Freedom Time: Negritude, Decolonization, and the Future of the World
Departmentalization and the Spirit of Schoelcher
This chapter analyzes Aimé Césaire’s belief that decolonization—substantive colonial emancipation—in Martinique and Guadeloupe could be realized through a law transforming these colonial territories into departments of France. Against scholarship that regards his support for departmentalization as proof of cultural alienation or political moderation, this chapter elaborates the progressive character of his vision of colonial abolition through political integration. It examines how Césaire’s project was mediated by the legacy of Victor Schoelcher’s 1848 program for the abolition of slavery; it reveals the supratemporal way that Césaire addressed the spirit of Schoelcher as if he were a contemporary; and it discusses how Césaire regarded departmentalization as an opportunity to finally realize Schoelcher’s own future-oriented project. It links Césaire’s constitutional initiative to his critical essay “Discourse on Colonialism” and his postwar poetry. It traces Césaire’s shift from demanding that the French state fully implement departmentalization to criticizing departmentalization as a source of Martinican poverty and inequality. The chapter ends with a discussion of historical temporality and the need for histories of time inspired by the writings of Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, and Ernst Bloch.