When you dive into the archives, make sure you show your fish to the villagers before you cook them. Don’t be afraid that someone will steal your work. The more you wait, the more vulnerable you are. Besides, your reading is your only true signature.

Here’s my money where my mouth is.

What follows summarizes research I conducted in Paris, France, July 11-13, 22-23. Were it not for the exigencies of a new job, I would have published this earlier.

Présence Africaine (With Obioma Ofoego)

Originally planned as the most important visit of the research mission, the trip to Présence Africaine yielded no immediate results. Met with Mme. Diop, Fille. She informed us that the editorial archives are in the process of being catalogued and relocated to the IMEC in Normandy. She suggested that we would be able to consult them next year in the Fall and hinted that indeed we would find contracts and typescripts when the archives are made available.

Domenico Annichiarico

Attempted several times to meet with the owner of the Tombeau du soleil set, but our schedules conflicted. Annichiarico also informed me that the documents were on loan to an exhibition in Martinique. A scientific examination of the documents will have to wait until next year.

Eskil Lam’s Offices (With Katerina Seligmann)

At the generous behest of Katerina Seligmann—the first scholar to examine the Césaire dossier found among Wifredo Lam’s personal papers now under the care of his son Eskil Lam—, I accompanied her to take a second look. The dossier is rich with correspondence between Césaire and Lam, essays and other miscellanea which Katerina had a chance to examine in more detail.

For my purposes the following documents were of interest:

A manuscript version of the poem “Simouns” written in Césaire’s hand. We already saw mention of this text in a letter from Césaire to Breton dated Sept. 22, 1943:</p> > 2°) le texte vrai de « Simoun » que je vous ai envoyé dans une lettre datée du 25 octobre 1942. Cette lettre vient de m’être retournée. Le texte que j’ai envoyé à Wifredo et que vous avez en mains est un texte certainement fautif – refait de mémoire. Je vous envoie le texte initial. Il est sans doute trop tard pour que vous puissiez en faire état… mais peu importe.

The ms. text found in Lam’s archive coincides with the manuscript version attached at the end of the typescript of Colombes et menfenils now at the Bibliothèque Schoelcher in Martinique. I can only observe three differences in substantials:

1 Soukala ] Soucala
3 eczéma ] enigme
17 les ] des

The second and third variants change the meaning of the lines radically. Large portions of these early versions were eventually published as “Les Oubliettes de la mer,” first in Fontaine No.50, and then in Les Armes miraculeuses in 1946. The new text, though, varies enormously from the early versions. Undoubtedly, the “texte initial” Césaire mentions in the letter corresponds to the later versions. We learn from this brief genetic episode that Césaire was not averse to making two manuscript copies of a poem, in this case of the early version, one for Lam and one for Breton.

We note in passing that according to Césaire the version eventually published in Fontaine and Les Armes miraculeuses predates the one from the manuscripts. We do not know the fate of the second version Césaire sent Breton.

In addition to this ms., we also find,

  1. A transcription of the ms above.
  2. The copy of the tiré à part of “Cahier d’un retour au pays natal” that Lam brought with him to Cuba after his encounter with Césaire.
  3. A transcription of said tiré à part with corrections and comments from an unidentified hand. The transcription was the one most likely used by Lydia Cabrera for her translation.

Gallimard Archive (With Katerina Seligmann)

Katerina and I visited the Gallimard Archive on Mon, July 23rd, 2012. With the invaluable help of Eric Legendre, archivist at Gallimard, we were able to examine the dossiers of Aimé Césaire (and of Lydia Cabrera) housed there. Many revelations about Césaire’s career during the 1940’s and 1950’s resulted from our examination. Above all, the discovery that Césaire’s engagement with Gallimard was mediated by Raymond Queneau, not Breton as was previously thought, should refine the way we think about Césaire’s literary introduction to post-war Paris. Although we did not see the contract because of Gallimard protocoles of confidentiality, one letter made it clear that Césaire engaged himself with the firm for 5 works (letter 28 Feb. 1955). Every book project Césaire was involved in for two decades had to seek permission from Gallimard (read below).

My only regret is that we did not have enough time to document everything properly. I will try to arrange for digital copies to be made of the dossier from my new office at Columbia U, which has one of the most renowned collections of editorial archives from the 20th century.

Highlights (in chronological order):

  1. Letter from Raymond Queneau to A.C. (25 Sept. 1945):

    The initial letter quoted here in part and fair use from Queneau, who had briefly met Césaire before the war at the Volontés offices:

    […]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 […]

  2. The contract for Armes, “enregistré,” was sent via a letter signed by Gaston Gallimard on December 26, 1945. Merry Christmas, Aimé Césaire.
  3. Letter from R.Q to A.C (18 Jan. 1946) Also an astonishing letter. We learn from Queneau 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].

  4. On a letter from R.Q. to A.C. (18 Sept. 1947) we learn that Gallimard turned down “un tirage de luxe” of “Soleil Cou Coupé” because M. Gallimard thought that “à l’heure actuelle le public pour les ouvrages de poèmes sembre être assez restreint.

  5. On a letter from D. Mascolo to A.C. (9 Nov. 1948) we learn that Césaire inquired at Gallimard about the possibility of an “édition de luxe” of Les Armes miraculeuses with another house. Mascolo reassures Césaire that Gallimard is open to the possibility. This project, of course, never materialized.

  6. On the 25th of November, Gaston GALLIMARD himself writes to Césaire to give Césaire permission to publish a new poetry collection with another publisher “à la condition que ce soit un ouvrage de luxe tire à 200 exemplaires” and that those poems may be reused in a larger collection with the Gallimard imprint. That larger collection, also never materialized. Corps Perdu on the other hand will soon follow.

  7. Many letters during the 1950’s document the negotiations between Gallimard and different houses over “La Question coloniale et la revolution française.” I did not have time to examine this exchange very closely.

  8. During the month of February, 1955, an exchange between G.G. and A.C. suggests that the manuscript for a collection of poems entitled “Grand sang sans merci” was in the hands of Gallimard at one point, who could not publish it but who liked it. The ms. was later returned (via bicyclist) to Césaire.

  9. The archive contains many of the exchanges with Janheinz Jahn and the German houses involved in his collaborations with Césaire. This means we have both sides of the coin on this exchange, a rare treat indeed!

  10. In August of 1959, Aimé Césaire tries to break his contract with Gallimard. A response from Gaston Gallimard’s nephew suggests that they were retiscent to break with him. I could not examine closely the end of this fascinating story.

To be continued by a local or when I return to Paris in 2013…