The Aimé Césaire House

maison

Dominique Brebion (Aica Caraïbe du Sud) reports that The Aimé Césaire House—La Maison d’Aimé Césaire—will be open to the public starting in mid-July, every Monday from 9:30am to 12:30pm. [Tuesdays will be devoted to groups (7 people maximum), by appointment. Wearing a mask is compulsory.] It is located in the La Redoute neighborhood in Fort-de-France, Martinique. Here are excerpts from Brebion’s detailed and vibrant review:

To visit this house where Aimé Césaire—poet, playwright, founder of the Negritude movement, but also a politician, initiator of the Progressive Party, mayor of Fort-de-France, and deputy—lived the last forty years of his life, offers the privilege of slipping into the intimacy of this exceptional poet determined to push with such strength the great black cry that would shake the foundations of the world and whose words, beautiful as the rising air, has resounded throughout the world.

One is immediately struck by the simplicity and authenticity of this living space.

This is a no-frills house, nestled in the green garden of a residential area of ​​Redoute. Suzanne and Aimé Césaire acquired it in the early sixties. Surrounded by an elegant and discreet gallery, it includes three bedrooms, an office, a living room, a library of more than three thousand books under inventory, shower rooms and outbuildings. Classified as a historic monument, it is also part of the Stéphane Bern heritage mission.

How not to be moved by the board facing the office where the poet pinned his memories: a poem by his young daughter Delphine, photos of very dear friends like Michel Leiris, an old medical prescription from his lifelong friend, Pierre Aliker, the “large family” transport card for his wife Suzanne when they lived in Paris. There is also a photo of the Saint-Pierre kapok tree [also known as ceiba] that barely survived the 1902 eruption and whose charred trunk sprouted leaves again fifty years later. There is still a check for 4823.65 francs, never cashed. This sum corresponds to its share of the copyright for the review Tropiques, reissued by Jean-Michel Place in the late 1990s.

Each object in the house brings us closer to him:

Bedside books, Amkoulell, l’enfant peul by Hampâté Bâ, the complete works of Baudelaire, Depestre’s Journal d’un animal marin, L’Age d’homme by Michel Leiris, Letters to Lucilius by Seneca, Un complot d’esclaves by Georges Mauvois, L’indien au sang noir by Christiane Sacarabani, Volume 2 of the History of Martinique [Histoire de la Martinique] by Armand Nicolas.

The old botanical encyclopedias, Exotica and Tropica, which he consulted feverishly and at length on his return from his daily walks across the island, his arms loaded with leaves and branches so that he could identify each leaf. There are still some pressed leaves between the pages. Since the creation of the Tropiques journal, to inventory the flora of Martinique was indeed, for Aimé Césaire, a project that was both political and poetic, to reinvest in the landscape of symbols and positive values, founders of identity.

“If I name with precision, it is because by naming with precision, I believe that one restores to the object its personal value, as when one calls someone by name; we arouse in it its unique and singular value […]. By naming them, flora, fauna, in their strangeness, I participate in their strength, I take part in their power.” [. . .]

The Aimé Césaire Foundation created in July 2018 entrusted Johanna Auguiac, project manager for the restoration of Aimé Césaire’s home and the follow-up of the Aimé Césaire Foundation (FAC), with the mission to restore, enhance, and reanimate the home of the exponent of Negritude. [. . .]

[. . .] The other interior and exterior spaces of the house will be transformed to remind visitors of the lifelong journey of Aimé Césaire’s intellectual commitments, his links with Africa, Surrealism, art, and theater.

When in September 1931, the young Aimé Césaire, then 18 years old, arrived in Paris, enrolled in the first year at the Louis-le-Grand Lycée, he met Léopold Sédar Senghor, older by a few years, who would become a writer and president of his country. They quickly become friends. Senghor reveals Africa to Aimé Césaire. Together, they create the Negritude movement. Aimé Césaire collaborates in the journal Présence Africaine, founded in late 1947 by Alioune Diop—professor of philosophy born in Senegal—with the support of intellectuals, writers, or anthropologists, Richard WrightAlbert CamusAndré GideJean-Paul SartreThéodore MonodGeorges Balandier or Michel Leiris, but also Joséphine BakerJames BaldwinPicasso. The birth of the journal is part of the pan-Africanism movement whose ideas have been circulating since the beginning of the twentieth century.

During his forced passage to Martinique in 1941 which he evokes in Martinique, charmeuse de serpents, André Breton discovers the review Tropiques and the poetry of Aimé Césaire. Breton publishes several texts and poems in Tropiques, prefacing the 1947 edition of Cahier d’un retour au pays natal [Notebook of a Return to the Native Land] with his famous line of praise: “Un grand poète noir” [A great black poet].

It is also when Aimé Césaire met Wifredo Lam—the beginning of an unwavering friendship. Before meeting in Martinique in 1941, Wifredo Lam and Aimé Césaire followed parallel routes no doubt shared by a number of young Caribbeans with a promising future. Born on Caribbean islands—Cuba for Lam, Martinique for Aimé Césaire—they leave to reach the European continent in order to continue their studies in their respective metropoles, Madrid for Lam, Paris for Césaire. Both return to their homeland, 1941 for Lam, 1939 for Césaire; a return to the homeland that will leave its mark on their literary or visual creations. Both linked to Surrealism quickly go beyond it to engage in a quest for identity, a battle for black identity that does not, however, obscure an aspiration to the universal. Africa, a rediscovered and mythical Africa, remains at the heart of their creation even when their political and humanitarian commitment goes beyond the borders of the continent.

The genesis of their two joint works is original and different each time. Wifredo Lam took the lead in illustrating, translating, and editing Retorno al país natal. But it was Wifredo Lam who asked Aimé Césaire to write the poems that accompany his print series Insolites Bâtisseurs [Unusual Builders]. Although the portfolio was published in 1982, forty years after Retorno al país natal, the design of the preparatory drawings for etchings and aquatints began many years earlier, as early as 1968.

Aimé Césaire and Pablo Picasso became acquainted in 1948 at the Peace Congress in Wroclaw. In 1950, Corps Perdu was published by Éditions Fragance—a collection of ten poems illustrated with thirty-two engravings by Pablo Picasso.

In 1965, La Tragédie du roi Christophe marked the first collaboration between the author Aimé Césaire and director Jean-Marie Serreau. Two other creations followed: Une Saison au Congo (1967) and Une Tempête, subtitled La Tempête de Shakespeare pour un théâtre nègre (1969, at the Hammamet Festival in Tunisia).

You will learn all about these stories and many more during the visit. They will be concretely placed by the ambitious work that will make The Aimé Césaire House an essential cultural site in Martinique. [. . .]

Excerpts translated by Ivette Romero. For full article (in French), see https://aica-sc.net/2013/06/28/un-espace-museal-et-memoriel-dedie-a-aime-cesaire/

5 thoughts on “The Aimé Césaire House

  1. Gosh, the things I learn on this website. One day, I will visit that house, because I love the man’s work! 🙂
    Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Thank YOU so very much for the feedback! I need to see it someday, too. That, and Derek Walcott’s house in St. Lucia.
      Best regards, Ivette

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