- Édouard Glissant’s Creolized World VisionFrom Resistance and Relation to Opacité
It has long been an established fact that Édouard Glissant (September 21, 1928—February 3, 2011) was a pre-eminent, even iconic figure in the Francophone world. With numerous works in the fields of philosophy, literature, poetry, and drama at the time of his death, his renown in the world of arts and letters was beyond question, and he had long been seen as one of the pillars of Caribbean philosophical and political thought. While the groundwork of la pensée glissantienne was arguably laid in such early books of essays as Soleil de la conscience (1956) and L’Intention poétique (1969), and the beginnings of a discursive articulation assumed center stage in 1981 with the publication of Le Discours antillais and its fleshing out of such concepts as creolization and antillanité, it is the period spanning the publication of Poétique de la relation in 1990 to Glissant’s death in 2011 that most immediately concerns us here. Key concepts of the Glissantian oeuvre appeared in several works of this later period, including Introduction à une poétique du divers (1996), Traité du Tout-Monde (1997), and Philosophie de la relation (2009).
Critical work on Glissant often divides his writing into two periods: before and after the publication of Le Discours antillais in 1981. In the first period one might claim that he focuses mainly on Martinique and its social, political, and cultural problems, while in the second, by developing the concept of the Tout-monde, he extends his vision to the post-colonial world as a whole. This shift, or evolution, in Glissant’s thinking and writing has led to what some might call a certain positional in-betweenness, in that in some quarters he is regarded as having moved away from being a postcolonial theorist, and of having abandoned its basic tenets, including those to which his writing gave rise. Eric Prieto sums up this situation well:
we could say that Glissant is not actually a postcolonial thinker. He started out as one, to be sure, but he has evolved into a thinker who is so important precisely because he has been able to use the specifically Caribbean, postcolonial dimension of his experience as the point of departure for a general theory that seeks to understand the underlying forces that drive the evolution of all cultures. We could say, in this sense, that Glissant is a post-postcolonial thinker. He has attained a perspective from which it is possible to see the postcolonial situation as part of a larger puzzle, and understood that the resolution of postcolonial problems requires a sense of how the totality can be repaired.(114) [End Page 875]
In a certain way, then, defining or categorizing Glissant could be said to be a function of which aspect of his work one wants to emphasize. His crosscultural poetics, initially articulated in Le Discours antillais but greatly expanded in his Poétique de la relation, writes identity out of a historically- and culturally-grounded core Antillean experience. The larger theoretical concept of Relation (la relation) inscribes a non-hierarchical principle of unity, a relation of equality with and respect for the Other as different from oneself. On a larger scale, the concept presupposes a natural openness to other cultures.
Any examination of the complexities of subjective identification drawn on the creolized Caribbean experience will bring into play important concepts of location, migration, and cultural cross-fertilization, as the intrinsic nature of the Caribbean phenomenon leads one to interrogate broader assumptions of identity and place. In a key gesture, Glissant inscribes the historical, geographic, and metaphoric differences between the Mediterranean and Caribbean Seas as a way of framing and highlighting basic notions of plurality and diversity:
Historically, the spinning, revolving movement of the cultures that have lived on its edges have made the Mediterranean a concentrating sea … Nevertheless, its cultural diversities, through osmosis and successive conflicts, have given rise to a universalizing expression of rationality or spirituality … By contrast, and in accordance with the same revolving movement of contacts and conflicts, the Caribbean Sea is the sea that “diffracts...