- Édouard Glissant, Philosopher: Heraclitus and Hegel in the Whole-World by Alexandre Leupin
Alexandre Leupin’s newly-translated book, Édouard Glissant, Philosopher: Heraclitus and Hegel in the Whole-World, first appeared in French to a largely positive but limited reception in 2016. This translation promises to broaden critical attention to Glissant’s work, responding to the demands of a rapidly expanding English-language readership of his œuvre. Leupin, a co-director of the Glissant Translation Project and the central interlocutor of Glissant’s posthumous Baton Rouge Interviews (2020) who was Glissant’s colleague at Louisiana State University, has recently emerged as a forceful voice in Glissant studies. Though Glissant was long a leader in postcolonial thought, Leupin self-righteously dismisses the “postcolonial [as a] ghetto” in tin-eared phrasing that is buried in the book’s endnotes, where Leupin insists that Glissant’s vision is trained on that which lies “beyond” a “transparency of writing to politics” (274–75, n14). Such assertions, which at worst ignore the intimate relation that has obtained between philosophy and politics since at least Plato’s Republic, obliquely take on other Glissant scholarship that is also largely relegated to the book’s endnotes, leaving the bulk of the book’s eighteen chapters to Leupin’s own interpretations of Glissant’s œuvre as it relates to the now arcane thought of Heraclitus and the always controversial authority of Hegelian philosophy.
Leupin admits that the “absence” of Glissant’s “specific relation to the Caribbean, especially to Frantz Fanon and Aimé Césaire” (2), marks his study in a peculiar fashion. He focuses on “only Glissant’s essays and theory” (4), by which he means to indicate Glissant’s philosophical prose work, leaving aside the equally important poetry, which is the heartbeat of Glissant’s philosophical thought. He gives only scant attention to Glissant’s plays and novels, sprinkling mention of them throughout the text. Thus, Leupin’s study is “limited to the field [of] Glissant’s intimate relationship with the ‘Western’ philosophical tradition” (3). Reviewers of the original 2016 French edition of Leupin’s study seem to have been satisfied to accept this limitation. Readers of the 2021 English translation, many of whom may work in the fields of black critical theory and comparative literature and were introduced to Glissant by such francophone American critics as Brent Hayes Edwards, Nick Nesbitt, and John Drabinski, will be disappointed with the book’s constraining contextualization within white Western philosophical thought, which constitutes a “ghetto” of its own sort. (Another mind-numbing phrase besides “ghetto” appears in the translation’s repeated use of the term “crossbreed,” which remains a highly charged, derogatory term in the American context that demands greater consideration.)
Despite such limitations, just as Glissant theorizes the ouvertures that are evident across the deep nexus of Western philosophy, he easily evades the totalizing efforts that characterize Leupin’s book. Leupin acknowledges that Glissant finds problematic “any system that seeks to be systematic” (vi), and that he refused explicitly any “incorporation into the Republic of Letters” (55). Leupin nonetheless—and unironically—goes on to “sketch out a Glissantian program” (60) in bullet points. Much of this outline is filled in over the course of the book via the recitation and repetition, with a difference, of fragments, a gesture that, along with Glissant’s frequent imagery of éclats, links him to the philosophical practice of Heraclitus.
But it is Leupin’s treatment of Hegel through Glissantian rereadings that emerges as the most intriguing aspect of this study. While Leupin treats insufficiently, if at all, Hegel’s white supremacist Philosophy of World History (1822–31), a text that is undoubtedly relatable to Glissant’s theory of le Tout-Monde, his attention to the dialectics that characterize The Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) may inspire scholars to reread Hegel with renewed criticism through the framings of Glissant. Those readers compelled by Glissant’s co-creation of rhizomatic thought (in advance [End Page 143] of Deleuze and Guattari, in this scholar’s opinion), will...