In 1935, while visiting his friend Petar Guberina in Dalmatia, Aimé Césaire saw an island by the name of Martinska (the equivalent of Martinique). Shocked by this discovery, he began writing his Notebook of a Return to the Native Land. While acknowledged, this Yugoslav connection tends to be mentioned as merely anecdotal. This essay argues that Yugoslavia represented an important detour for Césaire. Césaire’s friendship with Guberina and his discovery of Martinska allowed him to see how the particularity of his historical experience as a member of the African diaspora could also serve as the basis for solidarity with other oppressed people. Whereas the accusation of racial essentialism has long followed the founders of the Negritude movement, the Yugoslav connection invites a more layered and nuanced reading of the Notebook, whose unusual origins resonate throughout its verses, positioning it as a text always already in Relation.
Aimé Césaire’s Yugoslav Detour
Alexandra Perisic is associate professor at the Faculty of Media and Communications in Belgrade, Serbia. Her teaching and research interests include contemporary francophone literature of sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, literatures of the Black Atlantic, and theories of globalization. She is author of Precarious Crossings: Immigration, Neoliberalism, and the Atlantic (2019), in which, through a comparative study of contemporary transatlantic immigrant narratives in French, Spanish, and English, she offers an account of a multilingual Atlantic under neoliberalism.
Alexandra Perisic; Aimé Césaire’s Yugoslav Detour. Small Axe 1 July 2023; 27 (2 (71)): 1–17. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/07990537-10795167
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