Bernard E. Harcourt | Aimé Césaire: Poetic Knowledge, Vitality, Négritude, and Revolution

By Bernard E. Harcourt

« un homme sauve l’humanité, un homme la replace dans le concert universel, un homme marie une floraison humaine à l’universelle floraison ; cet homme, c’est le poète. »

– Aimé Césaire, « Poésie et connaissance », Tropiques, p. 163 (1944)[1]

Aimé Césaire’s encounter with Nietzsche—in his own words, one of his essential reference points alongside Baudelaire, Breton, Langston Hughes, and others[2]—nourished a vitality, an indignation, a passion for tragedy, for art, for knowledge and politics, in sum, a will to power that would enrich his poems and plays, but also propel his anti-colonialism and political struggles.

“The revenge of Dionysus on Apollo”[3]: this theme from The Birth of Tragedy refracted throughout Césaire’s poetics and plays, and shot through his 1944 manifesto, Poésie et connaissance [“Poetry and Knowledge”]—a text that would confirm and fuel Césaire’s revolt against French colonialism and racism that would take the name of “Négritude.” Nietzsche’s privilege of the Dionysian element in early Greek tragedy, of Aristotelian poetics over scientific fact, of myths and becoming over doers and being—these were inspirational to Césaire, weapons and intellectual ammunition that he would deploy to resist the oppressive, dominant discourse of scientific progress associated with white domination in the Antilles, and the forms of conventional rationality that dominated philosophical discourse in the West.

Scientific progress, Césaire would call “impoverished knowledge” that can only give us an “impoverished man.” As for Kantian philosophy, Césaire would write, “the asylum keepers are all there. And singularly limiting.” But Césaire would go further. By contrast to scientific knowledge or Western conventional rationality, Césaire wrote, it is only the revolutionary image that allows man to break through the limits:

« C’est par l’image, l’image révolutionnaire, l’image distante, l’image qui bouleverse toutes les lois de la pensée, que l’homme brise enfin la barrière. »

Césaire gives voice to the radical potential in Nietzsche’s writings on tragedy and poetics, a radical potential that would ultimately nourish an entire artistic and political movement, Négritude, and motivate decolonization. With Césaire and Léopold Sédar Senghor (1906–2001), it would produce a unique combination of self-determination without nationalism or state sovereignty—a distinctive view of decolonization and democratic federation that Gary Wilder analyzes brilliantly under the rubric “Freedom Time.”[4]

It is in the poetic arts, in the Dionysian, that Césaire would draw much of the vitality and poetic knowledge necessary to resist colonial and Western domination. In this sense, Césaire’s writings demonstrate not only the influence of his early Nietzschean encounters, but rather how much more can be done—in a revolutionary way—with those early fragments and aphorisms. And so, it is to Césaire’s art form and creativity, his poetic knowledge and political practice, that we can turn to for our own inspiration and resistance in these dark times.


            At the end of September 1944, the French poet and playwright, Aimé Césaire (1913-2008), traveled from his native Martinique to Haiti to deliver a lecture at an international philosophical congress dedicated to the question of knowledge and held under the auspices of the Haitian and United States governments.[5] The gathering commemorated, in part, the work of “great thinkers” who had been overshadowed by the occupation of France and the Vichy government in the Antilles. In Port-au-Prince, the young poet, only thirty-one years old, an official delegate of the French government, would deliver a powerful and radical lecture, Poésie et connaissance [“Poetry and Knowledge”], that shook the conventional Kantian foundations of the assembled philosophers through a quiet dialogue with Nietzsche.

Césaire opened on the Aristotelian theme of the superiority of poetry to science—or what Aristotle referred to as historia—a dichotomy that Nietzsche too had made his own. « La connaissance poétique nait dans le grand silence de la connaissance scientifique, » Césaire declared, and it is only the poet, he tells us, that can and will redeem humanity. The silent conversation with Nietzsche becomes even more salient a few paragraphs later, when Césaire makes it clear that it is not any poetry that will do. No, it is only a Dionysian form of tragedy—the “revenge of Dionysus on Apollo”—that would liberate us from the limitations of impoverished scientific knowledge and Kantian philosophy. So, Césaire writes, the recovery of poetry over science begins to take place in 1850, when Dionysus returns through Charles Baudelaire and later André Breton. Here, naturally, one hears the echoes of Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy.

Published in January 1945 in the review, Tropiques, that Césaire founded in 1941 in Martinique under the censorship of the Vichy government—a review that “opens under the sign of Nietzsche” [“Tropiques s’ouvre sous le signe de Nietzsche”][6]—Césaire drew on the theoretician of Dionysus to find a source of vitality for life and colonial resistance: a basis for the colonized former slaves to get back in touch with their ancestral knowledges and look forward to their true emancipation.

As opposed to George Bataille before him, or Gilles Deleuze after him, Césaire would not mention Nietzsche by name, nor engage or analyze his thought out loud. The conversation was a silent one—drawing on and developing themes that were central to Nietzsche. But the relation was pivotal, and it would highlight a key aspect of Césaire: the vitality of poetic knowledge as the truly human, life as an art form, and artistic creation as the source of political struggle and revolution. These would be central to the movement of Négritude that Césaire, Senghor, Léon Gontran Damas (1912–1978), and others, especially Jane, Paulette and Andrée Nardal in Paris,[7] would develop during the decades after the war, and that would inspire and nourish liberation movements throughout Africa and the Caribbean. In this regards, Césaire was not alone. As Bachir Souleymane Diagne reminds us, Senghor as well was inspired by Nietzsche, and he repeatedly stressed that Négritude philosophy was deeply connected to Nietzsche. In fact, Senghor would place Négritude under the sign of the 1889 revolution, explicitly relating it to Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883-85), where poetry is the ultimate expression of philosophy.[8]


            In Césaire’s 1944 manifesto, Poésie et connaissance, the French poet and philosopher draws on and develops, he enriches Nietzsche’s writings along at least five dimensions.

The first has to do with the character of poetic knowledge. Césaire begins Poésie et connaissance with an ode to poetics and diatribe against science. Scientific knowledge, for Césaire, is one-dimensional and impoverished. The sciences classify things, but do not comprehend them. They offer at best surface knowledge. Physics does not get to the essence; mathematics is too abstract and unreal. The sciences are thin: they measure and classify, but give us nothing more.

The problem, Césaire suggests, is that scientific knowledge isolates phenomena and, in the process, fails to comprehend the social and spatial relations and collectivities within which these phenomena exist. Science cannot get to the essence of things, it cannot achieve the richness of reality because, methodologically, it fails to grasp objects in their complex relation to others, in their collective setting.

Césaire draws, for an illustration of this impoverishment, on a story from Aldous Huxley, Do What You Will. It concerns knowing what a lion really is. One cannot know, the story goes, if one studies only the lion; to understand the lion, one also needs to know the antelopes and the zebras that the lions chase, the steppes where the lions live, the grass that the antelopes graze. “The same goes for knowledge,” Césaire write. “Scientific knowledge is a lion without antelopes and zebras.” It is barren. Scientific knowledge just delivers somewhat useless facts, “just-so” knowledge.

One can almost hear the provocation. The impetuous, the impertinent question in The Gay Science § 373: “Do we actually wish to have existence debased in that fashion to a ready-reckoner exercise and calculation for stay-at-home mathematicians?” Nietzsche too had attacked science, famously in The Gay Science, the title of which, of course, is so important here. The expression “gay science” comes from the Provençal expression “gay saber” that refers to the poetic tradition of the troubadours in the 13th century. The tradition enshrined poetic practices and included institutions, such as the “Consistory of the Gay Science,” a guild for troubadour poetry in Toulouse in the early 14th century dedicated to the art of lyric poetry.

Nietzsche took a similar view of the uni-dimensionality of science. “A ‘scientific’ interpretation of the world as you understand it might consequently still be one of the stupidest, that is to say, the most destitute of significance, of all possible world-interpretations,” Nietzsche exclaimed. Taking the example of music, he wrote: “Supposing we valued the worth of a music with reference to how much it could be counted, calculated, or formulated – how absurd such a ‘scientific’ estimate of music would be! What would one have apprehended, understood, or discerned in it! Nothing, absolutely nothing of what is really ‘music’ in it!”

For Nietzsche, it is the poverty of science that ultimately reveals the central role of moralizing to human existence. It is only when we question the myth of science—namely, the myth that science itself rests on no convictions and seeks only the truth—that we must pose the question of that “will to truth” that inevitably takes us back to morals, to the good and the bad. In effect, it is precisely the critique of science that leads Nietzsche to his most important thesis, namely the moral foundation of knowledge.

The passage is somewhat brilliant, and begins, at § 344 of The Gay Science, by posing a puzzle to science—or more precisely, to its main and most central conviction, namely that “convictions have no civic rights in the domain of science.” This conviction of non-conviction is Nietzsche’s starting paradox and raises the question why truth “must be affirmed to such an extent that the principle, belief, or conviction finds expression that ‘there is nothing more necessary than truth, and in comparison with it everything else has only secondary value.’” This reflects an absolute will to truth that applies, as Nietzsche shows, not only to not being deceived, but also to not allowing oneself to deceive oneself—an absolute will to truth that rests not on empirical verification, but on a leap of faith, namely that truth is always somehow better than falsity. It rests on the conviction that “not-wishing-to-be-deceived [is] really less injurious, less dangerous, less fatal” than deceiving; that truth, at all cost and in all situations, should trump deception. But that, of course, is just a belief, an unfounded conviction, a myth. And thus, Nietzsche concludes, first, that science itself rests on myth: “it is always a metaphysical belief on which our belief in science rests.” And, second, that science just throws us back to the realm of morality: “and thus we have reached the realm of morality,” Nietzsche exclaims. “Thus the question, Why is there science? leads back to the moral problem: What in general is the purpose of morality, if life, nature, and history are ‘non-moral’?”

In other words, scientific faith reveals, more than anything, the moral dimension of truth—it offers a genealogy of truth. This is precisely how Gilles Deleuze, in his 1962 book on Nietzsche and Philosophy, will read Nietzsche’s intervention: The will to truth, Deleuze too shows, is a moral quest. « L’homme qui ne veut pas tromper veut un monde meilleur et une vie meilleure ; toutes ses raisons pour ne pas tromper sont des raisons morales. » And to expose this, Deleuze will maintain, is the very basis of a truly critical philosophy—the basis of true critique. We are here, with Césaire and Nietzsche, at the core, at the heart of what Deleuze will refer to as « la vraie réalisation de la critique » and « l’élément critique » : the moral value of truth, the value of values.

For Césaire, then, the richness of humanity and life can only be grasped by supplementing science with poetry. And as a result, « l’homme a, peu à peu, pris conscience qu’à côté de cette connaissance scientifique et famélique, il y avait une autre sorte de connaissance. Une connaissance rassasiante. » This it is the poet alone who can inspire, and save, humanity.

Second, Césaire’s manifesto highlights the role of the Dionysian. It is not any kind of poetry that suffices. Poetic knowledge only reenlightens man when the Dionysian takes its revenge on the Apollonian, when prose passes to poetry, when man leaps into the poetic space. And this happens, in France, with Baudelaire and Rimbaud, with Apollinaire, and later with André Breton and surrealism. These are the figures who brought back poetic knowledge and saved man from the shallowness and superficiality of scientific knowledge. And in modern times, it is only in the nineteenth century, Césaire tells us, “at the close of the apollonian era,” he notes, “when France was dying under the weight of prose,” that the poets dared to remember:

« 1850. – La revanche de Dionysos sur Apollon.

1850  – Le grand saut dans le vide poétique. »

With that, France passed from prose to poetry, “and everything changed,” Césaire declares.

What poetry gives us, Césaire writes, is « l’être rendu au devenir » : being turned over to becoming—the ultimate Nietzschean transformation. Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy would play a formative role for Césaire. As Souleymane Bachir Diagne notes, “Césaire himself has indicated in many interviews that, at the time of writing And the Dogs Kept Quiet [published in his collection of poetry, Les armes miraculeuse, in 1946], Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Origin of Tragedy was his ‘breviary’”.[9]

The Dionysian is also, for Césaire, the moment of return to ancestral knowledges. 1850 may have been a re-birth of the Dionysian and a leap into the poetic space; but it also represents a return: a return to the earliest times of humanity. For it is back then, Césaire suggests, that man may have been closest to certain real truths: « je crois que l’homme n’a jamais été plus près de certaines vérités qu’aux jours premiers de l’espèce. Aux temps où l’homme découvrait avec émotion le premier soleil, la première pluie, le premier souffle, la première lune. Aux temps où l’homme découvrait dans la peur et le ravissement, la nouveauté palpitante du monde. »

Here too, the link to Nietzsche and critical philosophy—at least as it will be developed by Deleuze—is central. In Deleuze’s hands, as we will see later, the notion of the will to power is turned inside out: the will to power is not a will to domination, Deleuze will argue, but a will whose power is precisely willing. As he writes in 1962, but will also rehearse in 1965 and 1968, « la puissance est ce qui veut dans la volonté ». Yet, as Deleuze makes clear in his shorter book on Nietzsche in 1965, the will whose power is to will is precisely Dionysus : “Power, as a will to power, is not that which the will wants, but that which wants in the will (Dionysus himself),” Deleuze writes in 1965. Dionysus himself! And Deleuze adds, “The will to power is the differential element from which derive the force at work, as well as their respective quality in a complex whole.” In other words, Dionysus is the power of the will to power—which is precisely what Césaire identified.

Third, in an important passage that he delivered at his lecture in Haiti, but removed from the published version in Tropiques—but which figured in at least one published version—Aimé Césaire refers his readers to the « Traité de la co-naissance au monde et de soi-même » of Paul Claudel (a figure whom Césaire and others would later distance themselves from because of his extreme catholicism). This concept of « co-naissance » is a play on words that relates the notion of knowledge (connaissance) to the idea of birth (naissance) together (co-)—and thus references Nietzsche’s idea of the genealogy of knowledge, of the birth of knowledge. It is actually precisely in the context of alluding to the ancestry of poetic knowledge that Césaire offers this reference, delivering orally and retaining in at least one published version the following: « Aux temps où la connaissance était co-naissance, au sens claudélien du mot. Je veux dire aux temps où tout naissait ensemble. »

Fourth, the anti-dialectic: Césaire drew explicitly on André Breton, a formative influence, for his method. Some commentators trace Breton’s method to the Hegelian dialectic, thereby linking Césaire and Hegel. “The dialectic Césaire invoked was that of Hegel colored by an occultism characteristic of André Breton’s Second Surrealist Manifesto and Pierre Mabille…”[10] It is not entirely clear to me, though, that that is right. On my reading, there is more of an anti-dialectic here in Césaire—one that is reflected more in Deleuze’s reading of Nietzsche as the ultimate anti-Hegelian.

For Césaire, the highest ambition, the ambition of poetry itself, is to find unity in difference. To get beyond the traditional oppositions—but not by overcoming them. Césaire rehearses this passage from Breton:

« Tout porte à croire qu’il existe un certain point de l’esprit d’où la vie et la mort, le réel et l’imaginaire, le passé et le futur, le communicable et l’incommunicable, le haut et le bas cessent d’être perçus contradictoirement. Et c’est en vain qu’on chercherait à l’activité surréaliste un autre mobile que l’espoir de détermination de ce point. »

Now, it is in this unity that Césaire finds vitality and life—“the vital movement, the creative élan,” joy, flowering. And it is here that the poet becomes savior, savior of mankind, of knowledge, of the vitality of life: « un homme sauve l’humanité, […] un homme marie une floraison humaine à l’universelle floraison ; cet homme, c’est le poète. »

We can locate this same overcoming of the distinction between high and low—“le haut et le bas”—in Deleuze’s Nietzsche. The Deleuzian Nietzsche is also at odds with Hegel. His, as we will see later, is an anti-dialectic Nietzsche. An anti-Hegelian Nietzsche. « Il n’est pas de compromis possible entre Hegel et Nietzsche, » Deleuze will emphasize. « La philosophie de Nietzsche […] forme une anti-dialectique absolue, se propose de dénoncer toutes les mystifications qui trouvent dans la dialectique un dernier refuge. » And for Deleuze, it is the same purported dichotomy between high and low that is at the heart of the critical move: « Voilà l’essentiel : le haut et le bas, le noble et le vil ne sont pas des valeurs, mais représentent l’élément différentiel dont dérive la valeur des valeurs elles-mêmes. » That is the heart of critique for Deleuze.

Fifth and finally, the importance of myth. For Césaire, the mythic is the space of poetry and invention. Césaire writes:

« Autrement dit la science répugne au mythe quand la poésie y consent. […] Seul le mythe satisfait l’homme entièrement : son cœur, sa raison, son goût du détail et de l’ensemble, son goût du faux et du vrai, car le mythe est tout cela à la fois. Appréhension brumeuse et émotionnelle, plus que moyen d’expression poétique… »

This myth is closely related to the Jungian archetype—to which Césaire explicitly makes reference in “Poetry and Knowledge.” And it is through myth—as well as words and images, love and humor—that we find our vitality in the world. « Première proposition ».


            Césaire’s dialogue with Nietzsche would extend far beyond his 1944 manifesto “Poetry and Knowledge” to his later plays and poems, such as And the Dogs Kept Quiet, for which The Birth of Tragedy as noted earlier was his “breviary,” and A Season in the Congo, published in 1966. As Bachir Diagne writes of the latter:

            “With A Season in the Congo, Aimé Césaire has created his most Shakespearean, his most Nietzschean/Dionysian play and hero. He has made the best of the historical fact that Patrice Lumumba who was largely a self-educated man and political leader worked for many years as a travelling salesman for a beer company. Having represented him both as the tragic figure of a leader for independence and the Smoothtalker who uses beer as a metaphor for politics, Césaire’s writing admirably mixes voices and registers, alternating tragedy and burlesque, poetry and its caricature (in the language of the bankers, for example). In this play the poet eminently manifests the art of being political in literature, of transforming anger into laughter, of undermining the established colonial order just by being mischievous to the highest degree which is what Nietzsche characterized as ‘to be harmful with what is best’”.

The figure of Patrice Lumumba in A Season in the Congo is indeed the tragic Nietzschean figure par excellence—betrayed by his military commander Joseph Mobutu [the character Mokutu in Césaire’s play] and by Western powers, assassinated and mutilated, sacrificed by a power structure that would simply reproduce itself in the post-colonial setting. Lumumba is the one who had sought to get beyond the morality of colonialism, above the partisan squabbles, above past histories—a kind of superman—but who ultimately is defeated by the Western power structure. Lumumba is Zarathustra at the end, right before he is shot, right before “The mercenary gives the killing thrust to Lumumba”:


I will be the field; I will be pasture

I will be with the fisher Wagenia

I will be with the shepherd of the Kivu

I will be on the mount, I will be in the ravine.


            These five key theoretical dimensions of Césaire’s poetics and philosophy would nourish his writings on “Négritude”—an artistic, cultural, and philosophical movement founded by Césaire, Damas, and Senghor during their early encounters in Paris in the late 1920s and 1930s. The “Négritude” moment represents, in Souleymane Bachir Diagne’s words, “the self-affirmation of black peoples, or the affirmation of the values of civilization of something defined as ‘the black world’ as an answer to the question ‘what are we in this white world?’” The word itself first appeared through the pen of Césaire in the journal L’Etudiant noir, a journal he founded with Damas and Senghor in 1934–1935; and their ideas on “Négritude” developed in discussions with others, especially Jane, Paulette and Andrée Nardal in Paris. An early expression of the ideas can be read in Jane Nardal’s article “Internationalisme noir,” published in 1928.

For Césaire, by contrast to Senghor, Négritude was less a philosophy than a revolutionary way to reclaim one’s past and identity. As Diagne explains, for Césaire, “Négritude was primarily the reclaiming of a heritage in order to regain initiative.” Diagne points us to this passage from Césaire’s Discours sur la Négritude (“A Lecture on Négritude”), delivered in Miami in February 1987, where Césaire insisted that:

Négritude, in my eyes, is not a philosophy. Négritude is not a metaphysics. Négritude is not a pretentious conception of the universe. It is a way of living history within history: the history of a community whose experience appears to be … unique, with its deportation of populations, its transfer of people from one continent to another, its distant memories of old beliefs, its fragments of murdered cultures. How can we not believe that all this, which has its own coherence, constitutes a heritage?

Négritude is, then, for Césaire, an idea of a retrieved identity, of a heritage. What Césaire created, what he offered us, is a revolutionary reappropriation of one’s self from the clutches of slavery, oppression, and domination. In an address delivered in Geneva in June 1978, Césaire brings together these elements, linking revolt and revolution to the act of reclaiming oneself and one’s heritage:

… when it appeared, the literature of Négritude created a revolution: in the darkness of the great silence, a voice was raising up, with no interpreter, no alteration, and no complacency, a violent and staccato voice, and it said for the first time: “I, Nègre.”
A voice of revolt
A voice of resentment
No doubt
But also of fidelity, a voice of freedom, and first and foremost, a voice for the retrieved identity.[11]


            To be sure, the Négritude movement was attacked from many sides—for its essentialism, for its focus on Africa, for its culturalism, for its “racism” (in Jean-Paul Sartre’s preface to Senghor’s anthology of poetry, its “anti-racist racism,”[12] a term that would be turned back against the Négritude movement), for its insufficient radicalism and anti-colonialism. Césaire would be attacked for his support of the departmentalization of Martinique, rather than its independence, and would eventually be treated as reactionary by some. His former student at the Lycée Schoelcher in Fort-de-France, Frantz Fanon, would severely critique what he called the “bards of Negritude” for failing to embrace nationalist agendas and for having nothing more than an “outsider’s relationship” to the people.[13] Fanon would be particularly brutal as well with Senghor.

But none of this should in any way detract from the radical nature of Césaire’s political interventions in their proper historical context. Only a narrow reading that would equate anti-colonialism with nationalism would so quickly dismiss Césaire’s politics. As Gary Wilder shows so well in his book Freedom Time, it would be short-sighted and simplistic to start from the assumption that decolonization was necessarily opposed to non-sovereigntist political solutions, such as departmentalization. Wilder offers a subtle portrait of Césaire as a pragmatic politician—not in the sense of compromising, but instead a philosophical pragmatism that served “philosophically to signal an antifoundational, nondogmatic, and experimental approach to truth and politics that refuses ready-made a priori certainties about the best means to desirable ends.”

And it is here that Césaire’s silent dialogue with Nietzsche was both formative and remains instructive. Like Nietzsche, Césaire “distrusted a priori approaches to knowledge and truth, whether idealist or materialist.”[14] It is precisely that kind of openness that would nourish both his radical poetics and his political commitments. Nietzsche’s anti-foundationalism would foster a vitality and creativity that would nourish Césaire’s writings and endeavors from the first issue of Tropiques[15] to his masterful later plays. It is the critique of Kantian philosophy and instrumental reason that would enable what Césaire referred to in 1944 as “poetic knowledge” and “poetic truth”: a “vitalist vision of recovery, reconciliation, and salvation through poetry.”[16]


            In a recent New York Times article titled “The Perils of Being a Black Philosopher,” the philosopher George Yancy reflects on the long history of racism in Western philosophy. “The process of marking the black body as incapable of philosophical thought is longstanding,” Yancy notes. “It is one of those major myths that grew out of Europe, even as Europe championed ‘humanism.’”

It is here, though, that Aimé Césaire and others, like Frantz Fanon, who we will study later, offer such insight. And it is here that I will, then, end—at least for now. With George Yancy, who writes:

The poet Aimé Césaire, through immanent critique, knew that European humanism was a farce. Of course, Jean-Paul Sartre knew this as well. And Fanon knew what it was like to embody reason and have it denied to him. In “Black Skin, White Masks,” he argued that when he was present, reason was not, and when reason was present he was no longer. So, one might argue that reason and black embodiment, from this perspective, are mutually exclusive. And yet, at the end of that text, Fanon says, “My final prayer: O my body, make me always a man who questions!”

Fanon appeals to something that is beyond abstract political rights discourse. He appeals to his own body, something concrete and immediate. Fanon asks of his body not to allow him to be seduced by forms of being-in-the-world that normalize violence and dehumanization. Doubt can be linked to critique. In a society that hides beneath the seductions of normalization, critique is undesirable and deemed dangerous. Yet in our contemporary moment, the fulfillment of Fanon’s prayer is desperately needed.”

It is ultimately in the poetic arts, in the Dionysian, that Césaire would find the vitality and life necessary to resist colonial domination. It is poetic knowledge that inspires the strength necessary to resist:

« Le poète est cet être très vieux et très neuf, très complexe et très simple qui aux confins vécus du rêve et du réel, du jour et de la nuit, entre absence et présence, cherche et reçoit dans le déclenchement soudain des cataclysmes intérieurs le mot de passe de la connivence et de la puissance. »

– Aimé Césaire, « Poésie et connaissance », Tropiques, p. 170 (1944)




[1] Aimé Césaire, « Poésie et connaissance, » in Tropiques. Revue Culturelle. No. 12, Janvier 1945, pp. 163.

[2] “Entretien avec Aimé Césaire par Jacqueline Leiner,” p. v-xxiv, in Tropiques. 1941-1945 Collection Complète (Paris, Jean-Michel Place, 1978), p. viii; Gary Wilder, Freedom Time: Negritude, Decolonization, and the Future of the World (Duke, 2015), at p. 22.

[3] Césaire, « Poésie et connaissance, » in Tropiques, p. 159.

[4] Gary Wilder, Freedom Time: Negritude, Decolonization, and the Future of the World (Duke, 2015).

[5] Albert-James Arnold, « Poésie et connaissance. Présentation », in Césaire, Poésie, théâtre, essais et discours. Ed. Albert-James Arnold. Paris: CNRS, 2014, p. 1373.

[6] “Entretien avec Aimé Césaire par Jacqueline Leiner,” p. v-xxiv, in Tropiques. 1941-1945 Collection Complète (Paris, Jean-Michel Place, 1978), p. v. In the first issue of Tropiques, René Ménil drew on Nietzsche to discuss “the sphere of real art.” See Wilder, Freedom Time, p. 27.

[7] See Souleymane Bachir Diagne, “Négritude”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), available at

[8] Bachir Diagne, intervention at Nietzsche 6/13 here:

[9] Souleymane Bachir Diagne, “Introduction,” p. ix-xv, in Aimé Césaire, A Season in the Congo, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (London, Seagull Books 2010), at p. xi.

[10] Arnold, « Poésie et connaissance. Présentation », p. 1373. Note that Pierre Mabille also appears in Césaire’s text, Césaire, « Poésie et connaissance, » p. 168.

[11] Césaire, in Aimé Césaire, pour regarder le siècle en face, ed. Thébia-Melsan (2000), p. 28; quoted in Diagne, “Négritude,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

[12] Jean-Paul Sartre, Black Orpheus, trans. S.W.Allen, Paris: Présence Africaine (1976).

[13] Wilder, Freedom Time, p. 134.

[14] Wilder, Freedom Time, p. 21.

[15] See especially Wilder’s discussion at p. 27 regarding the first issue of Tropiques.

[16] Wilder, Freedom Time, p. 30.