Thursday, February 3, 2011

RIP Édouard Glissant

Édouard Glissant (1928-2011),
among the greatest intellectuals,
artists, critics, creators, thinkers
to emerge from the 20th century
Caribbean, passed away today
in Paris at age of 82.
A poet, fiction writer, essayiste,
philosopher, he brought these
different genres together
in conversation, around and to
a meal at which they spoke
at length and freely with each other.

When I was in graduate school I debated trying to finesse my schedule in order to take a class with him at the CUNY Graduate Center, but couldn't swing it. I nevertheless did hurry to any and all talks he gave, and was very glad to have seen him in the fall of 2009, when NYU's Institute of African American Affairs sponsored four conversations under the title One World In Relation, that explored aspects of Glissant's work. The four panels were "Opacity, Stupidity and the History of Unintelligibility: The Right to Opacity as a Prerequisite for Politics and Philosophy" (Oct. 27); Diversity in the Black Night: Chaos, Créolization and Metissage" (Nov. 4); "Roots and Imaginary Offshoots: Ecstatic Difference" (Nov. 18); and "De-capitalization and the Way of the World: Religion, Secularism and Multiplicity" (Nov. 30). 

I caught the third event, which featured François Noudelmann, Mary Ann Caws, Fred Moten (who brilliantly opened his presentation with a clip from John Coltrane's "Giant Steps," which opened a parallel vein of conversation, that rarely happens at such events), Manthia Diawara, Emily Apter, and Avital Ronell. The highlight of the evening, in addition to Moten's presentation, Diawara's film clip, and Glissant himself, was the tribute to him by poet Kofi Anyidoho, who entered the room and, breaking the usual hierarchical exchange that occurs between those on stage and the audience, strolled down the main aisle, singing and poetizing, gathering in his lyric embrace Kamau Brathwaite, another of the great figures of the 20th century Caribbean-African-Diasporic-America who was present; Diawara; and ultimately the entire audience. It appeared to shake some of the panelists up, but Glissant appeared delighted. He could see, I knew, in Anyidoho's performance some of his own theories being enacted, embodied, in play. I was glad I caught that event and sorry that I had to miss several others, including one at which the poet and translator extraordinaire Nathanaël, who beautifully translated Glissant's Poetic Intention (Nightbook Books, 2010), participated. At the bottom of this post are some photos of the event.

Anyidoho's entrance and tribute

Repeating Island has some of the best links to obituaries, tributes, thoughts on Glissant. I quote the following obituary (credited to Kevin Meehan), which appears on Repeating Island's page, and whose original link can also be found there.

Eloquent defender of diversity and métissage, the great Caribbean writer Edouard Glissant died on February 3 in Paris, at the age of 82. Poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, thinker, [and exponent of the concept of] creolization, he was born in Sainte-Marie (Martinique) on September 21, 1928 and conducted studies in Philosophy and Ethnology in Paris.

His success upon winning the Prix Renaudot in 1958 for his novel La Lézarde made the general public aware of this intellectual, who never separated his literary creation from a militant reflection. Influenced by the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, he construed the history and geography of the Caribbean politically, demonstrating his revolt against racisms of any type and evoking the indelible mark of slavery on the relationship between France and Africa and all overseas territories.

Opposing any imposed systems and any rejection of the other, Edouard Glissant has been champion of métissage and exchange, formulating in his essays gathered in the “Poétique” series his theses on Philosophie de la relation [philosophy of relation] and Poétique du divers the [poetics of the diverse]. He refused to be constrained by single genre, moving constantly between the novel, essay, and poetry, even within a single work.

Novels Directed towards the Imaginary

Edouard Glissant, who shared at once a respectful and conflicting relationship with Aimé Césaire, the other great personality of the Caribbean world, also expressed his concern for literary parentage, through writers and “disciples” [I would rather translate this as supporting scholars] such as Patrick Chamoiseau, Raphaël Confiant, or Ernest Pépin.

His novels, from Quatrième siècle (Seuil 1965) to Ormerod (Gallimard 2003), are geared towards a mythical and imaginary world, far from any naturalism, but also imbued with picturesque elements specific to certain Caribbean novelists.

After having created a center for research and teaching in Martinique, as well as a review named Acoma, Edouard Glissant founded in Paris the Institut du Tout-monde, aimed at putting into practice his humanistic principles and to allowing for the dissemination of “the extraordinary diversity of the imaginaries of the people.”
Diawara's Glissant clips
A clip of Glissant from Manthia Diawara's documentary on his life and work
Glissant event screen 
The panel before the conversation
Avital Ronell and Manthia Diawara 
Avital Ronell and Manthia Diawara, introducing the event
Glissant panel 
Édouard Glissant, Ronell, François Noudelmann, Emily Apter, Fred Moten, Mary Ann Caws, and Diawara
Kamau Brathwaite and Kofi Anyidoho
Kamau Brathwaite and Kofi Anyidoho

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