- Philosophy, Poetics, Politics
The aim of this collection of translations and articles is to commemorate the life and work of Édouard Glissant, who died in February 2011. Glissant was one of the greatest writers of the Caribbean, and his work is read and studied throughout the world. The extent of his influence is reflected in the geographical spread of the contributors to this special issue of Callaloo: not only the Caribbean and the United States, but also a number of European countries. Glissant has come to be known above all as a thinker, and it is his many essays—collected in a series of volumes from Soleil de la conscience in 1956 to Philosophie de la Relation in 2009—that form the main focus of the articles here (and the relative concentration on the later works testifies to Glissant’s continuing activity right up until the beginning of his final illness). But his work spans a number of literary genres: poetry, fiction, drama, autobiography, and essays; in fact one of the most striking features of his work is its refusal to be confined within the conventional boundaries of genre—what Alexandre Leupin here calls “a constant creolization of genres that breach traditional literary categories” (898). The relationship between the poetic and the philosophical, in particular, is an issue that recurs in many of the contributions to this volume.
It starts, however, with two previously unpublished translations: a series of seven poems from Glissant’s Sel noir—one of his earliest collections of poems, first published in 1960—translated by Mary Ann Caws; and my own translation of a speech entitled “Eloge du différent et de la différence” that Glissant gave as the keynote lecture at the International Literary Festival of Berlin in 2006. These are followed by Maryse Condé’s “Memories of reading Les Indes for the first time,” in which the Guadeloupean fellow-writer and near-contemporary of Glissant looks back to her days as a student in Paris, her discovery of Glissant’s epic poem, and the impact it had on her: Les Indes was completely different from any previous French Caribbean poetry, with its intuition of what was to become Relation, which Condé defines as an “essential affinity … affinity and not identity” underlying Diversity, and in the celebration of a Nature that, she claims, Negritude had rejected as necessarily exotic (866, 867).
The rest of the collection consists of eleven more abstract critical studies of different aspects of Glissant’s writing, although the first and the last of these, by François Noudel-mann and Valérie Loichot respectively, are coloured by their authors’ reactions to Glissant’s death, and situate their discussions explicitly in this context. I have grouped together first all of the articles that are concerned with the central philosophical concepts of Glissantian thought—Relation, diversity, opacity, creolization, “Tout-monde,” etc.—and/or the central issues which his texts repeatedly address: the loss of history, the repression of the collective [End Page 841] memory of slavery, etc. These are followed by three analyses of the political dimension of his work, and then a further three studies of the implications of his thought for the social sciences: ethnography, ecology, and development studies. The collection concludes with Loichot’s reflection on the motif of the grave in his writing. In this introduction I shall summarize each article in turn, before drawing together their diverse contributions to the question of the interrelation of philosophy, poetics, and politics in Glissant’s work.
Thus Noudelmann juxtaposes Glissant’s rejection of universalism, his insistence on the diversity and the unpredictability of the realities of an ever-changing world—Condé characterizes this as “the extreme mobility of his thought, always open-ended, never closed off or dogmatic” (865)—with the question of his influence on future generations of readers and scholars. Given that he refused to adopt the position of leader of a particular school of thought, i.e., of a “master-thinker” handing down a defined body of doctrines, how can we describe and how should we respond to Glissant’s legacy?
Adlai Murdoch traces the evolution of Glissant’s thought from the more obviously...