The tree that says ‘yes’: Césaire’s Nature and Revolutionary Universalism

Counter-response by Anne Eller


[Prompt: Césaire and the revolutionary Afro-Americas]

 

Upon his arrest, Governor-for-Life Toussaint Louverture reportedly proclaimed, “[i]n overthrowing me, you have done no more than cut down the trunk of the tree of Black liberty.”  The tree would “spring back up from the roots,” he promised, “for they are numerous and deep.” In recalling the moment of his arrest in 1802, Césaire’s Louverture in Cahier is, accordingly, only for the briefest moment of defeat “a lone man imprisoned in whiteness.” He is connected to the throng, the “anguished Antilles,” a [meta]body’s viscera, new geographies, new biologies (of suffering), a disalienated natural universe, negritude, the narrator himself. As Polyné underscores in his analysis of “Poetry and Knowledge,” Césaire repeatedly makes these connections of self and other, Ego and the World, humanity and the natural universe explicit, enshrining them in his ars poetica. Long histories of revolt in the Americas and, centrally, the Haitian Revolution, exemplify this interplay of particular and universal claims. It is an old, daring balance of radical demands, in philosophy and practice. Césaire’s natural metaphors and allegories draw explicitly on this history, refashioning a universalism of the future.

Pseudoscience, pseudohumanism, and “thingification” of the natural and human world are at the center of the colonial project; new epistemologies are imperative. Césaire’s anticolonial propositions, Polyné observes, are “not necessarily contrary to scientific knowledge but firmly in conversation with the natural sciences.” Césaire may evince a nostalgia about old orderings, but return is impossible. Accordingly, the conversation is ambivalent. Of new, non-essentialized human and natural landscapes, measured “with the geometry of my spilled blood…by the compass of suffering,” he writes in the Cahier:  “I accept, I accept it all.” Trees are favored tropes. They embody multivalent incarnations, depicting – at different times, or sometimes concurrently – both the possibilities of fraternity and interconnection and of uprootedness, forced exile, and suffering. In the “Gift of Tree Saps,” this duality is laid bare:

athletic ceiba mysteriously balancing the knotted struggle between man and disaster
learned boles of pride from a stratum of shipwrecks…

The representational potential of trees is both particular and universal. In the Cahier, Césaire exhorts:

And be the tree of our hands!
it turns, for all, the wounds cut
in its trunk
the soil works for all
and toward the branches a headiness of fragrant precipitation!

And yet he immediately cautions that colorless fraternalism is the province of some future harvest,

But before reaching the shores of future orchards
grant that I deserve those on their belt of sea
grant me my heart while awaiting the earth

In order to “rais[e] to the level of the universal, the particular situation of our people,” Césaire’s proposition is twofold: “linking them to history…[and] placing them on a trajectory that is precisely one of becoming.” Disalienation from – and representation through – the fecund and restorative potential of nature approaches the “satisfying knowledge” (Césaire, “Poetry and Knowledge”) he seeks. New possibilities are born of this ordering, a taxonomy that does not stratify, distort or delimit but rather recalls, names, and celebrates. “[A]nd as my eyes sweep my kilometers of paternal earth I number its sores almost joyfully and I pile on top of another like rare species, and my total is ever lengthened,” he exults.

As Polyné writes, discussion of nature also permits Césaire “to mine the forces that bind black peoples’ connection to place.” Numerous silences mark the historical record of the Caribbean, silences born of colonizers’ epistemological failings, profound limitations of written archives, willful omission, and incredible violence. And yet, as Ada Ferrer has written, “fragmentary and inscrutable,” evidence emerges. Landscapes, particularly, manifest the evidence of generations of freedom seeking, as Césaire was well aware. Contests over land were at the center of emancipation struggles, and they were at the center of ongoing resistance to cash crop production in the post-abolition era. They represent, in short, nothing less than a fundamental reckoning with the colonial order itself, as it organized itself under slavery and scrambled to refashion oppression subsequently. Land tenure, furthermore, invoked far more than questions over the mode of production or voting status. Bundled up in subsistence land regimes like the lakou or the terrenos comuneros of independent Hispaniola, for example, were whole means of living, practices of family and inheritance, communal organization of land use, the exertion of distance from a formal state, and alternative political forms.

What of the tree of liberty? Planted in island soil by French commissioners, it first marked a commemoration of the Bastille in an agitated and contested landscape. After emancipation and Louverture’s tenure in earnest, its republican roots had broadened and grown deeper. As he prophesied, the roots regenerated after his capture. Dessalines, then, set about to fell the French tree of slavery and prejudice, scattering the flowers of blood of which Césaire writes. In years of pitched struggle, as Deborah Jenson’s work reveals, the metaphor may have subsided for a time. “Every man carries liberty in his heart,” Dessalines declared, “and…he holds the key to it in his hands.” Early Haitian foreign policy, meanwhile, walked a precarious line between self-preservation and ambitious revolutionary possibility. David Nicholls documents Dessalines’ conflicted regional conscience as recorded by Ardouin: “[u]nfortunate Martiniquans, I am not able to fly to your assistance and break your chains,” Dessalines wrote to enslaved men and women in Martinique. “But perhaps a spark from the fire which we have kindled will spring forth in your soul,” he urged.

The tree re-grew after 1804, or rather a Haitian tree did. The project was at once universal, nationalist, and particular, a discourse and praxis Doris Garraway characterizes as “anticolonial universalism.” Ada Ferrer asserts that security restraints curtailed the range of action the young state(s) took, even as heterodox and ambitious legal conceptions of free soil were enshrined at the core of Haitian citizenship itself. Unification of the island brought these principles – and trees of liberty – eastward to Santo Domingo. Ceremonially planted in the spring of 1822, they continued to grow, long after the unified government toppled. The trees bore living memories otherwise erased in elite accounts of the east. They were not the only preserve of freedom there, however. Outside of their symbolic value, wooded spaces and rural communities provided concrete refuge.  These landscapes, too, remain at the margins of the archive.

“Births,” 1950

nontree tree
yesterday uprooted […]
on earth it is replanted […]
nontree tree
beautiful voluminous tree
day alights on it
a startled bird

–Césaire, “Poetry and Knowledge”

In affirming a connection to the universal, in “saying ‘yes’ like a tree,” some scholars characterize the embrace as a passive one, in contradistinction to aggressive Western practices. There is little passive in Césaire’s “stability…surrender…[and] vital movement,” however. Any such simple binary underestimates both the strength and dynamic potential of his natural and human worlds.  It seems more likely, instead, that Césaire is enjoining principles of balance, maintenance, and community, the fundament of cosmologies that still flourished, dynamically, even after being uprooted and transformed across the Atlantic.  Beyond these imperatives, he is establishing new rootedness, new generations, and new territoriality. “Someone who marries human florescence to universal florescence: this man is a poet,” he urges in the Cahier.  New projects of anticolonial universalism await.

 
Works Cited

 

☞ See the rejoinder by Millery Polyné and/or leave your own response below!

 


20 thoughts on “The tree that says ‘yes’: Césaire’s Nature and Revolutionary Universalism

  • Dear Anne:

    This is a wonderful piece; I love the way that you connect Cesaire’s powerful engagement with the landscape with the historical production and consolidation of practices like the lakou. And linking this up to Ada’s terrific interventions on the meaning of Haiti is really compelling. Thank you!

    — Laurent Dubois

    • Dear Laurent,

      Thanks for writing! I have to mention, of course, how important your thinking and research is to this conversation, both broadly and specifically. It is quite simply in your debt. And returning to Avengers, I see Chapter 12’s germane title…

      Not to mention discussion of the uses of the poisonous leaves of the mancenillier tree (48), of trees as decoy cannons (110) or highland wooded spaces as sites of refuge (throughout), of a fateful 1803 gathering around a mapou tree (302)…

      Electronic term searching gives one a whole new round of appreciation for your meticulous and provocative work, who knew? Thank you, and I hope the discussion continues!

      • Wow, thank you Anne — that is wonderful to hear. As Caribbeanists, I think we always have to be really attentive to the landscape & nature as part of history, and that is something that the region’s poets and novelists really allow us to see and engage with imaginatively and analytically. From the earliest texts we go back to (texts of arrival, “discovery,” etc.) the Caribbean is so often defined through engagement, puzzlement, and wonder at the natural world; but the key is that the history of remaking and that nature (though the plantation notably), and then confronting and remaking that remaking of nature in pursuit of other horizons and possibilities, has been a central pursuit within the region. Thank you for evoking all this so well and interestingly!

  • Dear Anne Eller,

    I love the way your views well explain the power of nature in Césaire’s work. I believe that his poetry has the transcendence to reach souls far beyond the boundaries of the Caribbean Sea Islands. I view the “Cahier d’un retour au pays natal” as a seed of hope that has the capacity to grow within each and every one of us. I personally find your analysis fulfilling and fascinating. Merci!

    Geneviève Oliveira

    • Dear Geneviève,

      Thank you for your kind words and also for your salient metaphor of the Cahier as a “seed of hope.” It beautifully conveys how the importance of the work grows beyond its immediate spatial and temporal context.

      It also, I think, is suggestive of the importance of non-verbal records. One finds Trees of Liberty in the Dominican Republic well into the 1860s; their meaning had likely grown and changed through the decades. Occasionally, an elegy captures them (José Francisco Pichardo pens an elegy to one that is chopped down in 1864, for example). What had they meant to the island in intervening decades, of political unification and division, of reoccupation in the east by a slave power (Spain) in 1861, and so on? An exploration with the lens of landscapes might recover this imagination, might better approach perspectives and hopes that we might otherwise never glimpse.

      Vincent Brown’s fascinating work on cartography and revolt in Jamaica comes to mind. His cartographic narrative is here: http://revolt.axismaps.com/. In exploring spatial dynamics, one can approach so much more than the physical landscape alone…

      As you write, Césaire’s poetry has far-reaching transcendence. He writes of a “world map made for my own use, not tinted with the arbitrary colors of scholars, but with the geometry of my spilled blood…” Thank you.

  • Dear Anne Eller,

    Your work here beautifully illustrates how deeply rooted the imagery surrounding the tree is in Caribbean culture, particularly in Césaire’s work. The idea of its meaning branching out to symbolize community, “uprootedness,” resilience, and liberty is fascinating to me. It certainly makes me curious about the pervasiveness of such symbolism around the world. Thank you for the well-written and thought-provoking analysis!

    Andrew Buttram

    • Dear Andrew,

      I humbly defer to others’ expertise about the pervasiveness of the imagery, although I cannot but imagine that your impression is right on. In digging further into the theme in preparation for Friday, I’ve found some great discussion in Dominique Licops’ “Redefining Culture, Politicizing Nature: Negotiating the Essentialism of Natural Metaphors of Identification in the Work of James Clifford, Paul Gilroy, and Aimé Césaire” (In Kathleen Gyssels, Isabel Hoving and Maggie Ann Bowers, eds., Convergences and Inferences: Newness in Intercultural Practices [NY: Rodopi, 2001], 53-68).

      One more bibliographic shout-out is Véronique Bragard, Transoceanic dialogues: Coolitude in Caribbean and Indian Ocean Literatures (NY: P.I.E. Peter Lang, 2008). Her Chapter 5, “Walking Roots. Reading Labor, Vegetal, and Massala Metaphors of Identity” (169-198) is likely exactly the sort of discussion you seek!

      • Dear Anne,
        Thank you for including me in this really interesting project and for your insightful contribution to this blog. I was particularly interested in the historical practice of trees of liberty that you mention and the other connections you underline between poetic, metaphorical uses of the landscape and real historical ones.

        My own work on the use of natural images in Caribbean writing was sparked by Gisèle Pineau’s novel, Exil Selon Julia which abounds with beautiful nature imagery and my own puzzlement at the fact that natural images were being criticized as conveying an essentialist notion of identity (the question of roots vs. routes, as James Clifford famously put it), when so many Caribbean women writers, both English and French-speaking, were resorting to natural images to convey very complex notions of identity. So I briefly re-visited this question in Césaire’s and Glisssant’s work that I contrasted with the theoretical formulations of Clifford and Paul Gilroy to show that we needed to unpack the equation between nature and essentialism. Indeed, as your blog shows, the conceptions of nature that are at the basis of Césaire’s and other Caribbean writers and theorists’ writing of landscape are quite different from a certain Western notion of nature (that underwrote justifications for colonialism and racism). As Caliban puts it in Césaire’s Une tempête, speaking to Prospero about Sycorax : “Morte ou vivante, c’est ma mère et je ne la renierai pas ! D’ailleurs, tu ne la crois morte que parce que tu crois que la terre est chose morte … C’est tellement plus commode! Morte, alors on la piétine, on la souille, on la foule d’un pied vainqueur” (Paris: Seuil, 25-26).
        As synchronicity would have it, Souleymane Bachir Diagne and Donna V. Jones gave a talk about Senghor and Bergson here at Northwestern yesterday, and I was thrilled to discover their work that re-visits the criticism of Négritude as essentialist. As Souleymane Bachir Diagne succinctly put it: we need to consider how it is our reading of Négritude that essentializes it. So I would definitely recommend both their books to anyone who is interested in further exploring this question:
        Souleymane Bachir Diagne, African Art as Philosophy. Senghor, Bergson, and the Idea of Negritude, Seagull, 2011 (an English translation of his Léopold Sédar Senghor: l’art africain comme philosophie ,Paris: Riveneuve Editions, 2007).
        Donna V. Jones, The Racial Discourses of Life Philosophy: Négritude, Vitalism, and Modernity (Columbia University Press, 2011)

        I would also strongly recommend the work of Daniel Maximin and his beautiful trilogy that is full of Cesairian echoes and of landscape imagery and dynamics: L’Isolé Soleil (1981), Soufrières (1987) and L’île et une nuit (1995), as well as the more recent, and no less compelling, Les Fruits du cyclone. Une géopoétique de la Caraïbe (Paris : Seuil, 2006).

        Thank you to all of the contributors to this blog and to the organizers of this project. Best,
        Dominique

        • Thanks, Dominique, for those points and the information on the new works on Negritude.

          I would be interested to read what they say and what you think of the ways that Césaire (and Senghor) uses Frobenius’ notions of the Ethiopian model of civilization to conceptualize his ideas of race and the idea of the “vital force,” which does seem to indicate a certain essentialism at play. Also, another statement by Césaire comes to mind–when he said that “le rythme est une donnée essentielle de l’homme noir,” his essentialism is undeniable (albeit not in relation to nature as such).

          This is not to criticize Césaire for what he said in that particular time in history, but to point to the problems of “rescuing” him from essentialism when his work and spoken statements express a particular understanding of race and culture. I think if there were more quotations from Césaire and his work in this conversation it would help clarify things, and to reduce the sense that we are to some extent seeing what we want to see and ignoring what we wish to forget or underplay.

          Thanks again!

  • Dear Anne,
    Thanks for bringing this great discussion of Caribbean trees to my attention — it has wonderful intersections with my own book chapter “Arboreal Landscapes of Power and Resistance” in Citizenship from Below: Erotic Agency and Caribbean Freedom (Duke, 2012) — which I would love to talk more about. I contrast the Liberty Tree with other Caribbean arboreal practices such as sacred trees, shady-boughed gathering-place trees, and powerful medicinal trees, and show how these trees took root in the interstices of the plantation landscape. Jean Besson’s work on family land is also a great place to find out more about how trees connect to people through kinship practices. Yesterday I also heard an interesting talk by David Bond (completing a PhD at the New School) on the relation between Caribbean mangroves and the hydrocarbon/oil industry in the region, that might interest you — bringing up to date the politics of trees in the contemporary context of climate change.
    best wishes, Mimi

    • Dear Mimi,

      Thanks so much for writing. I hope you might be able to join us tomorrow; at any rate, I will do my best to do justice to your chapter and to Besson. Very exciting, too, to hear of forthcoming projects.

      I’m sure many readers of this blog are eagerly familiar with your work, spanning the nineteenth century to the present. I want briefly to highlight more of it here. “You Signed My Name, But Not My Feet,” for example – first, in its incarnation as an article in the Journal of Haitian Studies, then expanded and revised in Citizenship from Below – is just one more model of suggestive, creative, and fruitful exploration of revolutionary traditions that motivate this project, within and well beyond archives. In the introduction to Citizenship, you make the impetus and scope of this intervention explicit, calling for scholars to look “beneath conventional definitions of political agency and of citizenship and seek out the unexcavated field of embodied (material and spiritual) practices through which people practice and envision freedom” (6), as well as the myriad and dynamic ways these efforts were restrained, from emancipation to the present. Our discussion is enriched by your work!

  • Thanks for a great piece, Anne.

    Just a couple of thoughts on the theme of trees, nature, etc.

    First, a quotation from Césaire (in interview with Jacqueline Sieger), where he talks of his obsession with naming plants of all kinds:

    Je suis effectivement obsédé par la végétation, par la fleur, par la racine.Rien de tout cela n’est gratuit, tout est lié à ma situation d’homme noir exilé de son sol originel. L’Arbre, profondément enraciné dans le sol, c’est pour moi le symbole de l’homme lié à sa nature, la nostalgie d’un paradis perdu.

    I think that this obsession with vegetation, and trees in particular, can be seen, at least in part, as a sign of the influence of Frobenius’ conception of the Ethiopian model of civilization, which, as Suzanne Césaire writes in ‘Léo Frobénius et le problème des civilizations’ (Tropiques 1), is ‘liée à la plante, au cycle végétatif.’ This notion of nature, itself related to Césaire’s Frobenius-derived ideas of race, is further suggested in ‘Poésie et connaissance’, where Césaire invokes the Frobenian ideas of abandon and of the vital force: ‘l’arbre est fixité, attachement et persévérance dans l’essentiel…Et parce que l’arbre est stabilité, l’arbre est aussi abandon. Abandon, au mouvement vital, à l’élan créateur. Abandon joyeux. Et la fleur est le signe de cette reconnaissance.’

    Frobenius is I believe an important reference in understanding Césaire’s idea of nature, and in turn race.

    Also, this quotation from Richard Burton on shifting notions of identity (and trees) came to mind :

    ‘With Le discours antillais and Poétique de la Relation, French West Indian thought has undergone an epistemological shift of major importance: identity is no longer imagined as a single tree rooted in the landscape (as it is in such classics of West Indian literature as Césaire’s Cahier d’un retour au pays natal, Jacques Roumain’s Gouverneurs de la rosé).’ (‘Ki Moun Nou Ye…’, 1993)

    • As I was reading your post, Anne, and the replies regarding the symbol/imagery of “l’arbre,” I was waiting for someone to bring in Glissant and his detour from tree to mangrove. So thanks, Martin (and Mimi, above), for bringing these rich references in. Here, then, a question: what is the distance between Cesaire’s obsession with “racine” and “l’arbre” and Glissant’s emphasis on, as he borrows from Brathwaite, a “unity [that] is submarine” (Caribbean Discourse 66), but which underwater unity is categorically multi-rooted, as in the entangled roots of the mangrove, or, as Glissant puts it, a “network of branches” (67)?

      And, since Anne brought in a discussion of the Hispaniola/Quisqueya (Haiti, DR), how do these concepts of roots, submarine unity, networks, etc. function vis-a-vis Dominican assertions of sovereignty (Maja Horn’s response in a separate discussion on this forum is apropos here), and the very notion of an island “one and indivisible”? I’m thinking, in particular, of Dominican race relations within or against conceptualizations of black diasporic unity (a rootedness in blackness or Africanness?), and Silvio Torres-Saillant’s fascinating essay in a special issue of Small Axe, “One and Divisible: Meditations on Global Blackness” (http://smallaxe.dukejournals.org/content/13/2/4.abstract).

      • Dear Martin, Dear Raj,

        Thank you so much for your substantive and provocative comments. As Césaire declares in the interview, the obsession was life-long. I happened across Eshleman’s and Smith’s brief discussion (in their introduction to his collected poetry) in which they highlight the importance of Eugène Revert as one of Césaire’s childhood teachers (imparting and valorizing the geography and flora and fauna of Martinique), or the importance of the balsier as the emblem of the Parti progressiste martiniquais…

        That excerpt with Jacqueline Sieger is really interesting, and the quotation that Martin highlights (“je suis effectivement obsédé…”) recalls the all of the ambiguities of the problem of return, la nostalgie d’un paradis perdu, as well as how capaciously natural imagery (once again in this instance, L’Arbre) illustrates at once enduring linkages and the possibility of metamorphosis. Nature is not uniformly the linking of humanity to a “paradis perdu,” of course – it also embodies the potentiality of forging a new future and, as Raj highlights, adept allegory for espistemological debates over unity and/or disconnection. I defer, again, to Licops’ excellent discussion of non-essentialized readings and the dynamism of this imagery, as well as Bragards’ elaborations on the evolving and creative invocations (as well as debates) on this point. Raj, I think you may also find the conversation you seek here, and I think it also speaks well to Richard Burton’s observations.

        Nature is also – and I think Millery’s response really pointed this out eloquently – an adept vector for discussions of wounds and impairment. I’m certain tomorrow’s discussion will develop this theme. I want only to highlight Aude Dieudé develops a discussion of a “deviant and sterile fig tree” wrought by colonialism in Emeric Bergeaud’s Stella in his fine dissertation, Toussaint Louverture and Haiti’s History as Muse: Legacies of Colonial and Postcolonial Resistance in Francophone African and Caribbean Corpus (Duke 2013).

        Next, Martin’s discussion of Frobenius! Again, thank you, and I do hope you will elaborate further tomorrow.

        Turning to ‘Léo Frobénius et le problème des civilizations’ (I found it, hastily, in Michael Richardson, Krzystof Fijałkowski, eds. Refusal of the Shadow: Surrealism and the Caribbean [NY: Verso, 1996], please pardon the switch). One delights in Suzanne Césaire’s assertion that the “real craze for science, technology and machines” and its adjunct, the “veritable mania for power and domination”, is nothing like the fruition of some natural ordering, but rather an ephemeral disequilibrium within a complex interplay of natural forces. Dichotomous energies, complementary binaries, shock – these might drive humanity in multiple directions, “altering” civilizations here, “creat[ing] and transform[ing]” them elsewhere, “making them more profound in some places, causing them to deteriorate in others, intermingling in yet others as they are linked together in an ever-increasing complexity” (86). As such, human societies are not linear, nor linked to a teleological harness of “continual progress, dear to the nineteenth century” (and so ineluctably persistent, in their most cynical and threadbare invocations, in struggles of the twentieth). Rather, the meaning of this apparent (and ephemeral) dominance “is still hidden from us,” she writes, “[t]his is the earth’s drama” (85, 87). “Mankind’s role is to prepare to live this other future,” she urges, and poses a simultaneous dilemma “to dare to admit our nature, to dare to consider what we want to be” (87).

        In closing: Raj, do tell me you will be joining us tomorrow, particularly to speak further on the Ayiti questions you raise! On territory and indivisibility, many nineteenth-century tales await an expanded historical imagination; they certainly are not fleshed out in a historiography of the east of the island at present, as others have noted. Martin, my deepest thanks for your insight, as well as the edifying examples you provide. To tomorrow.

        • Thanks for the deep reply, Anne, and the references to conversations I haven’t yet engaged. I’ll see you tomorrow!

        • Thank you Anne, for such a thoughtful reply.
          I do think Césaire’s notions of nature are tied up with those of race. It is interesting that the theme of race has not really been raised in any of the discussions so far, given that racial affirmation was such an important element in his work, his sense of himself, and indeed his politics (Nègre je suis, nègre je resterai, etc.).
          Kaiama’s questions below raise the issue of race and nature, and the risks of essentializing the relationship between blackness and the land.
          Sadly, I won’t be with you all today to discuss this further. Hope it all goes well!

  • A couple of other references.

    There are several articles in Tropiques which further demonstrate the group’s fixation with plant-life; cf. Franck Laurencine, ‘Faune et flore de l’inconscient…’, 8-9 (October 1943), 33-39; Henri Sthelé, ‘La végétation des Antilles françaises’, 2 (July 1941), 71-77, and ‘Les dénominations génériques des végétaux aux Antilles — Histoires et Légendes qui s’y attachent’, 10 (February 1944), 55-87. The latter is a particularly extensive study, stressing the links between the denominations of plants, language and folklore. It probes the origins of the names of Antillean plants, finding African, East Indian, Creole and above all, European influences. Thus the names, and the plants themselves, carry historical echoes.

    Also of interest is E. Nonon, “La Faune précolombienne des Antilles Françaises,” 10 (February 1944), 42-52, which ends on this note:
    “la faune précolombienne des Iles du Vent n’appartient plus qu’au passé, elle a disparu devant l’homme blanc…”

  • I loved the whole of this dialogue between the two of you, and echo the enthusiastic appreciation expressed by so many of those who’ve commented. I want to ask, to wonder aloud, a few disparate and random things: 1) are there instances, chez Césaire or elsewhere (chez Glissant, for example), where it might be argued that the revolutionary relationship to the landscape is problematically fetishized?; and 2) how can or should we think this somatic connection in other geo-cultural contexts? Is a politicized poetics of Nature somehow unique to the Caribbean and/or other Afro-/poco spaces? Do only “black people connect to place” (paraphrasing) in the ways outlined in these posts and the replies they’ve inspired? Also, and at the risk of being disingenuous, I suppose I’d be interested in spelling out the distinction between what’s been evoked here so convincingly and the earlier, dangerously doudouiste evocations of the Caribbean landscape condemned by Suzanne Césaire. How, that is, do Aimé Césaire’s Negritude poetics avoid the trap of exoticization? And, I add a little disgressively, what to make of critical condemnation of (formerly) revolutionary poet René Depestre, who has been accused by Caribbeanist literary scholars of being problematically exoticist in his configurations of Haiti’s natural world?

  • On the tree metaphor in French Antillean thinking: I happen to have sitting in front of me the Glissant-edited journal of the Institut Martiniquais d’Etudes, ACOMA, each issue of which bears on its cover this quote from du Tertre: “L’acoma franc est un de plus gros et des plus hauts arbres du pays… On remarque que fort longtemps après estre coupé, le coeur en est aussi sain, humide et plein de sève, que si le venait de mettre par terre.”

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