Césaire and Aidoo

Aimé Césaire speaks to the violent relationship between Europe and its former colonies in his famed Discourse on Colonialism. Equivocating its existence for centuries, he laments the gap in scholarship, which places great emphasis on the bloodshed surrounding the Second World War over the West’s nearly four-hundred year history of committing atrocities throughout the Africa and the New World. However, Césaire does not seek to isolate the two; in fact, through his discourse he argues that Nazi and colonial violence are inseparable as they share a similar logic of terror, genocide and racism — with one leading to the other.

Written almost two decades after Césaire’s discourse, Aidoo explores similar themes in Our Sister Killjoy. Solidly beyond the immediate aftermath of World War Two, the ghettos and gas chambers have been closed for several years. Nevertheless, its protagonist, a Ghanaian woman named Sissie, sees the war’s residual effects all throughout her travels in Germany, which encompass the novel’s first eighty pages. This manifests itself most concretely in Sissie’s friendship with a kind, unassuming German woman named Marija. Although claiming to have a husband, ironically named Adolf, he remains unseen for their friendship’s entire duration – leading the reader to believe that he, like so many other young German males might have died in the war. Despite empathizing with Marija and developing a strong relationship with her, Sissie cannot help but feel disdain at the same time. While ostensibly innocent for her countries crimes, she still views Marija as a beneficiary of Western violence, representative of a larger population unwilling to recognize the West’s complicity in past, and ongoing, human rights abuses around the globe. In this sense Aidoo diagnoses the same problem as Césaire, but does not share his universalism.

Upon writing Discourse on Colonialism, Césaire felt that if Europe came to understand that Nazism was not an anomaly, but something that very much came out European imperialism a future cycle of violence could be circumvented. However, Aidoo exhibits a more pessimistic view, observing the West’s ongoing “power to decide who is to live, who is to die, when, where,[and] how.” Returning to David Scott, this divergence most likely stems from Aidoo and Césaire’s differing moments – his in the more hopeful moment of pre-independence and her’s solidly within the framework of the post-colonial state. Therefore it is understandable that throughout Our Sister Killjoy, the author concludes with infinitely more questions than answers. Perhaps there is nothing more one can do other than “wail for lost black minds” — how can any one person weep for a collective loss?

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