During the height of the fascist Vichy regime in Martinique, Aimé Césaire was secretly at work on a forceful historical drama with the title "...... Et les chiens se taisaient"—"...... and the Dogs Were Silent." The plot of the drama follows the events of the Haitian Revolution and the tragic destiny of its leader, Toussaint L’Ouverture, determined to die betrayed in a frozen cell in the Jura mountains rather than compromise his truth. The typescript could’ve cost Césaire his livelihood—if not more—had it been found by the Vichy authorities. In late 1943, he finally sends the 107 pages to André Breton in New York. But smuggled truth under fascism is only half of the story. By the end of the war, when fascism gave way to liberal colonialism, history and theater had receded from the text, its blows softened, and the line "mort aux blancs"—"kill the whites"—repeated 69 times in the typescript, reduced to one appearance in the restrained oratorio published in Paris in 1946 in the aftermath of WWII—the text familiar to readers today. As with similar attempts at presenting black armies decimating white armies, history didn’t find its proper stage.
In 2019, the insistence of racism and imperialism summon again their corollary, a virulent fascism. In these ulcerous times, I hope this other Césaire—singing the surrealism of unapologetic black victory and defiance for a time that is ours and not—can be an added source of welcome reflection and jolt.