Title Tropiques: revue culturelle
Location Fort-de-France (Martinique)
Publisher Aimé Césaire, Suzanne Césaire, René Ménil
Periodicity Quarterly
URL Tropiques Worldcat
Published Since 1941-1945
Indexed Holdings 1941-1945


The Library of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; American Academy, Berlin; Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library, Harvard College Library, Cambridge, MA; ccindex office

Periodical's Overview


Terre muette et sterile. C’est de la nôtre que je parle. Et mon ouïe mesure par la Caraïbe l’ellrayant silence de l’Homme. Europe. Afrique. Asie. J’entends hurler l’acier, le tam-tam parmi la brousse, le temple prier parmi les banians. Et je sais que c’est l’homme qui parle. Encore et toujours, et j’écoute. Mais ici l’atrophiement monstrueux de la voix, le séculaire accablement, le prodigieux mutisme. Point de ville. Point d’art. Point de poésie. Point de civilization, la vrai, je veux dire cette projection de l’homme sur le monde; ce modelage du monde par l’homme; cette frappe de l’univers à l’effigie de l’homme.

Une mort plus affreuse que la mort, où dérivent des vivants. Et les sciences ailleurs progressent, et les philosophies ailleurs se renouvellent, et les esthétiques ailleurs se remplacent. Et vainement sur cette terre nôtre la main sème des grains.

Point de ville. Point d’art. Point de poésie. Pas un germe. Pas une pousse. Ou bien la lèpre hideuse des contrefaçons. En vérité, terre stèrile et muette…

Mais il n’est plus temps de parasiter le monde. C’est de le sauver plutôt qu’il s’agit. Il est temps de se ceindre les reins comme un vaillant homme.”[1]

Selected Subject Headings

  • Africa - civilization
  • American poetry - African American authors
  • Art - philosophy - 20th century
  • Botany - West Indies, French
  • Caribbean Area - civilization
  • Creation (literary, artistic, etc.) - philosophy
  • Creoles - Martinique
  • Folklore - Martinique
  • French poetry - Martinique - 20th century
  • French poetry - 20th century
  • Hinduism
  • Literary criticism - Martinique
  • Martinique - intellectual life - 20th century
  • Marvelous, The, in literature
  • Surrealism (literature) - France
  • Surrealism (literature) - Venezuela
  • Viernes (periodical)


In April 1941, the first issue of Tropiques was published in Fort-de-France, Martinique; a “revue culturelle” edited by Aimé Césaire, Suzanne Césaire (née Roussi), and René Ménil, Tropiques is a short lived, but extremely important little magazine; its influence is such that it has even been retrospectively described, by one of the editors, as “the death certificate of colonial literature.” [2]

In 1941, Martinique was a French colony under the control of the Vichy government, the French State infamous for its collaboration with the German Nazi regime that had occupied France in May 1940. Under the rule of Marshal Philippe Pétain, the Vichy government was responsible for the civil administration of France and its colonies, among the many of them, the Caribbean island of Martinique, where a vast number of French soldiers were stationed during World War II, a reminder to many Martinique’s inhabitants that they were, after all, a colony.[3]

Having been born in Martinique, Suzanne and Aimé Césaire, a married couple, had been formed intellectually in Paris, the colonial metropolis. They both attended and met at the Escole Normale Supériere, an elite French graduate school. After almost a decade of circulating through the fraught, but rich intellectual ferment of 1930s Paris,[4] the couple returned to Martinique in 1939 to raise their child, and to teach at the Lycée Schoelcher, another elite formation institution. Tropiques’ other editor, René Ménil, was another Martiniquais; Ménil had also been educated in Paris, where he too was a participant in its intellectual milieu, returning the island in the late 1930s.[5]

But let’s return to 1941, when the first issue of Tropiques is published.

A careful look at this issue’s table of contents will give us a template of what we’ll be encountering through the journal’s run: a “Présentation,” or opening statement by Aimé Césaire, as well as some of his poems; essays by René Ménil and Suzanne Césaire, and a selection of poems and essays from a variety of authors and poets; for example, in this first issue, Césaire introduces Charles Peguy’s work, and Peguy’s poems and his essay on Notre-Dame de Chartres are published; the issue ends with an essay by Georgette Anderson on Mallarmé and Debussy.

Notably, it is by reading attentively the editorial trio’s contributions to this issue that will give us a better understanding of the critical framework that it’s being laid out, the journal’s editorial stance, a positioning that will evolve and radicalize itself throughout the journal’s life.

In this first issue, Suzanne Césaire writes an essay on Leo Frobenius,[6] the German ethnologist whose early 20th century writings were instrumental in shifting how a colonial Europe had perceived of Africa for centuries; Frobenius writing had exerted a tremendous influence on the Négritude movement, which had fermented in the 1930s Paris inhabited by the editors, and by extension, on Tropiques, a Caribbean outpost of this Francophone project of intellectual and anti-colonial reclamation stemming from the African diaspora; in Léopold Sédan Senghor words, who was, along with Césaire and León Damas, one of the main theoreticians of Négritude, Frobenius had “given Africa back its dignity and identity;” hence, Suzanne Césaire’s essay in this inaugural issue points out to the anti-colonial undercurrent circulating through Tropiques, a political stance that had to take a subdued tone due to Vichy’s government censorship.

Ménil’s essay, “Naissance de notre art,”[7] also delineates another intellectual strand circulating through Tropiques’ run, one closely aligned with Négritude’s aims; in this particular Caribbean context, a call for Martinique’s culture to wake up from its provincial and bourgeois stupor, to embrace an aesthetic modernity inclusive of African diasporic forms, as well as to recognize the until-then dismissed histories and contributions of Martiniquais culture and peoples: from créole language, with all its astounding oral creativity, to a recuperation of folk tales; from a renewed interest in Martinique’s history and the role of colonial slavery in it, to the island’s botanical richness.

Both of these contributions are responses to Aimé Césaire’s call to intellectuals “to buckle up,” made in his first “Présentation,” Tropiques’ editorial statement of sorts; Césaire’s poetic salvo describes the sleepy society and stifled intellectual landscape that he encountered upon return to his native island, and calls for the shattering of “this exceptional silence”: “Mais il n’est plus temps de parasiter le monde. C’est de le sauver plutôt qu’il s’agit. Il est temps de se ceindre les reins comme un vaillant homme.”[8]

We have mentioned that Tropiques embraced an aesthetic modernity inclusive of African diasporic forms, and it is on its second issue that this was articulated by the publication of a dossier on African American poetry from the Harlem Renaissance. With an introduction by Aimé Césaire, poems by James Weldon Johnson, Claude McKay–who was Jamaican, but firmly established in Harlem–and Jean Toomer, were translated into French, pointing out to the African diaspora’s penchant for cosmopolitanism.[9] Despite Aimé Césaire’s divergent poetic voice–he was after all a Surrealist–his interest on these writers’ work is expressed in emphatic terms: “From this poetry, which might seem like the sort Valéry called ‘loose,’ ‘defenseless,” written only to the rhythm of juvenile spontaneity, at the exact point of intersection between the ego and the world, a drop of blood oozes. A drop. But it is blood… There is its value: to be open to man in his wholeness.”[10]

“To be open to man in his wholeness” is an attitude that the Surrealists also shared, especially if it encompassed the unconscious and aimed at revolutionary politics; both Suzanne and Aimé Cesáire had been part of the Surrealist circles in Paris, and considered themselves to be Surrealist poets. Accordingly, it is not surprising that throughout Tropiques we encounter essays dedicated to the fantastic and “le merveilleux,” and published Surrealist poets, or essays on, and excerpts by, writers thought to be “precursors” of Surrealism, such as Isadore Ducase, or Comte de Lautréamont, an author revered by Surrealists.

But it is in Tropiques’ third issue that a definitive statement in regards to Surrealism is made, featuring prominently André Breton’s work; with an essay by Suzanne Césaire on his oeuvre,[11] and an extensive selection of his poetry, this emphasis on Surrealism was complemented by essays on Maeterlink and the fantastic, an introduction by Ménil on “the marvelous,” analysis of the movement's influence on American cinema, and poetry by Aimé Césaire and Jeanne Mégnen, a female Surrealist poet.

Breton’s impact on a young Aimé Césaire has been well documented,[12] but what is less highlighted is how Bréton’s brief encounter with the editors of Tropiques on his way to New York in 1941–fleeing a Nazi-occupied Paris and traveling from Marseille to Martinique with Cuban painter Wifredo Lam–had also a strong effect on his perceptions; it was this experience with the Césaires and Lam that would allow Bréton to find a way forward for Surrealism, now that it has been de-politicized upon its arrival to the United States, given the country’s rampant anti-communism and stifling commercialism. One of his poems, published on Tropiques’ third issue, is dedicated to Suzanne Césaire; and it is from New York that Bréton sends his essay on Aimé Césaire to be published on the journal; the essay's title, “Martinique charmeuse de serpents: un grand poète noir.” [13]

To understand this two-way intellectual exchange between Bréton and Tropiques, and to consider what might have Bréton absorbed from this encounter, here it might be helpful to bring up Guadeloupian writer Maryse Condé’s perceptions when writing about Suzanne Césaire and literature in the Antilles: “Surrealism was a contrived attempt to capture the spontaneity of other cultures. What happened in the New World was entirely different.”[14]

This difference alluded to by Condé had to do with the Antilles’ colonial history of mixtures, what was later designated as creolization, and to these histories Tropiques also dedicated, very presciently, its attention: the journal published a text by Alejo Carpentier, a Cuban writer, on culture in Latin America; Césaire introduced an Afro-Cuban short story by the Cuban ethnographer Lydia Cabrera, and as mentioned previously, folk tales were also published: folk tales from Cuba, folk tales from Martinique, folk tales from Africa, the latter compiled by Frobenius. Importantly, as years passed, historical texts recalling the role that slavery played in Martinique and the Antilles were published, as well as on abolitionist efforts to end it by figures such as Victor Schoelcher, after whom the school where the Césaires were teaching was named.[15]

From our hindsight, it is hard to fathom how daring and radical these publishing gestures were in 1941, or in 1943, in Martinique, “sterile and silent land,” a land under the control of the Vichy regime; by studying the whole arch of Tropiques’ life, one can perceive how the editors’ positions are being radicalized as years pass, as if the situation was untenable, asphyxiating; this reached a point in which the editors had to face Vichy’s administration’s censorship of a 1943 issue of the journal.

Tropiques response to the French censors, written on May 12th, 1943, is remarkable, and worth reproducing in its entirety here:

“To Lieutenant de Vaisseau Bayle:


We have received your indictment of Tropiques.

“Racists,” “sectarians,” “revolutionaries,” “ingrates and traitors to the country,” “poisoners of souls,” none of these epithets really repulses us. “Poisoners of Souls,” like Racine… “Ingrates and traitors to our good Country,” like Zola… “Revolutionaries,” like the Hugo of “Châtiments.” “Sectarians,” passionately, like Rimbaud and Lautréamont.

Racists, yes. Of the racism of Toussaint Louverture, of Claude McKay and Langston Hughes against that of Drumont and Hitler. As to the rest of it, don’t expect for us to plead our case, nor vain recriminations, nor discussion. We do not speak the same language.

Signed: Aimé Césaire, Suzanne Césaire, Georges Gratiant, Aristide Maugée, René Ménil, Lucie Thesée.” [16]

What is remarkable about this statement is that they deploy their sophisticated knowledge of French literature to retort to the Vichy authorities’ accusations of sedition to France, while at the same time stating that “We do not speak the same language,” or rather, in French, “Nous ne parlons pas le même langage;” to understand this seemingly paradoxical stance, one that all colonized peoples had to contend with in order to achieve liberation, we should remember that Suzanne Césaire had previously stated that “Martinican poetry will be cannibalistic or nothing at all,”[17] pointing out at the crux of a project like Tropiques: a “New World” syncretism not dissimilar to Brazilian poet’s Oswald de Andrade concept of anthropophagia.[18]

After a few more issues, and a 1945 final double issue published under a new French government, these politically suffocating circumstances prompted the folding of the journal, and Césaire’s full engagement with politics.[19]

One could argue that Tropiques occupies a unique position as a journal: as a vehicle for a Surrealism in the Americas, and at the same time, for Négritude, adapting and expanding both of these movements’ radical politics and aesthetics to its Caribbean context.

The subtitle of Maryse Condé’s essay on Suzanne Césaire is “Words as miraculous weapons;” she elaborates: “These miraculous weapons were words. Those very words that so often we pronounce without paying attention to them. Aimé Césaire reminded us that words have the power to create and destroy, to give birth and to transform. They can bring about a new world, built on the ruins of the injustice and corruption of the old one. Their power is at the same time poetical and political. The poet is the fighter.” [20]

Yielding words as weapons against injustice and corruption, while forging a way towards a new world through poetry and historical recall, that is Tropiques’ astounding legacy, a legacy that was taken by many throughout the “short century,” and that still reverberates in ours.

To peruse the indexed contents of Tropiques, please log into the database.


[1] Aimé Césaire. “Présentation,” Tropiques (Fort-de-France, Martinique), no. 1 (April 1941): 5-6.

[2]Charles H. Rowell. “It is through poetry that one copes with solitude: an interview with Aimé Césaire,” Callaloo (Baltimore), vol. 34, no. 4 (Fall 2008): 994.

[3]“Within months of the Césaires’ return [to Martinique], the French possessions in the West Indies felt the impact of the European war. Until 1943 Martinique was governed from Vichy, and Fort-de-France swarmed with thousands of French sailors contained there by the United States Navy […] The racism of the sailors undoubtedly contributed to radicalizing Césaire and preparing him for a political commitment to fight colonialism after the war…”

From the translators’ “Introduction,” in Aimé Césaire. The collected poetry; translated, with an introduction and notes by Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983, p. 3.

[4]To give an indication of how 1930s Paris was felt by Aimé Césaire, we reproduce his words:

“People do not have a very keen sense of history; you must go back to the period of this Notebook [of a return to my native land]. You must try to imagine what the life of an eighteen-year-old man of color, a young Negro isolated in Paris, was like. So I arrive in Paris. What do I know of the vast world? Not much. Two days after my arrival I meet, at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, a young man from Senegal who was a few years ahead of me in his career. He is Léopold Sédar Senghor.” Rowell, ibid., p. 989


“So if Senghor and I spoke of Négritude, it was because we were in a century of exacerbated Eurocentrism, a fantastic ethnocentrism, that enjoyed a guiltless conscience. No one questioned all that–the superiority of European civilization, its universal vocation–no one was ashamed of being a colony.” Rowell, ibid. p. 992.

[5]“The first known group to embrace Surrealism was Martinican students sojourning in Paris. In 1932 Etienne Léro, René Menil [sic], J.M. Monnerot, Pierre Yoyotte, his sister Simone Yoyotte, and a few other published one issue of a journal they called Légitime Défense (Self-Defense). In it they declared their commitment to Surrealism and communist revolution, critiqued the French-speaking black bourgeoisie, celebrated several black American writers like Langston Hughes and Claude McKay, and published poetry and automatic writing by several members of the group. Although the journal was promptly suppressed by the colonial authorities, it had its impact.” From Robin D.G. Kelley. Freedom dreams: the black radical imagination. Boston: Beacon Press, 2002, p. 166.

[6]Suzanne Césaire. “Léo Frobenius et le problème des civilisations,” Tropiques (Fort-de-France, Martinique), no. 1 (April 1941): 27-36.

[7]Tropiques (Fort-de-France, Martinique), no. 1 (April 1941): 53-64.

[8] Aimé Césaire, "Présentation," ibid.

[9] After traveling to Yugoslavia in 1935, and spending the summer in 1936 in Martinique, Aimé Césaire “returned to France to complete his thesis on African-American writers of the Harlem Renaissance and their representation of the South…” Kelley, ibid. p. 167.

For a thorough review and theorization of black internationalism, with an emphasis on the transnational exchanges between New York intellectuals and their Francophone counterparts based in Paris during the 1920s and 1930s, we recommend Brent Hayes Edwards' The practice of diaspora: literature, translation, and the rise of black internationalism. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 2003.

[10]Aimé Césaire. “Introduction à la poésie nègre americaine,” Tropiques (Fort-de-France, Martinique), no. 2 (July 1941): 37-42; English translation by Eshleman and Smith, Collected poetry, ibid., p. 2.

Eshelman and Smith describe how this diasporic encounter with black American literature in Paris took place: “Whereas a concise appreciation of American black poetry was not to appear until the July 1941 issue of Tropiques, two years after the Césaires’ return to Martinique, the Harlem Renaissance was well known to black students in Paris during the early thirties. Speaking of this period, Senghor, who went on to become a poet and the President of Sénégal, has written: “We were in contact with these black Americans [Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, Langston Hughes, and Countee Cullen] during the years 1929-1934, through Mademoiselle Paulette Nardal, who, with Dr. Sajous, a Haitian, had founded the Revue du Monde Noir. Mademoiselle Nardal kept a literary salon, where African Negroes, West Indians, and American Negros used to get together.”

Eshleman and Smith go on to clarify that even though “black writers from the United States made a profound impression on Césaire,” he was not part of these salons, which he considered “too bourgeois, too mulatto–a term that described quite perfectly the Martinican middle class at that time–and too Catholic.” “Introduction,” Collected poetry, ibid., p. 2.

It is worth noting though, that Césaire’s approach to African American writers has been nuanced further, in relation to his introduction to their poetry in the same issue: “Césaire here is very much adopting the position of the French intellectual who is critical of his own culture, delightedly discovering something more invigorating, because spontaneous and natural. After an extraordinarily stereotyped evocation of African-American society, he introduces the poetry of this ‘unconsciously artistic people’ (2, 38) as an art characterized by its spontaneity and lack of artifice: ‘in this sudden outpouring of a soul full to bursting point, how could we expect to find the tricks, the reticence, the studied abandon (…) which we have grown used to in the insincere poetry of Europe?’ (2, 41)” Celia Britton. “How to be primitive: Tropiques, Surrealism, and ethnography,” Paragraph (Edinburgh), vol. 32, no. 2 (July 2009), p. 172.

[11]Suzanne Césaire. “André Breton, poète,” Tropiques (Fort-de-France, Martinique), no. 3 (October 1941): 31-37.

[12]In Césaire’s words: “Breton brought us boldness, he helped us take a strong stand. He abridged our hesitations and research. I realized that the majority of the problems I encountered had already been resolved by Breton and Surrealism. I would say that my meeting with Breton was confirmation of what I had arrived at on my own. This saved us time, let us go quicker, farther. The encounter was extraordinary.”

From Robin D.G. Kelley’s “A poetics of anticolonialism,” Kelley’s introduction to Aimé Césaire’s Discourse on colonialism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000); reproduced in Monthly Review (New York), vol. 51, no. 6 (November 1999); this essay can be found online here; Kelley is translating Césaire’s statement from Jacqueline Leiner, “Entretien avec A.C.,” in Tropiques, vol. 1. Paris: Jean-Michel Place, 1978, [facsimile reproduction], pp. v-xxiv.

[13]André Breton. “Martinique charmeuse de serpents: un grand poète noir,” Tropiques (Fort-de-France), no. 11 (May 1944): 199-126. A note in the article states, “cette étude constitue le Préface qu’André Breton vient d’écrire pour l’édition bilingue du Cahier du retour au Pays natal d’Aimé Césaire, à paraître aux Editions Hémisphères.”

[14]Maryse Condé. “Language and power: words as miraculous weapons,” CLA Journal (Baltimore), vol. 39, no. 1 (September 1995), p. 21.

[15]The last issue ofTropiques, no. 13-14 (September 1945), includes Césaire’s “Hommage a Victor Schoelcher,” p. 229-235; Schoelcher’s “Quelques textes,” p. 236-240, and a selection of literature against Schoelcher and by extension, against abolitionism, “Ceux qui haissaient Schoelcher,” p. 241-243.

[16] Kelley, “Poetics of anticolonialism,” ibid.; in this instance, the translation is from Tropiques, vol. 1. Paris: Jean-Michel Place, 1978, [fascimile reproduction] Documents-Annexes, pp. xxxvi-xxxviii.

[17]Condé, ibid. p. 18.

[18]In 1928, Oswald da Andrade published his "Manifesto Antropófago" in Brazil. For more on this concept, and how it might relate to Tropiques' aims, please see Luis Felipe Garcia’s Anthropophagia entry in the Online Dictionary of Intercultural Philosophy.

In the 1960s, the “anthropophagia” syncretic “cannibalism” was recuperated by a new set of cultural producers, among them the poet Augusto de Campos, artist Hélio Oiticia, as well as the Trópicalia movement, heralded by Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, and Tom Zé.

[19]In 1945, with the support of the French Communist Party (PCF), Césaire was elected mayor of Fort-de-France and deputy to the French National Assembly for Martinique. He managed to get a law addressing departmentalization approved unanimously on March 19, 1946. After the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary, Césaire distanced himself from the PCF, and in 1958 founded the Parti Progressiste Martiniquais. With the Parti Progressiste Martiniquais, he dominated the island’s political scene for the last half of the century. Césaire declined to renew his mandate as deputy in the National Assembly in 1993, after a 47-year continuous term. Wikipedia

[20]Condé, ibid., p. 18.