- “Poetics of Landscape”Édouard Glissant’s Creolized Ecologies
Over the last few decades, Caribbean studies has been instrumental in reconfiguring the meanings of the national, geographical, sexual, and racial concepts through which postcolonial studies had traditionally defined difference. Specifically, its attention to trans-cultural exchanges both inside and across national, racial, linguistic, and class boundaries radically challenged the nationalist and identitarian rubrics through which postcolonialism had heretofore framed its subject. The groundbreaking vision this New World perspective embodies is best represented through Édouard Glissant’s concept of creolization, which epitomizes the transnational and crosscultural processes of intermixing and transformation that produce a Creole society. Insofar as creolization’s cultural crossfertilization contests the exclusionary logic of identitarian thought, its dynamics have been widely praised as emancipatory. Indeed, if racial, national, and cultural differences are no longer seen as discrete and categorical sites of alterity, then the process of establishing hierarchies based on such differences is thwarted. Creolization’s democratizing ethos thus transcends boundaries by bringing races, classes, and people together and by replacing separatism with relationality (or in Glissant’s deceptively simple term, with “Relation”).
While the coming together of cultures, languages, and races epitomized by a Caribbean creolized aesthetics is a development that is almost uniformly endorsed, the environmental counterpart of this cultural crossfertilization is far from being viewed as emancipatory. When it is life forms rather than cultural forms that are at stake, the interaction between organisms from widely disparate places of origin often entails environmentally perverse rather than progressive effects and, as such, an ecologically conservationist ethics would seem incompatible with the creolizing impulses of Caribbean literature and culture. The enormous threat Caribbean islands and their unique biodiversity have been experiencing from introduced invasive species since the beginning of colonialism in the region is a case in point.1 It is hard to endorse a hybridized logic if the latter seemingly obscures the repercussions of such a threat on the Caribbean biotope. This essay investigates—via Glissant—the problematic of tracing the ecological ramifications of a creolized model for the Caribbean environment.
Specifically, I examine the development of Glissant’s environmental consciousness from his first novel La Lézarde in which landscape functioned fairly conventionally as an allegory for history to his much later work Une nouvelle région du monde in which the environment is no longer reduced to its metaphorical dimension. Glissant foregrounds humanity’s relationship with “the land” as “one that is even more threatened because the community is alienated from that land” and as one that has been, like culture, historically [End Page 983] sanitized and wiped clean by our whitewashed memories (Caribbean Discourse 105). I discuss his “poetics of landscape” as an alternative creolized environmentalism that neither relativizes environmental destruction nor reproduces the pitfalls of deep ecological thought (Caribbean Discourse 150).
Scholars have made much of the ways in which the poetics of hybridity that dominates postcolonial studies today does not sit well with the ethics of mainstream environmentalism.2 They have pointed to the ways in which, in contrast to the crosscultural and hybridizing impulses of postcolonialism, mainstream American ecocritics have traditionally shored up a notion of wilderness and pristine natural purity as a “retreat from the social and environmental pollution of modernity” (DeLoughrey and Handley 23). This framing of the two fields’ apparent incompatibility is on the face of it reasonable. Yet, once we look at its implication more closely, issues emerge that go to the heart of the reason why science and the humanities have such a hard time communicating across disciplinary boundaries. Indeed, the two sides that ground the contrast between environmentalism and postcolonialism simply do not operate on an equivalent plane, and contrasting them consequently creates a sense of opposition where there was none. Indeed, in opposing hybrid forms of one culture’s interactions with another to environmentalism’s endorsement of a pristine, unadulterated nature, this framing obscures the fact that the opposite of environmentalism’s ideal of an untouched wilderness (and hence the equivalent of cultural hybridity) would be a landscape where organisms would mix with other natural organisms that did not originally, regionally, or “naturally” belong to that biotope. The equivalent of...