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Reviewed by:
J. Michael Dash. The Other America: Caribbean Literature in a New World Context. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1998. xii + 197 pp.

Michael Dash is an accomplished critical interpreter of the ideas of the Martinican poet and theorist Edouard Glissant, whose formulations are here brought together in a brilliant reading of French Caribbean literary history. He extends Glissant into the world of academic writing, much as the novelist Patrick Chamoiseau may be said to have brought Glissant’s ideas into the prose narrative with such works as Solibo Magnificent (1988) and Texaco (1992), novels now available in the rich English translations of Rose-Myriam Réjouis and Val Vinokurov.

Dash begins with the fact that some other writers and critics have accused the Martinicans Glissant and Chamoiseau of excessive attachment to the mère patrie, in that their revisionist ideas of the Creolité movement have been formulated as creatively oppositional [End Page 491] within an overwhelming context of adaptation and assimilation to European culture. These critics have held that such a stance concedes too much to the universalizing culture. Dash’s argument that these critics are wrong is convincing. He argues that it is such a resistance-while-going-along, such an adaptation, that makes Glissant and Chamoiseau important to everyone who lives and tries to maintain difference within a western universalizing culture. One may never read Chamoiseau (with his layers of real and invented Créole and French) in the original. Glissant, though more accessible, has hardly brought all his ideas together in pointed relation to everyone else who has written the Caribbean. But here in Dash’s book one finds those others—Durand, Perse, Césaire, Carpentier, Walcott, Brathwaite, Chauvet, Condé, Benítez-Rojo (who, according to Dash, has theories similar to Glissant’s)—all dealt with in a close, detailed argument. The Other America may serve also as a general history of theorizing the Caribbean, a fervent encyclopedia of the region’s intellectual life. All the important figures and their writings get thorough, sympathetic readings, to suit their intrinsic literary and historical importance, although they are here treated in the light of Glissant’s later extension or reformulation of their ideas (Benítez-Rojo excepted). This book, in a fine performance, brings Glissant especially to the attention of the English-speaking world.

Glissant, Dash argues, has repositioned Martinican “opacity” in terms of a mobile counterpoetics of diversity, and away from earlier formulations (Glissant calls them “detours”): nostalgia for pure origins (assimilationist or Africanist or national). This is a matter of language. It is through Martinican language (in Chamoiseau: the creole basilect and acrolect, the French basilect and acrolect), with its premonitions, revelations, secrets, and disclosures, its interglossia, and what Glissant calls “infoldings,” that a fixed reality is disrupted and replaced with a movement back and forth. Dash writes:

Glissant uses the idea of cross-culturality to suggest the process of decomposing and recomposing, a new politics as much as a new poetics, born out of a need to demystify notions of power, resistance and freedom. Diversity then becomes a vital characteristic of interlectal space, because it “is neither chaos nor sterility” but rather “the human spirit’s striving for a cross-cultural relationship, without universalist transcendence.” [End Page 492]

Ideas like these, expressed in Glissant’s Discours Antillais, inspired the manifesto Eloge de la Créolité of Jean Bernabé, Patrick Chamoiseau, and Raphael Confiant, a literary project meant to keep the Créole language alive, a reaction against alienation. The Créolité movement, with its linguistic and cultural self-discovery, has blossomed in Chamoiseau’s novels, where the sociolinguistic reality of a Caribbean island, Martinique, comes together in a plot and a narrative structure. This is postcolonial writing of universal significance, and one who wishes to understand it would do well to approach it through Edouard Glissant and Michael Dash.

James Maraniss
Amherst College
...

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