- Perspectives on Culture and Politics in the French Antilles by Celia Britton
Celia Britton's collection of essays brings together a wide-ranging set of her reflections on literature and philosophy in Martinique and Guadeloupe. These essays see Britton address major figures, Édouard Glissant, Michel Leiris, and Maryse Condé, as well as lesser-studied writers, such as René Ménil and Joseph Zobel. Engagingly written and meticulously argued at every turn, Britton's essays reveal unexpected dimensions in her [End Page 329] primary archives and offer challenging arguments on the relationship between politics and aesthetics in the French Caribbean. Although the book is not formally divided into two parts, the first seven essays deal with philosophy and the social sciences and the latter five essays deal with literary fiction. Glissant is a major focus of the theoretical set of essays: Britton takes a long view of Glissant's philosophical career and considers not only how certain categories (such as identity, change, or politics) shift throughout his work, but also how his thinking intersects with pressing contemporary questions of neolibera-lism, globalization, and ecology. Glissant is also an important interlocutor in her essays on Michel Leiris's ethnography and views on Caribbean departmentalization (which happened in 1946). Leiris travelled to the Caribbean in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and Britton's two essays on his ethnography show how his thinking on race and departmentalization is in many ways a continuation of debates Leiris had with himself about subjectivity and objectivity in anthropology while he was writing L'Afrique fantôme (1934). Britton reads Leiris alongside Glissant's essays on Leiris's ethnography; she brings these two figures together through the category of Relation and perceptively highlights Leiris's influence on Glissant. The second part of the book is devoted to critical readings of Caribbean novels and short stories. These essays offer remarkably detailed close textual work, as Britton takes readers through the intricacies of her primary texts while remaining always focused on broader arguments. Glissant figures here, as well, but Britton also includes illuminating studies of writers such as the Guadeloupean, Ernest Pépin. In her essay on Pépin, Britton shows how his less-studied novels mark out critical terrain that is different both from Glissant's work and from that of the créolité writers. Pépin, she argues, re-imagines the créolistes' investment in folklore and Glissant's work on opacity in order to arrive at a vision of the Caribbean that is based on radically open forms of knowledge and a 'refusal to privilege traditional Caribbean culture' (p. 110). Similarly, in her essay on William Faulkner and original sin in Caribbean literature, she shows how Maryse Condé's Traversée de la mangrove (1992) offers a different perspective on history and genealogy than what we see in Glissant or Faulkner. Although Britton has an abiding passion for Glissant's work, she never lets this interest overshadow the singularities of her other authors. This careful sensitivity is characteristic of the masterful readings Britton provides in her provocative new collection.