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The CLR James Journal

Volume 26, Issue 1/2, 2020

Justin Izzo, H. Adlai Murdoch
Pages 17-32

René Ménil: Philosophy, Aesthetics, and the Antillean Subject

René Ménil (1907–2004) was a renowned Martinican essayist, critic, and philosopher who, along with Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon, and Edouard Glissant, left an indelible mark on the Franco-Caribbean world of letters and intellectual thought. Ménil saw in surrealism a critical framework, a means to the specific end of exploring and expressing the specificities of the Martinican condition. Ménil assessed Martinique’s pre-war psychological condition through the telling metaphor of relative exoticism, pointing clearly to the typically unacknowledged fact that the exotic is a slippery signifier, dependent on perspective, distance and location. If the core of these conditions were to be recognized and contested, it would have to be addressed at its root, and here, there was no question for him but that colonialism was ultimately enabled by capitalism and its corollaries of avarice and accumulation. His editorship of the journal Tropiquesconstituted cultural combat. Ménil’s thought and writing were arguably aimed at achieving universality out of particularity, and so he eventually broke with Césaire—and more specifically with Senghor—over several key tenets in the Negritude platform, arguing for the actual existence of a Martinican culture. Marxism for Ménil offers a corrective to the perceived shortcomings of Negritude’s political aesthetics, namely its historical blind spots and its foregrounding of mythologized black unity at the expense of class struggle.

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