Theorizing Glissant: Sites and Citations, edited by John E. Drabinski & Marisa Parham

in New West Indian Guide / Nieuwe West-Indische Gids

John E. Drabinski & Marisa Parham (eds.), Theorizing Glissant: Sites and Citations. London: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2015. vii + 175 pp. (Paper US$ 39.95)

In their introduction, “Glissant, Creolizing Philosophy,” Marisa Parham and John Drabinski recall that trauma, fragmentation, chaos, and loss have led Caribbean people to abandon the myth of a single tradition. Coined by Édouard Glissant, whose project appears to be both “critical” and “poetic” (p. 4), the term “Poetics of Relation” evokes an aesthetics grounded in the composite, nonlinear, nomadic, and unpredictable culture generated by the Caribbean lived experience. As hinted by the authors, rather than projecting the image of one exceptional milieu, such a “post-Western model of thinking” (p. 2) ought to provide a “method” (p. 4), apt at embracing future developments in world cultures. In sum, readers are invited to follow the inspiring ways of creolized Antillanité throughout the collection of essays, announced as “broadly philosophical” (p. 4).

Studying “opacity,” “relation,” and “identity” within the context of colonial domination, H. Adlai Murdoch comes close to reaching the logical end of his quest, that is fully acknowledging the following: for Glissant, opacity is one with the concept of alterity which, precluding comprehension of the other, should not prevent love for fellow human beings. Reading Glissant’s comments on several poets he examines in L’ intention poétique (1969), Seanna Sumalee Oakley notes that, unlike his direct approach to poetic texts, his references to their philosophical substrata are oblique and allusive. Not only does she see in this method Glissant’s willed deviance from inherited systems of thought; she suggests that this approach points to the entanglement of poetry and philosophy in his own writing. This theory is plausible. In his perusal of “Glissant’s ontology of difference,” Clevis Headley’s determination to demonstrate that his borrowing of concepts from Deleuze and Guattari was not merely imitative may be superfluous. In fact, Glissant’s oeuvre resonates with echoes of texts he had often mastered and was able to use advantageously. Max Hantel’s prudent association of Luce Irigaray’s feminine theory of fluids with Glissant’s vision of an aesthetics of turbulence is stimulating. Considering that Glissant’s poetry and fiction show the impact of both female and male creative disorder on his vision, Hantel’s suggestion that his creolization theory may be warped by a dominant patriarchal order appears unwarranted. Hanétha Vété-Congolo correctly points out that La Lézarde (1958)—The Ripening—enhances both the value of individual action and the potential power of literary creativity. Yet branding this early novel as “lyrical utopia” (p. 113)—given Martinique’s contemporary situation—gives little credit either to Glissant’s imaginative design throughout his oeuvre or to the workings of fiction, always at the crossroads between reality and myth. Appropriately, Parham stresses that, as stated in Faulkner Mississippi (1996), Glissant describes Faulkner’s style as rhizomatic. Observing Faulkner’s deferral of meaning through the suggestive invasion of the poetic allows Glissant to follow the creolization process in his fiction and to reflect on his own endeavors. Starting with a sophisticated deciphering of Negritude in relation to presentations by Aimé Césaire and George Lamming at the 1956 International Congress of Black Writers, Drabinski admits that he is walking a tightrope between Césaire’s aesthetics of Africanness, Lamming’s theory of the human condition, and Glissant’s ongoing negotiation, in his archipelagic thinking, between “overcoming alienation and fidelity to fragmentation” (p. 163). Neil Roberts’s poem on Glissant’s legacy of marronage concludes the discussion.

Each chapter in Theorizing Glissant will elicit interest. As a book, it does not quite measure up to reasonable expectations for four reasons. (1) Apart from the reference to Mémoires des esclavages (2007) in the introduction, it evinces a blatant absence of interest in Glissant’s later texts (La cohée du Lamentin, 2005; Une nouvelle région du monde, 2006; and Philosophie de la Relation, poésie en étendue, 2009), thus bypassing a relevant question as to the way such works might be read when confronted with Poétique de la Relation (1990) and other earlier texts. (2) Except for the chapter on La Lézarde, it shies away from due attention to Glissant’s poetry and fiction. I (and others) have believed for a long time that Glissant the poet gives birth and impetus to the theoretician, not the other way around. Accordingly, any attempt at demonstrating that his writings exemplify both the will to dismantle philosophy as system and the praxis of a creolized worldview ought to consider the formidable creativity which, throughout his oeuvre, animates his langage within the French langue. In Philosophie de la Relation, Glissant reaffirmed his faith in the poetic: “Alors nous découvrons émerveillés que la langue des philosophies est d’ abord celle du poème” (p. 87). (3) Developments about Glissant’s kinship to other world advocates of Relation, including, perhaps, pre-Socratic philosophers, would have been welcome. (4) The book sorely neglects the wealth of international Glissant scholarship. Consequently, a legitimate question does arise: was this book ready for publication?

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