beginning, the earliest conception of the work suggests a drama centered on the historical event proper.

Another notable feature of “Revolution Rising” is its theatricality. After the reciters bury the imaginary body of Saint Domingue, we have the following stage direction:

(A ce moment l’obscurité envahit la scène; des coups de feu; des cris discordants; puis le tapage s’apaise peu à peu; quand la lumière revient, le décor a changé: le camp des nègres au milieu d’une forêt. Chefs nègres et députés blancs en conférence).6 (24)

The instructions are specific to a staged spectacle. Each of the lines refers to sound, lighting, or décor, with only one adjective thrown in the mix, “discordants.” Compare the sentence, for example, to a parallel passage towards the beginning of the first published version:

(Dans la barathre des épouvantements, vaste prison collective, peuplée de nègres candidats à la folie et à la mort; jour trentième de la famine, de la torture et du délire).7 (98)

The latter, by contrast, do not contain a single element that would facilitate staging in an actual theater, despite the dark appeal of the scene in the reader’s imagination. Even the line “prison collective” is wrested from the stage by the adjective “vaste.” Although I am not interested at the moment in arguing that the typescript is suitable for the stage, something I believe can only be tested on an actual stage, it seems clear to me that “Revolution Rising” gravitates towards a theatrical representation. Other stage directions in our speculative version support that conclusion, with a limited amount of (debatable) extra-theatrical elements found on the directions on P1.15 (35) and the last page, P1.20 (40).8

“Revolution Rising” uses two kinds of narrative modes: either the story develops through the action and dialogue of the characters on stage, or it is narrated by the Chorus, Reciter and Recitress trio (CRR). We will shortly come back to the diegetic narrative, one of the keys to unraveling the transition from history to myth in the text. In the mimetic narrative, we count three large episodes. As the white delegates begin to lay their diplomatic traps, Toussaint invites them to address the black troupes directly. The crowds seem to waiver after the seductive pleas of the delegates to disarm them, but Toussaint sways them by signaling their devious intentions. Once persuaded of the righteousness of their cause, the crowds unleash their machetes and the refrain which will echo throughout the rest of the drama: “Mort aux blancs!” Death to the whites.9 The delegates are massacred, and the rebels descend on the rest of the white population with their sharp response.

After a brief CRR recitation, rife with ghoulish visions of the revolutionary bloodbath, the scene moves to an assembly of planters at Cap [Français] presided over by the governor. In their arrogance, the white planters continue to underestimate the situation. The governor (Blanchelande10 in the episode) fails to bring them to their senses. On the streets, passersby echo the haughtiness of the assembly. Soon after, the tumult of the revolution bursts onto the scene. The episode continues with a mock-assembly of black interlopers, or as the text has it “une séance sinistre et bouffonne pleine d’emphase et de cruauté.11 The episode ends as another group of rebels walks into the assembly with the head of the governor on a pike.

After another CRR recitation, the final, and rather brief, staged narrative brings us back to the beginning of “Revolution Rising”, with the mother and the girls now running for cover. The scene quickly changes to a field of slaves who ‘sing their fatigue’ in call and response for two pages. The speculative version ends with a CRR recitation, and what seems to be, at least on the surface, the most extra-theatrical stage direction of “Revolution Rising”: a ship in distress invades the field of vision, and in the phosphorescent sea an inscription explodes: République d’Haiti. As we will shortly see, this cinematic technique fits a particular theatrical modality available in the 1940’s.

I summarize these three episodes not only to help the reader enter this difficult text through the most accessible door, but to make a few important points about them in relation to the genesis of the text. The first point is that Toussaint is not the central figure initially, but rather one character amongst many in a dramatization of events of the Haitian revolution. The second point is that these episodes are meant to suggest the first stages of the revolution: a committee negotiating for leaders to be set free at the expense of the rank and file, the assembly at Cap Français unaware of the gravity of the situation, the massacre of white populations by revolted slaves, when slavery itself reigned supreme in Saint Domingue—In brief, the most basic retelling of the early stages of the revolution.

Other details which barely catch our attention confirm that we are dealing with the early days of the revolution. During the assembly of planters, the governor warns that “Toussaint et Boukmann ont constitués une armée.”12 This places us around the year 1791.13 Notice also that at the end of P1.2 (24), a paragraph was marked for deletion with red ink. The lines in question were delivered by a second French delegate, who proposed freedom for the leaders. At this point, two pages are missing from P1, pages 3 and 4. As the action returns on P1.5 (25), Toussaint asks Dessalines14 to stand back (also erased with red ink later on). This suggests that the two missing pages carried details of the negotiations between the white delegates and other leaders besides Toussaint, Dessalines being the one who survives by name. The historical Jean Jacques Dessalines was involved in the revolution from the start, and his appearance here is consistent with the history of the early revolution. Leaving aside for now the historical incongruities which students of the revolution will immediately recognize in these dramatizations, these effaced leaders further testify to Toussaint’s marginal role in this speculative version.

Towards the end of “Revolution Rising”, during the last recitation, the Reciter announces that Sonthonax has opened the prisons, armed the slaves, and opened the doors to several important cities. This refers no doubt to the most famous deed of the Civil Commissioner, Léger-Félicité Sonthonax, to declare an end to slavery in Saint Domingue under the pressure of revolutionary forces. This places the end of the segment around October 1793. In retrospect, “Revolution Rising” forms a non-Aristotelian15 dramatic unit which can be said to follow a chronological order consistent with the historical record.

Nothing within P1 would place the action outside the span 1791-1793, except for one anachronism which deserves brief notice since it reinforces the notion that at this stage of its development the work is oriented towards the theatre. I am referring to the song “À la Martinique,” hummed by one of the voices on the street outside the assembly of planters on page P1.13 (33)16:

A la Matinique, Matinique, Matinique
c’est çà qui chic…

This character is paying homage to the famous café-concert singer Felix Mayol, who popularized the song in France at the beginning of the twentieth century. The complete version tells the story of a black man from Martinique who falls in love with a white flower shop attendant and becomes a boxer to satisfy her demand for jewelry and pretty dresses. The song was originally composed in English by George M. Cohan, the “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” for an American minstrel show.17 Not surprisingly, the lyrics present several racist stereotypes of the time. What is more important to us is that Césaire makes a direct reference to Music-Hall, and an indirect reference to minstrelsy. How familiar this song was to Martinique audiences is difficult to ascertain, especially when we consider the song was already thirty years old by the time our text was produced. This is, nevertheless, a familiar theatrical gesture. Paired together with the slave song towards the end, the performance echoes and demands a stage.

The next theatrical detail that deserves attention is an odd stage direction on P1.19. The Recitress narrates: 300,000 rebels attack the city, white crowds jam the main gates, trying to reach the ships in the harbor. A stage direction interrupts the narration: “A mesure qu’elle parle, tout cela se dessine sur l’écran.”18 This stage direction will later be erased by pencil. While it lingered there, however, it opened up the text to an intermediation that hardly belongs in a closet drama.

The use of the screen to project static and moving images on the theater stage can be traced back to the ‘cinemagician’ Georges Méliès19 at the beginning of the century, but it is Erwin Piscator who will make it a prominent theatrical practice in 1920s Weimar Germany. Although several critics have pointed out the Brechtian inflections in Césaire’s theater,20 very little attention has been given to Brecht’s collaborator and friend Piscator, who developed a different conception of ‘Epic Theater’ from Brecht, one that depended on stage machinery, film projectors, large crowds on stage (Sprechchöre), and a political style marked by didacticism and documentary modes.

In the absence of documentary evidence, I find it difficult to ascertain whether Césaire knew the work of Piscator (or Brecht) during his years in Paris. Piscator remained in Paris to avoid Stalin’s Great Purge for the two years that Césaire was a student at the École Normale Superieure, but (to my knowledge) he does not seem to have staged or published while Césaire was there. Much more likely, Piscator’s innovations came to Césaire’s attention via Paul Claudel’s Le Livre de Christophe Colomb. Although the latter drama was not staged until 1953, the book was published by Gallimard during Césaire’s years in Paris, with two runs in 1933 (one with illustrations by Jean Charlot, the other sans) and a reprint in 1935.21 Claudel was so taken with Piscator’s experiments that he had asked him to collaborate on Le Livre de Christophe Colomb. That collaboration never took place, but the response of the one to the other remains evident.22

In a recent article, Pierre Laforgue connects Tête d’or, Le Soulier de satin, and to a lesser extent Le Livre de Christophe Colomb with Et les chiens se taisaient. His own reading connects Colomb and Le Rebelle through analogy: “Il faut reconnaître que l’ambition du Rebelle et celle de Christophe Colomb présentent un certain nombre d’analogies.”23 This reading, echoed in the title of the essay, “Césaire et Claudel: une cantate à deux voix.” misses the essential antagonism between the two, evident in the typescript, but not exactly hidden in the published versions.

Césaire’s reconstruction of Claudel’s own “théâtre total” seems over-determined: an evident overlap between the dramatis personae, early traces of similar techniques, and more importantly, perhaps, a dialectical negation of Columbus in Chiens, who will become the explicit nemesis of P224. The tension between these two texts deserves a longer treatment than we can supply in this study. For now, what should draw our attention is the use of the screen in Claudel’s drama. The screen is present from the beginning of his play “au fond de la scène,” 25 arguably serving a dramatic, didactic, and choral role, in Brecht’s acceptation. Although Claudel invokes the screen more often than Césaire’s lone example, their functions overlap. Here is an example from Part I, scene X of Le Livre: “Tout cela apparaît mélangé sur l’écran” (46).26 Both Césaire and Claudel—using almost the same formula—project on a screen whose function is both mimetic and diegetic, and whose main trope is the χορός, here understood not as a separate role within the drama, but the corralling of all roles singing in unison. In other words, for Césaire and Claudel, the chorus sings in chorus with the screen. The difference, is that Césaire recuperates the screen away from Claudel, re-writing the ideology of Luke 14:25-27 by two mechanisms: repopulating the screen with the revolution, and by shifting the fugitive birth of the nation from colonizer to colonized:

From Claudel…

CHRISTOPHE COLOMB II, de même: Quitte ta mère! Abandonne-la! Quitte ta famille! Quitte, quitte ta mère! La Volonté de Dieu est ta patrie! Tout cela qui t’empêche de partir, tout cela est ton ennemi.

CHRISTOPHE COLOMB I: Quitterai-je mon père et ma mère? Quitterai-je ma patrie? Tout cela apparaît mélangé sur l’écran.

…to Césaire:

La récitante (dolente): 300.000 hommes, tribart brisé, se précipitent dans la ville et poussent des hurlements clabauds… Le port est couvert de blancs qui cherchent à gagner les bâtiments en râde… Ah, les chaloupes chavirent… (A mesure qu’elle parle, tout cela se dessine sur l’écran.)

By a circuitous route, this brings us back to the late stage direction in P1 where the words “Republique d’Haïti” are projected unto a phosphorescent sea and which, as already noted, seems to belong to later developments of the text. Presumably written before the pencil corrections that will excise most of the work’s theatricality, this stage direction elicits the phantasmagorical return of the earlier screen. The projection of letters itself being a famous Piscator technique, the soon-to-be un-mountable stage direction becomes a moment of negotiation between the stage and the poetry that will characterize future stage directions. The transition from the stage to the poetry marks a replacement of the mechanical (i.e. the screen), for the imagination, and as a consequence, from the theatre to the text.

As I pointed out above, the Chorus and the Reciters intrude between the dramatic episodes, establishing a rhythm of sorts between them and the action. As “Revolution Rising” begins, they engage with the girls on the stage, but besides this brief metalepsis, they remain outside of that action. Their words, nevertheless, are in constant dialogue with the events being dramatized on stage. For the most part, these intrusions from CRR consist of narrative or commentary. Though they speak in a highly elliptical poetic idiom, CRR is clearly describing and referring to events which are either being already depicted on stage or are related to it. In this sense, the role of the Chorus does not depart substantially from the chorus in classical Greek theater. On the other hand, the introduction of a Reciter and a Recitress does modify somewhat the traditional role of the κορυφαῖος. Nevertheless, in their triangular dynamic, CRR echoes the strophe, anti-strophe and epode of the ancient plays.

Although the Greek tragedy which should elicit most of our comparative attention is probably the Prometheus Bound, our chorus goes beyond the role of the Chorus of Daughters of Oceanus and their relationship to Prometheus—at least at this stage of the composition. I would tentatively suggest that the Chorus of “Revolution Rising” is more like Sophocles’ Chorus in his Theban plays since it represents the polis, speaks prophetically, and has a direct relationship to the central character.

Once the episode with the delegates begins, after the two missing pages and after Toussaint invites the delegates to address the crowds, the Reciters barge on the scene to foreshadow the response of the crowds and the bloodbath to come:

Déja le silence empoisonne chaque fibre
Des gestes hiéroglyphes avalés à moitié signalent
Les jachères et les semis de cadavres
(25).27

After the crowds have raised their war cry and the episode with the delegates ends, CRR takes over the narration of the event:

Le récitant: Un coup de sifflet… Les nègres sortent des broussailles
avec
une grande clameur. Les coutelas s’abattent et se relèvent et s’abat­
tent dans le moulinet de l’exaspération (29).28

These two examples support an important point about the genesis of the text, perhaps the one with the most repercussions. The first example, which we could call proleptic, and the second, which we could call diegetic, both refer to the action on the stage, to an unfolding plot for which they are a doubling of sorts (in the same way that the ‘screen’ was a doubling of the Chorus). This crucial function of the Chorus will soon change, and as all reference to historical events is eventually lost and the plot reduced almost to the point of stasis, we will end up with a much more poetic choral function. While the Chorus of the print versions can be quite baffling—and has been for readers—seeing the earliest form of the Chorus in action can provide a great point of departure for us to understand its future avatars.

The principal theme of the Chorus in “Revolution Rising” is the revolution itself, and most of their diegetic recitations describe the epic events that cannot be represented on stage. This reinforces two of the points that we made above: that the revolution is the subject of “Revolution Rising”, and that at this stage of composition diegesis and mimesis supplement each other in traditional ways. Finally, and providing a certain level of internal coherence, the Chorus opens and ends this segment, first to bury the old Saint Domingue, and as the act comes to a close, to welcome the Republic of Haiti.


Toussaint King


En me renversant, on n’a abattu à Saint-Domingue que le tronc de l’arbre de la liberté des noirs ; il repoussera, parce que les racines en sont profondes et nombreuses.

  • (attributed to the historical Toussaint Louverture).


Speculative versions do not need to be constructed out of one pagination scheme alone. In fact, we could create speculative versions that are not defined by pagination schemes at all. To be precise, a speculative version is a reduction of a given historical document to the text encompassed by one or more discrete codicological or bibliographic features. This definition is leery of free-form recreations of the text. In theory, we could reconstitute texts in close to infinite ways, à la Borges. Notwithstanding, for the idea of a speculative version to remain useful for genetic analysis, we must limit our recreations to plausible or instructive states of the existing document. A speculative version made up of only handwritten revisions, for example, would be useful as a genetic data mine, and a reconstruction of all the pages encompassed by P1 as an edition. A random sampling, on the other hand, is likely to leave us no better than when we started, as much as one might enjoy the serendipity.

All purposeful selections begin with a clear and meaningful set of rules to help us select text. These algorithms double as documentation of that purposefulness. Although text in general can be said to be marked by the combination of several codes, always, we reconstitute that mark-up by a set of exhaustive rules or algorithms that in turn define the contours of new markings. Those rules can find their basis in a number of dimensions: codicology, bibliography, hermeneutics, string-comparison, and many more. Besides the rules based extraction, we intervene once more as editors to give meaning to the results. Regardless of the criteria, the imperative remains for us to be purposeful, explicit and rigorous in our method of selection.

In the following, I use two pagination schemes and all revisions made to it to construct two speculative versions, which I will then use to further explore the erosion of the historical referent in the genesis of the text and the rise of Toussaint as the central figure of the drama.

I call “Toussaint King” the text paginated with the number set labeled P2, without revisions. This also means that we are to take the text without the pagination itself, and assume that the pages were meant to follow P1.29 To construct Virtual Version C, I want to take all the pages in P2 together with the first page added during P6 and all the revisions made on the combined text. In other words, pages 1-22 of MAIN in their current state. The first page, added by P6, was written to replace what was originally P2 1 and 2 (now missing), and conforms very well with the rest of P2. Together they form a coherent analytical whole.

At some point, “Toussaint King” was set during the middle period of the Haitian Revolution, with references to Toussaint’s takeover of the Spanish part of the island, the defeat of the British forces, and an enactment of Toussaint’s capture. From an historical point of view, this is the most confused and confusing segment. In a later revision, all references to the middle-to-late period of the Haitian Revolution will be erased, and with a few masterful strokes, Césaire will bring the action to the early period of the French Revolution, the temporal setting of Virtual Version C.

If we take “Toussaint King” by itself, the action takes place sometime during Toussaint’s campaign in the Eastern part of the island (1801):

Le choeur: Mon oeil se dore de visions souveraines….. Toussaint
fait son entrée solennelle à Santo Domingo…..Le cavido
lui remet les clefs de la ville
.30 (11)

ven though they are framed as a vision, while the action remains solidly within a coherent temporal framework, these lines can be interpreted as the sort of typical pragmatographia found in Virtual Version A. The fictional timeline will soon change, and with it the rhetorical and poetic function of similar lines. In the meantime, we can already hear the potential for disassociating the action on the stage from the pseudo-historical narrative built into the diegetic function of the chorus in Virtual Version A. Once you remove the mimetic action on the stage that authorizes and gives meaning to them, lines such as these transform into a peculiar form of detached ecphrasis; soon enough, when the geographical and historical references disappear as well, these ostensive lines end up being removed completely or disfigured to refer to a vague archetypal history of the African diaspora and colonialism. My next chapter explores this phenomenon in the context of Césaire’s international audiences.

At some undetermined late moment in the genesis of the typescript, the temporal progression of “Toussaint King” undergoes a radical shift. On the first page of P6, the type sets the scene geographically, “La scène est à Saint Domingue.” Césaire will eventually add “à l’epoque de la Révolution française31 by hand next to it. In order to make the rest of the text conform to this new temporal reorientation, Césaire will make use of his pencil. The first such revision comes on P6 2 (2),

Le Chœur: Hurrah. Les Anglais sont perdus… Nos batteries d’approche
balayent leurs remparts; nos batteries de brèche sont intallées…
Saint-Marc craque… comme un vaisseau pourri…
32

The rest of the pencil revisions will continue in the same spirit. On P2 14 (15), at the end of P2, the last line changes two times, making things even more complicated: “… La Grande Révolution de Saint Domingue ~~continue~~ ~~a commencé .~~vient de commencer” (22). At one point, the revolution continued, at another it had begun, and finally it had just begun.

To accommodate this recasting, many internal changes had to be made, most notably, the grammatical tense, which changes in several places from passé composé to futur simple:

Toussaint: ~~J’avais amené~~ ^j’amenerai^ ce pays à la connaissancede
lui-même,
je familiaris~~é~~ ^erai^ cette terre avec ses démons secrets
~~allumé~~ ^j’allumerai^ aux cratères d’hélodermes et de cymbales
les symphonies d’un enfer inconnu, splendide
parasité de nostalgies hautaines…
33 (14)

We should note in passing that this can be used as further reason that P2 was written after P1. The tense is adapting to the temporal model established by P1. In the first version of P2, the action follows P1, therefore the past tense is appropriate. As the timeframe moves to the French Revolution, the tense appropriately changes to the future. The passage refers, of course, to Toussaint’s past or future involvement in the Haitian Revolution. Several other changes will confirm this temporal reorientation, with the strange consequence that the narrations of CRR become proleptic, or as I have no reservations calling them, prophetic.

The most salient aspect of “Toussaint King” is perhaps the introduction of Toussaint Louverture as a central character. This speculative version unfolds in four distinct episodes. We do not know exactly what the first two pages of P2 contained. When the action resumes on P2 3 (2), the Reciter and Toussaint have the stage.

The Reciter begins with a trope, prevalent throughout the drama, that I would like to call for now —with T.S. Eliot’s permission— the revolutionary correlative: a poetic vision of violent/revolutionary phenomena, drawing its vehicles from nature. It is safe to say that these tropes characterize a large part of the poetry of CRR and Toussaint, and we will have more to say about them later on. Here is the example that opens P2:

En marge des marées sautillantes, je marche sur l’eau des printemps
tournants ; j’aperçois très haut mes yeux de sentinelle. L’insomnie à
toute épreuve grandit comme une désobéissance le long des tempes
libres de la femme à l’emphore, verseau, verseau tempête de germes,
bouilloire
.34 (2)

Toussaint Louverture trails these lines by making himself the locus of the violence, in a poetic sequence where he becomes intertwined with the landscape around him. On the next page, the scene is grounded roughly at the moment when the city of Saint-Marc surrenders, and the Reciter announces the arrival of the messenger of the king35 who would have a word with Toussaint.

In the next episode, Toussaint encounters three “voix tentatrices36 who offer him riches and titles, in a scene reminiscent of the temptation of Christ, but more to the point, the temptations of Job. The theme of temptation will become the dominant structuring feature of all published versions of the text, with other lures confronting the Rebel. Already in the typescript we have several such encounters, the delegates of P1 being the first. There is much to be said about this particular episode in P2 where the would-be devils comment on the seductiveness of (their) language. In terms of the history of the text, the scene is important because it will reframe/reinforce the scene with the delegates of P1, as a scene of seduction. Furthermore, this scene sets up a struggle between the ‘beautiful’ words of deceit and the avowedly ‘truthful’ poetry of Toussaint. Once this struggle is in place, it becomes possible to read the whole drama as a battle for words themselves.

Following the temptation, Toussaint and CRR will engage in a series of long exchanges over freedom, truth, revolution, sight, and a series of other dominant themes. The result of this long exchange is that we start moving away from any purported historical action to a poetic recasting of the hero as the center of the revolution. CRR declares Toussaint a king, and in the same breath, CRR predicts his death. Toussaint accepts his fate and vows to die “naked.” Just as he laments that his message might fall on deaf ears, he meditates on the reverberation of radical action. This is also the episode where Toussaint names his enemy as “Colomb” and addresses him in lines of exquisite anguish.

In the final episode Toussaint confronts the crowds. They arrive on the stage ready to burn Toussaint. Rabble-rousers attempt to convince them that Toussaint is putting their lives in danger (yet another temptation), but Toussaint is able to sway them to the fight at hand by harshly scolding them for their cowardice. At the end of the episode the revolution continues, or is about to begin, or has just begun, but it is no longer the central focus of the play. The internal struggle of Toussaint the hero has taken over, and with this twist, historicity (and chronology) begin to erode.

Virtual Version D: The concise drama.

I would like to end my analysis with one more speculative version. It goes without saying that many other constructions can help refine our genetic analysis of the typescript. In fact, by ending our analysis of speculative versions here, we are ending it in the middle of the process that produced the typescript as we know it. I encourage the future student of the text, using the tools and precedents that I have laid out, to generate their own intermediary steps and perhaps correct or offer an alternative to my narrative.

Let us define Virtual Version D as those pages organized around and up to P5 (including P1, B, P3 and C) and excluding the extra-typographical revisions. To construct Virtual Version D we will also assume that those pages marked P2 have not received their pagination yet, and follow the pages marked with P1. This effectively organizes the action in Virtual Version D chronologically, starting with the early days of the Haitian Revolution, moving on to the defeat of the English, and ending with Toussaint’s death in the Jura mountains.

Two features stand out in Virtual Version D: a) Four sections all roughly about 20-26 pages long (P1 and B are considered here different sections). This contrasts with the three acts of the final version of the typescript, averaging 35 pages an act; b) and following from (a), Virtual Version D is a coherent, albeit shorter, drama. In order not to repeat myself unnecessarily, I will just focus on Act 2 and Act 3 since we have studied in some detail the substance of Act 1 (speculative versions A and B).

Here is a schematic view of the plot of Act 2 and III in Virtual Version D divided by episodes:

I. Act 2 (Saint Domingue)

a. A parade of officials and clergy praise Toussaint. The latter responds with disdain and turns the crowds against the hypocritical elites (42-46). b. A group of white passersby complain about being ruled by a black general (48-50). c. Toussaint expresses his dissatisfaction to CRR, who try to reassure him of his accomplishments (51-53). d. White armies debark, leading to a new stage of the revolution: After a failed meeting with ‘Parliamentarians’, a new confrontation begins between the black armies and what is implied to be the armies of Napoleon (58, 60-61). e. Toussaint’s troupes are forced to retreat to the bush to engage in guerilla warfare (62-63). f. Over a scorched land, Toussaint sings of doubt while CRR sings the devastation (64-66). g. The Acte ends with an encounter between Toussaint and a set of underground and celestial voices prophesying Toussaint’s imprisonment and death (67-68).

II. Act 3 (France)

a. (In prison) Toussaint encounters his jailers (74-75). b. Toussaint resists the offers of the messenger of the consul (78-80). c. Toussaint confronts his son, who has been educated in France and tries to convince his father to compromise with his captors (85-88). d. Toussaint is tortured and dies at the hands of his jailers (96-101).

As the reader can see, when we bring these episodes together with those of Virtual Version A and B, we have a coherent story. With the exception of the order of the segments in Act 1, we also have the general structure of the final version of the typescript. What additions come after Virtual Version D are mostly local. Césaire will reframe Act 2 several times, and the general tenor of the drama changes as the CRR plays an increasingly central role next to Toussaint, but the overall edifice remains the same.

The theme of temptation that will characterize all of the published versions of the drama is already dominant at this stage. The major difference between the typescript and the published versions is that temptation does not only present itself to Toussaint, but to the crowds as well. The steadfastness of Toussaint/Le Rebelle in the face of temptation contrasts with the crowd’s vulnerability, for whom Toussaint plays the role of Platonic educator. In this sense, the typescript explores the Promethean theme more thoroughly than the published versions by staging several encounters between Toussaint and the crowds. Later versions will rely more on the structure of Prometheus Bound, with Le Rebelle ‘bound’ in prison from beginning to end, making the promethean figure the center of our attention at the expense of the event.

Although Virtual Version D already evinces a shift in emphasis from the historical narrative proper to the heroic and poetic subject, the text preserves history as a referent. Critics have remarked, and this can be readily verified, that Césaire was not very rigorous in his citations. Because he is oftentimes inaccurate, especially in his reconstruction of the events in our text, we are left wondering whether the problem lay with his sources or whether he was actively engaging in myth making.

An effort is currently underway, most notably under the initiative of professor Jean Jonassaint of Syracuse University, to try to reconstruct Césaire’s readings on the Haitian Revolution based on clues found in his oeuvre. One of the most fascinating features of our typescript —especially the beginning segment of Act 2, which comes into play in Virtual Version D— is the presence of quotes (not always in quotation marks) from historical sources. These quotes are placed in the mouth of a series of random characters and—of course—no citation is given.

Here are two citations I have been able to identify:

2è orateur: Gloire à Toussaint Louverture, le Spartacus noir, le nègre prédit par Raynal pour venger les injures faites à sa race. (42)

This line comes at the beginning of the episode, after the first orator has praised Toussaint for delivering the land from the tyrannical English. Ironically, the line from the second orator comes from the British evangelist Marcus Rainsford’s An historical account of the black empire of Hayti (1805). Here are Rainsford’s words: “General Laveaux called him ‘the negro, the Spartacus, foretold by Raynal, whose destiny it was to avenge the wrongs committed on his race’” (247).

The next exact match comes in quotes:

Le grand Maitre de l’Université: Gloire et reconnaissance à Toussaint Louverture éducateur du peuple ! Libre à un Villaret-Joyeuse de fermer les écoles dans la Martinique voisine et de déclarer cyniquement : “L’ignorance est un lien nécessaire pour des hommes enchainés par la violence ou flétris par les préjugés”.37 (43)

The quoted lines came originally from the Capitaine-General of Martinique and Saint-Lucie, Louis Thomas Villaret de Joyeuse, in a proposal to close down the schools under his jurisdiction. The original document was first published in 1861 in Augustin Cochin’s L’Abolition de l’esclavage. Other nineteenth-century books dealing with the question of slavery will reprint the lines, and I have not been able to determine whether Césaire copied it from Cochin or from later reprints of Villaret’s communiqué.38 The important point is that Césaire is using verbatim quotes from historical sources. This sort of ‘documentary’ approach was also one of the main innovations of Piscator for the theater, and reinforces some of the points we made earlier about Césaire’s use of avant-garde techniques. Although, as Attilio Favorini has demonstrated, the so-called documentary theater can be traced back to the Greeks, its modern incarnation in the work of Brecht and Piscator links it directly to questions of social justice, the role of crowds on stage, and other features more appropriate to Césaire’s drama.

Before moving from the typescript to the many other subsequent transformations of the text, we should briefly examine one last feature of Virtual Version D. As Table B shows, Act 3 is about half of what it would be when we reach pagination Late A. At this stage, it ends with Toussaint’s death and not with Dessalines continuation of the revolution, and it is missing a couple of recognizable episodes, especially the hallucinatory intrusion of “Le Grand Prohibiteur.” The setting and action of Act 3 will, for all intents and purposes, replace the historical settings in the published versions. At this early stage, the structure of the final act already echoes the overall structure of the text: Toussaint must ward-off the temptations coming from the enemy (the messenger), from his own people (his son), and from a divine being (the Holy Virgin). This simple structure of temptation will carry over in all other reincarnations of the drama. The echoes in both structure and theme will eventually make it easy for Césaire to bring all the action to the prison cell and leave the Haitian Revolution behind.

Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian Revolution were evoked as early as the 1939 version of the “Cahier d’un retour au pays natal”. Considering the importance of these two themes, their elision in the 1940’s should still give us pause. In 1960 Césaire will publish his biography of Toussaint, La Révolution Française et le problème colonial, which doubled as an analysis of the revolution, and which was an important contribution at the time. Soon thereafter, his first successful play, La Tragedie du Roi Christophe, resumes the story of the revolution where the narrative of the typescript ended. Though we have seen how Césaire began to distance his text from history, the possible why must wait for my next chapter.

Through systematic codicological and textual analysis, I have argued that the shift away from the events of the revolution and the transformation of Toussaint Louverture into an abstract Rebel began while the typescript was being drafted. The argument means to demonstrate the value of using rules-based virtual reconstructions for the study of complex modern manuscripts. In the next chapter, we will take a broader perspective on some of the themes explored in this chapter, in an attempt to answer the why and not the how of Césaire’s move away from history. To accomplish our goal, we will address more familiar, and therefore less controversial textual unities (the book, the poem, the article, the preview, etc.) and their attendant geo-temporal complexities. In other words, we will move away from the decomposition and comparison of the one document with itself, to the comparison of many documents with each other.



  1. [speculative versions coming soon] ↩︎

  2. [Go back inside, girls, playtime is over, the orbits of death push their fiery eyes through the pale mica] ↩︎

  3. [Is it a riddle?] ↩︎

  4. This is the French equivalent of “Boo” in English. In other words, the girls are imitating the sounds of ghosts in mock-scary. ↩︎

  5. We can’t say with certainty how P2 originally began because we are missing the first two pages. ↩︎

  6. [(At that moment darkness engulfs the stage; gunshots; discordant cries; gradually, the disturbance settles down; when the light returns, the décor has changed; the black camp in the middle of a forest. Meeting of black chiefs and white deputies.)] ↩︎

  7. [(In the chasm of fright, a vast collective prison peopled with nègres, all contenders for madness and death; thirtieth day of the famine, the torture and the delirium.)] ↩︎

  8. On page P1.15 we find, for example, a stage direction describing the smell of blood, and another, immediately after, describing the silence that falls on the stage as rigid and funereal. On the last page we find one of the most fascinating stage directions in the whole typescript and I discuss it directly later in the chapter. Page P1.15 and the last page, P1.20 (40), also share another peculiarity in addition to their extra-theatrical stage directions. They are the only two pages in P1 without any dark pencil corrections. We should note also that half of the parentheses around stage directions in P1 were added in pencil, especially on the first 6 pages, pages P1.12 (32), P1.17 (33) and P1.18 (34). An argument can be made that these pages represent yet an earlier stage than the rest. Page P1.15 and P1.20 are, of course, probably the latest additions to P1↩︎

  9. This refrain will play a pivotal role in the trajectory of the drama. As we will see in the next chapter, Césaire tones down his rhetorical stance when he publishes the text in an international context, and the refrain is mostly excised from the text. In 1956 Césaire will assign a couple of stanzas to the Rebel which question the wisdom of the rallying cry. ↩︎

  10. Philippe François Rouxel, vicomte de Blanchelande, was governor of Haiti when the revolution began. Unlike the Blanchelande of the play, Philippe was sent back home to France in September of 1792. In 1793 he faced trial for treason and was eventually guillotined. ↩︎

  11. [A sinister and buffoonish gathering, full of bombast and cruelty.] ↩︎

  12. In a later revision, Boukman gets crossed out in dark pencil, leaving Toussaint to build an army by himself. ↩︎

  13. The historical Dutty Boukman was killed in November of 1791, and as far as I know, he did not fight alongside Toussaint. ↩︎

  14. Jean Jacques Dessalines was the most important leader of the revolution besides Toussaint Louverture. ↩︎

  15. Ironically, the more ‘avant-garde’ version of 1946 will reclaim all three Aristotelian units of time, space and action. ↩︎

  16. The song is mockingly reprised on page P1.15 (35) by the vengeful crowds of slaves. ↩︎

  17. To listen to the song and learn more about its history, you can visit the excellent digital archive Du Temps des cerises aux Feuilles mortes. To simply read the lyrics, follow this link↩︎

  18. [As she speaks, all of it is drawn on the screen] ↩︎

  19. American audiences may recognize Méliès from Martin Scorsese’s 2011 film Hugo, an adaptation of the 2007 illustrated novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. ↩︎

  20. See for example, Owusu-Sarpong, Le Temps historique dans l’œuvre théâtrale d’Aimé Césaire, Quebec: Editions Naaman, 1986. There has even been a doctoral thesis written on the subject: Alhamdou, Ali. “Conceptualisation De la liberté dans les théâtres de Bertolt Brecht et dʼAimé Césaire.” 1999 : Toulousse ↩︎

  21. Claudel, Paul. Le Livre de Christophe Colomb. Ed. Michel Lioure, Paris: Gallimard (2005) p.208 ↩︎

  22. For a well-rounded analysis of the role of intermediation in Claudel and Piscator see Plana, Muriel. Roman, théâtre, cinéma : Adaptations, hybridations et dialogue des arts. Rosny-sous-Bois (Seine-Saint-Denis): Bréal, 2004. Print. ↩︎

  23. Laforgue, Pierre. “Césaire et Claudel : une cantate à deux voix.” Bulletin de la Société Paul Claudel 205 (2016). ↩︎

  24. Columbus also makes an important apparition in Jahn’s adaptation. The echoes between Jahn’s contributions in the 1950’s and the early text, which Jahn never saw, continue to amaze me. ↩︎

  25. [In the back of the stage] ↩︎

  26. [All of this appears mixed together on the screen] ↩︎

  27. [The silence already poisons every fiber/Half-swallowed hieroglyphic gestures signal/The plowing and seeding of corpses] ↩︎

  28. [The Reciter: A whistle… The blacks exit from the brushes with a great uproar. The cutlasses clash and they are raised again and they clash in the reel of exasperation.] ↩︎

  29. Note that this is not marked up on Table B, which in a sense conflates pagination schemes with order of composition. The reality is not so. While the pages were composed early, the P2 pagination probably came much later. Considering the historical setting in this segment, they were also probably meant to follow P1↩︎

  30. [The Chorus: My eye is gilded with sovereign visions… Toussaint makes his solemn entry in Santo Domingo. The cabildo hands him the keys to the city.] Césaire misspells the Spanish word cabildo (twice). A cabildo was a Spanish form of local government best understood as a colonial administrative council. It was indeed a Spanish cabildo in Hispaniola which surrendered to Toussaint Louverture in 1801. ↩︎

  31. [The scene is at Saint Domingue…at the time of the French Revolution] ↩︎

  32. [The Chorus: Hurrah! The English have lost… Our batteries of approach sweep their ramparts… our breaching artillery is in place… Saint-Marc cracks… like a rotten ship.] ↩︎

  33. [Toussaint: ~~I had brought~~ I will bring this country to the knowledge/ of itself,/ I ~~familiarized~~ will familiarize this land with its secret demons/~~lit~~ I will light the craters of helodermes and cymbals/the symphonies of an unknown hell, splendid/infested with haughty nostalgias.] ↩︎

  34. [On the margins of jolting waves, I march on the water of turning Springs; I perceive high up my sentinel eyes. Foolproof, insomnia grows like the disobedience along the free temples of the woman with amphora, aquarius, aquarius germ tempest, kettle.] ↩︎

  35. The king in question could be a reference to Napoleon who by 1801 was already in power. The choice of king is not at all surprising since that word will become a grab-all for all forms of supreme rule in the drama. In the following scene in particular, it is precisely that title which is offered to Toussaint. ↩︎

  36. [Voices of temptation] ↩︎

  37. [The grand University Professor: Glory and renown for Toussaint Louverture, educator of the masses! Leave it to Villaret-Joyeuse to close the schools in neighboring Martinique and cynically declare: “Ignorance is a necessary bond for men chained by violence or withered by prejudice.”] ↩︎

  38. Other possibilities are Sylvain, Benito. Étude Historique Sur Le Sort Des Indigènes Dans Les Colonies D’exploitation. [Paris]: Univ. de Paris., 1901. 153. Print; or Locqueneuille, Scarsez de. L’esclavage; Ses Promoteurs Et Ses adversaires: Notes Et Documents Pour Servir À L’histoire De L’esclavage Dans Ses Rapports avec Le Catholicisme, Le Protestantisme Et Les Principes De 89. [Paris]: L. Grandmont-Donders, imprimeur-libraire, 1890. 318. Print. ↩︎