Sunday, March 13, 2022

Review: Discourse on Colonialism by Aimé Césaire

A civilization that proves incapable of solving the problems it creates is a decadent civilization.

A civilization that chooses to close its eyes to its most crucial problems is a stricken civilization.

A civilization that uses its principles for trickery and deceit is a dying civilization.

The opening three lines are perfect.

Parts of the text present arguments by academics or public intellectuals, most of whom have been lost to the sands of time. It’s wild reading these quotes of thinly veiled white supremacy, looking up the wikipedia page for their forgotten author, and finding barely a mention of their questionable views buried beneath paragraphs of their contributions to the field. I wondered a bit, how this text would have read when originally published, and the pop culture references were familiar to the reader. (Chants De Maldoror is discussed at some length in this book, and is a fascinating detour, if you’re looking to get distracted.)

Even without knowing many of the figures discussed, it’s a great distillation of the disease of colonialism. It shares a lot of ideas with other longer works, and is, I think, all the more incisive for its brevity. Its style is also unique; more poetry than argument. I think that makes it an interesting read simply from a writer’s craft perspective.

I read the English translation freely available on Red Sails.

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