Site Review: Legacies of Césaire

Legacies of Césaire’s homepage is simple, direct, unequivocal, and “utilized.” And, as a site dedicated to (I) extending the textual & bibliographic scholarship surrounding Aimé Césaire and (II)leading users to participate in a two-day event promoting the same, this construction is not necessarily surprising. Text dominates the screen—clean, modern, boxed-in—and a Sisyphean bar bearing the only words of Césaire’s on the page returns the user endlessly to the beginning (a veritable “immobile verrition!”). The introductory paragraph, which includes a mission statement proclaiming the site’s intent to “think Césaire outside and beyond the usual frames,” is supported by four rectangular pillars, which each announce a symmetrically framed academic debate. A grayed-out, partially obscured image of Césaire’s face against a similarly gray background provides perhaps the most (only?) overtly poetic touch, one worth lingering on before clicking deeper.

Césaire’s own “work,” especially his early négritude poetry, is constantly erasing & re-writing itself, floating different identities, natures, countries, and voices to a surface which immediately consumes, distorts, and re-submerges them. This “surface-tension” is immediately apparent, immanent, in the portrait on the webpage. Even Césaire’s expression is rendered uncertain—is he smiling or wincing at the treatment of his “legacies?” In any case, he is looking away from the words, an unclickable icon, reminding us not only that the content of the website will be (intentionally and productively) an incomplete gesture, but that the “work” that can be done on a screen or within text must always exist in tension with the worlds that co-exist outside, under, & above the pixelated surface.

This is important to bear in mind as the user navigates within & around the site, creating ripples, riding waves, tacking and tracking along the motionless currents. Adopting the title bar as his compass, the user’s pointer is next drawn to the purple rectangle containing a more succinct version of the site’s mission statement: “Learn more.” Here we encounter the first shipwreck, replete with information regarding long-sunk events and scattered links—some living, some dead—to scholars and institutions associated with them. Before following the compass out of these submarine bones, the site navigator is enjoined to mull over why they have been left to moulder.

The merging of the “live event” and the archive has never been as seamless and immediate as it is on the Internet, and the problems this creates for the academic world are displayed on this “shipwrecked” page. The first event—the “Researchaton”—was a project of compilation, simultaneously a funerary march of and for old-school scholarship. There are no links on this page to the “created” bibliography: it exists, now, consumed & produced within a database, authorless, and that is enough. Not merely enough; rather, it is the very purpose, evidence, and end of the “work” itself (having always, of course, only just begun). The second event—the “Forum”—is somewhat different. If the Researchathon constitutes the “digital” submerged in “digital humanities,” the Forum suggests the gasping-for-breath “humanity” towards which Césaire’s portrait gazes. In its structure, if not in its text, it seemingly points towards the ultimately secondary character of the online academy: ideas and discussions generated on the website are “culminated” in an irretrievable, unique, proprietary event—one which can no longer (or ever again) be accessed. The live event is both the generator and death of the online discussion, just as “Aimé Césaire” generates and destroys his “work.” All (and that’s a copious “all”) we are left with is the surface—the computer screen, the text, whatever—upon which float and capsize unformed, asignifying islands of meaning, “live events,” out of time. Just so, every day is December 6th, it is always 10am-5pm.

Back on the homepage, after resurfacing, the navigator is invited to follow any of the four academic trade-routes mapped on the lower third of the page. It is within these spaces that Césaire (let’s say Césaire’s “radical questioning”) lives most literally, if not literarily. The logical format (response, counter-response, rejoinder) is reassuring after the jarring displacement of the progressively-cadavering live events—these are the free-standing, ordered & orderly artifacts of the Academy. They are dead, dated, and curated, which allows them the certain virility that comes within or from a stabilized, grounded matrix. These Césairean sections give birth to a multitude of new ideas and ways of thinking about the author, and the discussions and comments—alive in their lack of eschatological hope—are evidence of a burgeoning (albeit clumsy) use of the Internet for scholarship.

However, as further shipwrecks and sandbars impede the flow of information as one explores the shallow channels, it becomes increasingly clear that this region was not designed for marine (or submarine) exploration of Césaire. It is more like a series of canals within the city of Césaire, connecting names, institutes, historical sites, and academic texts while eschewing (or even rejecting) their watery nature. One must return to the “compass” again and again—which perhaps is the point: not only has the work of man (i.e., the societal, technological, ecological and political “missions” of homo faber) “only just begun,” the work of man (as in, what a piece of it he is) is similarly suspended in the endless beginning.

Legacies of Césaire, so self-consciously interested with digitally reincarnating Aimé the poet, politician and scholar, perhaps best achieves its aims as it ages and decays, as its links die, as its relevance is subsumed by its own operation. Digitizing, democratizing, and deterritorializing Césaire’s words, image, and study while standing as a memorial to, and reminder of, the necessity of concrete, physical investment, the site produces a new surface-tension. Or, reflexively, the site is produced by the surface-tension, half submerged, outlined like the tip of an iceberg, or an island. A scar on the ocean of the Internet.

 

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