Language as Symbolic Action: A Burkean Analysis of Césaire’s Cahier d’un retour au pays natal

Chelsea R. Binnie


This paper sets out to put Kenneth Burke’s thought on language as representative of symbolic action into conversation with Aimé Césaire’s epic poem, Cahier d’un retour au pays natal. The paper is divided into three main sections that set the stage for Burke and Césaire’s work to converse. The first section lays out an overview of Kenneth Burke’s thought on language paying particular attention to his definition of man, understanding of symbolism and symbolic action, and thoughts on poetry and poetics. The second section provides a working history of African philosophy, the Négritude movement, Césaire as a philosopher, politician, and poet, and provides an overview of main themes and intentions present in Cahier. The third section works to put Burke and Césaire into conversation by using Burke’s understanding of symbolic action and his notion of order and identification to examine key passages from Césaire’s Cahier. The paper works to present an informative and textured engagement between the work of Kenneth Burke and Aimé Césaire.


Césaire; Burke; negritude

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