Aimé Césaire and the Syntax of Influence

  • Brent Hayes Edwards


It is by now a commonplace to note that one of the most crucial aspects of Aimé Césaire’s writing is his unique approach to poetic form, what one might call the “syllabic intelligence” at evidence in his work—that is, the striking ways his writing handles, rends, and ignites language into regions of resonance that exceed or veer from the mundane.1 Most often this issue has been approached through criticism that highlights what James Clifford has termed Césaire’s “poetics of neologism,” his recourse to vertiginous lexicographical provocations, his predilection for combing the recesses of the dictionary to unearth the word-work that thickens his verse (homonyms, foreign language grafts, invented words, obscure idioms, rare and technical terms, especially botanical and biological designations).2 This approach tends to focus one’s attention on the most discrete level, the individual word, as a way to track the indispensable function of what Césaire calls “l’image révolutionnaire, l’image distante” (“the revolutionary image, the distant image”) in the poetry.3 In what follows I am going to at tempt to pull out from this morphemic focus, in order to ask instead how one might theorize a Césairean syllabic intelligence at the level of syntax. It would mean moving beyond the particular word, its resonance and force, in order to take account of the joints of the poem, the ways it propels particular images into juxtaposition, echo, and transformation.


Syntactical Ambiguity African Diaspora Poetic Form Hegelian Dialectic Black World 
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© Carrie Noland and Barrett Watten 2009

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  • Brent Hayes Edwards

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