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Combat in "A World Not for Us:" Revolutionary Writing in Aimé Césaire and Ghassan Kanafani

  • Author(s): Silmi, Amirah Mohammad
  • Advisor(s): Trinh, Minh-ha T.
  • et al.


Combat in a “World Not for Us:” Revolutionary Writing in Aimé Césaire and Ghassan Kanafani


Amirah Mohammad Silmi

Doctor of Philosophy in Rhetoric

University of California, Berkeley

Professor Trinh, T. Minh-ha, Chair

This dissertation explores how the writings of two colonized writers, Aimé Césaire and Ghassan Kanafani, constitute in themselves acts of freedom by combatting a rationalized knowledge that determines what is to be known and what is to be unknown. The dissertation underlines how an act of freedom, as exemplified by the texts of both writers, entails courage in confronting the cruel in a colonized life, as it entails the bravery of taking the risk of tearing open shields of concealment and denial.

The dissertation is not an investigation of the similarities and/or differences between the two writers. It is rather an “excavation” of their texts for points where there remain fragments hidden in margins or buried in gaps that point to other lives, other modes of being, in which the colonized share more than their colonized being. The dissertation is thus a relating of their writings, it is a linking, beyond classificatory categories, of the spaces where their writings mobilize and evoke each other, a search for spaces where they resonate.

In both writers’ texts, the word (poetic image) is a material object, which carries with it the load of the life that gave birth to it. In its materiality, the word carries a force that allows it to mobilize another. This study is thus not an attempt to extract the reality of the colonized from Kanafani’s and Césaire’s texts, but rather the focus here is on the latter’s creative ability, their moving force, their effects as acts of combat.

The dissertation demonstrates how it is in the realm of passions that both writers’ texts operate to allow for a non-rationalized knowledge. To be colonized is to live a degenerate, stagnant, and dead life. The mobilization of passions become not only a mobilization of other sources and ways of knowing, but more importantly a mobilization of the forces of life. The combat in both writers is not against an external entity, but it takes the form of a series of battles through which the colonized seeks to rid himself of his colonized being, to shed it off, to allow for the possibility of another life. Their texts are, therefore, not revolutionary in the sense that they call for action, but rather in that they do not allow for an anesthetized being.

A free practice does not allow for a confined being, including imprisonment in an identity or within an already defined historical trajectory. The writings of Aimé Césaire and Ghassan Kanafani refuse to position the colonized as the Other, who seeks the position of the Same. Entailed in this refusal, their defiance of existing discourses on the colonized. Their combat is not one of a politics of identity. Their writings dismantle any established identity while blocking the possibility of establishing one. Moreover, part of their defiance to colonial as well as anti-colonial discourses is their rejection of a historical discourse of the Revolution that leaves the colonized as the Other and past of the colonizer. This refusal takes the form of maintaining that freedom is a practice not an end to be achieved. Acting outside the mode of being of exchange values, the fidai/rebel, in both writers, is not to be asked why he is willing to sacrifice his life for a dignified life. For a free act cannot be confined by questions of utility or return.

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