Academic journal article Discourse (Detroit, MI)

ÉDouard Glissant's Excursions and Detours

Academic journal article Discourse (Detroit, MI)

ÉDouard Glissant's Excursions and Detours

Article excerpt

Long relegated to the margins, reputed to be hermetic or tending toward unreadable, the work of Édouard Glissant is today letting its voice be heard.1 However, in spite of the remarkable growth of Glissant's audience-spurred by the emergence of Caribbean literatures, the popularity of Francophone topics, the worldwide rise of discourses such as cultural studies and postcolonial studies, and, it must be said, the persistent questioning of identity-his work remains to be read. To be read not as a form of translation mimicking or paraphrasing the poet's ideas that, in the guise of introduction or homage, would seek to fix the tremors of his thought but instead to be read at a distance, with a careful attention to the opacities and detours of an intentionally different way of speaking, or-to cite an expression of Glissant's with regard to William Faulkner-attending to that which the text "says without saying everything by speaking."2 This type of reading would be a hermeneutic project that would not only respond to the call for dialogue with the Other that the work carries within itself but would also expand the text's horizon to allow for a perpetual deciphering of meanings.

Poet of Rupture

To survey that "nouvelle région du monde" ("new region of the world")3 imagined by Glissant toward the end of his life (after having explored it through his poetry), it is necessary to recall the founding impulse that a European poetry fascinated with irrational phenomena and the magic of faraway civilizations offered to an entire generation of Caribbean writers. In the same way, in the native arts of Africa and Oceania as well as in their spaces and lush tropical landscapes, Surrealism found a fertile analogy for the complexities of dreams and the real. Initially from a distance, they opened a dialogue with the poets of the Americas, one that was attractive despite Surrealism's tendency to situate the new literature in the wake of the Other.

Quickly perceiving that such an influence was once again delaying the emergence of Caribbean expression, it was in echo-but also in reaction4-to Surrealism, a movement then incarnated in the Caribbean through the journals Légitime défense and Tropiques, that Glissant cofounded the political-cultural group Franc Jeu (Fair Play) in Le Lamentin, Martinique. In the name of that collective, made up of his closest classmates from the lycée, Glissant delivered his first speech,5 one whose aperture to the Caribbean6 already harbored his "passion du monde" (world passion). Aspiring to prolong and exceed the battles carried out by their elders, these young Martinicans, close to Aimé Césaire, were determined to open a new breach. "From 1940 to 1945, I was party to that youthful militancy, to those bubbling ideas; saturated with politics, with poetry, with literature,"7 Glissant would recall in 1958. Perhaps inspired by the rebellion of René Daumal and Roger GilbertLecomte's literary journal Grand Jeu and doubdess in response to Félix Eboué's speech in which the first black governor of a French colonial state called on the youths of the French overseas departments to "Jouer le jeu" (Play the game),8 the eponymous journal published Glissant's first poem in 1946. Written by the young poet around age eighteen in a context in which Caribbean poetry took the form of "armes miraculeuses" ("miraculous weapons"),9 this poem announces a project to which Glissant would continue to be loyal throughout the course of his work:

Je ne laisserai rien derrière moi

Pas un soleil de lever d'arbre

Pas une étoile entre deux persiennes

Pas une femme engourdie d'air cuit

Je ne laisserai pas un rire pas un joujou

Pas un souvenir


Il faut tout happer



Il ne faut rien laisser

Pas un bijou un oeillet portrait rouge

Une sauvage

Pas un regret

J'en ferai un paquet d'astres

Enguirlandé d'explosions que je jetterai

Rapide et le plomb aux voeux

A la mer immobile des inattendus10

I will leave nothing behind me

Not a sun to rise from the tree

Not a star between two shutters

Not a woman numbed by the baking air

I will leave no laughter, not a toy

Not a memory

. …

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