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THEMES IN CÉSAIRE'S NOTEBOOK

Handout by Jana Evans Braziel, Assistant Professor
229B Mc Micken Hall
Department of English and Comparative Literature
University of Cincinnati
ML 210069
Cincinnati, OH 45221-0069
Office # (513) 556-0834
Fax # (513) 556-5960
jana.braziel@uc.edu
evans_braziel@hotmail.com

From Mireille Rosello, "Introduction," Notebook of a Return to My Native Land, translated by Rosello and Annie Pritchard.  Bloodaxe Books, 1995.

Reversal of Western Values

"Food is a leitmotif in the Notebook.  But unlike the authors of late twentieth-century tourist guides, the narrator does not marvel at the exotic West Indian cuisine.  In the Notebook, allusions to food function as a reminder of the most crucial concern of a poverty-stricken people" (58).

Western exoticization of natives through food-customs, preparation, etc.
Césaire's de-exoticization of natives through food -- emphasis on poverty and hunger

Whiteness as Evil

"The narrator of the Notebook performs this act of 'defrancisation' but he does not only privilege the metaphors associated with blackness.  He also systematically reverses the positive connotations associated with whiteness and links the colour to pain, injustice, imprisonment or coldness.  Whiteness is the symbol of colonisation: Toussaint Louverture, deported to France is a 'man alone, imprisoned by whiteness,' a 'man alone who defies the white screams of a white death'" (61).

Colonialism as Disease

"The narrator of the Notebook  . . . equates colonialism with a disease ruthlessly gnawing at his country, like a strange virus with no antidote. [Ö]  Countless allusions to decay and diseases weave a tightly metaphorical network throughout the Notebook" (61-62).

The Creation of New Heroes

"The narrator does not only refute the narratives invented by colonialism about his native land, he also strives to rewrite his own version of History: colonialist history is not simply the opposite of a transcendental truth, it is a selection of events, or heroes which add up to a coherent vision: 'History' is used to justify the coloniser's politics.  In the Notebook, the reader learns to reappraise the relevance and relativity of historical figures as the narrator carefully creates new heroes or dismisses old ones" (62)

French Martinican Heroes : Joséphine de Beauharnais, Napoleon's first wife; Blanche de Castille
Césiare's Heroes: Henri Christophe;  Jean-Jacques Dessalines; Toussaint Louverture

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