Notebook of a Return to the Native Land (1939)
By Aime Cesaire
Notebook of a Return to the Native Land is a mixture of prose and lyrical poetry. There isn’t a logical narrative structure to this poem. Instead, the poem consists of abrupt juxtapositions, shifts within themes and content, and repetition of certain phrases and words that make this lyrical narrative frustrating to read at times.
In this poem, Aime Cesaire calls forth for the unification of all black people in various areas. He expresses the horrors of colonization and how it positions blacks to be at the bottom of a hierarchal structure. He cites various incidents of slavery and discrimination to support his points. In the end, the narrator realizes that it’s his duty is to be a leader in his community and also discovering and accepting his blackness as something special and powerful.
There are two movements that contributed to Aime Cesaire’s writing. The first is the art and literary movement known as “Surrealism.” In surrealism, artists and writers are blending reality into dream-like settings and vice versa. Artists and writers would allow the unconscious mind to express itself in their work, creating illogical scenes where “objects don’t appear as they are in reality. ” As a result, you can’t tell what is real and what isn’t. The best example I can think of is the surrealist painter, Salvador Dali. Now as a reader, you read these surrealistic moments when Cesaire uses jargon from a specific region, phrases that describe objects and nature in a manner where you have to guess the subject, and the shifting juxtapositions embedded throughout the lyrical prose. The grammar used isn’t illogical but rather, it is experimental and automatistic, in which Cesaire lets his unconscious mind flow into his words to the point where it can confuse the reader. There were moments where I was confused as to what Cesaire was trying to say, but it wasn’t because I’m an incompetent reader, but rather his way of writing is unfamiliar. It takes a lot of patience and slow reading to try to fully grasp what he’s trying to say.
The second movement that this text is associated with is the Negritude movement during the 1930s. A movement that was founded by Francophone scholars, writers, and politicians of the African diaspora. The movement aimed to spread the power of Black consciousness around Africa and areas where there is a large population of African ancestry. This movement takes the derogatory term about black people and transforms the term into something positive. They take ownership of the term and cultivate an identity that empowers “blackness.” The Negritude movement was influenced by the surrealist style of writing and have written about topics such as “black” identity, African culture, and anti-colonialism.
Notebook of a Return to the Native Land isn’t my type of poetry, but the themes and issues discussed in this lyrical narrative are relatable for those who are of African descent and are trying to appreciate their “black” identity. In my opinion, if the city of Wakanda actually existed, this book, Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, would be a text integrated into their culture.