From left to right : R. Tagore, P. Neruda and A. Césaire

Rabindrânâth Tagore, Pablo Neruda and Aimé Cesaire have bequeathed to our thinking three lives and bodies of work marked by a near-total lack of geographical and historical coincidence. Even given Pablo Neruda's and Aimé Cesaire’s contemporaneous involvement, these giants met so infrequently and personally knew each other so little that, from the second half of the 19th to the beginning of the 21st century, the chance of chronology did not create experiences of connection or shared moments that might set up a direct link between their three worlds.

Though coming from different geographical and cultural backgrounds, these three authors had in common the fact that they positioned themselves as men speaking and acting from the ‘south’, but with a desire to engage in dialogue and a demand for responsibility which their profoundly distinctive and original work fed from Asian, African, American, Caribbean and European sources.

Rabindrânâth Tagore (1861-1941), poet, music teacher, playwright, visual artist, born in Calcutta, was one of the major witnesses and protagonists of the beginning of the industrial era and of the first half of the twentieth century. From India, whose social, ethnic and cultural divisions he overcame, he brought us his reflections on education, science and the relationship to the Other, in particular the West. His significant work provides us with a philosophical system emblematic of Asian civilizations since it addresses all the issues and social contradictions underlying the struggle for political independence and respect for cultural and linguistic identity, while offering ideals and practices based on tolerance and dialogue with the West, which have earned him universal respect and admiration. A contemporary of Gandhi and Nehru, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, friend of Einstein and of many artists and scientists, this humanist in search of the universal is at the core of a galaxy of intellectuals and creators from Asia and continues, moreover, to have an impact on the international community as a whole. 

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Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), poet, diplomat, politician, playwright, essayist, professor, was fully committed to the defence and recognition of Amerindian minorities, to the dialogue among civilizations – all equal, and to democracy. Both in Civil War Spain, with Federico García Lorca, and in Salvador Allende’s Chile, he fought dictatorship and oppression, social and racial exclusion, and the destruction of the heritage of civilizations and identity by the hegemonic imperialists of yesterday and today, notably the bitter legacy of the genocides perpetrated during the European conquest in the fifteenth century, and exploitation and colonialism in the twentieth century. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971, and his work is on a par with that of great intellectuals from the Americas such as Rubén Dario, Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Octavio Paz, Miguel Angel Asturias, Jorge Amado, Jorge Luis Borges, Alejo Carpentier and Julio Cortazar. As a citizen of the world, from the Americas to the Pacific, he met Césaire, Nehru and Picasso, but did not survive the military coup d’état that plunged Chile into mourning in 1973.

Aimé Césaire (1913-2008), poet, playwright, essayist and politician, was born in Martinique. His contemporary work laid siege to the citadels of power and exclusion in order to achieve the emancipation of humanity. In 1937, he coined the word “Négritude”, also used by Léopold Sédar Senghor and Léon Gontran Damas, and later adopted by Cheikh Anta Diop, Frantz Fanon, Wole Soyinka and many others, which was, from the outset, a Copernican revolution. Aimé Césaire defined this conceptual, historicized neologism as being applicable to any colour, since it emerged from the awareness of a denied identity, in this instance, Black identity, which is reconciled with the universal. This vision was shared by André Breton, Pablo Picasso, Michel Leiris, Wifredo Lam, Edgar Morin, Langston Hughes, Claude Mac Kay and Jean Paul Sartre. Refusing to lose his human soul, brother of all humankind, deeply aware of the risks inherent in history and in belonging to Earth and the realm of the living, Aimé Césaire made his life as a politician and poet one long struggle for the political and cultural liberation of colonized peoples. This struggle was marked by the publication of major works against ideological abuse, oppression of peoples by colonialism, imperialism, slavery, the colonial problem, mistakes made in the exercise of power, and cultural alienation. He has handed down to us a philosophy of history, rooted in his own identity, marked by loyalty to Africa, but which meets the aspirations of peoples to “anchor the humanist issue in the context of the universal”.

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