Th is book was born of an intuition while writing a conference paper about
Aimé Césaire’s nonnational orientation to decolonization. I wondered
whether it would make sense to suggest that the Haitian Revolution exempli-
fi ed Marx’s subsequent demand that the new social revolution draw its “po-
etry” from the future. All I wanted was one quote from Toussaint Louverture
to set up a discussion of why Césaire committed himself to departmentaliza-
tion in 1946. But I fell into a deep rabbit hole.
I reread James’s Th e Black Jacobins, Marx’s Th e Eigh teenth Brumaire, DuBois’s
Black Reconstruction, and, of course, Césaire’s writings about abolition and de-
colonization. Th e conjuncture of freedom struggles and historical temporality in
these texts led me back to Walter Benjamin, Th eodor Adorno, and Ernst Bloch.
Césaire was helping me grasp their arguments in a new way, and vice versa.
I had regarded this paper as unfi nished business, a loose thread dangling
from the edge of the book I had recently published on the interwar matrix out
of which the Negritude movement emerged. But the more I pulled, the longer
it got. I suspected that I should make myself stop but was unable to contain
the fascinating mess. My twenty- fi ve- page paper blossomed into a fi ft y- page
essay, which then grew into a two- hundred-page pile. I wondered whether it
would be wiser to just write the paper on Léopold Sédar Senghor’s nonna-
tionalist thoughts about decolonization. So I read his parliamentary speeches
from the forties and fi ft ies and began to puzzle over what he meant by federal-
ism and what relation it might have with departmentalization. I read Proud-
hon and revisited Marx’s “On the Jewish Question.” When I then turned back
to Césaire’s parliamentary interventions I realized, with some misgiving, that
I was now facing a book on freedom, time, and decolonization. I conceded
that I was not fi nished writing about Césaire and Senghor. But this book, I
thought, on fi gures whom I already knew, would be comparatively quick and
easy. Hah!
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