Better Late Than Never? (Post on Cesaire & Kingdom of This World)

For this blog post, I will comment on not only Kingdom of This World, but Cesaire’s play as well.

Both texts focus on similar subject matter yet manage to leave the reader with entirely different impressions of the, in Cesaire’s case, titular character: Henri Christoph.

I found that in Kingdom of this world, Cristoph was portrayed as completely evil and insane for the amount of time that he was the focus of the book, with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. I also found it very strange and somewhat irritable that the book skipped entirely over the story of Henri Christoph’s transition from slave chef to absolute monarch, considering that there was minor foreshadowing of his character in one of the passages about M. Mezy, which led me to expect a more prominent featuring of the character.

 

However, what I wanted to know most of all is the significance of many of the supernatural themes such as voodoo, black magic and reincarnation. Examples range from Macandal’s alleged shapeshifting abilities and escape from his execution, Henri Cristoph’s insanity and Ti Noel’s ascension. My possible idea for the significance and importance that the author places on these themes is that they represent some form of escapism. I mean that in the sense that the the perceived notion of the supernatural let’s characters cope with the otherwise unbearable horror of Haitian plantation life.

Returning to King Cristoph, compared to Alejo’s portrayal of the monarch, Cesaire’s┬ácharacter is written in a completely different light. I believe that the audience is to think that Christoph’s intentions were good in the start, and he later on became evil. Lines such as “under no pretext to suffer a return to slavery or any measure prejudicial to the freedom or to the civil and political rights of the Haitian people” near the beginning of the play are contrasted by lines later of “freedom cannot endure without labour” or the outright killing of peasants for little to no reason. It is in this way that I believe that the play has semblance to classical tragedies. King Christoph, while by no means a likeable character, has some of the main qualities present in the tragic heroes of old. He begins with an idealistic vision, but lets himself be consumed by this ideal and eventually transformed into that which he aspires to save his people from.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau: A commentary still relevant today?

Firstly, to all my avid readers, let me apologize for my brief delay in posting this week’s upload. My cousin was over yesterday; she is moving indefinitely to Nicaragua (I am so jealous) and therefore some farewell celebrations were in order.

 

Either way, I digress, now onto the main topic. Rousseau. Some love him, some hate him, I find myself, like many others, stuck in the middle. While I disagree with Rousseau’s idea that the nascent man was superior to the civilised one, I find myself shockingly inclined to agree with him in respect to that many, if not all of the prevalent sins and human vices found today are a direct product of our assimilation into societal life. Take for example, the line: “the body of a savage being the only instrument he knows, he puts it to all sorts of uses of which our bodies, for lack of practice, are incapable; our equipment derives us of that strength and agility which necessity obliges him to acquire.” (82)

Upon initially reading this line, my thoughts instantly turned to our society’s crippling reliance on technology. Escalators and elevators in nearly every building and the notion of driving 5 minutes to buy milk from the corner store amongst other things have rendered many of us incapable of using our bodies physically for longer than several minutes. Being able to hide behind the virtual walls of a computer has led to many members of the younger generation unable to function in a real life conversation. On a psychological level, no longer are people content with what they have. The surplus of information and consumer demand leads companies to upgrade and out date their products almost instantaneously after they are released. Another more personal example, is my need for a calculator to do even the most basic arithmetic, as I have relied on one for so long.

While I am aware that Rousseau’s philosophy goes well beyond this notion of the savage man being more content and more fit to live in this world, I still find it chilling that a line like the one mentioned above, can still hold so much relevance, almost 300 years after it was written. Are we truly changing as a species, or are we stuck in the illusion of change; the same downward spiral that has indeed plagued us since the genesis of society?