- Édouard Glissant’s Graves
The acoma tree is among the largest and tallest of the country. Long after being cut down, its heart is as healthy, moist, and filled with sap as if it had just been laid down upon the earth.
—Jean-Baptiste Du Tertre, Histoire générale des isles1
Reading the Grave
Visitors looking to pay their respects to Édouard Glissant will find his grave in a small maritime cemetery on the rugged coast of South-Western Martinique. The cemetery with crumbling walls lies in the heart of the town of Le Diamant on Rue des Arawaks, a stone’s throw away from Rue Barack Obama. Next to the cemetery, a marchande sells coconut, marakudja, and manioc-flavored artisanal sorbets out of a truck in a lot adjacent to the beach. Rough sea winds cool down the town. Inside the graveyard, black-and-white ceramic chess-patterned tombs dominate. Modest graves are simply marked by paddocks of conch shells. Édouard Glissant’s grave is easy to find. As people in town will tell you, it faces the sea, right by the entrance. Glissant’s grave’s flatness and proximity to the soil strike the eye. Its horizontality contrasts with the elevation, modest or ostentatious, of adjacent tombs with funerary monuments that resemble miniature houses. The ceramic monument, realized by Martinican ceramist and painter Victor Anicet, a dear friend of the departed poet, espouses the black-and-white of the surrounding tombs in what seems to be, at first sight, yet another grid-like pattern. The squares on the motif, however, grow into a series of circular lines in the pattern of an unfinished spiral. Two flower bouquets, an empty ceramic pot, a cream-colored votive candle, and three plaques paying homage to the professor or the writer adorn the horizontal expanse of the grave. In the far-back corners are two discreet engravings. The myopic visitor has to squat down, get closer to the earth, to decipher them. One modest square reads “Edouard Glissant, 2-09-1928 / 3-02-2011;”2 the other quotes Glissant’s epitaph “Rien n’est vrai, tout est vivant” ‘Nothing is true, everything is alive’ with the manuscript signature of the author. In May 2012, a little over a year after Glissant’s death, rust, salt winds, and maritime moss had already altered the shallow gold inscriptions, making them hard to read.
This rough deciphering of the object of Glissant’s grave invites us to question the aesthetic, political, historical, and philosophical motif of the grave in Glissant’s works. Departing [End Page 1014] from the submarine grave of sunken Africans inhabiting Glissant’s “Open Boat” in Poetics of Relation, I will end with a reflection on the grave in Glissant’s last single-authored book, Philosophie de la Relation, published two years before his death. Focusing on Glissant’s late work allows me to question the passage between the obsession with the calamitous death of the enslaved Africans, to the confrontation with the author’s own death, which is inextricably linked to a collective and ecocritical consciousness. In Philosophie de la Relation, the recurring image of a renfoncement de terre or “hollowing out of earth” acts simultaneously as the site of the beginning and end of life; as the mother’s birth and death; and as the refuge for what Glissant calls le poème. This questioning of the grave offers an entryway into Glissant’s notion of the sacred linked to the production of poetry and in relation with his late notion of the pensée du tremblement or “thought of trembling.” The methodology of this piece is somewhat unusual since it mixes methods of literary criticism, a personal experience of the grave, and testimonies of Glissant’s friends in Martinique. It is my hope that this open method will begin to explain the inscription on Glissant’s grave, “Nothing is true, everything is alive,” by not privileging one specific method of investigation, and by relaying, in the Glissantian sense of the term, the poem with its environment, and literary criticism with living testimony.
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