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  • The Slave’s Jouissance
  • Alexandre Leupin (bio)

For all intents and purposes, Édouard Glissant is looking for an “elsewhere” of Hegelian dialectics; one can even posit that his entire thought is a response to Hegel that forcefully tries to go beyond all the important Hegelian themes: History conceived as one and universal, absolute knowledge, the master-slave dialectics as sole principle of explanation of human history are at every point in Glissant’s work contradicted by his own propositions.1

However (or therefore), Hegel is very much a presence in Glissant’s work, from the very beginning of his career as an essayist. In L’intention poétique, Hegel is shown as exempting African history from his “universal” history. Glissant intends to fill this silence, not accomplish a “revenge” on Hegel or for the “impish pleasure of contradicting him” but to “instantaneously recover those enormous and silent spaces where [my] history went astray” (L’intention poétique 37, 38).2 Paradoxically, Glissant criticizes Hegel for not being universal and systematic enough. The erasure of African history not only invalidates Hegel’s claim to universality, but indicates a lack in the system. In 1969 already, we see in Glissant’s negative criticism the incipient shadow of what will become the notion of the Tout-monde; maybe Glissant is after all a much more systematic thinker than he says. Maybe, also, the Tout-monde and the Relation poetics will be a manner of completing Hegel. These remarks indicate both the importance of Hegel for Glissant and the complexity of his relation to the German philosopher; this relation will not be of retribution or contradiction, but an effort to write, to create what Hegel left unsaid. Hegel is still present in 1990 in La Poétique de la Relation. Like Plato and the griot, he is mentioned to underline his local (contextual) opacity, and hence to relativize his concepts by tying them to a specific time and space (Glissant, La Poétique de la Relation 208). He makes a last appearance, to my knowledge, in Une nouvelle région du monde: while saluting his lucidity and thoroughness, Glissant stresses the German philosopher’s blindness when he applies his system to the world-totality. “Hegel can make a mistake. … He has known history, he has acknowledged it, and history has remained invalid, without the memory of any remoteness that would be near” (Une nouvelle région du monde 152).

Hence, a brief detour through Hegel and his rereading by Kojève and Lacan3 is necessary to set the stage for Glissant’s reworking of the master-slave dialectics.

For Hegel, the master-slave dialectics is the key to an understanding of global human history.4 The master’s desire is to be recognized as master by the slave. In order to achieve that goal, he must coerce the slave’s desire and channel it so that the slave grants him the acknowledgement of his master status. In other words, for Hegel, human desire always aims, not at an object, but another human being’s desire (Begierde). Furthermore, the essential differentiation between the slave and the master is that the latter consents to [End Page 891] die to be recognized as master, whereas the slave refuses to die and thus has to submit. This mythical scenario of the beginnings of history means that the slave is the conveyer of humanity’s future, because he has an interest in changing his condition; on the other hand, the master is essentially conservative, immobile, since any change to his status would mean his destruction. Closely following Kojève’s introduction, Lacan makes two fundamental remarks on Hegel’s scenario. First, the master’s acceptance of death in the struggle to death between him and the slave is illogical: it kills the slave, whose recognition the master absolutely needs; hence the struggle for death is purely mental and verbal: both the master and the slave need only to think about it in order to make it effective. In other words, the slave’s oppression is not founded on the struggle to death: only intimidation (that is, a verbal and psychic act) is necessary and sufficient in order for...