Aimé Césaire’s Immortal, Eminently Quotable Line

From Notebook of a Return To My Native Land:

For it is not true that the work of man is finished,
That we have nothing more to do in the world,
That we are just parasites in this world,
That it is enough for us to walk in step with the world,
For the work of man is only just beginning and it remains to conquer all,
The violence entrenched in the recess of his passion,
And no race holds a monopoly of beauty, of intelligence, of strength, and,
There is a place for all at the Rendezvous of Victory.

— Aimé Césaire

I read the closing line of that excerpt first in Edward Said‘s The Politics of Dispossesion: The Struggle for Palestinian Self-Determination and since then, have quoted it extensively in conversation and also used it as the epigraph to the concluding chapter of my book Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket. (There, I quoted it in the translated form that I first encountered it: ‘there are enough spoils at the rendezvous of victory for everyone’.)

Why am I so enamored of this line?

It is, of course, as all great segments of poetry are, simple and powerful simultaneously. With one stroke it dismisses the notion of politics as a zero-sum game and dispenses with the temptation to indulge in the raising of false dichotomies as barriers to action. It is evocative: the ‘rendezvous of victory’ is a yet to be attained destination that calls for journey and sacrifice, but not alone, rather, we do so, in the company of others; and what we will find waiting for us at the ‘rendezvous’ will not be a grimly parceled out, diminishing set of ‘spoils’; rather the rendezvous promises enough for all. The translation in the excerpt above has some advantages over the one I first encountered: by speaking of ‘a place for all’ as opposed to ‘spoils’ we sense the table being set for all, an act of generosity that informs and enriches us even as man is sometimes opposed to man.

So with one beautifully phrased line Césaire exposes the falsity of the notion of inevitable conflict, of those who must lose in order to ‘let us win.’ It rejects the inevitability of a grimly Spencerian or Malthusian notion of survival, and the bleak vision of life it brings in its wake, and replaces it with one where man’s actions may lead to a flourishing of not just his life but that of others as well. Our interactions with others become not invitations to deprivation but opportunities for enrichment instead. Thus it urges us to imagine the ‘rendezvous of victory,’ of final attainment, of resolution as a more capacious, generous, place or notion than might have been imagined. Political conflict is typically painted for us in the relentlessly grim colors of survival, conjuring images of the polis red in tooth and claw, its ecology requiring inevitable sacrifice. Césaire urges us to replace it with the idea that political interactions with others can be mutually enabling.

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