Shaping and reshaping the Caribbean : the work of Aimé Césaire and René Depestre
This thesis rereads the work of Aimé Césaire and René Depestre as a broad reply to the current drive in Caribbean literary studies to stress similarities and points of convergence between the various islands of the archipelago and their authors. It asks questions such as: how do these two Caribbean writers construct their sense of themselves; how do they relate to the Caribbean and to the wider world; and how do the historical and cultural particularities of their respective islands influence all of this? For Aimé Césaire, I argue that his sense of himself and of the Caribbean is essentially shaped around the circuit triangulaire, the model of Africa/Europe/Caribbean interdependencies, ultimately inherited from the time of the slave trade. I show how Césaire views the Caribbean as a deeply traumatic, insubstantial space; how he looks to Africa for his lost sense of self; and how Europe is at once the malevolent colonial power and also the home of poetry, learning etc. I then compare Césaire's Caribbean "shape" to that of René Depestre, and a quite different model emerges. I find that Africa is relatively absent in Depestre's work: Europe is not presented as a threat; and that Depestre, unlike Césaire, sees, in the Caribbean, an energy and a creativity brought about by the historical fusion of disparate cultures. I consider how the reality of Depestre's long exile from the Caribbean has affected his views of the islands. In conclusion, I bring the argument back to its starting point: the problematic (as I see it) attempt to view and read writing from the Caribbean as one literature. Difference and diversity, I argue, predominate as Caribbean writing embraces the new century, and the whole notion of Caribbeanness undergoes further processes of highly creative splintering and reshaping.