Between Breadfruit and Masala: Food Politics in Glissant's Martinique
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Between Breadfruit and Masala:
Food Politics in Glissant's Martinique

Le manger est un rhizome [Eating is rhizome]

Traité du Tout-monde

In crucial moments of complex definitions of Martinican identity, Édouard Glissant turns to culinary metaphors. Perhaps because of the perceived trivial nature of the culinary, Glissant's critics have overlooked his fertile reflection on food.1 This essay explores the concretization of highly theoretical concepts, such as Relation, Creolization, and Caribbeanness, through food metaphors. My corpus here is limited to Glissant's theoretical texts for the specific purpose of showing that the highly theoretical and the very ordinary are closer than they seem, fusing into what Parama Roy has called a "grammar of gastropoetics."2 We can identify two poles of Glissant's theoretical writings: on one end of the spectrum, his path-breaking Discours antillais (1981) and Poétique de la Relation (1990); on the other, Tout-monde (1993) and Traité du Tout-monde (1997). Between the earlier and the later texts, a shift appears on the level of the function of food, and in parallel, of the position of Martinique within the Caribbean and within the world.

In Glissant's early texts, Martinique faces a series of culinary impasses: it cannot recognize itself in the French dominant culinary model that forcibly appends Martinicans to the colonial power; nor can it take pride in an African cuisine that exists more as a trace than as integral presence; nor can it exclusively embrace a local production in a gesture that would isolate Martinique in narrow provincialism. In contrast, Tout-monde and Traité du Tout-monde offer a constructive culinary model that frees Martinique from these impasses by linking the island space to the "Tout-monde." Glissant's "Tout-monde" or "Whole-World" is a nontotalitarian totality, in which the particular place is in constant interaction and transaction with the world. In this model, Martinique, no longer a mere extension of the French colonizing nation or the lost African homeland, becomes an agent in the construction of a relational world model. While the process and theory of Relation runs through all of Glissant's writings, it adopts a concrete form in Tout-monde in the avatar of masala.

Intriguingly, Glissant elects an East-Indian spice mix, masala, as a privileged example of this striving, newly forged Martinican identity. Why elect the East Indian spice, as people of Tamil origin constitute a relatively small percentage of the Martinican population? Why not choose instead Creole dishes such as Calalou or soupe-zhabitan,3 which share with masala qualities of improvisation, adaptability, dynamism, instability, and complexity that [End Page 124] could exemplify Glissant's concepts of Creolization and Relation? Ultimately, I elucidate how Glissant exemplifies his "Whole-World" through masala because this model allows him to position Martinique outside national entrapments to avoid the assimilating and annihilating forces of globalization.

1. A "taste" of France

Martinican consumers 'belong' to what they possess. [. . .] All imported goods seem beautiful and all domestic goods seem inferior.

(DA4 459)5

Martinique gets a "taste" of France on many levels. By "taste" I mean the literal act of tasting France in Martinique, where 98 percent of objects of consumption are imported and where the largest local production is trash,6 in an unbalanced economic model composed of what Glissant calls "an overstimulated consumption and an annihilated production" (DA 461).

By "taste" of France, I also allude to the fragmentary nature of the act of tasting, as opposed to receiving a generous helping, or nourishment. Indeed Glissant refers to what France bestows upon Martinique as leftovers, "colonial crumbs" (DA 403). Historically and economically, France has forced Martinique into the status of perennial dependant, within what Françoise Vergès has called an economy of debt. This clearly differs from an economy based on a reciprocal exchange of goods. In an economy of debt, the colonial power entraps the colonized recipient, such as France ensnared Martinique, in a perpetual position of need7 : "Dependence and debt were the operative elements of the [French] colonial family's dynamics. Its rhetoric displaced social relations determined by the symbolic and economic organization of exchange between the colony...