- A Schizophrenia That Wasn’t OneÉdouard Glissant and Poetry, Painting and Politics in 1950s Paris
In 2007, Édouard Glissant’s contribution to the polemical book, Pour une littérature-monde, came in the form of an interview. Yet instead of examining issues that the text’s editors, Michel le Bris and Jean Rouaud, were eager to highlight, such as the use of the term “francophone” in the French literary system or the purportedly hermetic nature of modern metropolitan writing,1 Glissant spends the majority of his contribution reflecting on the aesthetics of his favorite authors and discussing principles behind his own poetics.2 The title he selects for the interview—“Solitaire et solidaire”—also appears to caution against grouping his views too emphatically with those of the rest of the book’s authors. When asked what exactly he means by this phrase, his response is enigmatic. After evoking the solitude necessary for literary creation, he remarks that while he has “toujours travaillé avec mes compatriotes antillais,” this has coincided with his simultaneous involvement in “d’autres activités auxquelles ils ne participaient pas, comme mon travail avec des amis poètes français de ma génération (Jacques Charpier, Roger Giroux . . .) [ . . . ] J’ai finalement été assez schizophrène dans ma vie: passionné de poésie à la française et passionné de poésie à l’antillaise” (“Solitaire” 85).
This reference to a kind of schizophrenic behavior on Glissant’s part has slipped by, unprobed, in critical analyses of the interview to date.3 Yet he makes similar declarations a year later, with the publication of Les entretiens de Baton Rouge (2008). The book contains transcripts of interviews with Glissant that were conducted by Alexandre Leupin during 1990 and 1991, when both men were teaching at Louisiana State University. There, the Martinican author is more precise as he dates this so-called schizophrenia to his time in Paris during the 1950s: “quand je suis arrivé à Paris, j’ai connu deux sortes de fréquentations de nature schizophrénique, [End Page 257] qui n’allaient pas ensemble, qui n’étaient pas conjointes.” Again, this vocabulary of rupture refers to a divide between his Antillean friends, with whom he was working to further the autonomy of Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Guyane from metropolitan French control, and his more unexpected associations with white French intellectuals: “de jeunes poètes et écrivains comme Roger Giroux, Jean Laude, Henri Pichette, Maurice Roche, Jean Paris, Paul Meyer [sic] et Jacques Charpier.” Glissant proceeds to underscore the extreme disconnect between the groups as he stresses that they knew very little about each other, that he concealed his political activities with the Front Antillo-Guyanais from his French friends,4 and that his Antillean compatriots couldn’t understand why he spent so much time debating literature with these European contacts when “il y avait tant d’autres urgences” (Entretiens 51; 52; 53).
Indeed, the 1950s were the decade of the end of the first Indochina War, the start of the Algerian War, the Cuban Revolution, the Hungarian Uprising, and the period when French African colonies were negotiating and preparing for the independence to which most of them would accede in 1960. Other Martinican writers, such as Aimé Césaire and Frantz Fanon, wrote some of their most acclaimed pieces of political prose in this decade,5 and Jean-Paul Sartre and his vision of the committed, activist intellectual were still highly influential among Négritude writers and in the journal founded to express their views, Présence Africaine. The First and Second Congresses of Black Writers and Artists, which took place in Paris in 1956 and Rome in 1959, witnessed the delivery of multiple speeches that underscored the importance of producing a littérature engagée during this moment of struggle for national independence, civil rights, and racial equality.6 At a time when the description of someone as a writer was frequently met with the question “Oui mais, à part ça? Qu’est-ce qu’il fait?” (Entretiens 52), it is not entirely surprising that Glissant was hesitant to advertise his associations with these metropolitan authors, who were at a remove from anti-colonial struggles, to his...