Édouard Glissant

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additional name:
Edouard Glissant
crossroads:
creoles, diversity, history, hybridity, identity, language, philosophy, politics, space
genre(subgenre):
Written and spoken word (essay, novel, poetry)
region:
Europe, Western, America, Caribbean
country/territory:
France, Martinique (France)
created on:
March 1, 2011
last changed on:
Please note: This page has not been updated since March 16, 2011. We decided to keep it online because we think the information is still valuable.
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Édouard Glissant
Edouard Glissant. Photo: Manfred Metzner © 2011. Publishing House Das Wunderhorn

Article

“My thesis is that the world is creolizing”

The Poet of Plurality: In memory of the philosopher and author Édouard Glissant

The most important poet, philosopher, novelist and essayist of the Francophone Caribbean, a leading thinker on questions of cultural theory, appeared tired, propping himself on a gnarled cane. Yet his curiosity, his forcefulness in arguing against a rigid, stereotyped thinking in categories of identity and ethnicity, and the strength of his political concerns were impressive. “The new languages of the Turkish-German youth, the city’s polyglotism, how it deals with diversity – that’s what interests me when I come to Berlin,” Édouard Glissant told me. It was our last conversation. Two days ago, after an extended illness, Édouard Glissant died in Paris at the age of 82.
Born on the Caribbean island of Martinique in 1928, he went to Paris on a French government scholarship in 1946 to study history, literature, ethnology and philosophy. A short time later, he joined artistic and literary circles and, in this period of Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon and Léopold Sédar Senghor, became involved in anticolonial movements. He published numerous poems, novels, essays and plays. In 1958 he was awarded the PRIX RENAUDOT for his first novel, “La Lézarde” (The Ripening), a manifesto of the poet and the postcolonial emancipation of the Antilles. From 1982 to 1988 he served UNESCO in the area of cultural politics. Glissant divided his time between his home in Martinique, the United States – where he taught, first in Louisiana and then at The City University of New York – and Paris, upon which he bestowed his Institut du Tout-Monde.

His oeuvre encompasses poetry, novels and philosophical essays. It “combines philosophy and poetry in their most profound and purest form,” said the philosopher Gilles Deleuze. From the 1980s onward, Glissant put forth theories on creolization, diversity and difference. Works such as “Le discours antillais” of 1981 (Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays, 1989) played a vital role in the crystallization of interest in multiculturality, identity politics and so-called minority literatures. He further developed his ideas into a poetics of multiplicity, a fragmentary theory of worldwide relationships, most notably in “Poétique de la Relation” (1990; Poetics of Relation, 1997), “Introduction à une Poétique du Divers” (1996), “Traité du Tout-Monde” (1997) and “Philosophie de la Relation” (2009). He was one of the first thinkers to describe the process of globalization as a cultural tendency. Glissant published dozens of poetry volumes, novels and essays that have left an indelible mark worldwide. In October 2010 in Paris he introduced “La Terre, le Feu, l’Eau et les Vents,” a collection of poems by important figures who inspired and accompanied him on his life journey. The same year also saw the publication of “L’Imaginaire des langues. Entretiens avec Lise Gauvin,” a case for revolt and for the power of imagination.

Glissant’s writings do not aim for a self-contained categorial system of thought. They are characterized by an openness which challenges the reader by pointing out unusual lines of connection. A picturesque or naturalistic Caribbean literature was never his concern. Instead, he maintained a fluid relationship to the text, in the manner of William Faulkner, to whom he dedicated an essay. Against the European tradition and its constant attempt to illuminate and survey the foreign, he sets a Caribbean poetics of polyphony and simultaneity. In the recent documentary film “Édouard Glissant: un monde en relation” (Édouard Glissant: One World in Relation) by the New York director Manthia Diawara, Glissant holds up “opacity” – the impenetrability of the other, the non-explainable – as a positive value in his thesis against the false transparency of universalistic models.

Humanity’s exploitative relationship to nature appears early on in his work. Landscapes and forces of nature, and above all islands and the sea are characteristic motifs and metaphors of Glissant’s philosophy and literature. For him, the Caribbean is a laboratory of “creolization,” its linguistic mix of African syntax, Caribbean vocabulary and French dialects an example of a melding of cultures which gives rise to the new and unforeseeable. The specific composition of the Caribbean archipelago makes it a model for that which is taking place all over the world: “My thesis is that the world is creolizing.”

Creolization means a creative appropriation of the mixing of cultures while respecting and preserving diversity and heterogeneity. In his poetics of relation, of the “archipelagic,” Glissant describes an opening-up to new forms of relationship. Glissant’s series of books “Peuples de l’eau” (Peoples of the Water), published beginning in 2006, is based on twelve expeditions undertaken by selected authors to eight peoples who are only reachable by water, as they live on remote islands, the banks of rivers, or coastlines. One work in this series, “La terre magnétique” of 2007, explores the cultural energy of Easter Island from an unusual perspective. In the form of the “Black Atlantic,” however, the sea in Glissant’s work appears as a reservoir of historical traumata: the terrible ships’ passage which deported West Africans to the Caribbean and the Americas lives on in the memory of the slaves and their descendants.

The commonality of black diasporic cultural production is, in Glissant’s view, its multiplicity. This capacity for interconnection inspired him to collaborate with the likes of the jazz musician Jacques Coursil and the dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson.

Glissant was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature a number of times and his work has found fertile ground in younger Francophone writers such as Patrick Chamoiseau and Raphael Confiant. Nonetheless, the work of this perhaps most important contemporary thinker has yet to find due resonance in our cultural theory, philosophy and globalization theory. In the wake of this loss, we can only hope that Glissant’s work will gradually seep into our thinking, feeling and action – the riches left to us by this author hold unending impulses for future designs for a global poetics of relation.
Author: Susanne Stemmler

Works

La terre magnétique : les errances de Rapa Nui, l´île de Pâques

Published Written,
2007
Essay. Together with Sylvie Séma. Paris: Seuil

Quand les murs tombent. L´identité nationale hors-la-loi? (avec Patrick Chamoiseau).

Published Written,
2007
Essay. Paris: Galaade

Mémoires des esclavages (avec un avant-propos de Dominique de Villepin)

Published Written,
2007
Essay. Paris: Gallimard

Une nouvelle région du monde

Published Written,
2006
Essay. Paris: Gallimard

Ethnicité d´aujourd´hui

Published Written,
2005
Essay. Paris: Gallimard

La Cohée du Lamentin

Published Written,
2005
Paris: Gallimard

Ormerod

Published Written,
2003
Novel. Paris: Gallimard

Le Monde incréé: Conte de ce que fut la Tragédie d´Askia; Parabole d´un Moulin de Martinique; La Folie Célat

Published Written,
2000
Poetry. Paris: Gallimard

Sartorius: le roman des Batoutos

Published Written,
1999
Novel. Paris: Gallimard

Racisme blanc

Published Written,
1998
Essay. Paris: Gallimard

Faulkner, Mississippi

Published Written,
1998
Essay. Paris: Stock, 1996; Paris: Gallimard (folio)

Traité du Tout-Monde

Established,
1997
Paris: Gallimard

L´Intention poétique

Published Written,
1997
Essay. Nouvelle édition, Paris: Gallimard

Introduction à une poétique du divers

Published Written,
1995
Essay. Paris: Gallimard

Poèmes complets

Published Written,
1994
Poetry. Paris: Gallimard

Tout-Monde

Published Written,
1993
Novel. Paris: Gallimard 1993

Fastes

Published Written,
1991
Poetry. Toronto: Ed. du GREF

Discours de Glendon. Suivi d´une bibliographie des écrits d´Edouard Glissant établie par Alain Baudot

Published Written,
1990
Essay. Toronto: Ed. du GREF

Mahagony

Published Written,
1987
Nouvelle édition, Paris: Gallimard 1997

Pays rêvé, pays réel

Published Written,
1985
Poetry. Paris: Seuil

Le Sel noir; Le Sang rivé; Boises

Published Written,
1983
Poetry. Paris: Gallimard

Le Discours antillais

Published Written,
1981
Essay. Paris: Gallimard 1997

La Case du commandeur

Published Written,
1981
Novel. Nouvelle édition, Paris: Gallimard 1997

Boises; histoire naturelle d´une aridité

Published Written,
1979
Poetry. Fort-de-France: Acoma

Malemort

Published Written,
1975
Novel. Nouvelle édition, Paris: Gallimard 1997

L’Intention poétique

Published Written,
1969
Nouvelle édition, Paris: Gallimard 1997

Les Indes, Un Champ d´îles, La Terre inquète

Published Written,
1965
Poetry. Paris: Seuil

Le Quatrième Siècle

Published Written,
1964
Novel. Paris: Gallimard 1997

Monsieur Toussaint

Published Written,
1961
Essay. Nouvelle édition: Paris: Gallimard 1998

Le Sel Noir

Published Written,
1960
Poetry. Paris: Seuil

La Lézarde

Published Written,
1958
Novel. Nouvelle édition, Paris: Gallimard 1997

Soleil de la conscience

Published Written,
1956
Essay. Nouvelle édition, Paris: Gallimard 1997

La Terre inquiète

Published Written,
1955
Poetry. Lithographies by Wilfredo Lam. Paris: Éditions du Dragon

Projects

This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.

Lifelines No 4: Édouard Glissant

(12 May 11 - 15 May 11)