Aimé Césaire: “Notebook of a Return to the Native Land”
translated and edited by Clayton Eshleman & Annette Smith
with an introduction by André Breton
Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2001, xxii + 68 pp.
Copyright © by Arthur Durkee, 2/7/02
the purpose of an edition of a work is to entice you to dive deeply into
the rest of a writer’s oeuvre, then this edition of Aimé Césaire’s
“Notebook of a Return to the Native Land” (1939) succeeds admirably.
After being asked to review the Notebook, and having read it through, I
was pulled into an in-depth study of Césaire’s other work, not
against my will, that absorbed me for weeks before I was able to come
back to the Notebook and review it in context. The Notebook is a work
that deserves to be read more than once, so that fresh effects can be
gleaned on each re-reading. For that reason alone, this edition is
useful to have on your shelves.
But another chief value of this edition is the inclusion of André Breton’s homage to Césaire, “A Great Black Poet,” written in 1943, and intended as an introduction for the first bilingual edition of the Notebook. It is a Surrealist panegyric, essentially, an homage to a poetic colleague discovered almost by accident (as if by fate), and refreshing enough that one can forgive the faint hint of patronizing tone (the Established Great European Writer introducing the Unknown Black Poet from the Colonies); such was the nature of the times. Breton was a tireless promoter of the artists he appreciated, Césaire among them, and to him we owe thanks for making artists such as Césaire more visible than they might otherwise have been.
The Notebook of a Return to the Native Land begins with violence but also languor, the slow afternoons of a childhood on a beautiful island ruled by tyrants:
At the end of daybreak . . .
Beat it, I said to him, you cop, you lousy pig, beat it, I detest the flunkies of order and the cockchafers of hope . . . .
of the book-length poem is written in prose-poem paragraphs, alternating
with sections of short lines that open out at the end of the poem into
longer lines, giving a sensation of expanding spatially, opening
outwards to the stars. Throughout, the Notebook retains a feeling of
being unfinished, somewhat unpolished, spontaneous-- of being almost
improvised. Punctuation is erratic and idiosyncratic, making the poem
feel, in some ways, like one long sentence: a single hour in the mind of
the unnamed narrator. The mood shifts rapidly from cry to whisper, from
anger to memory, and sorrow to ekstasis. At one moment we are the ship
of the Island, plowing the sea--the ship also being the slave ships, and
the ship of state, and of history--at other moments we are grounded in
smells of mango trees in the afternoon. The overall form of the poem is
dreamlike, hallucinatory: deliré, that quality of delirium that Rimbaud
sought after, the derangement of the senses, into a new synaesthetic
form. The form of the Notebook on the page is alternately prosodic and
enjambed, so that one is never quite sure of where the line between poem
and prose actually falls; this adds to the delirium, usually to good
While I occasionally find annoying the more overt moments wherein Césaire employs the Surrealist methodology to disturb and distort, the overall effect is successfully evanescent, hallucinatory, and delirious. Césaire is masterful at evoking the sights and sounds of his childhood, and bringing you into the pure sensuality of the experience; at times, he is even able to evoke smells in the reader’s memory. Smells are closely linked with memory, and I know few poets who are able to evoke them this clearly; reading Césaire can be as sensual a pleasure as it is intellectual.
At his very best, Césaire pulls you into the Notebook visually AND sensually, and you follow his imagery in an almost-dream of imagery and aroma. You are deluged with a constant stream of sensory overwhelm, and pulled into the images, sounds, and smells of Martinique:
. . . then at evening an unimposing little church, which would benevolently make room for the laughter, the whispers, the secrets, the love talk, the gossip and the guttural cacophony of a plucky singer and also boisterous pals and shameless hussies and shacks up their guts in succulent goodies, and not stingy, and twenty people can crowd in, and the street is deserted, and the village turns into a bouquet of singing, and you are cozy in there, and you eat good, and you eat hearty and there are blood sausages, one kind only two fingers wide twined in coils, the other broad and stocky, the mild tasting of wild thyme, the note one spiced to an incandescence, and steaming coffee and sugared anise and milk punch, and the liquid sun of rums. . . .
is also nostalgia, a catalogue of childhood memories that form the
foundation matrix of experience, especially in the first section of the
Notebook, which is the poem’s launching pad. The imagery is what works
best here, and it is the memory of both imagery and the richly evoked
smells of Martinique that sustain the foundation of the rest of the
Notebook. But even here, after an evocation of the joys of singing
together--the word “ecstasy” is even the poet’s in a later
line--culminates in a cinematic pull-back to the wider context of
. . . And not only do the mouths sing,
but the hands, the feet, the buttocks, the genitals, and your entire
being liquefies into sounds, voices, and rhythm.
At the peak of its ascent, joy bursts like a cloud. The songs don’t stop, but roll now anxious and heavy through the valleys of fear, the tunnels of anguish and the fires of hell. . . .
syntactical style and also this turning towards darkness, and to some
extent even the word-choices employed, put Césaire’s Notebook firmly
in the French tradition of Lautremont, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, and the
early Char. (This also reminds me at times of Conrad Aiken’s
self-described poetic symphonies, for example the “Lamia” movement
of “The Jig of Forslin.”) The power of this style and tradition is
its hallucinatory derangement of the senses: deliré, delirium, in the
sense of terra infirma. At its best, deliré succeeds in removing the
sense of solid ground from the reader. But there is a tendency to
collapse into adolescent shock-for-shock’s-sake, which describes most
of Rimbaud’s writings, regardless of the other ways in which his work
Allowing for the times in which the Notebook was written, I feel that for the most part Césaire evades this trap, only falling into it occasionally, as if by accident. These are those moments when the scaffolding shows--when the unpolished and unedited spontaneity seem to collapse into languor rather than ekstasis--and they can be as irritating as the obvious Surrealist tropes. Perhaps it is unfair to read the Notebook from the twenty-first century, with a post-post-Modern mindset aware of all that has passed between, rather than from within the context of the poem’s own time: but this is exactly what the average reader will do, one who discovers this little Notebook on the shelves of a local bookstore, and hears the summons to dive in and read.
So, fair or not, the Notebook does read, to the twenty-first century mind, as somewhat dated. It was an important work when it was first printed, for social as well as artistic reasons. Yet I don’t know if it can stand the test of time, except as a work mentioned for its importance to its own era. The Notebook was a breakthrough, a call to literary arms, and a first shout of self-liberation; it reads as an important historical document. (For that reason alone I value having this edition on my shelves.) But purely as a poetic experience? I find myself turning to other books of Césaire’s first, such as “Lost Body” (Corps perdu, 1950).
If you are young and angry, or if you have remained militantly political into your late adulthood, then the Notebook may sustain you, and even help you liberate yourself. But anger is an emotion more often found in the young, while the wisdom of experience more often tempers rage into lyric. Césaire’s own later poetry, such as Lost Body or “Ferraments” (Ferrements, 1960), shows this progression in his own oeuvre, from rage to deepening reconciliation. If you were to visit Martinique, and run on her beaches under the hot sun of Caribe, your body would loosen and merge with the surf, your mind would gradually fade into sheer ekstasis of being alive, as you “lose your mind and come to your senses.” In my experience, this ekstasis happens even if you are running past barbed wire, or know it’s there even if you can’t see it. Césaire learns this, as he continues to write over the length of his lifetime; purely for quality of poetry, he is in my opinion more likely to be remembered for Lost Body, or his other later work. Nevertheless, the Notebook is not discardable. That sections of the Notebook contain moments of ekstasis sustains the work beyond its political sentiments, and give it more life than it would have had were it only a screed.
So, here lie my major reservations with the Notebook as a work of art, read on its own as such. At its best, the Notebook is a cri de couer--but at its worst it collapses into social-political cant. I both agree with and try to pursue in my own life the political sentiments expressed by Césaire, which have much in common with other liberationist philosophies, including the Liberation Theology that appeared in South America; in this sense, Césaire prefigures poets such as Cardenal and Neruda, in his most politicized works. But good politics do not automatically make for good art. Let me say that again, because political stance is a trope that is taken far too seriously in modern poetry criticism: Good politics do not AUTOMATICALLY make for good art.
Much has been made of Césaire being one of the founders of the Negritude literary movement--a movement that in some ways pre-figures and anticipates Black Power and the Civil Rights movements of decades later. Each contain similar mythemes of liberation, of throwing off the oppressor, and most importantly, of the refusal to view oneself through the eyes of the dominant culture, but to work to achieve a self-determined and internally-generated view of the world and of self. (For the descendants of African slaves in the Western world, there is still debate as to whether this has been achieved. All-Black TV sitcoms are not, in my opinion, a sign of victory, smacking as they often do of stereotypical minstrel show humor. Similarly, most of the popular music industry remains subject to a de facto apartheid.) This striving to create a self-identity free of the past and its burdens is always evolutionary, and positive. It is a personal evolution, as much as a cultural one.
However, Negritude, ultimately, devolves into another literary -ism. And the problem with literary -isms, universally, is that after the first surge of creative power is past, when the political landscape comes to dictate or shape the artistic content--this is the very definition of “political correctness”--what we are left with is rarely good art. Usually it is not art at all, but political cant. So, while Césaire is rightly lauded as one of the founders of Negritude as a literary movement, only future years will tell if his poems stand the test of time, especially his more political poems, including the Notebook. That the Notebook will be remembered as a key text for its time and its movement is not in doubt, I am willing to accede; but I don’t know if it will still be read purely as poetry, 400 years from now. The parts of the Notebook I like least are the PC parts; the sections I like best lead to a more human, more open ekstasis.
This new translation of Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, as is mentioned in the Translator’s Notes, corrects some textual and structural errors in the version published by the same translators in “Aimé Césaire: The Collected Poetry” (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983). So, for the Césaire completist, and for anyone interested in diving deeply into the writing of the Negritude movement (see part II of this review, below), this translation is essential. However, if I were going to give a work of Césaire’s to someone who is completely unfamiliar with his work, as a way of enticing them to read more, I would more likely recommend Lost Body, especially in the edition that contains the Picasso drawings that were originally made to accompany the text (New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1986). The lyricism in “Lost Body” was, for me at any rate, ultimately more compelling than much of the Notebook, if only because it is a less overtly political work. Some of the same terrain is covered, but the tone is more inward, quieter, and thus in some ways more subversive--it sneaks up on you instead of being obvious. In Lost Body, Césaire does not shout, he sings and whispers. But if a shout is what you want, the Notebook remains essential reading.
his 1969 play, A Tempest, which is a conscious re-working of
Shakespeare’s last play, Césaire overtly lays out some of the
arguments of Negritude: Caliban becomes a black slave and Ariel a
mulatto slave, while Prospero is portrayed as a mostly dull-witted
slaveowner, driven by cultural inertia and his own sense of displaced
entitlement. When it comes to understanding Caliban’s view of the
world, Prospero just doesn’t “get it.” One new character is added
to the play, by the way: Eshu, the Yoruban god of the crossroads, of
chance, and a Trickster. Eshu has become an important symbol for many
African-Americans, both as a liberator who frees, and as the Devil at
the crossroads, waiting for minstrels like Robert Johnson to sell their
souls for the gifts of music and poetry. (cf. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.,
“The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary
Criticism,” Oxford University Press, 1988.) Caliban becomes an
ennobled slave, while Prospero is a blind, self-deluded oppressor. In a
re-write of Shakespeare, the play ends with the two antagonists
remaining on the island haunted by spirits, endlessly warring with one
another, while everyone else goes home. Caliban’s final long speech in
the play, which predictably has no effect on Prospero’s actions, can
be read as a capsule summation of the entire thrust of the argument of
[Caliban:] .... Prospero, you’re a
you’re an old hand at deception.
And you lied to me so much,
about the world, about myself,
that you ended up by imposing on me
an image of myself:
underdeveloped, in your words, undercompetent
that’s how you made me see myself!
And I know that one day
my bare fist, just that,
will be enough to crush your world!
The old world is crumbling down! . . .
(A Tempest, trans. by Richard Miller, Ubu Repertory Theater Publications, pp. 64-65)
speech, taken as viewpoint, locates Negritude near the rhetoric of
Marcus Garvey, of Elijah Muhammad and his Nation of Islam, of the early,
angrier Malcolm X, and even of the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King at
their most passionate. It is, again, the cry of the oppressed towards
self-determination; the rejection of the mindset of the slave; and the
search to define oneself. It is worth quoting here from Dr. King:
So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice--or will we be extremists for the cause of justice? (from "Letter From a Birmingham Jail")
This quote exemplifies Dr, King’s prophetic movement away from
anger towards reconciliation and mutual interdependence that Caliban and
Prospero, in Césaire’s version of the play, never achieve. Perhaps Césaire,
by the time he wrote A Tempest, believed they never COULD be achieved;
the play, at least, is darkly pessimistic. The Notebook, written 30
years earlier, achieves a transcendent lift-off in its final pages: the
ship of the journey, always veering suddenly in new directions, moves at
last up into the stars, driven by the narrator’s wild thirst for
freedom. Perhaps by 1969, when A Tempest was published, Césaire,
affected by a lifetime of political service, became less able to be
hopeful about the future prospects of liberation for himself and his
III. Postscript: On the art of writing
from pain and/or oppression:
can of course write of personal painful experiences, from the loss of a
child to the metaphorical or literal gunfire of social and political
regimes, from rape, and from less physical, more spiritual sources of
angst. The problem, always, is when the artistry gets lost under the
message. Case in point:
One of the most painful poetry/theatre performances I have ever experienced was one time in Madison, WI, in the early 1990s, wherein a woman who was someone I had previously collaborated artistically with, re-enacted her rape experience on-stage. This was part of a larger performance art piece she had assembled, and it was successfully shocking, as it arrived on-stage with no foreshadowing. I was one of maybe two men in the theatre that evening; and I felt an extreme desire to make myself as invisible as possible. It was extremely uncomfortable to be sitting in that audience, even though personally I could never be accused of participating in a rape. The male gender was indicted, implicitly and explicitly, and no regard of the fact that the audience was dominantly LGBT was made.
Then, not too many months later, I saw Laurie Anderson perform her “Empty Places” tour show, also in Madison. (The woman performer I mention above was also in the audience.) Laurie also described a painful experience, at the end of the show, where she had stepped out of a cab and fallen into a manhole, seriously injuring herself. She described how, in the emergency room, waiting to be attended, there were other people in extreme pain. At one point, a man turned to someone next to him, crying as she sat there waiting for her crushed feet to be bandaged, and said, “Wow . . . that must really hurt.” Laurie recited this sitting cross-legged on the front edge of a mostly-darkened stage--these were the words that closed the show. Blackout.
My point is this: Laurie Anderson, unlike the previously described performer, took her painful experiences and processed them through her art to MAKE art. She did not simply re-experience them, or thrust them upon the audience, forcing the audience to re-experience them WITH her; she carefully chose to relate only the most telling details, then presented them from a detached perspective. I’m not talking about ironic distance, either--that post-modern trope wherein everything is viewed as if on an equal playing field, and regarded from a slightly condescending scaffold above the fray. No, I’m referring, if anything to the Wordsworthian idea that a little time needs to happen between pain and poetry, that “poetry is emotion recollected after time.” While I don’t entirely ascribe to Wordsworth’s opinions on the matter--I think Bashō was wiser, ultimately--there is a kernel of truth here about what makes good art vs. screed or cant.
Good art is made by filtering experience through the artist’s experience and person, not merely by simply repeating the facts. Facts alone are essay. Art requires transcendence as well as immanence, and the alchemical transformation of experience into expression. If it’s just a recitation of facts, it’s not art. No one style or trope can be depended upon to generate art. Surrealism per se does not make a poem, a point I see many literary critics completely missing. Neither tactic nor form serve to guarantee success; it either sings, or it doesn’t. Neither do politics--even laudable politics--nor raw pain, nor therapy, ensure that a poem is any good.
Although I do not completely subscribe to the idea that one can assess a poem’s success fully apart from its context, or its argument, I DO think that we need to do more of that in modern criticism. FAR too much of modern published poetry these days is little more than journal notes, something one writes down to share with one’s therapist--and is excused on those grounds. (Hal Sirowitz has had two books published on exactly these criteria.) FAR too much poetry criticism excuses bad art on the grounds of good politics. (Breton was occasionally guilty of that, in some of his various boosterisms.) I believe it is possible to assess a work of art AS a work of art--not in a “vacuum” of “Art for art’s sake”--but on the grounds of whether it succeeds in affecting the viewer or reader. One can judge technical merit--does the scaffolding show, or does the poem create a self-coherent world that pulls the reader in?--and one can also judge emotional resonance--does the poem resonate with my own life experience? (Which can include calling one towards the inexperienced, the evanescent, the transcendent, and the gritty.) Politics, while affecting what the poet chooses to write ABOUT, should not be what the poet is WRITING, nor should politics be used as an excuse to accept a lower standard of artistic quality.
On these grounds, I have to rate Césaire’s Notebook of a Return to the Native Land a partial success, a brilliant attempt that almost--not quite--succeeds. I DO recommend that one go out and read it immediately--just know that, every so often, the scaffolding is going to appear behind the scenery--and do not expect perfection.
[Dan replies: Outstanding essay & review- the only flaw 1 might point to is that there is no mention of the translators, nor success of the translation itself; although your approach to the translation as the poem itself might bespeak a success. This review proves that the middle ground of opinion can be just as piquant as a firebrand damnation or extended tongue. The Academic bottomfeeders at Rain Taxi & Ruminator Review should be forced to read this- & pay you for a crash course in reviewing. The piece’s discursiveness is also useful, not the usual intellectual preening just to set the bar between reviewer & reader as unbridgeable. Let me, for the umpteenth time, reiterate my concurrence with your take on politics & art. (Apropos your mention of Ms. Anderson I had a horrid flashback of a 1980s trip to see Karen Finley at a Manhattan club where she shat onstage & smeared herself with her own feces & chocolate syrup!) The point is- when the politics of an art piece has more weight than the art of an art piece the art is almost always destined for death. Politics almost always entombs the art in its time- making it a mere curio, rather than utile thing. This is fundamentally a different take than saying merely ‘Art for art’s sake!’ or ‘Art must not be political!’. To not see that is dumb &/or a manifestation of politics, itself, rearing its hideous mien. I.e.- if & when I want my art to be political- as artist or audience- I prefer my art with politics in it, over politics as art! The list of cadaverous ‘political’ artists grows with each passing year, while great artists- say W.B. Yeats- perdure- why? See my earlier points!
Clayton Eshleman & Art Durkee:
Date: Fri, 8 Feb 2002 00:13:11 EST
You're quite correct! Mea culpa!
In fact, the very "transparency" of this translation by Annette Smith and Clayton Eshleman, its readability and clarity, is one of the things I had intended to mention, and neglected to do so. My deepest apologies! The very fact that, as a reader, I felt like Cesaire was speaking directly to me, is a signature of what makes for a good translation. The translators SHOULD be invisible--albeit acknowledged--and not interfere between the reader and the poet.
As a sometime French speaker myself, I also appreciated the fact the translators have maintained the "feel" of the original language so well in this translation: the syntax, the manner of phrasing, the "flow" of the words, the word-choices--all these elements are part of what identify Cesaire's poetic lineage as belonging to that of Lautremont, Baudelaire, and the rest, and the translators are to be lauded for bringing that "sense" of the language across. Since modern English contains a healthy dose of infused
French syntax and word borrowings (think Norman Invasion, A.D. 1066 and all
that), it is quite possible to evoke French within English using both word-choice and syntax--but not every translator thinks to do it. I have suffered through more than one translation of French poetry where the translator made the language clunk, like some remnant Anglo-Saxon Grendel, rather than flow. Eshleman and Smith avoid this mistake nimbly.
Eshleman and Smith are in fact responsible for all of the current good translations of Aime Cesaire into English, and their championing of Cesaire among other writers is to be commended. It is this kind of work that becomes a community service to readers and poets everywhere. I may be able to read some French, but I'd never have the time it takes to undertake a translation project of such magnitude. I'm grateful to have Cesaire in English.
Dan, if you'd be willing to add this reply to your comments below, to Cosmoetica, I'd be grateful. Thanks!
Eshleman: (via Durkee)
Subject: Fwd: Addendum
Date: Fri, 8 Feb 2002 12:50:48 EST
From: caryl eshleman <firstname.lastname@example.org >
Subject: Re: Addendum
Date: Fri, 08 Feb 2002 08:44:50 -0500
i checked the cosmoetica site and schneider did not include your addendum. i was shocked by your failure to review the Notebook translation as a translation. in your addendum (which you, dan, and i can read) you at least start to approach evaluating the actual book you read! lost body is hardly a whisper. the title poem has one of the most
wrenching and hysterical endings of any cesaire poem.
i respect your critical position, in as much as you are entitled to evaluate the poem as it strikes you in 2002. and your review seems honest, and thoughtful. but you seem to not be aware of what it was to write this poem in the late 1930s. the Notebook seems to come out of nowhere and i think breton's response to it is remarkable and accurate. cesaire's assimilation and forwarding of the new aesthetic inaugurated by mallarme is
quite extraordinary. there is so much more to be said about this poem, that records in a way that no other poem of the century has the development and expansion of a man becoming aware of himself in the context of his people and their exploitation (i address this in a note on the poem in our book).
i feel you should press schneider to add your addendum, as without it it is almost as if you are reviewing a poem that is not a translation! i say "almost," as you do of course mention that it is a translation--but not much more.
i do not seek to be patted on the back, but i do feel it is appropriate that annette smith's and my long and extremely conscientious labor (that is the word) on this 20th century masterpiece (botched by all other translators) be recognized.
To: Stickdragn@aol.com (Art Durkee), email@example.com
Subject: Fwd: Addendum
Date: Fri, 08 Feb 2002 18:40:19 +0000
1) I did not include the addendum because Art did not send it till about 9 am today.
2) I rec'd it while at work. I actually work a 40 hour a week job & am not the archetypal artist-at-large with infinite time to muse. I am not home & cannot add it
till tomorrow when I have some time. I have errands, chores, & writing time allotted for myself tomorrow. When I go online I will add it. I cannot tonight since from work I will be going to my poetry group where I will prob see Art. I also had to wake at 4 am to drive my wife to the airport.
3) It's disturbing enough when teenaged children wannabe artists constantly whine & feel the world is out to get them- that this seems to be a province you decamp in is
all the more tiring. You're what- 66, 67? This paranoia is silly. Why would I have mentioned the point to Art in the 1st place had I not thought it- & called it- the
only flaw in an otherwise excellent piece?
4) I'm not even going to respond to your objections to Art's opinions since a) I've not read the book, b) they do not deal with the very points of Art's critiques on the poem nor politics-in-art in general & c) ala the Adrienne Rich poem I dissected earlier, you seem incapable of actually conversing with a dissenter w/o paranoid & childish take-my-blocks-&-go-home reactions.
5) I also see a tendency to conflate things, be they people (like AR) or beliefs (like AC's) you like with automatically being of quality. That's your choice, but
is intellectually void. A fellow on my e-list, Don Moss, yester forwarded an example of liberal gobbledygook that was foisted as political argument. I admitted it was but
that the conservative writer was practicing sleight-of-hand of his own. Don, [this eml is copied to my e-list by the way, just so there can be no backbiting he said,
she said BS later] here's the artistic equivalent from CE's email:
'cesaire's assimilation and forwarding of the new aesthetic inaugurated by mallarme is quite extraordinary. there is so much more to be said about this poem, that records in a way that no other poem of the century has the development and expansion of a man becoming aware of himself in the context of his peopleand their exploitation'
That Art addressed this aspect of the work is something you may have missed since you seem intent on petulance, reading only what you will, & ignoring the man's FUCKING mea culpa!
6) I will post Art's addendum, & if you wish, your upbraiding of him, as well this email by me. I've no problem in fighting & in public- I've done it all my life. I'll also let you post a formal rebuttal to Art's piece, & give Art his final comment on the contretemps.
See my essay on literary hoaxes & Kent Johnson's feeble tarbaby rebuttals. It's your choice if you wanna appear paranoid, unforgiving, & churlish online. I WILL NOT
ALTER even a typo nor comma from this. As I sd, my e-list can record this fact! I doubt you will, because as in the AR poem (where I offered you full rebuttal - & you declined) there's a part of you that knows yr in the wrong- this is why you snipe so harshly at Art's error. Of course, between us- it's not an error. Art MEANT to fuck with your mind- he's a real SOB that way! (Stop that sinister giggling in the back row!)
Let me end with this. After the 2nd or 3rd email to me you upbraided me for responding to your emails as if you were a child. Clayton, your tone invites it. I don't
care if you were Whitman, Shakespeare, Goethe, & Michelangelo rolled in to 1; if you treat people like shit & whine all the time, then don't complain if someone slips you a schnooly- you're German, you know what that means!
Now- 1) the addendum will be up tomorrow, Sunday latest. I have alot of BS to do this weekend- no grassy knoll. 2) I will post yr upbraid, this eml & the other stuff mentioned if you want it up. Otherwise I won't. 3) I think you owe Art an apology for your tone. Remember- you asked HIM to review it after I declined. He got paid
not a cent for it! 4) In the future, pls. show a little maturity & level-headedness in yr correspondences. I've found your tendencies amusing & have let alot slide by simply because I realize you are seeking to find people who will propound those beliefs & artists you hold dear- cool. But, Brother, between you & me- grow up, chill out, & learn to enjoy life. You may not have that many years left. Art is supposed to be FUN, it's not this life & death struggle between Darth Vader & Mickey Mouse- & pls. save the lectures- I've prob seen more people killed in my lifetime than you & all of your clan have in the generations since they 1st came down from the trees. I need no political schooling from you.
To end, stop crying! DAN
From: caryl eshleman <firstname.lastname@example.org
Cc: Art Durkee <Stickdragn@aol.com
Subject: Re: Addendum
Date: Fri, 08 Feb 2002 14:59:41 -0500
i assumed the addendum, which i appreciated, would not be added, since it was not a part of the review. if you want to add it, add it. it is up to you. it is your site.
your message is hysterical and stupid. you know nothing about my life, and as usual, where you smell difference you smell shit. it happens i teach full time at eastern michigan university, shop and cook for myself and my wife who is in pain all the time with serious fybromyalgia. i also perform a lot of academic duties for my university, like serving on hiring committees,setting up readings for student and faculty. i am about the last person in the world who needs a lecture from someone like you.
i criticized art's piece for his failure to recognize what i consider to be the extraordinary appearance of such a poem in the mid-1930s. i also told him that i respected his viewpoint, and that i was sad that nothing apparently would be said about the years of work that annette and i put into the poem. since you know nothing about translation you should respect that. your attack on me is cartoonish and would be funny were it not so mean-spirited. when you detect disagreement you fire your shotgun. you have not read the cesaire translation, nor our notes, nor the breton introduction. yet you tell art it is a splendid review and whip me because i don't feel the same way. are you not aware of the hollowness in this?
art's review is not a bad one, and i said so. that apparently is not enough for you, since art appears to be one of your currently anointed. you can print what i wrote to art if you want to, as long as you print this, so that my position is clear. you are so desperately angry that you have no way to detect nuance and difference. as you very well know i originally wrote you in a colleagial spirit, sent you work for your site, and said nothing when you ridiculed adrienne rich and paul celan. if you want to see what i write, as a
poet/scholar/critic, read my new book, Companion Spider, which wesleyan just
frankly i do not want to get into it with you on your site; you would be sure to see that anyone who does would be tarred and feathered. as you scream at me that i am a baby you tell me that art is fun! i fear you don't even see the irony in this.
and frankly, i do not have the poisonous anger in me that you appear to have. you know very well that i can enter into an exchange, as i have with you. what i refuse to do is to respond rationally to your outbursts. given your outburst--the one on my screen--i'd say this is a pretty reasonable answer.
i did not ask art to review the book. i asked you too, and you suggested that art would be a more informed reviewer for such a book. so i contacted him and offered to have wesleyan send him a review copy.
the base line is this: you published a review of a book you have not read; when i emailed durkee that i was unhappy about the addendum not being used, and that i disagreed with some of his response to the book, you went berserk. now if your position still makes sense to you, then i will have nothing more to say to you.
Cc: Stickdragn@aol.com (Art Durkee)
Subject: Re: Addendum (fwd)
Date: Fri, 08 Feb 2002 20:14:50 +0000
You are correct in that I pointed you to Art. But you still asked him- no?
The fact you can't see how you dissed Art speaks more than I can say. I recall how you raged when he initially conflated your Sulfur site with another site. A simple mind-burp brought yr wrath down upon him. I'll have the addendum up by the weekend as I sd. I will let Arthur, himself, decide if he wants this contretemps posted. I don't care either way- but it is a hoot.
BTW- The Drunken Boat website has asked me to do a piece on all the BS I encountered over the 1st year of the site. Jason Sanford may contribute a companion
piece. In it I mention how 1 of these days (since actual missive correspondence is dead) I have a potential bestseller titled 'Emails from Idiots' (or Morons- haven't decided) about all the assorted loony shit I've gotten. It'll blow any other 'Letters' books out of the goddamn water. Thanks for another chapter. Jess, I guess I win the bet on how long it takes people to show their true colors. Arthur, it's your call on posting all this crap. See ya tonight! DAN
ENDGAME: Last night I met Art at the UPG & he
was very depressed & disgusted over the whole ‘L’affaire
d’Eshleman’. He didn’t care whether I posted it, but cited this
kind of behavior as a major reason he’d abandoned Academia in his
youth. After talking with Jess last night I decided this thing should be
posted. It certainly is as emblemic of Academia’s ill as my previous
exposure of poetry hoaxer Kent Johnson.
Clayton is an old pro at the backstabbing & gameplaying Academia encourages. Note how he never addresses a point directly, feigns indignance, & all the while avoids apologizing to Art. He laces his 2nd reply- much more measured in tone (after realizing I was making these emails public- of course he wants these posted, otherwise why such a 180° shift in tone?)- with his philosophy, silly political stances- oblivious to the fact this was what Art found wanting in the book, & then counters with a book plug & (consummate showmanship, CE!) c.v. of his life & job- as if taking care of a sick wife excuses being a petulant prick. He also admits he assumed I would not post the addendum, yet a look at the email’s time would show anyone I did not have the time to do so- that he did not bother with. The minute I read the review I warned Art Clayton would go apeshit. Unfortunately, I’m an optimist, because no matter how low I set my expectations of artists’ behaviors they always prove me wrong by sinking lower. I just haven’t learned to expect the absolute worst. CE’s reply was as predictable as his small purview on life. Note the section I quote from CE to Don Moss [the only alteration I made in these emails was italicizing that section for contrast]- this is more gobbledygook designed to impress big-titted coeds. Professors learn to write like this all the time- regardless of their opinion. Being breastless, people as Don & me are unimpressed.
People- this is Academia in the raw- all the cronyism & attempted cronyism. Read the sequence again- I’ve left some obvious points unpointed out because they are so transparent. I post this because it serves a valuable purpose for younger artists to learn from- & given CE is an old pro at exploiting opportunities, it’s only fair I post this & use him the way he’s- no doubt- used countless others. DAN, 2/9/02
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