Abstract

This article argues that reading The Waste Land and the Cahier d'un retour au pays natal together and in light of diasporic, postcolonial, and transnational feminist theory suggests new interpretive possibilities for both poems, and, more broadly, destabilizes an enduring divide between cosmopolitan varieties of canonical Anglo-modernism and transnational, especially francophone, postcolonialisms. The article's central claim is that the transfigured modernist elements in Césaire's poem and in C. L. R. James's theorizations of collectivity and poetics have the potential to educate us to interpret canonical modernist texts such as The Waste Land differently than we could before. Putting under scrutiny the idea that the cultural politics of poems remain constant notwithstanding the critical training we bring to reading them, the article asserts that Eliot and Césaire are productive to read together because, despite their obvious political differences, their signature poetic practices of indirection and comparatism undermine the cultural authority of canonical discourse in ways that can induce readers to try to imagine languages and perspectives excluded from such discourse. When we read for what is missing, what has no voice or adequate means of being heard or understood in the poems, we can better see how the poems reveal inadequacies of both inherited discourses and authoritative speaking subjects to make sense of the multivocal worlds to which both poems continually allude.

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