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  • Tribute to Edouard Glissant
  • Kathleen Gyssels

Born in Sainte-Marie, Martinique, on September 21, 1928, the poet, philosopher, author, and essayist Edouard Glissant died in Paris on February 3, 2011. Also a sociologist and prolific art critic, Glissant founded the Institut d'Etudes Martiniquaises as well as a journal, Acoma, before being forced to leave the overseas department because of his pro-independence opinions. It was in the French capital that he wrote the core of his prolific oeuvre, beginning with a poetic tribute to Saint-John Perse and Victor Segalen, and his first novel, which afforded him immediate success, La Lézarde (Prix Renaudot, 1958, translated as The Ripening). His opus includes collections of poetry, essays, and theater (Monsieur Toussaint, Le monde incréé, a mélange of poems and theater he called "poétrie"). To those works were added a series of manifestos co-authored with Patrick Chamoiseau as well as some for which he served as instigator (Pour une Littérature-monde).

A member of the generation of Kamau Brathwaite, Antonio Bénitez-Rojo, Derek Walcott, Sylvia Winter, and Wilson Harris, Edouard Glissant stood out from the beginning of his career as a builder of bridges between the Greater and Lesser Antilles, looking for the many convergences between their populations. Like the novelist Paule Marshall and essayist Fernando Retamar, Glissant firmly believed in (Afro-)Caribbean unity, despite the diversity of its populations. Rightly considered a spiritual son of Aimé Césaire, Glissant carved out his own path, distancing himself from Négritude, which he judged too centered on the dichotomy of Africa/ Europe. He heartily promoted the recognition of the hybridity of the Caribbean, at the crossroads of several ethnicities and cultures. Glissant recommended "Relation," starting with Le discours antillais and Poétique de la Relation (1990):

On dit que la Relation est mondiale et ce n'est pas émettre une évidence, car on voit que non seulement son espace est du monde, mais qu'encore que ses espaces particuliers sont irrigués de l'espace du monde. Il est certes des espaces clos, d'où [End Page 132] c'est difficile de s'échapper, pour toutes sortes de raisons économiques, politiques, mentales. Il est des espaces ravagés, dont le Malheur entretient la closure (sic) (. . .). Comment raviver cette présence dans l'imaginaire d'une communauté apparemment réduite par son isolement dans le même temps qu'elle mène combat contre cela qui l'isole?

(Traité du Tout-monde, Paris: Gallimard, 1997: 213)

Glissant created the term antillanité (Caribbeanness), focusing on the many components shared by Caribbeans in spite of their linguistic and/or ethnic diversities. His fellow writers and critics in Martinique built their movement of créolité on Glissant's assumption that the contact between cultures continuously and constantly results in créolité (creolity). Martinicans Chamoiseau, Confiant, and Bernabé in their own turn extol the culture and kaleidoscopic nature of Martinique's society to other postcolonial francophone island literatures. The focus on métissage as inherently Caribbean will slightly move to the "Tout-Monde," the whole world nowadays living the process of intercultural contacts and hybridization. Hence another key-concept in his thought: rhizomatic identity (borrowed from Deleuze and Guattari), by which Glissant designates an identity with multiple roots, the hybrid, always ever evolving,"mutating," applied both to the people of the West Indies as to the "whole" world. Thanks to numerous exchanges with the other, to the ongoing exchanges with other cultures and other societies, the local becomes global. There lies a first paradox in Glissantian thought, applauding the specificities of small cultures and minor literatures, on the one hand, and regretting their vanishing presence in a world dominated by the Internet and capitalist economies, on the other hand. Celebrating creolization as a process that no longer characterizes only island populations in the Caribbean region, but as a worldwide process, he nevertheless could not bridge the gap between Anglo-Caribbean and Hispanic or Dutch-speaking artists and authors. In spite of what he is saying in the late nineties,

[p]ar-delà des langages, l'imaginaire (ou les imaginaires) des humanités pourrait inspirer des langages, ou des archipels de langages, qui...


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