We had a wonderful day catching up on Aimé Césaire at the Fontevraud Abbey recently. The event was organized by the Maison des Ecrivains Étrangers de Saint-Lazare with the help of Phillipe Ollé-Laprune as part of a series of encounters that lead to a published collection. “Pour Césaire” belongs then to a series that includes “Pour Lowry,” “Pour Rulfo” and “Pour Génet.” The informality of the event fell somewhere between a THATCamp and a traditional conference. We had four round tables with a moderator and 2 or 3 speakers. I was told this is how the art world does it in France. After brief commentaries, the mic was passed around for questions. The conversations were recorded and eventually will be published along with selected writings commissioned from living writers. Much of the editorial team of the complete works was in attendance.

The main question posed by the “Dialogue d’introduction” (J. Arnold et P. Ollé-Laprune) was “which Aimé Césaire do we commemorate?” Not an easy question, but one that at least kept us honest. You hear in the question an acknowledgement that Césaire’s legacy should be contested. Since the editorial team was at hand you knew that an effort to nuance Aimé Césaire beyond the monumental Césaire of the 1950’s and early 1960’s was inevitable. That said, the desire for a coherent Aimé Césaire was manifest in several of the grand theories on display. Hello, one and the many.

I took notes on the first two round tables (below), since I was on the last one.

First round Table: La langue de Césaire. Sa traduction.
(L.-F. Prudent et L. Pestre)
Prudent made what to me seemed like the most clear and sensible comments about Aimé Césaire’s relationship to créole that I know of. The thesis is simple: Aimé Césaire’s polysemy and polyphony taps into créole to a great extent. The point is an important response to the créolistes who wish Césaire had used créole instead of, as much as or right next to French. He also added that the poetry, when read by a créole performer sounds very much like a Caribbean affair. I have no way of verifying the veracity of these comments because I don’t speak créole (yet), but they seemed quite plausible. (Note to self: learn créole if I’m going to continue to speak with any degree of authority about Césaire).

Pestre talked about her experience translating Césaire and her study of other translations of Césaire, particularly in romance languages. She continued the theme of polysemy, now as a major challenge for translators. She reminded us that Césaire’s works contain enigmas. They sure do.

Second round table: Génétique de l’œuvre et édition.
(Pierre Laforgue et Marc Cheymol)
Cheymol began by reminding us that statues also serve their purpose, the problem begins when we start mistaking them for reality. Cheymol speaks mostly as one of the main organizers of our edition of Césaire. He rehearsed a history of the edition, dating back to 2006, when the volume was being commissioned under the Archivos collection. He summarized our maturing editorial philosophy. The first principle was and is to make these texts accessible; the second was to make available texts we can depend on; and lastly, lately and not necessarily in line with the second principle, to offer a genetic vision of the production of these texts. The three principles in a sense guarantee a more eclectic rendition of the texts, avoiding as much as possible a monolithic interpretation of Césaire’s œuvre.