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  • Glissant’s Philosophie de la Relation:“I have spoken the chaos of writing in the ardor of the poem”
  • Michael Wiedorn (bio)

J’ai dit le chaos de l’écriture dans l’élan du poème.

Édouard Glissant, Soleil de la conscience

Do I contradict myself?Very well then I contradict myself,(I am large; I contain multitudes.)

—Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”

“Paraphilosophizing around the science of chaos” (82)—thus Glissant described his efforts in Introduction à une poétique du Divers (1996).1 Glissant’s choice of the prefix “para-” opens onto a world of interpretive possibilities: among the definitions that the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary offers for this prefix are: “beside,” “alongside of,” “beyond,” “aside from,” “closely related to,” “faulty,” “abnormal,” “associated in a subsidiary or accessory capacity,” “closely resembling,” and “almost.” Far from a clarification, Glissant’s choice of words is polyvalent to say the least. The title of Philosophie de la Relation (2009) takes quite a different tack, however, shedding the prefix “para-” and naming itself forthrightly as a text belonging to the philosophical genre, and thereby designating by extension its author as a philosopher. The paratext that is the cover page of Philosophie de la Relation thus sets in motion certain expectations on the part of its readers, with regard to elements as diverse as the text’s style, its thematic preoccupations, and intertexts. As such, it would appear to mark a point of rupture with the essays preceding it, and particularly with the Poétique de la Relation (1990). The use of the word Philosophie names the text’s genre as something distinctly different from the earlier series of essays, Poetics and Aesthetics, and of course from Glissant’s output in the various genres of the novel, poetry, theater, manifestoes, interviews, and speeches, not to mention his other generic experimentations.

I would like to analyze more closely Glissant’s Philosophie de la Relation (hereafter Philosophie) in order argue that this, his last essay, shows the author at the height of his potential to influence readers’ interpretation as well as their lived experience of re-engaging with many of his key ideas. While the text is clearly a continuation of the theoretical work done by previous texts, I will show that it also manifests a certain singularity, both in genre and in argumentation. Finally, given the solemnity of Philosophie’s title as well as its deep concern with History and histories, I will begin to answer one of the central questions that the text prompts us to ask: what vantage point, if any, might Glissant’s final essay afford us upon the body of essays that precedes it? [End Page 902]

Taking the broad and multifarious Glissantian corpus, or even a subset of it such as his essays, or perhaps even a single text, as one is a problematic gesture. For Glissant is, as it has often been pointed out, an author of multiplicity, diversity, fragmentation, polyphony—terms which are not synonymous but which nonetheless bear an unambivalent relationship to each other, and in Glissant’s work in particular. Philosophie displays a great thematic and structural continuity with its predecessors, and most notably with Glissant’s essays, amassing and repeating many of Glissant’s central theoretical propositions and aphorisms. Taking into account this clear overlap, ought Glissant’s readers to think that the author seeks to present himself as one who has always produced in the philosophical genre? As Philosophie engages with the long-term preoccupations of Glissant’s thought it furthers the excursus already discernible in Une nouvelle région du monde (2006) into the language and preoccupations of the philosophical genre: it invokes the name “Heidegger,” as well as other philosophical preoccupations such as the Being/being relationship and the nature of beauty. Numerous subsections in Philosophie undertake a return to key concepts invented or purveyed by Glissant, making clear their belonging to the realm of reflection: many sections open with the same phrasing, generally italicized as if they were section headings in an introduction to Glissant’s thought: “archipelagic thought” (45), “the thought of trembling” (a pensée du tremblement) (54), “the thought of creolizations” (64), and so on.

Much as the...