The French class I am currently taking is L’experience noir en la littérature de la Caraïb et l’Afrique, or The Black Experience in Caribbean and African literature. Normally I would have taken French Romantic Poetry, or Women Writers of Medieval France, or even Modern France and Advertising. However, none of those classes or anything similar was available this semester. I knew taking a semester off would probably result in a degeneration of my French knowledge, so I reluctantly signed up for L’experience noir.
Aside from some difficulty earlier in the poetry analysis (who knew scansion was triply difficult in French?), the class has done a wonderful job exposing me to writers that I’ve never encountered in English or in French. Currently the topic is the movement “La Negritude,” which was a French literary and social movement inspired by the American Harlem Renaissance. The writings of Damas—short, powerful, staccato poems—and of Césaire—violent and rebellious exhortations—are fascinating. Even though I personally cannot join these men in proclaiming my strength and pride in my African or Caribbean ethnicity (my WASP status is fairly concrete), it’s stirring and emotional to just read their words. The call to arms for human rights after centuries of oppression applies to many peoples throughout history and not only to one particular place or time.
mais l’œvre de l’homme vient seulement de commencer
et aucune race ne possède le monopole de la beauté, de l’intelligence, de la force
[but the work of man has just begun
and no race possesses a monopoly on beauty, on intelligence, on strength]
from Aimé Césaire’s Cahier d’un retour au pays natal