Alex Gil: “This double voice that could pass the censors was key to their survival.”

In response to the recent election, #ADPhD is sharing reflections, short takes, and responses from scholars of slavery. To submit yours, click here.

On November 12 and 14, 2016, Alex Gil, Digital Scholarship Coordinator at Columbia University and one of the editors of sx:archipelagos (the born-digital iteration of Small Axe) posted these reflections on Facebook. They are republished here with his permission.
fonds Destribats
Tropiques, 1941

On November 12, 2016

Yo me he pasado una gran parte de mi vida estudiando a un solo poeta, Aimé Césaire. En 1941, cuando los fascistas blancos ya ocupaban su isla de Martinique, este poeta se dedicó a escribir una obra de teatro en secreto:

“Et les chiens se taisaient” (Y los perros se callaban).

Se recuenta en esta obra los eventos de la revolución haitiana y el cruel destino de su lider Toussaint L’Ouverture, quien muere traicionado en una celda helada en el macizo del Jura. Una vez capturado, su captor, los embajadores, su mama, su hijo y su amante le imploran de capitular y rendirle culto al emperador. El buen rebelde se niega. Yo nunca entendí por qué la obra lleva ese titulo extraño, ya que los perros de la obra son perros de caza. Ya entiendo.

On November 14, 2016

In April of 1941, under the jealous watch of the Vichy censors, Aimé Césaire, Susanne Césaire and a few kin spirits launched the journal *Tropiques*. A cousin of the family had keys to the colonial press, where they would set to work on Sundays when official business took a break. Their journal is a model of censored #antifa cultural journalism. In their able hands, for example, the blood-and-soil poetry of Charles Péguy was offered to a colonized people who could listen to their own landscape and the ties that bind in its lines. This double voice that could pass the censors was key to their survival.

As the journal steamed on, Aimé Césaire was secretly working on a brutally direct historical drama with the title “Et les chiens se taisaient” (And the Dogs Were Silent). The plot of the drama revolved around the events of the Haitian Revolution (see post below). The manuscript could’ve cost him his livelihood—if not his life—had it been found by the fascists. But fascism is only half of the story. After the war, 1946, after fascism had been replaced with liberal colonialism, the line “Kill the Whites,” refrained 70+ times in the original, was reduced to one appearance in the PG-13 oratorio published in Paris for a bruised audience. As with most famous attempts at presenting black armies decimating white armies, history didn’t find its proper stage.

As we move forward together in the days to come, with our minds clear and the truth on our side, let us not forget this strange coexistence of double-speak under censorship and unstaged honesty. Particularly here, where our words, our phrases, and even our unique writing style is a de facto hashtag—a dangerous archive of betrayal and allegiances.

I am with you in the fear of the brave. Let’s do this.

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