You will assimilate to me

[A note for readers of the “Beyond France” University Seminar on March 2nd, 2018: The following is the third chapter of a longer work. To see the outline for that work you can click on the title above, and that will take you to the table of contents on the homepage. You can leave comments on this chapter using by reading the annotated version instead. Needless to say, your readings are greatly appreciated. In this chapter you will find references to “the drama”, or “our text.” These references usually point to Césaire’s Et les chiens se taisaient, the central subject of chapter 1 and chapter 2, and other chapters to come. On March 2nd, I will open up with a discussion on the overarching arguments, structure, methods and goals of the “not-book,” as I call it, to supplement your reading of this chapter. In the meantime, please excuse the parenthetical citations without a works cited page. That labor is in the queue.]

Accommodez-vous de moi. Je ne m’accommode pas de vous !

  • Aimé Césaire, Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (1956, et al)

Césaire’s relationship to the international surrealist movement remains largely understudied and has been in some cases a source of acrimony amongst scholars who fail to reconcile this period with his more accessible militancy of the 1950s-60s. Notwithstanding, little doubt remains now that Césaire was published in surrealist contexts in Buenos Aires, Santiago de Chile, New York, and Paris during the 1940s.1 The question remains whether Césaire’s work was defined or not by surrealism. At the core of the question is not simply an innocent stocktaking of the writer’s influences, but a tug-o-war for the political import of Césaire and the philosophies he is supposed to endorse with his writings.

Césaire’s texts from this period do not help provide a clear answer for several reasons. First of all, Césaire remains a unique voice amongst his surrealist peers, most notably in his use of an imaginary drawn from the historical experience of Africans and the African diaspora, and the lingering effect on some readers that this very history adds to surreality—surreal as para-real for white audiences. His distinctiveness should not surprise us once we acknowledge that the surrealist movement was already very heterogeneous, both ideologically and artistically, even amongst those who draw from a solely European imaginary. Furthermore, Césaire’s major works of the time, the 1947 editions of Cahier d’un retour au pays natal and the 1946 edition of Les Armes miraculeuses, which includes the first published version of Et les chiens se taisaient, both contain material that was composed before and after Césaire met Breton. This complex situation proves to be a blessing in disguise, since it undermines all attempts at reductionism by either camp: those who would have him out-surreal Breton and those who would prefer to ignore his affiliation to the movement.

The task of this chapter, then, is twofold. To lay the groundwork for a re-evaluation of Césaire as a function of “the free circulation, the free manipulation, the free composition, decomposition, and recomposition of fiction [actual texts],”2 and of those texts as functions of the particular place and time where they erupt, interrupt and assimilate. What we seek then is not the real Césaire, nor the real Et les chiens se taisaient, but a series of “historical meanings,” to borrow from the textual scholar D.F. McKenzie, where author and text are but functional nodes in interlacing and unstable ecologies that include us, the infrastructural—read editorial—conditions of their production and the conditions of the record we inherit.

When McKenzie famously declares in his Panizzi lectures, “any history of the book […] must be a history of misreadings,” he implies that textual fields are marked by a series of local (as opposed to definitive) readings, from the author’s writing as reading, to the editor’s intrusions as reading, to our own critical discourse as reading (25). In doing so, he opens the door for us to oscillate between materialist description and critical discourse, effectively blurring the boundaries between the two:

With that last example [from Congreve], it could be argued that we reach the border between bibliography and textual criticism on the one hand and literary criticism and literary history on the other. My own view is that no such border exists. In the pursuit of historical meanings, we move from the most minute feature of the material form of the book to questions of authorial, literary, and social context. These all bare in turn on the ways in which texts are then re-read, re-edited, re-designed, re-printed, and re-published. If a history of readings is made possible only by a comparative history of books, it is equally true that a history of books will have no point if it fails to account for the meanings they later come to make (22).

In other words, we depart at the end of existing trajectories that—literally—have transformed these texts for decades, leading to our meanings today, conditioned now as much by our continued yearning for emancipation and the role that Césaire may play in that labor, as they are by the structural fragmentation of our current prestige economies, algorithmic readings, network effects, knowledge cartels, etc. The latter parts of this not-book will bring the narrative back to the present. We do well, though, to bear this ouroboros in mind even as we delve into a thick description of the relevant textual condition during the war period. I do present this not-book to you as a set of HTML documents and not a PDF file—consider that my constant reminder.

the francophone “culture of reprint”: fragments of Tropiques

A syncretic artifact is not a synthesis, but rather a signifier made of differences. What happens is that, in the melting pot of societies that the world provides, syncretic processes realize themselves through an economy in whose modality of exchange the signifier of there—of the Other—is consumed (“read”) according to local codes that are already in existence; that is, codes from here.

  • Antonio Benítez Rojo, Repeating Islands

When we look back at the surviving texts that form part of the phylogenesis of what we now call Les Armes miraculeuses and Et les chiens se taisaient, we are inevitably oriented by our own position in the post-publication history of the 1946 edition of “Et les chiens se taisaient” as an insertion in the book Les Armes miraculeuses. Before 1946, the identity and stability of the source texts, large and small, remained in flux. We deal, in a way, with what Marta Werner, a propos of Emily Dickinson’s late writings, called “contents without a book” (5). Unlike Dickinson’s “radical scatters,” though, Césaire’s texts more often than not orient themselves towards a bibliographic telos, theater included. Nevertheless, despite the clear desire for a public, the fragments and collections of the 1941-1946 period are characterized by bibliographic misdirection: promises of things to come, rearrangements, tentative titles, “fragments,” etc.

After 1946, the work of Et les chiens se taisaient continues down a spiral of strange generic and mediatic crossovers beyond 1946, becoming eventually an arrangement théâtrale, a co-authored translation, a radio-play and a short-film. At the broadest level, the study of the adaptations provide a window into the continuing formation of transnational, multilingual publishing networks in the middle of the twentieth century that prefigures the global market for anti-colonial and postcolonial literature.

The trajectory from the early inklings of the typescript to the first published version of Et les chiens se taisaient is marked by the transition from one editorial environment (local, Vichy Martinique) to another, (surrealist/francophone international), even as the lines between the two become blurred. This movement in turn carries with it an intermediary series of editorial ventures that eventually lead to the publication of the Cahier d’un retour au pays natal and of the poetry collection Les Armes miraculeuses, in which Et les chiens se taisaient occupies about half of the total number of pages. These other two editorial projects must be studied in conjunction with the materials belonging to the drama proper. In the same way that we cannot understand the first published version of the drama without taking into account its place in a collection of poetry, we cannot understand how the text evolved without understanding how that same collection evolved. Fortunately, the period from 1941 to 1946 provides the richest trove of genetic materials available for research, even if paradoxically it is the least studied.

Reacting to the received notion that Tropiques, and as an extension, Césaire, was already surrealist before the fateful meeting with Breton in April, 1941, Michel Hausser compares the first two issues of the journal to argue that any overt transition begins with the second issue. As he argues, though, the entrance of surrealism comes “par la petit porte, ou si l’on accepte cette autre métaphore, ce n’est qu’un greffon” (245). The estimation that surrealism has been “grafted” onto Tropiques seems apt.

Hausser argues further that for the writers of Tropiques, surrealism provides more of a methodological toolkit than an agenda: The target remains elsewhere (248-249). Katerina Gonzalez Seligmann concurs that the journal “demands a reading that extends beyond the central terms of Aimé Césaire’s literary and intellectual visibility: négritude and surrealism.”3 (495) For Seligmann, “Tropiques resituates négritude and surrealism into the poetic productions of the 'cultural combat' its editors sustained against the Vichy regime, against literary marginality, and against French and internalized racism.” We can hardly disagree based on the evidence.

relative frequencies

figure q | relative frequencies of the words ‘vie’, ‘l’homme’, ‘surréalisme’ and ‘Breton’ in ‘Tropiques’ | Voyant Tools

As figure q suggests, neither the word surrealism, nor the name Breton appear in the first issue. What we have instead is a journal that overtly embraces the fight for cultural autonomy, placing Man and Life at the center of its ideological thrust against Cartesianism and instrumental rationality—shorthanded in the relative preponderance of ‘vie’ and ‘l'homme,’ but easily verifiable in a reading of the journal’s run. In this sense, like surrealism, the journal begins in line with kin modernist projects that decried Western civilization’s perceived moral decline. Although a cannibalization of surrealism will eventually help mediate the journal’s thinking on cultural independence, mostly through the championing of (semi-)automatic poetry, the marvelous, the imagination, dreams, madness, etc. as conduits to (Caribbean) Man’s authentic Life, these last two, l’Homme and la Vie, pervade the lexicon of the journal.

My intent in this section is not, though, to find an alternative philosophical essence of the journal—even if I echo Hausser and Seligmann—but rather to explore its editorial agenda and production in order to kick start our thick description of the hemispheric environment for Césaire’s early publications.

From the opening gambit of the first issue, Césaire lays out a program for the journal that will remain consistent until the end:

Terre muette et stérile. C’est de la nôtre que je parle. Et mon ouïe mesure par la Caraïbe l’effrayant silence de l’Homme. Europe. Afrique. Asie. J’entends hurler l’acier, le tam-tam parmi la brousse, le temple prier parmi les banians. Et je sais que c’est l’homme qui parle. Encore et toujours, et j’écoute. Mais ici l’atrophiement monstrueux de la voix, le séculaire accablement, le prodigieux mutisme. Point de ville. Point d’art. Point de poésie. Point de civilisation, la vraie, je veux dire cette projection de l’homme sur le monde ; ce modelage du monde par l’homme; cette frappe de l’univers à l’effigie de l’homme.4 (“Présentation” 5)

This sentiment is also shared by the two other main contributors of the journal, Suzanne Césaire and René Ménil. Here is Ménil, also on the first issue,

Seuls, nous pouvons exprimer ce par quoi nous sommes uniques. Si nous ne voulons pas être seulement spectateurs de l’aventure humaine, si nous croyons qu’il faut payer de soi pour simplement participer à l’humanité véritable, si nous sommes persuadés qu’ici comprendre n’est rien et que c’est faire qui importe, nous savons quelle tâche nous incombe et quelle voie mène à sa réalisation.5 (“Naissance” 60)

Because the goal is to provide an authentic voice6, to address a perceived lack, the general tenor of the journal will remain pedagogical: over the years we will see the prevalence of introductory texts dedicated to an exploration of diverse subjects, including the flora and fauna of the region, regional art (or lack-thereof), regional history (including a basic introduction to the history of the slave trade), folk tales, and more a propos, a set of accessible works of literary theory meant to set the critical stage for the rather difficult poetry of Césaire. For this last purpose, several entries by René Ménil, Suzanne Césaire and a direct study by Aristide Maugée constitute the first set of historical readings of Césaire’s poetry.

Not only does Tropiques feel the need to provide an authentic voice, that voice must serve as a way for Martinique, and by synecdoche the Caribbean, to enter the “human adventure” as an equal. Although the emphasis is on those inheritances and experiences which are particular to Caribbean Man and Life (African inheritance, slavery, colonialism, etc.), at no point do we hear a call for a separation from the whole of humanity along racial lines and/or a contestation of universal History as a valid category. This is a far cry from Eduoard Glissant’s critique of a History-cum-Totality that is predisposed to subordinate non-Western histories (141), or Walter Mignolo’s conception of “spatial confrontations between different concepts of history” (67). For the Tropiques group, History must simply be supplemented, perhaps revolutionized, but the idea that one could enter through the grand doors of a History with universal import and sway remains unquestioned. This distinction becomes important when we consider Césaire’s choice in the editio princeps of Et les chiens se taisaient for history-as-residue over the typescript’s history-as-referent.

Before getting bogged down in Hegelian conceptions of the “concrete universal”—posthumously sanctioned by the Tropiques group—I would prefer to ground these yearnings for universality in the editorial practices of the journal. If the early evolution of Et les chiens se taisaient is defined by a movement from historical particularity to a more universally accessible text, this new universalism is not any less particular to the editorial horizons that inform it, Tropiques included.

According to the colophons, the journal was printed first at the “Imprimerie du Courrier des Antilles” from issue N°1-5, and at “Imprimerie du Gouvernement” from N°6-7 onwards. The bibliographic kinship between the two seems to indicate the difference is merely titular. The historical record is not clear on the change from Courrier des Antilles, an imprint associated with an independent journal and doodooist literature, to a governmental vehicle.

Imprimeries du Gouvernement” or government presses were common in the history of French colonialism. The one in Martinique had been a mainstay of colonial administration since 1859, when it was commissioned by the colony “en régie” from private owners (Annuaire 42). For decades, the press was responsible for government publications and publications of local interest. The press remained active at least until the publication of L’affranchissement des esclaves aux Antilles Françaises by Pierre Baude in 1948. The disappearance of the press can be linked to the loi de départementalisation, a consequence that Césaire maneuvered to counteract at the national assembly in 1950 (“Discours” 3755-3758).7

Césaire’s efforts attest to the importance that such imprimeries officielles played in the cultural life of the French colonies. This close link to the government also implies that the specter of censorship was directly linked to the production of the journal during the Vichy regime. All the more astonishing then that the editorial team seems to have had such control over the design of the journal, as well as its content. Considering the main purpose of the press, the use of scarce materials to blow an avant-garde horn speaks of the resourcefulness and gumption of that intrepid band of young editors.

The design of the journal supplements its propédeutique tendencies and the search for authenticity moored in the universal. The semi-square cut of the pages, the use of a motley assortment of bold fonts for section headings, the overabundance of whitespace and section breaks, spacious line breaks, and the consistent use of a set of New Caledonia for the body, all betray a modernist aesthetic which privileges the short burst over the sustained effort. Notwithstanding, I fail to see any Caribbean specificity in the design of the revue of the sort we find in future Caribbean journals. Though the limitations in design may be ascribed to the material constraints attendant to the war period, the choices made by the editorial team seem to establish a dialog with other journalistic and literary print projects of the twentieth century, in particular that of diasporic “typospheres”8 and the French tradition of la petite revue and the cahiers.”9

In his attempt to reconcile Anglo-American modernism with the European avant-garde through their shared use of medium and technique, Daniel Bennett rightly suggested a few decades ago that “the literature and poetics of the fragment were produced for and by the little magazine” (480). While Bennett seems to ignore the long durée of the “fragment” as an important form in literary history—European or otherwise—including the Jena group’s still relevant critical discourse around fragments—his point is well taken that the little magazine produces specific kinds of fragments. I would go further and claim that Tropiques produces its own specific fragments informed at all turns by bibliographic and editorial pressures particular to the island, and what I would call a culture of reprint in times of war and exile.

The issues were divided in thematic sections, ranging from 2 to 5 depending on the issue. An unnumbered appendix usually followed with revues, notes and nouvelles. From the first issue, several offerings were presented as tastes of things to come or parts of an absent whole: A. Césaire, “Fragment d’un poème” (N°1); R. Ménil, “Naissance de notre art” (N°1); A. Césaire “Fragment d’un poème: Le Grand midi (fin)” (N°2), A. Maugée “Poésie et obscurité” (N°2); to name a few. Promises of content-to-come rarely materialize in subsequent issues. Other offerings came as evident variations on a theme: the contributions by René Ménil, Georges Gratiant and Georgette Anderson are exemplary in this regard. By implication, we must consider the journal an atelier as much as a vehicle for cultural renewal. Furthermore, we are reminded that the journal catered to the sample as opposed to the full-fleshed work. For prose, this meant that ideas had to be communicated succinctly; for poetry, it meant long pieces like the Cahier d’un retour au pays natal were out of the question, even in serialized form.

The compromise over material limits went only so far, though. A generous use of white pages to separate the larger sections and enough white space to allow Césaire’s poetry to play with line layout betray an opposite tendency in the journal to offer a highly intentional reading experience. Predictably, the ubiquitous empty spaces also serve to reinforce the sense of fragmentation.

Since many of the short essays were meant as introductory pieces to other authors—local and international—the quote is perhaps the most prominent feature of the journal’s prose, in particular the block quote, oftentimes separated from the rest of the text by white space or an intervening curt interpretation. Furthermore, we can interpret the small samples—which helped introduce several authors to the Tropiques audience—as variations of the quote, adapted and apt for the constrained pedagogical environment.

Nothing in the journal indicates that copyright was respected by the editors, who reprinted samples from recent publications without regard for the Berne convention. The liberty to reprint, to quote via fragments, could be explained by the isolation of the island during the war, the scant communication to and from, the priorities of their legal system, etc. These would be good alibis indeed if we did not find similar practices in the rest of the francophone journals of the period. Most likely, the practice is due to the fact that international copyright law was still not observed universally, the priority of performing a France outside of France, and the double-headed arrows of these journalistic projects.

As we will soon see, this “culture of reprint” will be accompanied by acute self-awareness of the geographically distributed and non-overlapping audiences which fostered the use of recycled material, with important implications for Césaire’s writing and its genesis. The culture of reprint also provides the ideal editorial environment for us to model and address textual blocks as a network effect of bibliographic and textual relations.

The debut proper of Tropiques on the international stage must be dated as far back as André Breton’s encounter with the first issue of the journal in a store owned by René Ménil’s sister early in 1941. In all probability, Breton carried with him copies of the journal with him to New York, along with the well documented offprint of the Cahier. The first direct evidence that the journal is making the rounds in New York, however, comes from an article by surrealist poet Nicolas Calas in the 1941 October-November issue of View. We learn of its existence from Rosemont and Kelley’s anthology, Black Brown & Beige: Surrealist Writings from Africa and the Diaspora. Here’s the relevant passage reprinted from the latter:

When the detestable writings of so many famous authors of our day will have been forgotten and when critics and poets will begin to look for the creative writing of the war period, they will then dig out and reprint, with all the honors due to them, the early numbers of Tropiques. I know of no review which can boast of the high quality of this small quarterly French review of Martinique. The fact that such a review can be published is enough to put to shame those artists and poets who today feel discouraged and abandon all struggle, either because the public is not interested in their work, or because they are afraid of the political consequences of their efforts. It is difficult to imagine that conditions anywhere outside Nazi-dominated Europe could be worse than they are in the Vichy colony of Martinique; as to the cultural conditions of a colony that France has always neglected, from all one hears they are abominable. Yet, Aristide Maugée does not hesitate to defend in Tropiques the case of obscurity in poetry, in an article which we hope someday to see published in English. René Ménil writes about “Directions in Poetry,” a most inspired and inspiring article, while Aimé Césaire published a fragment of an admirable poem. (62)

Calas is referring here to issue N°2, where we find the article by A. Maugée “Poésie et obscurité,” R. Ménil’s article “Orientation de la poésie” and Césaire’s “Fragments d’un poème (fin).” Breton (along with Lam and Masson) left Martinique aboard the Presidente Trujillo on May 16, and issue N°2 came out in July. I have not been able to verify how the issue made it to Breton’s hands, or New York City for that matter.

This same issue also published translations of works by James Weldon Johnson, Jean Toomer and Claude McKay. The last two were alive in 1941, but nothing suggests that their work was published with their knowledge. Although the translation of the Toomer poem, “Chant de la moisson” (“Harvest Song”) is attributed to Eugene Jolas’ 1921 Anthologie de la nouvelle poèsie américaine, the translation of McKay’s famous poem “À l’Amérique,” (“America”) is left unreferenced.10 Available in New York somehow, and reprinting works by living writers, who at at different points were themselves New York residents, Tropiques sets in motion a hemispheric gambit that continues to elude contemporary accounts.

If Tropiques N°2 deals directly with surrealism for the first time, N°3 is the first to showcase it. This issue had just been released when Suzanne Césaire sent a letter to Breton, dated October, 1941. According to her, several copies of the number were attached to the letter. A previous letter from Breton had arrived just in time for her to include one of his poems as an illustration for her article “André Breton, poète” (38). The poem in question was dedicated to Suzanne, “Pour Madame.” Breton gave no indication that he meant for this poem to be published, and Suzanne admits to having taken the liberty to do so. Perhaps the best open secret for those involved in editorial projects during the war period, this pseudo-freedom to publish content outside of formal contractual engagements is not without import to the hemispheric orientation of the journal Tropiques and the genesis of Les armes miraculeuses.

I borrow the term “culture of reprinting” from Meredith L. McGill’s excellent study of the pre-1848 literary scene in the United States, American Literature and the Culture of Reprinting, to help us describe the editorial environments of francophone literature during the war period.11 The goal here is not to dwell on reprints (or originals) per se, but to “show the way that the system of reprinting recasts the reading and writing of poetry and fiction” (7). Several important differences should be noted between the American editorial landscape McGill examines and the networks that make up the French expatriate publishing ventures of this period, but some essential similarities sanction our loan, especially those that allow us to connect editorial environments with authorial practice: a) Publication is for the most part decentralized, with no clear dominant metropolis; and, b) “Authors themselves had difficulty determining exactly where, in what formats, and how extensively their poems and tales circulated” (17).

As Rosemont and Kelley have pointed out, surrealist publishers were notoriously inclusive many years before the outbreak of the war forced a substantial part of the French intelligentsia into exile (22-28). By the time War World II had begun, the burgeoning internationalism of the French avant-garde were made concrete in editorial alliances across the globe made up of petite revues and opportunities for book-length publications. We should emphasize that this new internationalism was not dominated by surrealism, even if the latter played an important role. In fact, several of the stakeholders in francophone publishing ventures, some of whom will eventually praise or publish Césaire, were openly hostile to surrealism.

The loose network continued for the duration of the war and dissipated only after Paris regained its status as the editorial center of the francophone universe. Regardless of ideological or aesthetic disagreements, the period is characterized by international cooperation among those with access to printing operations. Furthermore, whether allied to surrealism or not, the Free French worked explicitly to give the sense that a French tradition continued and survived outside of France.

While the internationalism of the surrealist publications in pre-war France was indeed inclusive, the new internationalism involved direct collaboration with local editorial traditions in several continents. As a result, several of the publications that will provide a home for Césaire’s material outside of Tropiques were bilingual (to varying degrees) and contained contributions from local and international authors: VVV, Lettres Françaises, Hémisphères, etc. In order to sustain the project of a France outside of France, these publications engaged in promotional work for each other. Exchanges consisted of advertisements, reviews of articles and whole issues, distribution of copies through the post, and more importantly, reprints and originals from writers affiliated to different editorial geographies. The result is perhaps captured by Juan Suárez’s description of View,12 “a jumble of disordered fragments: articles, interviews, illustrations, reviews, book notices, and reports from the literary and art worlds” (“View”).

In contrast to an editorial center, where a reprint could be easily recognized by a shared audience, the decentralization of the war period generated several editorial blind spots, where a reprint was for all intents and purposes new to different audiences. This situation increases the number and varieties of fragmentation because authors and publishing ventures tended to adapt existing material to the needs of those non-overlapping audiences.13

In the absence of enforceable laws or a recognizable protocol, the practice of reprinting was also accompanied by apprehension about where and how texts were reprinted. When Roger Caillois reviews the Fontaine N°35 versions of “Un grand poète noir” and “Batouque” for Lettres françaises N°15, he complains that the editors of that journal were defrauding their audiences by claiming that “La revue ne publie que de l’inédit14 (58). Along the same lines, when Breton (twice) expresses his regret to Goll that he allowed him to publish “Un grand poète noir” in Hémisphères N°2-3, he does so because he did not deem it the right venue, and as he (falsely) claims, because it had been published earlier in Lettres françaises (Letter 3 Feb. 1944). Interestingly enough, all the Césaire poems published in VVV were original, while all the ones published in Hémisphères were reprints. Though in principle Breton was not against others reprinting his works, he was careful to print only original work in his venue. Césaire will navigate these divergent editorial attitudes expertly, always informing Breton of the publication status of the texts he sends him.

We must keep these dynamics in mind when we look at the two main strategies behind the Tropiques efforts to reach an audience beyond its colonial borders, both exemplified in the letter from Suzanne: a) shipping copies of the journal to various potential allies; and b) printing and reprinting works by living writers, surrealists or not, outside of their immediate circle. That such an astute and broad strategy was used by the young couple should not come as a surprise. As Kora Véron argues convincingly in “Césaire at the Crossroads in Haiti”15 Aimé disseminated his own texts through more than one network: “In addition to Breton, who maintained his network of surrealists from his apartment in New York, two other networks contributed to Césaire’s higher profile in the world of letters.” (430) Véron counts three, I count many others that did not yield ripe fruit.

Besides Suzanne’s article, issue N°3 includes poems by Jéanne Megnen, then married to Pierre Mabille, author of the influential “Mirroir du merveilleux.” In fact, Suzanne informs Breton on the same letter that they had received “des poèmes de Jeanne Mégnen, un texte de Pierre Mabille,” but “Les poèmes seuls ont pu paraître dans Tropiques16 (Letter 21 Oct. 1941). We don’t know exactly how Césaire and the couple were first introduced. Most likely, this happened through the auspices of either Breton or Lam, who both knew Mabille before the war, and who both had a chance to reacquaint themselves with him in Guadeloupe, after they left Martinique in May of 1941, on their way to their different war-time destinations.

Even if the Mabille text could not be published in this issue,17 two other interventions touching on the marvelous were: René Ménil’s “Introduction au Merveilleux” and Georgette Anderson’s “Maeterlinck et le merveilleux.” The poems by Césaire in this issue, “Survie,” “N’ayez point pitié de moi,” “Au dela” and “Perdition,” in a section entitled “Poèmes” (24-26), and “En rupture de mer morte” in a section entitled “Postface,” were now shorter and more susceptible to surrealist readings (74-76). Finally, the issue contains a review of the surrealist group “Viernes” in Venezuela, praising them for seeking an autochthonous voice through surrealism, and chastising them for their rejection of “les erreurs philosophiques du maître français,”18 i.e. Breton (“Mouvement” 58).

Overall, issue N°3 reads like a special issue on surrealism. This is not surprising. Issue N°2 had already announced that it would be this way: “Nous nous proposons, dans notre prochain numéro, d’accorder à l’esthétique surréaliste toute l’attention qu’exige son importance19 (76). Even if the issue is not subtitled “special,” it is important to mark the distinction here between a thematic issue and a regular issue of Tropiques. If we observe the distribution curves for surréalisme and Breton in figure q, we will notice that surrealism is not showcased consistently throughout the run of the journal, with two peaks in issue N°3 and N°8-9. The same holds for the journals in New York, where a special issue of Hémisphères on the tropics will later on serve as a platform for Césaire’s work. What makes the issue special for us is not necessarily the thematic coherence, but the fact that N°3 marks the first efforts to adapt the content provided by the local team to direct contributions by living writers outside of Martinique, casting its eyes on North and South America at the same time.

The “Venezuelan” overtures of the issue consist of two sub-sections under the section “Revue des Revues, Nouvelles, Notes.” The first sub-section, under the heading, “I - Lettre Vénézuélienne,” consists of an article on a “petit livre de Monsieur [René L.F.]Durand20 published by Courrier des Antilles in 1941, the same imprint that published the first five issues of Tropiques.21 The author will later play a minor role in the history of Latin-American letters for his French translations of authors such as Carpentier and Borges, and for his book “La négritude dans l’œuvre poètique de Ruben Dario.” The unsigned review—most likely by Ménil—begins with the revealing question: “Allons-nous, oui ou non, établir des relations culturelles suivies avec nos voisins américains et espagnols ?”22 The meeting-ground for that relationship is clear:

Urgence d’autant plus réelle que nos problèmes sont souvent les mêmes que les leurs. Mêmes difficultés rencontrées. Mêmes solutions proposées. Pays coloniaux ou semi-coloniaux, pays qui se cherchent. Cultures qui à travers les pseudomorphoses23 tendent à affirmer leur originalité propre. Et dans cette fièvre, debout, là ‘le nouvel Indien’, ici le Nègre nouveau.24 (52)

A bold theoretical gesture, but also an extended hand to their southern neighbors in a position to reciprocate. The second article, under the heading “Le mouvement poétique au Venezuela,” isolates their editorial counterpart in Venezuela, the journal Viernes. The editors of Tropiques make sure to affiliate themselves with the essentials of the program of the Venezuelan journal, except for their attempts at distancing themselves from Breton.25 To read the article in the light of a multivalent attempt at internationalization, we can’t fail to notice the adroit balancing act needed to adhere to an authentic hemispheric project, while protecting the bonds to “le maître français” (58). Viernes in turn, betrays a similar attitude to internationalization and the thirst for universalism of its neighbor. As William Martínez, Jr. recently put it,

Reinaba el cosmopolitismo, desigual al acostumbrado por escritores modernistas latinoamericanos, el deseo de ir más allá de las fronteras y problemáticas nacionales y enfrentarse a la realidad de la universalidad humana.26 (41)

Sadly, and unbeknownst to the Tropiques group, the journal Viernes would cease publication on May 1941, hardly a month after the first issue of Tropiques goes into circulation and before real collaboration could take place.

Similar outreach efforts will follow in future issues of Tropiques. By the time we reach the last issue, its pages would have featured samples from Jeanne Mégnen and Pierre Mabille (Haiti), Lucie Thésée (Guadeloupe), André Breton (New York), Charles Duits (New York), Jorge Caceres (Chile), Lidia Cabrera (Cuba), Victor Brauner (France), Étiemble (Egypt), Francis Picabia (France), Alejo Carpentier (Cuba) and Pierre Loeb (Cuba). We should also add to this list countless quotes and references across the Atlantic. The result is clear: if the agenda for the Tropiques group is overtly determined by a desire for an authentic local voice that could contribute—on an equal footing—to an imagined universal dialogue, the journal actualizes this desire by surrounding the contributions of local writers with a cadre of their luminous contemporaries. Furthermore, each of these entries testifies to the growing reach of the journal.

All the above authors are represented in the pages of Tropiques through small samples of their work. But Tropiques was not only receptive to imports from abroad. The export business was also thriving, and the same fate awaited Césaire when he began shipping off his material. From the outset, the dominant form of currency remained the small sample or the excerpt, and Césaire built his reputation on these.

Although Césaire had by the end of 1943 two long poems, the “Cahier d’un retour aux pays natal” and Le Grand Midi, one drama, the finished draft of Et les chiens se taisaient, his journal publications both in and out of Tropiques consisted for the most part of promises of things to come, excerpts and small poems. Césaire’s first short poems in issue N°3 will become common practice from that point forward. If we follow the sequence leading up to the end of 1943 the pattern is clear: issue N°4: “Poème pour l’aube” (short poem); N°5: “En guise de manifeste littéraire” (short-to-medium poem)27; N°6-7: “Entrée des amazones,” “Fantômes à vendre,” “Femme d’eau” and “Tam-tam de nuit” (short poems); and N°8 “Avis de tir” (short poem). These poems are not only closer to the surrealist preference for shorter poems, they lend themselves better to a possible reprint. The Tropiques samples in particular will be reprised in the typescript Colombes et menfenils and printed from there in the journal Hémisphères.

Leaving “Batouque” aside for now, this practice will remain unchanged until the publication of Les Armes miraculeuses in 1946. The same will apply to the small additions to the 1947 versions of the Cahier that make their appearance in Tropiques. This is also the case for our drama, which will see three excerpts published in Tropiques and reprinted elsewhere between 1944 and 1945.

Thus the environment, now the species.

Breton Adapting, then Queneau

A study of the adaptation of Césaire’s texts to particular contexts during the 1941-1946 period would not be complete without close attention to the role played by Breton-the-editor and Breton-the-author in helping shape and frame Césaire’s diffuse mass of fragments. Without a doubt, and the list of outside contributors to Tropiques reflects this in part, the most effective campaign to internationalize Tropiques in general, and Aimé Césaire in particular, was led by André Breton from New York. The evidence suggests that Breton was the first influential figure to actively seek publication venues for Césaire’s work outside of Martinique. The Césaires knew this, and the issues and samples continued to arrive with the letters. By war’s end the name Aimé Césaire was already known in francophone literary circles stretching from Chile to Quebec to Algiers. Though certainly not the only important node as Véron points out, Breton would probably take the highest closeness centrality in the overall network outlined by this geography.

The senior poet’s role as mediator is confirmed in part by the fact that almost everywhere that Césaire’s name appeared in print outside of Tropiques, the name Breton was not far behind. The phenomenon begins with the publication of the fragment “Conquete de l’aube” on the first issue of VVV. The poem auspiciously follows Breton’s “Prolegomena to a Third Manifesto of Surrealism or Else,”28 in which Breton singles out Césaire as the poet of the times, “my friend Aimé Césaire, magnetic and black, who having broken with all old tags, Eluardian and others, writes the poems we need today, in Martinique.”29 (20) When Braulio Arenas mentions Césaire for the first time in issue N°2-3 of Leitmotiv (Chile, 1943), on the same issue where Césaire’s short poem “Colombes bruissement du sang…” appears for the first time (later “Soleil serpent”), he imagines him “en la Martinica encantadora,”30 echoing the title of Breton’s homage to the island. The pattern will continue until the publication of Les Armes miraculeuses, at which point Césaire’s name begins to stand on its own outside of Martinique.

Besides the commerce in fragments, the Cahier d’un retour au pays natal plays an important role in the promotion of Aimé Césaire during these years inasmuch as it was highlighted in Breton’s seminal endorsement, “Un grand poète noir.” Although a translation by Lydia Cabrera appeared in book form in Cuba, no surviving evidence I know of suggests that Cabrera’s text circulated beyond that nation. Breton’s text on the other hand went through at least three journal reprints, including Tropiques N°11, eventually serving as the introduction to Brentano’s edition of the Cahier in 1947 and finally as part of Martinique: Charmeuse de serpents in 1948. The first appearance, in Hémisphères N°2-3 is followed by the fragment “Les pur-sang.” The third appearance, in Fontaine N°35 is followed by the poem “Batouque.” Though we can speculate endlessly about the influence of the one on the other—”ces lieux communs obligés de la critique” as Dominique Combe notes (365)—we can at least be in agreement that throughout this period, Césaire was more often than not filtered through Breton, and vice versa, Breton was filtered through Césaire—a mutual accommodation of sorts. In lieu of the commonplace reflex of many French and American critics that points the influence vector in only one direction, or the efforts of a Jean-Claude Blachère to demonstrate the influence of Césaire on Breton,31 I propose instead that we understand their relationship as ultimately mediated by their co-occurrence in actual texts, or to play a bit with words, in assimilar text.

Besides the promotion via samples and “Un grand poète noir,” the evidence suggests that Breton had other ambitions for his young friend. If we can believe Breton, in a letter to Yvan Goll, May 11, 1944, we learn it was Goll who prompted him to write the laudatory piece in the first place as an introduction for the Brentano’s edition of the Cahier: “une preface que vous m’avez pressé d’écrire…” As we saw above, we also know that the text had to be revised to reflect the exclusion of other poems that would have accompanied the Cahier. Another letter tells us that Breton also imagined a French-only edition at some point. The picture that emerges is of a larger edited volume with the Cahier as a centerpiece, followed by poems from Tombeau du soleil and Colombes et menfenils. As we pointed out above, the poems will be published not with the Cahier, but with Et les chiens se taisaient. Nevertheless, this episode provides direct evidence that Breton was engaged to help Césaire publish a collection of poems as early as 1943.

In a letter dated April 2, 1945, Césaire informs Breton that he is working to collect his poetry, but he would rather wait until publishing returns to normal in France: “Mes projets ? Publier un recueil. Mais pour cela mieux vaudrait peut-être attendre la reprise de l’édition française. Qu’en pensez-vous ?32 This request for advice comes as much as a commentary on the printing situation during the war-period, as much as a provocation for collaboration. While Césaire profited from the precarious networks that received his samples, in his cautious estimate, a book publication at the metropolitan center would be a more substantial contribution to a united French record. On August 22, on the same letter where he sent the new version of “Conquête de l’Aube,” Césaire also announced that he had almost finished his drama, “dont la transfiguration est quasi complète et dont je vous ferai tenir le manuscrit le plus tôt possible.”33 Even as he is “putting the last touches,” only eight months before the book appears, nothing suggests that the drama is to be included with the poems in a possible collection.

Although Breton was affiliated with the librarie Gallimard34 as far back as the 1920s and after the Liberation became a reader for them (Histoire 206), the collection, as we know it, did not come about because of his efforts. Raymond Queneau, who was then secretary to Gaston Gallimard, and working independently of Breton, approached Aimé Césaire via letter on 25 Sept. 1945 with the offer.35

[…]Après la libération, lorsque j’au pu reprendre contact avec ce qui s’était publié hors de France; j’ai pu voir que vous réalisiez les espérances que pouvait donner votre premier ouvrage, et j’ai lu avec le même intérêt vos Poèmes publiés dans “Confluences” et dans “Fontaine”.

Je serais heureux de pouvoir proposer à Monsieur Gaston GALLIMARD une édition complète de vos oeuvres poétiques […]36

Raymond Queneau had met Césaire while the latter was working with Volontés to publish the first version of “Cahier d’un retour au pays natal.” Césaire jumps on the opportunity to work with Queneau and signs a contract with Gallimard. On another astonishing letter from Queneau to Césaire, dated 18 Jan. 1946, we learn that at one point the “Cahier d’un retour au pays natal” might have been published together with Les Armes miraculeuses:

Je vous prie de trouver ci-joint votre contrat pour : “Cahier d’un Retour au Pays Natal”[…] De toute façon, il n’est pas possible d’envisager la publication de “Cahier d’un Retour au Pays Natal” dans le même volume que “Les Heures Miraculeuses”[sic].37

Undoubtedly, the different conditions of publication and the new collaborator will allow for a new arrangement of the poems, a difference that is evident when we compare the published version with the Tombeau and Colombes documents. Furthermore, the last minute instability of the collection demonstrates one of the points I’ve argued above: we should not take for granted any internal coherence between the text of Et les chiens se taisaient and the rest of the poems in Les Armes miraculeuses. The rest of the genetic portfolio also recommends we should proceed with caution. From their early beginnings until the end result, the poems belonging to Les Armes miraculeuses are kept separate from the text belonging to Et les chiens se taisaient. If the poems would have been published with the Cahier d’un retour au pays natal as Breton originally envisioned, we would be arguing for their internal coherence as well. This is not to say that both sets of texts, the poems and the drama, do not bear the mark of shared editorial horizons and poetic imaginaries.

One of the striking features of the arrangement of poems in the Gallimard edition in relation to the relative arrangement of everything that precedes it is the seeming lack of continuity between the two. At first, everything seems to have been rearranged. However, careful analysis reveals the intimation of a pattern. If all the fragments combined were a deck of cards, we could say that the contents of Tombeau du soleil and Colombes et menfenils have been shuffled once—a bad, lumpy shuffle. The two original sequences remain almost intact as they become enmeshed in each other. While we can claim that the new collection undoes the contiguities of the Tombeau and Colombes assemblages, the new collection preserves their original sequences almost intact. Figure r below represents this shuffle as a legogram. (Click for the full graph).

shuffled once

figure r | shuffled

We saw a similar pattern in the composition history of Acte III in Chapter 2, and we will see a similar pattern in Jahn’s construction of Acte II later on. The rearrangement of the blocks of text from the Saint-Dié typescript to Les Armes miraculeuses undergo a similar shuffling of the deck, and in a way, the 1946 drama can be retrospectively read as a collection of poems itself.

Two of the three fragments of Et les chiens se taisaient that appear in print between the end of 1943 (when Césaire sends the Saint-Dié typescript to Breton) and April of 1946 (when Les Armes miraculeuses is published) will in fact be titled “Poème,” as if the drama itself consisted of poems. All three are a result of the unique editorial environment of the war period. We now turn to them, before tackling the larger set of shuffles from typescript to print in a later chapter.

Three and a half clues: the three pre-publications of Et les chiens se taisaient.

We return now to the study of Et les chiens se taisaient proper, informed by the complex dynamics described above. The first public announcement that Césaire is working on a drama comes with the publication of “Intermède” in issue N°10 of Tropiques, February 1944. At the end of the fragment, we are told that it belongs to “(Et les chiens se taisaient, drame, intermède entre l’Acte I et II).” It consists of a series of short speeches by a heterogeneous cast of characters: 4 Oracles, Les fétiches, Le consultant, Le Maître de cérémonies, Le Clown and Des voix. Except for “the voices,” these characters are mostly foreign to the typescript and the 1946 version. Despite the fact that the text of “Intermède” is completely new in relation to the typescript, judging from the notice at the end we can conclude that the interlude was written while the drama was still divided into acts. The title is as ambiguous as the titles we examined above, referring to an absent whole without clarifying its whereabouts.

A few weeks after Césaire sends the Saint-Dié typescript to Breton, he will send “quelques pages supplémentaires pour : « Et les chiens se taisaient ».” (Letter 17 Jan. 1944) In all likelihood, the “supplementary” pages consist of the “Intermède” manuscript, which survives at the Jacques Doucet library in Paris. This text also comes to me through a series of transcriptions, one of which bears a note from the transcriber that the text is to be found inside an envelope dated “18 juin 1944.

This date is as questionable to me as August 1945 for Tombeau du soleil and Colombes et menfenils. I find it highly suspect, for example, that the envelope in question is also postmarked from “Lycée Schœlcher. Fort-de-France. Martinique” when Césaire was in Haiti in June. Furthermore, Césaire always announced the arrival of material, and we have no letter from June announcing the arrival of a few extra pages for the drama. If we add to this that in all of the correspondence from Césaire to Breton postmarks usually came one day after the signed date, “juin” is more likely a transcriber’s error for “janvier.” The difference between January and June is important for several reasons: Not only is Césaire in Haiti in June, on April 4 he sends a letter to Breton that marks a turning point in the genesis of Et les chiens se taisaient. For the sake of this study, I will work under the assumption that the manuscript in the Doucet library predates the publication of the Tropiques text. 38

In the 1946 edition, the “Intermède” survives only in fragments. One fragment is made up of a combination of two smaller fragments from the first two oracles, the speech of Les fétiches, the short speeches of the second two oracles and the speech of Des Voix. These fragments appear in a different relative sequence between p.140 and p.148 of the 1946 text—a perfect reversal to be exact:


figure s | reversal

“Intermède” holds an important structural position in its alleged position in the Saint-Dié typescript, and its rearranged blocks within the 1946 text. In the earlier text, the interlude divides Acte I from Acte II. Both of these acts are structural mirrors of each other: temptation → battle → assembly → folk. The interlude does not read like an Intermezzo to be inserted between acts of an opera seria, but rather like a reformulation of the action of Acte I. The act ends with the words “Republique d’Haïti” projected on the stage during the early phase of the revolution. “Le coup est vache, Le cordon sanitaire vient d’étre débloqué,”39 begins the Master of Ceremonies in the “Intermède,” signaling to the audience, “Messieurs [et Mesdames],” that an irrevocable event has taken place.

In the 1946 text, the fragments are inserted right after the Rebel’s eyes have been gouged, one of the few recognizable dramatic landmarks of the oratorio. The words of the Master of Ceremonies have been omitted, and the visions of the oracles and the fetishes of the birth of a nation now become intertwined with the transfigured vision of the blind rebel and his chorus. The “Intermède” then adapts to the action that precedes it when we read it next to the actual typescript. In contrast, read within Tropiques N°10, the text adapts to the journalistic features described above, serving as a non-commital taste of things to come.

We already see in this brief comparative analysis between the block in the typescript and its splinters in Les Armes many of the defining characteristics of the transition between the Saint-Dié typescript and the 1946 edition: a) The assignment of a speech (or parts of a speech) from one speaker to another; b) the preserved integrity of some speeches, and the breakup of others into fragments; c) the undoing of dramatic chronology; and, d) the loss of reference to the dramatic action.

These four categories are related to bibliography in one way or another: (a) is related to the headings that tell us who is speaking; (b) and (c) are both related to sequence, what is adjacent to what; (d) is perhaps the more complex case, and on the surface it seems to belong solely to hermeneutics, but if we stop a second, we realize that in the drama-as-text, the action is marked by specific stage directions. While many of the poetic speeches that comment on the action in the Saint-Dié typescript remain virtually unchanged in the 1946 text, they lose their referential function in the absence of descriptive stage directions. In other words, the main transformations come about through sequence, headers and the use of bibliographic markers to indicate (or not) stage directions. The content remained, modular and adaptable.

While the loose network of journals led to a fragmented poetic production, where the identity of textual bodies remained flexible enough to adapt to the exigencies of international collaboration, the pre-published components of the drama emulate this behavior. Even the “surrealist,” i.e. clashing juxtapositions that we find in Césaire’s poetry during this period are no less a result of a mind free of its bonds, than of a careful manipulation of the page under the pressures of editorial realities. The catalyst for this purported shift in poetics is the unstable identity of textual blocks called to serve different functions depending on the occasion. We have already seen many examples of this phenomenon above. “Intermède” is no exception.

That a minuscule interlude doubled as an advertisement for a forthcoming drama should have come as no surprise to a Tropiques audience, or an international one for that matter. As we saw above, many fragments were published as promises of larger things to come during this period. What is remarkable is that Césaire’s does not suggest a future publication. He simply references the work, leaving ambiguous how the full text will be made public or whether it has been made so already elsewhere. The indication that the fragment belongs “entre l’Acte I et II” should also give us pause. This innocuous bit of information can only have one function in the absence of a clearer connection to a parent text: to instruct an editor of the play where to place the fragment. The end result is a textual unit of dubious identity: an advertisement? a last minute submission to the editor? a series of loosely connected fragments? an interludic commentary on a historical drama? a lark? a self-contained dramatic poem?

The “Intermède,” along with similar examples of promises, fragments and quotes, invokes a ghostly presence outside of the text—promises and bills that can only be broken or redeemed by the actual record. The text that we read next to the original typescript can only be placed there by an act of remediation or transposition from the vantage point of hindsight. In this sense, the speculative versions of Chapter 2 participate in the same process as the networked relations of fragments, blocks, poems, collections, published or unpublished, authorial, editorial or infrastructural, in the broken record of all textuality.

The next pre-publication of a fragment associated with the drama adds another layer of misdirection. Published in issue N°11 of Tropiques, the fragment bears the title “Poème” and the following indication in parentheses at the end: “(Et les chiens se taisaient. Acte I.)” The issue came out only a scarce three months after N°10, and the second notice of a drama-to-come would have reinforced the first to its audience. In the middle of May, Césaire arrived in Haiti, and judging from the delay of issue N°12 until his return to Martinique, issue N°11 was probably already out, or at least in galleys, before he left for his sojourn. More importantly, the fragment was published after Césaire had made a pledge to Breton that he would revise the drama.

On April 4, 1944, after reading “Un grand poète noir” for the first time in issue N°2-3 of Hémisphères, Césaire sends the longest and most effusive letter to Breton found in the archive. In the letter, Césaire offers Breton unequivocal allegiance to surrealism, founded on the idea that “surréalisme, liberté, poésie sont trois termes qui n’en font qu’un.”40 He seems to have been struck by Breton’s reconciliation of black history and surrealism, quoted in full in the letter: “Si les négriers ont physiquement disparu de la scène du monde, on peut s’assurer qu’en revanche ils sévissent dans l’esprit où leur ‘bois d’ébène’ ce sont nos rêves, c’est plus de la moitié spoliée de notre nature, c’est cette cargaison hâtive qu’il est encore trop bon d’envoyer croupir à fond de cale41 (Martinique 107-108). As Dominique Combe argues, this reconciliation marks a watershed in the development of Breton’s thinking on “revolutionary poetics” and is perhaps the site of Césaire’s major assimilarity with the older poet (373).

Although we might be inclined to read this passage by Breton as a softening of his stance on the “thème” or the “sujet,” the key here is the transmutation of the theme into an oneric/mythical stage. Read this way, the passage by Breton seems to prefigure the transition from the typescript to the 1946 text. Césaire also seems to have interpreted the passage this way.

Before he met him, Césaire tells Breton he was a prisoner of reality, of the Cahier, of his “thème.” Now Césaire thanks Breton for the solution: “Se laisser parler. Se laisser envahir par ses rêves. Se laisser dominer par ses images. Il n’était plus question de « thèse », ni de « thème ». Il s’agissait tout simplement d’oser la vie, toute la vie.”42 Césaire, as Breton above, does not forsake the “thesis” or the “theme,” as much as he sidesteps historical references for a poetic praxis that is beholden solely to life, imagined as an inclusive totality—the very vie that has consistently marked the content of Tropiques (figure q). This new proviso allows for history to play a role in a “revolutionary poetics” insofar as the artist rescues it from its proper place, not exiled to the archive and history books where we find matches for the deleted n-grams, but there, where it totters over the gulf: a collective pre-conscious—literally with you at all times—in perennial danger of being permanently repressed, which in this framework amounts to death.

Under the aegis of his renewed vows to Breton and surrealism, Césaire asks him to consider the Saint-Dié typescript only as a canvas43:

Né sous Vichy, écrit contre Vichy, au plus fort du racisme blanc et du cléricalisme, au plus fort de la démission nègre, cette œuvre n’est pas sans porter assez désagréablement la marque de ces circonstances.

En tout cas

1°) je vous demande de considérer le manuscrit que vous avez reçu comme un canevas, avancé certes, mais canevas cependant. Que si vous me demandez pourquoi je vous l’ai si hâtivement envoyé, c’est que je considérais comme urgent de le faire sortir de la colonie et de le déposer en mains sûres.

2°) ce canevas doit être complété et modifié. Corrigé dans le sens d’une plus grande liberté. En particulier la part de l’histoire, ou de « l’historicité » déjà passablement réduite, doit être éliminée à peu près complètement. Vous en jugerez vous-même par les « corrections » que je vous fais tenir par le même courrier.44 (Letter 4 Apr. 1944)

If we take seriously Césaire’s endorsement of Breton’s accommodation with the dreaded “thème,” we can read Césaire’s equation—historicity as bondage—as a move towards the freedom of embodied myth, and by extension to a new surrealism that now takes for granted the living past of the black diaspora—after all, what is surreal to white audiences might as well be real to everyone else. We’re glad, though, that Césaire outgrew this fragile switch and returned to historical reference later on in his writings, since we probably should reclaim the paper trail along with our bodies and time.

In the same breath, Césaire acknowledges in many ways what I argue here. He is the first to admit that the text he sends bears “the mark of its circumstances.” By implication, Césaire casts the role of historical reference in the work as a reaction to colonial conditions, while a more exalted freedom can best be found in a fugitive act of migration and deletion: A copy of the text is freed from the colony by post and a set of corrections will free it from history.

Read bibliographically: To achieve these emancipatory poetic ambitions, stage directions had to blend with the poetry, the identity of speakers had to be confounded, textual sequence had to resist linear history, etc. Blocks of text were dislodged from one context to adapt to another without allegiance. The incredible fragmentation and reorganization that led to the 1946 text could not but generate the oneiric effect, which was there only in potentia in the typescript. In other words, the cutting and pasting at the material level, becomes not the result of, but Césaire’s dreamwork itself—and as I suspect, the dreamwork of all textuality, history books included.

As expected, the text published in Tropiques N°11 in May marks the public debut of the Osirian dismembering of Et le chiens se taisaient. “Poème” consists of the aggregation of three separate fragments found towards the beginning of the Saint-Dié typescript. Two of the fragments are typographically continuous, while the third is separated by a dotted line. The fragments come from speeches by Toussaint—though his name is elided in the “poem”—after the Reciters have announced that he will die, “Hélas. Tu périras.” He responds by accepting his death, “Hé bien, je périrai. Mais nu. Intact” (7). “Poème” begins where this line ends. Without the acceptance of death to frame it, the text now reads like a poetic manifesto. The central trope is nudity, as the naked “I” readies for an “assault” from the naked image. Cobbled up after the letter to Breton, the freedom from constraints called for by the fragment reinforces the missive to Breton.

poème 1

figure s | ‘Poème’ legogram

Like “Intermède” above, this small text is called upon to serve several functions: a) advertisement; b) public reaffirmation to Breton; c) testing ground for the reorientation of the typescript; e) manifesto; d) poem inside a play, etc. Once the the fragments have served their temporary purpose, they will virtually return to the original whole, as part of a larger migration to the 1946 text (figure t)—in the more realistic language of stammatics, we can say we have two branches, or “families” of documents here45. Moreover, a comparison of the relevant variations between the typescript, “Poème” and the 1946 edition, suggests that “Poème” was by-passed altogether in the making of the 1946 edition. This sliver of textual evidence suggests that the major reorganization had not begun in full force in May of 1944. In fact, we learn in a letter from Seyrig to Césaire dated July 10, 1944 that “according to Etiemble, André Gide wanted to publish a text by Césaire titled Toussaint L’ouverture in L’Arche,” (Véron 435) suggesting that the drama still bore some of the historicity of the original—despite the “corrections” he had sent Breton in April.

We learn from Thomas Hale of an article in the Haitian journal Le Soir (19 Dec. 1944) advertising the play, “Sur la scène de l’actualité. Prochains ouvrages d’Aimé Césaire,”46 where “un reporter anonyme à Port-au-Prince note que le prochain ouvrage du poète ‘sera un drame qui par sa composition et sa structure est inspiré des tragédies antiques’47 (261). Almost a year after Césaire sent the typescript to Breton and a few months after he offers a final version, this brief notice lets us know that Césaire is still intent on publishing the text, or judging from the section where the article appears, perhaps staging it. Furthermore, when we consider that the article comes out in Haiti with no indication that the play deals with the Haitian Revolution, we can safely assume Césaire has already made true on his promise to Breton and moved away from the original setting of the drama.

Whether the anonymous reporter read the work and offered us the first reading of the drama, or whether the description comes from Césaire himself remains impossible to determine at this point.

In April of 1945, the first “Poème” will be reprinted in the journal Lettres françaises, edited by Roger Caillois in Buenos Aires. As I’ve documented elsewhere, Caillois and Césaire had a rocky relationship from the start (“Inadvertent”). The publication in Buenos Aires was likely a result of Breton’s diligence. The text is reprinted almost exactly from the Tropiques version, to the point of preserving the dotted line used by the Martinique journal.

from *Tropiques* N°11

figure u | from Tropiques N°11

from *Lettres françaises* N°16

figure v | from Lettres françaises N°16

Besides a few insignificant changes, the main difference between the two texts is the absence in Lettres françaises of the original notice at the bottom defining the fragment as part of a play. This makes sense considering the fragment was mixed with other poems under the heading “Anthologie de la Nouvelle Poésie Française. VIII.” The absence of the notice distances the fragment even further from its source, as our “Poème” is now called to adapt to a new environment and serve yet another function: to vouch for the vibrancy of contemporary French poetry after the Liberation of Paris. Considering the text was faithfully reprinted from the original pre-publication and that Césaire did not approve of Caillois, the omission was probably editorial in nature, with the simple goal of adapting the text to the small anthology of contemporary poetry. We should not assume, therefore, that Césaire has desisted at this stage from presenting the drama to the public.

In fact, in the April 2 letter to Breton, where Césaire learned for the first time that an individual named Yvan Goll had his drama, he insists that this version is not to be published, with the implication that another one is already in the offing: “De [Goll] j’espère qu’il aura la délicatesse de ne rien publier, attendu qu’il ne m’a rien demandé, et surtout que je désavoue la version de cette œuvre que vous connaissez.”48 We learn from these lines, that Breton had not seen any revisions to the drama at this point, and that the typescript was to be considered a “version,” implying another one already existed.

On May 27, 1945, Césaire will be elected mayor of Fort-de-France, and on the 4th of November, to the first Assemblée nationale as deputy for Martinique. From this point forward, the erstwhile teacher, editor and poet will divide his attention to politics for decades to come. On the August 22 letter, where he announced to Breton that the transfiguration of the poem away from the particulars of history was almost complete, he also announces that he has turned to politics “Pour me solidariser avec le prolétariat martiniquais, à un moment que je crois capital de son histoire.”49 The schizoid split that would remove history from his poetic output for more than a decade, while reinserting him in that very same history, does not go by unnoticed, and can be explained in part, as I argue here, by the pre-existing split in textual environments attendant to the war years.

The third and final pre-publication directly linked to Et les chiens se taisaient appears a month after the letter to Breton, on the last issue of Tropiques, N°13-14. Also titled “Poème,” this fragment is cobbled up from four different places in the typescript, three towards the beginning, one towards the end. Unlike the first “Poème,” this one will retain its new arrangement in the 1946 text. Its variants also approach the later text. This fact reinforces the announcement to Breton that indeed at this stage the text is approaching its 1946 form.

The words mostly belong to La Recitante, with a few culled from the Chorus. The first block comes at the moment in the typescript when the Haitian Revolution has begun; the second while the Chorus is burying the symbolic body of Saint-Domingue; the third during the summit with the white armies; finally, the fourth , towards the end of the Saint-Dié text, after Toussaint has died, when Le négrophile has fallen. In short, the original plot does not help us make sense of the condensation. To quote the text, we are reduced to “ruses savantes des colloques sans rime ni raison aux sables mouvants.50 (Armes 126) That is not to say that the aggregate of the second “Poème” breaks away completely from the typescript to produce an incoherent text.

The new “poem” is divided into two thematically and formally opposed halves by an invocation to the dead, “ô morts.” These same words, absent from the original, are the glue that glues all four fragments in the very act of marking their borders:

① La cendre… le songe… affamé… deux mains brûlantes dans l’assiette du soleil… ô morts… ② et le sadisme du maître et le râlement de l’esclave par force coprophage en vain parachèvent en traits de vomi le happement du squale et le rampement du scolopendre ô morts en terre franche,

③ les beaux yeux aveugles de la terre chantent d’eux-mêmes l’école buissonnière les sourcils joints des hauts labours les ruses savantes des colloques sans rime ni raison aux sables mouvants : la vache des naufrageurs la pluie des calvaires et des vagues ensorcellent de serpents de palabres de varechs le phare disjoint de sang et d’ombre,

ô morts

④ Je bâtirai de ciel d’oiseaux de perroquets de cloches de foulards de tambours de fumées légères de tendresses furieuses de tons de cuivre de nacre de dimanches de bastringues de mots d’enfants de mots d’amour d’amour de mitaines d’enfants

The introduction of the incantation “ô morts” succeeds as well in binding the fragments to a post-apocalyptic world, now divorced from the carnage of the Haitian Revolution. Where the original ashes belonged to the beginning of the slave revolt, they now reflect on a Europe in ruins. Where the slave and the master are buried in the mock ceremony of the Chorus in the typescript, they now join the ranks of the senseless dead. Where the traps and illusions of the crafty French negotiators threatened to lead astray the crowd of Haitian rebels, they now refer to the political confusion that follows the war.51 The second half of “Poème” forges a new world of infancy and sorority from the snares and rattles of the old one. In the typescript this block belongs to the second wind of the revolution lead by Dessalines; here, it stands alone as a statement of universal hope.

The appeal for an audience coming out of World War II, for which the fragment is adapted, can be imagined. Césaire has already begun publishing in Paris, “Batouque” in Fontaine N°35 and “Le Grand-Midi” in Confluences N°6 to be specific. Following the same logic that made his earlier texts available for reprint, this new text has the potential to be well received by the mourning, hopeful, vulnerable public of post-Liberation France. The reading also confirms that the surrealist agenda that would divorce poetry from historical reference—by bracketing it in a dream world—becomes reabsorbed by the historical conditions of its appearance. The text assimilates despite itself.

The reorganization of the fragments around one recurrent word is, of course, a brilliant poetic and editorial feat. Césaire’s use of anaphora and epistrophe has generated many fruitful debates over the years. Nevertheless, these debates have concentrated for the most part on what Zadi-Zaourou would call symbolic and rhythmic functions. Zadi-Zaourou, for instance, finds an affinity between Césaire’s use of repetition and négro-africaine oral forms (169-175). James Arnold, on the other hand, argues that the connection must be drawn to print predecessors, in particular, to the Christian-socialist poet Charles Péguy (“Beyond” 264). Though order of composition does not belie or support any of these assessments, repetition clearly served an editorial function in addition to any purported symbolic or rhythmic function. In enough cases to give us pause, poetic segments were bound together by repetition after they were individually composed. Seen from a bibliographical point of view, the spontaneity of the Césairean “cry” must give way to the surgical pedantry of mark-up.

The maneuver, to join together while marking the original boundaries of blocks of text—a perfect image of the topological fields opened up by migrant textuality—will resurface in many different guises in the other 70+ transpositions from the typescript to the 1946 edition, or the 90+ transpositions from the 1946 edition to the Jahn texts. In Chapter 5 we explore this conversation that text has with itself, away from the historical and geographical considerations of this chapter, to study, at the most inhuman, abstract level, the topology of all text. In the next, though, we prepare ourselves for such cold imaginaries with an earthy divertimento: the tale of the High Noon ghost.


  1. His work was also known in other francophone countries under the reach of surrealist circuits. Perhaps the most far-flung example of a mention in this period comes from Étiemble’s criticism of Breton’s influence on Césaire in the journal Valeurs published in Egypt in 1945 (110). ↩︎

  2. I took the liberty of modifying Foucault’s language in “What is an author?” to emphasize the fact that prior to a “pure romanticism” where “fiction” flows freely, we already have real texts flowing in materially constrained circuits of manipulation, composition, decomposition and recomposition. I oppose here also text to fiction, to call attention to the fact that memes or “statements” do not exhaust the possibilities of actual texts, above all poetic texts. ↩︎

  3. Seligmann, Katerina Gonzalez. “Poetic Productions of Cultural Combat in Tropiques” The South Atlantic Quarterly 115:3, July 2016. (495-512) ↩︎

  4. [Dumb and fallow land. I’m talking about ours. And my ear reckons the chilling silence of Man in the Caribbean. Europe. Africa. Asia. I hear the cry of steel, the battle drums in the bush, the temple prayers among the Banyan trees. And I know it is Man who speaks. Hitherto and forever, and I listen. But here the monstrous atrophy of the voice, the secular decrepitude, the prodigious mutism. No city. No art. No poetry. No civilization, the true one, I mean that projection of Man onto the world; the modeling of the world by Man; the stamp of Man’s figure on the universe.] ↩︎

  5. [Only we can express that which makes us unique. If we strive to be more than mere spectators of the human adventure, if we believe that we must make a personal offering simply to participate in a true humanity, if we are convinced that it is not to comprehend, but to make what really matters, we know what is our task, and what way leads to its realization.] ↩︎

  6. For a recent, and superbly executed analysis of the relationship between authenticity and the print-mediated voice of Négritude writers, see Noland, Carrie. *Voices of Négritude in Modernist Print.” Columbia University Press. 2015. This excellent book serves in many cases as the prelude for many of my observations, and is the best sustained study linking the medium itself to questions of identity, language, and the self in Césaire’s work. ↩︎

  7. See also “Nos camarades Césaire et Bissol ainsi qu’Archimède et Girard déposent un projet de loi tendant à régler la question de l’Imprimerie Officielle à la satisfaction générale.” Justice. Martinique (20 juillet 1950). ↩︎

  8. Noland rightfully connects the “typosphere” of Léon-Gontran Damas, and to a lesser degree that of Césaire, to Harlem rennaissance writers, beyond European modernist and avant-garde practices beyond what space allows me here. (103-116) Suffice it to say, broad genealogies of diasporic typospheres remain yet to be written. ↩︎

  9. We still don’t have access to comparative studies of the petite revues, cahiers and journals of the inter-war period as we do for little magazines in the Anglophone world. I have used the wonderful bibliographic blog “Les Petites Revues,” run by @SPiRitus, to get a better sense of the medium from the late 19C to the middle of the 20C. Sadly, the blog only records front covers. These, already, reveal a movement towards cleaner, less cluttered layout, which Tropiques exemplifies. ↩︎

  10. The safest assumption is that this is Césaire’s own translation. Not only was he the one to introduce the poets, we know he had already translated at least one other “New Negro” poet earlier in 1939: Sterling Brown’s “Les Hommes forts.” For an excellent article on Césaire’s relationship to early 20^th^ Century African-American literature see Fabre, Michel. ↩︎

  11. For a fascinating study of this phenomenon from the perspective of digital humanities see the The Viral Texts Project by Ryan Cordell, David Smith, Abby Mullen, et al. ↩︎

  12. Césaire is notoriously absent from this publication, oftentimes called surrealist. An explanation can be sought in Breton’s homophobic antipathy, despite several contributions over the years, to the journal’s homosexual editors Charles Henri Ford and Parker Tyler. His animosity seems to have intensified after Breton tried to hire Ford as editor for VVV and Ford refused. (Polizzotti 502-503, 508) ↩︎

  13. Computer generated geo-temporal visualizations should help us visualize these relations in the near future. ↩︎

  14. [This revue only publishes original work] ↩︎

  15. Véron, Kora. “Césaire at the Crossroads in Haiti: Correspondence with Henri Seyrig” Comparative Literature Studies, Vol. 50, No. 3 (2013), pp. 430-444 ↩︎

  16. [poems from Jeanne Mégnem and a text from Pierre Mabille, but only the poems could be published in Tropiques.] ↩︎

  17. The text, which we assume to be “Le royaume du merveilleux,” was eventually published in Tropiques N°4, January 1942. ↩︎

  18. [The philosophical errors of the French master] ↩︎

  19. [On our next issue, we intend to give the surrealist aesthetic all the attention it deserves.] ↩︎

  20. [a small book by Monsieur Durand] ↩︎

  21. I have not been able to recover the book. The only reference to the book I have found comes from a list of his other works in Durand’s book, Algunos poetas venezolanos contemporáneos↩︎

  22. [Are we going to, yes or no, establish sustained cultural relations with our American and Spanish neighbors?] ↩︎

  23. A word culled from Spengler to signify what others now call hegemony. « J’appelle pseudomorphose historique les cas dans lesquels une vieille culture étrangère couvre le sol avec une telle présence qu’elle empêche une jeune culture de respirer et que celle-ci n’arrive pas, dans son propre domaine, non seulement à développer ses formes d’expression pures, mais encore à l’épanouissement complet de la conscience d’elle-même » (Déclin de l’Occident, t. II, p. 173). For an analysis of Césaire’s use of the word see James Arnold’s introduction to our joint edition of the Volontés version of “Cahier d’un retour au pays natal,” forthcoming in the critical/genetic edition of the works of Aimé Césaire to be published by Planète Libre in 2013. ↩︎

  24. [An urgency even the more real because our problems are often the same as theirs. The same difficulties found. The same solutions offered. Colonial or semi-colonial countries, countries trying to find themselves. Cultures that through the hegemony tend to affirm their own originality. And in this fever, upright, there “the New Indian,” here the New Negro.] ↩︎

  25. Their view of Viernes came from an article by José Ratto-Ciarlo, often considered the father of modern literary journalism in Venezuela. Tropiques does not provide a citation for Ratto-Ciarlo’s article. ↩︎

  26. Cosmopolitanism reigned supreme, of a different kind than the one we find in latin-American modernists, the desire to go beyond borders and national problematics to confront the reality of human universality. ↩︎

  27. In retrospect, this poem, dedicated to André Breton, will become a fragment of the Brentano’s edition of “Cahier d’un retour au pays natal.” In the pre-original there is no indication that this will be the case. ↩︎

  28. In the prolegomena, Breton tries to rejuvenate surrealism once more. This time he calls for a sort of Jeffersonian permanent revolution against all settled opinion, surrealism included. This maneuver allows Breton to approach the more thematic Césaire. “I would contradict the unanimous vote of any assembly which does not itself intend to contradict the vote of a more numerous assembly; but by the same instinct I will give my vote to those who rise, to all programs not yet subjected to the test of fact and tending towards the greater emancipation of man. Considering the process of history, in which truth shows itself only to chuckle up its sleeve, and is never grasped, I declare myself for the minority which is ever reborn to act as a lever: my greatest ambition is to insure the continuation after me of the theoretical significance of this minority.” (23) ↩︎

  29. The prolegomena was published in dual-column French and English translation. I use here the original translation. ↩︎

  30. [in Martinique, the charmer] ↩︎

  31. Blachère, Jean-Claude. “Breton, ascendant Césaire.” Itinéraires et Contacts de cultures. Edited by Jacques Girault and Bernard Lecherbonnier. Vol 25. L’Harmattan, 2006, pp. 127–36. ↩︎

  32. [My projects? To publish a collection. To do it, though, perhaps it would be wise to wait until publication goes back to normal in France. What do you think?] ↩︎

  33. [its transfiguration is almost complete and I will send you the manuscript as soon as possible.] ↩︎

  34. Editions Gallimard, as the house is known today, will not carry that name until 1961. ↩︎

  35. In the summer of 2012, I had the opportunity to visit the Gallimard archives with Katerina Gonzalez Seligmann who was investigating the intersections with Lydia Cabrera, to find a trove of documents documenting the history of Césaire’s relationship to the press. For a full an open report of the joint research trip that led to the Queneau connection, see my blog post “Breaking News: It Was Queneau!” 23 Sept. 2012. Web. ↩︎

  36. [After the liberation, when I was able to reconnect with what was published outside of France, I saw that you brought to fruition the promise of your first work. I also read with the same interest your poems published in Confluences and Fontaine.

    I would love to propose a complete edition of your poetical works to Mr. Gaston Gallimard.] ↩︎

  37. [Please find enclosed a contract for “Cahier d’un retour au pays natal” […] Either way, it won’t be possible to publish the “Cahier d’un retour au pays natal” in the same volume as “Les Heures Miraculeuses.”] ↩︎

  38. According to transcripts of the Doucet ms. the two 1944 texts bear several differences in spelling and one substantial difference: “le coup est vache en même temps qu’irregulier.” in the ms., becomes “Le coup est vache,” in the Tropiques version. When we compare the corresponding fragments between the Tropiques text and the 1946 text, we find that the 1946 version remains closer to the readings found in Tropiques than those in the transcript of the manuscript. Lacking access to the original ms., this form of datation remains inadequate, of course, and I would take it with a grain of salt. ↩︎

  39. [The damage is done. The containment has just been cleared.] ↩︎

  40. [Surrealism, poetry, freedom are only but one.] ↩︎

  41. [Even if the slavers have physically disappeared from the world’s stage, we can however rest assured they toss about violently in the spirit, where its “ebony wood” is our dreams; it is more than the despoiled half of our nature, it is this hasty cargo that remains too good to send down to rot in the hold.] ↩︎

  42. [To let yourself speak. To let your dreams invade you. To let its images dominate you. It wasn’t a question of “thesis” or “theme”anymore. It was simply a matter of braving life, all of life.] ↩︎

  43. Kora Véron reports in “Césaire at the Crossroads in Haiti: Correspondence with Henri Seyrig,” that Césaire expressed similar sentiments to Henri Seyrig in a letter dated July 16, 1944:

    Malgré les nombreuses modifications, ma tentative reste encore trop d’ordre historique. Et c’est stupide. Dans mon esprit, elle ne peut être valable que si je la situe hardiment sur le plan du mythe. J’ai vraiment honte de vous avoir confié ma petite machine . . .


  44. [Born under Vichy, written against Vichy, at the height of white racism and clericalism, at the height of black resignation, this work carries with it, rather disgustingly, the mark of its circumstances. In any case,

    1) I ask that you consider the manuscript you received as a canvas, advanced certainly, but a canvas nonetheless. And if you ask me what did I send it so hastily, it was because I thought it urgent to get it out of the colony and place it in safe hands.

    2) This canvas must be completed and modified. Corrected in the sense of a greater freedom. In particular, the history part, or its “historicity,” already reduced substantially, should be eliminated completely. You will judge yourself by the “corrections” that I send to you with this letter.]

    N.B. I have not been able to establish what these “corrections” consist of. The fact that Césaire uses scare quotes for the word corrections suggests to me that Césaire sent a reworked passage, and not a list of actual corrections. ↩︎

  45. For a rather accessible introduction to stemmatics, see Bordalejo, Barbara. “The Genealogy of Texts: Manuscript Traditions and Textual Traditions.” Digital Scholarship in the Humanities, vol. 31, no. 3, Sept. 2016, pp. 563–77., doi:10.1093/llc/fqv038. ↩︎

  46. [News on the scene: Upcoming works by Aimé Césaire.] ↩︎

  47. [an anonymous reporter in Port-au-Prince notes that the poet’s next work “will be a drama that by its structure and composision is inspired by ancient tragedies.”] I have not had a chance to visit the archives in Haiti to search for traces of Césaire’s seven month stay. I am convinced several important documents lie in wait for researchers there. ↩︎

  48. [From [Goll], I hope he has the decency not to publish anything, given he has not asked me for permission, and especially considering I disavow the version that you know. ] Almost as a prescient afterthought, he references Caillois immediately after, “Du pion de Buenos Aires, j’ai reçu assez innattendûment, Les impostures de la poésie présenté comme un livre « austral »” —did he know Caillois was about to reprint his text in Buenos Aires? Perhaps. In any case, the favor was not returned and no fragment from Les impostures de la poésie will appear in the pages of Tropiques. ↩︎

  49. [to join in solidarity with the Martinique proletariat, at a moment I believe to be crucial in its history] ↩︎

  50. [erudite trickery of conferences without rhyme or reason on quick sand] ↩︎

  51. La vache des naufrageurs,” stands out as a metaphor and bears annotation. The reference points to the Breton (the people, not the author) legend of the naufrageurs, coast dwellers who used to hang lanterns on the horns of pasturing cows to cause ships to crash against the crags. ↩︎