This essay starts from a consideration of the conditions of the emergence of Aimé Césaire's long poem Notebook of a Return to the Native Land in terms of the problem racial enunciation presents for lyric form. The essay proposes the working thesis that Césaire's Notebook is an occasional poem, or a poem of circumstance, but where the occasion in question is of a highly paradoxical sort, namely, decolonization. Taking the poem's long period of open composition and revision (1935–56) as the central problem, the essay goes on to sketch a mode of “circumstantial reading” that would circumvent a reductively historicist understanding of how the poem, its ideas, and its poetics move through time. Underlying the argument is a claim about a particular conjugation of race and time in which contingency converts to necessity and circumstance is not reliably ephemeral.

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