Black Spartacus: Césaire, C.L.R.James, and the New Present
This talk is derived from a book project that advocates the re-thinking of time as a political urgency. It looks to theatre and performance for a singular kind of exploration of radical temporalities. These temporalities – penultimate time, kairos, and the new present – are presented as experiences, and new forms of politics, with the potential to challenge chronological and capitalist time.
The talk itself will focus on two plays about the Haitian revolution, which took place alongside of and in deadly tension with the French Revolution and its ideals. The first is Toussaint Louverture: The Story of the Only Successful Slave Revolt in History by C.L.R. James, Trinidadian author of the Black Jacobins, and an internationalist, Pan-Africanist, and revolutionary socialist. The second is The Tragedy of King Christophe: A Play, by the founder of the Francophone Negritude movement, Martiniquean Aimé Césaire. The former premiered in 1936 and the latter in 1963. Both plays are explored against the genre designations they are given, including “tragedy” or “chronicle play” or “history play”. Instead, they are treated as a resurgence of the slave Spartacus in Louverture that opens a revolutionary new present in Saint-Domingue (later renamed Haiti). This new present unfolds within, and in opposition to, the temporal logic of French, English and Spanish colonial expansion and its dependence on slavery, the accumulation of private property and European nationalism.
Maurya Wickstrom is currently teaching as a Visiting Professor in the Yale School of Drama’s Dramaturgy Department. She is on sabbatical leave from the City University of New York where she is Professor of Theatre at the Graduate Center and the College of Staten Island. She is the author of Performing Consumers: Global Capital and Its Theatrical Seductions (Routledge 2006) and Performance in the Blockades of Neoliberalism: Thinking the Political Anew (Studies in International Performance series: Palgrave Macmillan 2012). Her articles and essays have been published in Theatre Journal, TDR:The Drama Review, Performance Research, Modern Drama and others, as well as in edited volumes. Her book, Fiery Temporalities in Theatre and Performance: The Initiation of History is forthcoming from Bloomsbury Methuen Drama’s Engage series.