Tumbling Monoliths: Édouard Glissant’s Césaire and Paris

Lincoln Z. Shlensky, University of Victoria, Canada

grand rocher éboulé infléchi du dedans
par l’indicible musique retenue prisonnière
d’une mélodie quand même à sauver du Désastre
Aimé Césaire(1)

le résidu en moi demeure….
Édouard Glissant(2)

     Édouard Glissant’s early essays are filled with a sense of the continental drift, as it were, precipitated by the end of World War II, the subsequent transformation of Martinique from a French colony into a départment and its residents into French citizens, the election of Aimé Césaire as national deputy to the French parliament, and Glissant’s own voyage from the small town of Le Lamentin, in Martinique, to Paris. While the sense of historical optimism he displayed at this incipient stage in his literary career evidently was not to be affirmed by subsequent political events, at an early moment in the 1950s Glissant already recognized the historical significance of the social and political breach presented by the immediate post-war period. This perception of historical rupture, and of the possibilities and dilemmas it generated, was to inform all of his later writing. Glissant evidently struggled, in his earliest published writings, to reconcile his experience of estrangement from Europe with an implicit recognition of his implication in the metropolitan European worldview and zeitgeist. He also confirmed his belated participation in the philosophical and cultural legacy of Negritude, without ascribing fully to the movement or its ideals, for reasons both avowed and unspoken. In the broadest sense, Glissant recognized that the historical transformations signaled by the disintegration of empires and the rise of independence struggles among subject peoples had shattered any presumed continuity of a singular, uncontested historical perspective. Glissant has continued to demonstrate his cognizance of the magnitude of the break represented by mid-century political and cultural shifts, but he has equivocated as to the valence and meaning of this rupture. He advances the claim, most explicitly in his earliest novels, that with the end of the war, Caribbeans had burst onto the stage of global history. Nevertheless, he remains surprisingly, even surreptitiously, attached to notions of cultural separation, enclosure and particularism, which, he has repeatedly indicated, provide the only guarantee of cultural integrity. But while he has passionately argued against reductive cultural “universalism” and for the irreducible cultural “right to obscurity,” his writings continually express his desire for Caribbeans to embrace heterogeneous or foreign ideas and influences, even as his most renowned essays focus on the destructive results of Martinican integration into the French political and cultural system.
     Glissant’s early fictional and theoretical texts suggest that he attributes this sense of geographical and historical shearing to the parallel causes of rising worldwide anticolonial liberation struggles and, correspondingly, the involution of Europe’s imperial ambitions as part and parcel of its wartime self-immolation. He treated such themes prominently in his first two novels, La Lézarde [The Lézarde; trans. The Ripening] (1958) and Le Quatrième siècle [The Fourth Century] (1964). In La Lézarde, a group of revolutionary student activists assassinate a local political boss who threatens the election of a popular anticolonial candidate who resembles Aimé Césaire, in whose campaign for election to the French National Assembly Glissant himself had participated as a student before he left Martinique for France in 1946. Le Quatrième siècle presents the historical back-story of the earlier novel in which Glissant imagines the growth of a Caribbean identity and social consciousness in terms of an historical dialectic of acceptation and refus, or what he would later reframe as “endurance” and “opposition” (Faulkner, Mississippi 60-61, 126), from the days of slavery and slave marooning under French rule through the nominal end of colonization after the war.(3)
     If the causes seemed clear at the time, however, the consequences of the fall of political empires and the ensuing cultural ruptures were proving far more equivocal than the generation of political and cultural nationalists that preceded Glissant had prophesied. Both of his early novels thus end ambiguously, rather than triumphantly, as the historical arc of domination to liberation they describe might otherwise suggest. Le Quatrième siècle concludes with the protagonists’ recognition that the history of subjugation and resistance is not over because colonialism’s wane has given rise to a new era of administrative and economic neocolonialism. La Lézarde ends even more equivocally with a narrative explosion (the last chapter is entitled “L’éclat”) in which one character is killed by the hunting dogs of another, and the rest disperse. The main protagonist, Mathieu, leaves the island, as Glissant did, for Europe. The absence of closure in these early novels can be linked to Glissant’s own sense that the postwar history of Martinique left the most pressing questions unanswered for its newly independent populace. A similar sense that with the end of colonialism Martinique has merely entered a new phase of external domination and exploitation pervades Glissant’s best known theoretical texts, Le Discours antillais (1981) [trans. Caribbean Discourse (1989)] and Poétique de la relation (1990) [trans. Poetics of Relation (1997)]. These influential collections of theoretical essays, and the early novels, treat history as a pre-text to the present that must be acknowledged in order — and this is the evident aim — to be exorcised, or as one character in Le Quatrième siècle puts it at the end of the novel, “le fait est qu’il faut apprendre ce que nous avions oublié, mais que, l’apprenant, il nous faut l’oublier encore [the fact is that we must learn what we had forgotten, but having learned it, we must forget it again]” (Le Quatrième Siècle, 285). Yet Glissant’s relationship to history, and particularly to the immediate past of transition from colonial rule to departmentalization, is significantly more complex than such a formula can indicate.
     In what follows I return to some of Glissant’s earliest published essays to show  how he would begin to formulate a poetics of cultural hybridity or creolization, not yet named as such, out of his insight that the postcolonial condition reflected neither a simple continuation by other means of the colonial order nor a headlong leap into the idealized future of a Martinican — or, less still, pan-Caribbean — national identity. What is remarkable about these early texts is the extent to which they demonstrate that the formative concepts underpinning Glissant’s theories of la Relation, antillanité and créolisation derive indirectly from his early efforts to locate himself culturally with reference to two divergent historical forces: the faltering, yet still enormously powerful, centripetal cultural and political pull of the historic colonial metropole in Paris, and the explosively centrifugal discourse of cultural autonomy represented most prominently in Aimé Césaire’s anticolonial writings and political legacy. Glissant’s early writings reframe both of these figures in surprising ways: in Soleil de la conscience he reverses the usual historical valence of the imperial metropolis by suggesting that, both from within and without, Paris does create a centralized uniformity but rather disperses its subjects unexpectedly into an array of insular cultural formations. Glissant’s 1958 essay on the Negritude founder suggests, conversely, that Césaire’s poetics of ethnocultural identification does not advance an ideology of isolated and irreconcilable racial essences, as critics had often charged, but instead promotes a new commitment to global interconnectedness and political solidarity. These seemingly contradictory readings of two of the major historical icons of Caribbean postcolonialism correspond to Glissant’s subsequently articulated theories of chaos and relation, glimmerings of which one can detect in the contrapuntal structure of these early essays.
     Taken together, Glissant’s paradoxical reframing of Paris as a center adrift, and of Aimé Césaire as a prophet of cultural interdependence, may also be identified as early and decisive catalysts of the impulse that would subsequently lead him to postulate a specific understanding of postcolonial creolization, a concept he evidently borrowed from Kamau Brathwaite but made his own.(4) For Glissant, the concept of creolization derives from his understanding of the various ways that, as Celia Britton points out, French is reworked in and through the Creole language; this reworking produces a new “poetics” in which the interrelation of languages calls attention to itself as obscure or difficult, rather than as a seamlessly transparent merger (Britton, 141-2). Glissant thus validates his own use of French in his writings as a no less politically subversive act than would be the use of Creole for another writer; the salient question is not which language a writer uses, but how the writer positions him or herself against a smooth assimilation of cultural and linguistic alterity within any given deployment of a language. Britton argues that Glissant’s early fictional texts sought to develop a “full” use of French to compensate for a sense of linguistic lack in the primarily oral Creole language and a subjectival lack in Martinican Creole culture (Britton, 180-1). Yet in these early texts, Glissant’s descriptions of Paris and his analysis of Césaire’s legacy suggest that he was already interested in the strategic counterpoetics that Britton assigns to a much later date in his literary development, and, even in this early phase of his career, that he was forging a notion of culture as “chaos” (a term he discusses in Soleil de la conscience) predating the similar formulation she identifies in texts from the late-1980s onward.
     This is not merely a question, however, of literary chronology. Glissant has been accused, from two related perspectives, of paying insufficient attention to historical accuracy: Richard D. E. Burton argues that in privileging the maroon narrative over the slave narrative in the early novels, Glissant falsifies Martinican history by effacing “son contenu réel…en la présentant comme une simple réfraction déformée de l’histoire de la France [its real content…by presenting it simply as a deformed refraction of the history of France]” (Burton, 80). Peter Hallward, in a similarly critical vein, argues that Glissant’s increasingly insistent valorization of nomadism and rhizomatic deracination represents his consolatory but ultimately hypocritical embrace of an implicit “singularity” (or a monadic holism) that simply relinquishes what is, for Glissant and for Martinique, the out-of-reach specificity of national identity.(5) The early essays I discuss, however, show that Glissant’s theoretical approach has never treated Martinican, or even Caribbean history as a discrete object of analysis in quite the ways that Burton and Hallward demand.
     Glissant’s orientation, rather, has been premised on the idea that the Caribbean as a locus has been generated discursively out of centuries of conflict and collusion between different peoples, cultures, and languages. Glissant’s Soleil de la conscience thus repeatedly shifts perspective from an imaginary Antillean promontory — “ici, dans l’île [here, on the island]” (28), he writes from Paris — to the cultural milieu on the continent, where Césaire’s literary legacy would intensify, not alleviate, the younger author’s feeling of postcolonial belatedness. When Glissant eventually turned his attention to more focalized Caribbean themes with the publication of his first novels, the historical dialectic he described was just a further adumbration of the all too easily overlooked discursive analysis in his earlier essays. Glissant’s theory of creolization, which circulates throughout his texts and can be identified as his recognizable signature, heightens rather than synthesizing the cultural contradictions his texts explore because it is both an endogamous theory of cultural opacity as a strategic yet insufficient collective resource and, at the same time, an index of the exogamous structures of interdependence and mutual deformation that Glissant recognizes as culturally constitutive of Europe and the Caribbean. The early essays on Paris and Aimé Césaire, as I argue in what follows, reveal how Glissant’s discursive reframing of these prevailing cultural polarities would enable his subsequent elaboration of a remarkably influential, if occasionally opaque, expression of the poetics of creolization.


Belated Arrival in an Insular Paris

     Glissant’s early wish to locate himself historically — and his concomitant sense of cultural dislocation — suggest that his literary career began in an historical mode of dialectical self-reflexivity, by which I mean that his representations of the cultural displacement and disorientation experienced by the postcolonial Caribbean subject in Europe were always matched by his corresponding awareness that postwar Paris, too, had changed and could no longer present itself as the transcendentally imperial center of the world, bearing the Benjaminian aura of unassailable tradition that it might have exuded prior to the war. In his early writings, Glissant suggests that the Antillean visitor may suffer from cultural marginalization in Paris, but the Parisian inhabitant of the post-war period also has lost formerly stable cultural moorings as the imperial era begins to break up. One can understand the complexities of mediation that characterize Glissant’s relation to Paris in these early essays as an awareness of the belatedness of his arrival there after the heyday of the Negritude movement. Negritude’s appearance and increasing influence in the 1930s and ‘40s parallels its early literary affinities with the dominant intellectual and artistic doctrines represented by Marxism and Surrealism.(6) While not all the Negritude writers embraced these trends, Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous essay on the Negritude movement, “Orphée noir,” and André Breton’s visit to Martinique during the war did much to introduce politically engaged dialectics and the modernist avant-garde into Martinican intellectual discourse.(7) Glissant, arriving in Paris after this moment of high philosophical and artistic ferment was faced with a very real sense of belated entrance into a cultural scene whose contours were already mapped by Césaire, Léopold Sédar Senghor, Léon-Gontran Damas and other figures associated with the early years of the Negritude movement. In addition to Glissant’s evident recognition that Paris could at that time only be experienced in the echoes of its former global preeminence and centrality, his descriptions of the city reflect a sense that his own arrival there is part of a larger dynamic of cultural intersection and exchange. In this sense, Paris surprisingly becomes the model for Glissant’s later conceptualization of la Relation, his overarching theory of cultural reciprocity and social interpenetration.
     Glissant describes his initial arrival in Paris as an experience of shock — not at Paris’s profound difference for him, but rather at its indifferentiation, its failure to add to or in any way distinguish itself from his preconceived images of it.

Paris, quand on y tombe (pour moi ce fut par le trou gris de la gare Saint-Lazare) étonne à peine: tellement les arts de la reproduction, les entêtements monolithiques de l’Enseignement ou l’imagination courant les livres vous ont habitué à entrer. Pour commencer, on se récuse, à peine touché: “Comment, ce n’était que cela….” (Soleil De La Conscience, 15)
[Paris, when one tumbles into it (for me this was through the gray hole of the Saint-Lazare station) hardly surprises: thus have the arts of reproduction, the monolithic obstinacy of the Educational System or the imaginings of books prepared you for entry. In the beginning, one withdraws, hardly affected: “What, was that all there was to it…?”]

This newly encountered Paris already carries with it a sense of belatedness — of that which has already been surpassed and can only present itself now as a simulacrum. But Glissant is aware that there are at least two reasons why Paris seems to have lost its magical aura. There are, on one hand, the “arts de la reproduction” which, as Walter Benjamin would have argued, diminish the novelty of a first encounter with the sights and monuments of Paris.(8) On the other hand, Glissant’s sense of having already experienced Paris is also the product of his education as a French colonial subject, for whom the relation to the metropole is politically and structurally—and therefore aesthetically—predetermined. Glissant’s essays in Soleil de la conscience are marked by an inescapable awareness of the structural and political assymmetry between the Caribbean and the French metropole, but one also finds in them a remarkable refusal to accept such overdetermined dynamics as absolute.
     A refusal of the structures of overdetermination leads Glissant to begin to see in Paris the return of that which he imagined himself to have left, but in transposed form: “Chacun se retrouve dans sa chambre; et combien cette situation (l’expression même) laisse à penser à l’insulaire ou au tropical [each person finds himself in his room; and how much does this situation (that very expression) lead one to think of the islander or the tropical]” (15). Paris, Glissant asserts, creates its own islands within itself; indeed, it can be described as a kind of land-bound archipelago through which the isolated lives of its inhabitants intersect.(9) Conceptually, at least, the distant islands from which Glissant hails are not so far away from the isolation and insularity within the French capital itself. Glissant signals this shift in perspective in the first essay in the volume, where he writes:

Je devine peut-être qu’il n’y aura plus de culture sans toutes les cultures, plus de civilisation qui puis être métropole des autres, plus de poète pour ignorer le mouvement de l’Histoire (13-14).
[I conjecture that perhaps there no longer will be culture without all cultures, no civilization that is the metropole of others, no poet who can ignore the movement of History.]

Glissant’s interest in Paris is due to his awareness of spatial as well as temporal shifts that the city conditions. On one hand, as Anna Paula Coutinho Mendes comments, Glissant’s spatial transposition of the geographies of Paris and the Caribbean islands in Soleil de la conscience is an “abolition d’une ideographie basée sur le dichotomie géographique [abolition of an ideography based upon a geographical dichotomy]” (Coutinho Mendes, 43). Space no longer constitutes a boundary between a ‘here’ and a ‘there’ whose equilibrium is determined by one-sided, differential relations of power. On the other hand, these early essays mark Glissant’s awareness that a fundamental shift has taken place in the procession of history. His use of the future tense in the above passage suggests that he sees himself writing on the cusp of a new era that is about to dawn, but has not yet arrived, and which for now he can only herald. The essays in Soleil de la conscience can be thought of as Glissant’s attempts to describe the arrival and conditions of this new moment, while preserving an enigmatic silence as to its causes.
     Even if he remains cryptic as to the causes of the temporal and spatial shift to which his essays in Soleil de la conscience attest, Glissant evidently recognizes the seeds of the rupture in his Caribbean literary and cultural heritage. He initially defines this heritage based on its opposition to the Parisian artistic milieu. Paris, as he depicts it, bears an intellectually detached and aesthetically distanced relation to art, which actually masks “une sorte de frénésie dans la consommation [a sort of frenzy of consumption]” (17), especially, Glissant adds, in the years 1946-48. As if to say that these immediate post-war years carry with them an exhausted cynicism, the prevailing mood in the metropole is dismissive of any perceived earnestness:

N’allez pas confier que vous peinez, que vous fouillez, que cette affaire vous tient à coeur. Paris n’aime pas ce sérieux que paraît de l’affectation. Une manière de détachment (qui n’est pas même pudeur) fait paraître “lucide” (Ibid.).
[Do not admit that you labor, that you search, that this matter reaches your heart. Paris does not like that seriousness which suggests affectation. A manner of detachment (which is not modesty) presents itself as “lucidity”].

Glissant goes on to remark that the function of art implied by this Parisian distance is sharply opposed to that of more collective cultures, in which a consciousness of the group are intimately inscribed in the artistic act:

Nous sommes ici à l’opposé des littératures collectives, des légendes milles fois sues mais toujours écoutées, des ferveurs autours des textes, des veillées de tout un peuple près du conteur, de l’acceptation du mot comme lieu commun de tous…. (Ibid.).
[We see here the antithesis of collective literatures, of legends a thousand times known but heard again, of fervors around texts, of nights spent by an entire people near the storyteller, of the acceptance of the word as a commonhold of all….]

Such early themes of collective repetition and the “commun [common]” remain concerns of Glissant throughout his oeuvre, and it is significant that he introduces them here, in one of his earliest works. At the same time, it is notable that the oppositions between Paris and the Caribbean represented in these passages, however mythological, serve as an opening gesture in a dialogical process that in the end works against essential categories of all kinds.
     Glissant extends these oppositions so as to suggest that his aesthetic concerns cannot be thought outside of cultural context and physical geography. In a striking example of this he admits his admiration for, but inability to identify with, what he describes as a European sense of order: “J’aime les champs, leur ordre, leur patience; cependant, je n’en participe pas. N’ayant jamais disposé de ma terre, je n’ai point cet atavisme d’épargne du sol, d’organisation [I love the fields, their order, their patience; nevertheless, I am not part of them. Never having controlled my own land, I possess not at all that atavism of husbandry of the soil, of organization],” (25). Glissant has never entirely dispensed with the implicit irrationalism of such a statement, which recalls Césaire’s own adherence to the mysticism of Frobenius and the anti-rationalism of Breton; Caryl Phillips, the St. Kitts-born novelist and essayist, judges much of Glissant’s work in light of what he considers to be the Martinican’s romanticist “error” in rejecting rationalism as fundamentally tainted by its association with the West (Phillips, 38). Yet Glissant goes on to suggest here that his target is not, per se, rationality but rather the universal application of any structure of meaning that neglects local specificity: “Mon paysage est encore emportement; la symmétrie du planté me gêne. Mon temps n’est pas une succession d’espérances saisonnières, il est encore de jaillissements et de trouées d’arbres. [My countryside is still an enthusiasm; the symmetry of planted fields disturbs me. My time is not a succession of seasonal hopes, there are upsurgings and breaks in the trees],” (25). What is evident in this culturally comparative language is not only that Glissant is able to articulate the aesthetic differences between his native home and his new residence in Paris as questions of epistemology, but more importantly that the terms in which he defines these differences are by design mutually dependent. The Caribbean becomes appreciable as “de jaillisements et de trouées de arbres” only because of its relation of alterity to Paris. The rhythms of the seasons — whether sharply demarcated as in Europe, or gushingly uneven as in the Antilles — become apparent only when the two locales are contrasted with each other and rendered comparable in Glissant’s language of poetic contrasts.
     The idea that Paris and the Caribbean are comparable begins, as I have suggested, with Glissant’s recognition that the dissolution of Paris as a metropolitan center is reflected in the tendency of its inhabitants to sequester themselves in their isolated rooms, and thereby, in Glissant’s playful terms, to recreate the conditions of insular fragmentation that have long characterized the islands. Beyond the provocative playfulness of this conception of Paris as archipelago, Glissant also begins to conceptualize the ways in which the Caribbean, correspondingly, can redefine itself in syncretic terms which, in resisting the dominance of the metropole, could assert an autonomy based on cultural differences. The following passage from Soleil de la conscience is indicative of Glissant’s conception of Caribbean collectivity, which he understands to be a product of a syncretistic relationship between its culturally diverse elements:

Or aux Antilles, d’où je viens, on peut dire qu’un peuple positivement se construit. Né d’un bouillon de cultures, dans ce laboratoire dont chaque table est une île, voici une synthèse de races, de moeurs, de savoirs, mais qui tend vers son unité propre (20).
[But in the Caribbean, where I come from, one can say that a people is positively constructing itself. Born of a cultural medium, in this laboratory in which the all the tables are islands, here one finds a synthesis of races, of mores, of knowledge, but which tends towards its own unity.]

This description indicates the kind of tensions that characterize Glissant’s early work: at one and the same time, these early essays conceive of the Caribbean in terms of a proliferation of irreducible differences, a “bouillon de cultures,” while at the same time evidencing a desire for the synthetic unities of peoplehood and collective identity. Soleil de la conscience, in this sense, is a work which indicates Glissant’s desire to move beyond the established hierarchies between metropolitan center and (post)colonial periphery, while it nevertheless assumes that a “consumation dialectique [dialectical consumation],” (21) is possible and desirable—that the culturally unified people, that is, remains a theoretical and historical potential.


Resisting a Hagiography of Césaire

     Glissant’s relation to the writing and the political legacy of Aimé Césaire is indicative both of his debt to the Martinican father of the Negritude movement and his desire to move beyond Césaire’s identity paradigms. One must note, first of all, that the assumptions about the creation of a new syncretic culture in Soleil de la conscience are very far from those ideas associated with Césaire’s writing through 1948. Césaire’s most vivid oppositional poetics and politics were predicated on a recuperation and transvaluation of externally attributed qualities of Black identity rather than an elaboration of the cultural variations within the Caribbean; nor did he, on the whole, consider its geographical (rather than historical) specificities to have particular bearing on the identity of its inhabitants.(10) Along with Senghor of Senegal and Damas of French Guiana, Césaire had founded the Negritude movement out of a sense of the need for a shared Black identity that would traverse geographic and national boundaries. Césaire, Senghor and Damas contributed important articles to the journal L’Étudiant noir, whose first issue appeared in 1935. In Césaire’s article, entitled “Nègreries: Jeunesse noire et l’assimilation,” the term négritude appears for the first time. The neologism was coined from the deprecatory French term nègre, and became widely associated with a larger cultural and political movement after the publication of the first, pre-war iteration of Césaire’s epic poem, Cahier d’un retour au pays natal in 1939.(11) Césaire’s ideas were certainly influenced by the pan-Africanist movement, and even more so by the dubious scholarship of anthropologists such as Leo Frobenius and Jean Price-Mars.(12) Frobenius’s sweeping Histoire de la civilisation africaine postulated an essential African soul that accounted for the similarity of all Black cultures and served as the unacknowledged aesthetic source of world culture generally. Janis Pallister notes that in 1936, when Frobenius’ Histoire was first translated into French from the original German, Césaire avidly read the work and shared it with Senghor (Pallister, xii).
     Frobenius’s romanticized account of African civilization certainly had a galvanizing effect on the young editors of L’Étudiant noir, including Césaire. As Mbwil and Mpaang Ngal points out, however, taken as a whole, the journal evidences a surprisingly disparate range of views about the nature of Black identity (Ngal, 71-2).(13) The longest article in the first (and sole extant) issue of the journal, occupying nearly a quarter of the issue, was written by Gilbert Gratient and entitled, “Mulâtres…Pour le Bien et pour le Mal [Mulattos…for better or worse].” It defines Martinicans by their racial and cultural métissage, or admixture. Gratient begins by commenting that

Les Antilles ont une population formée pour une énorme proportion d’éléments africains, pour une petite proportion d’éléments européens. Et cette population n’est ni africaine, ni bien moins française. C’est…une population noire, ayant acquis, par les conditions géographiques spéciales, une originalité (Ibid.).
[The Antilles have a population formed by an enormous proportion of African elements, (and) by a small proportion of European elements. And this population is neither African, nor even less French. It is…a black population, having acquired, by special geographical conditions, an originality.]

The very category of “color” in the Caribbean, according to Gratient, is a marker of cultural impurity: “D’abord, qu’entendre par homme de couleur? Tous ceux qui sont de sang mêlé, à quelque degré qu’ait pu se faire le mélange: sang blanc, noir, éventuellement rouge et en proportion infime, jaune, indien [First, what does one understand by man of color? All those who are of mixed blood, whatever degree of mixture there be: white blood, black, possibly red and in some small proportion yellow, Indian]” (ibid.). Gratient concludes that Martinicans represent “une civilisation nouvelle avec des modalités d’expression variable et qui est la ‘Civilisation créole’ [a new civilization with variable modalities of expression, which is a ‘Creole civilization’]” (ibid.). Senghor’s article in the journal also placed him firmly in the camp of the advocates of métissage. At times, Senghor falls back on stereotypical essentialist notions, associating “reason” with the (white) Occident and “intuition” with Black Africa (just as Césaire would do later in the Cahier).(14) But Senghor’s overall argument is against such essentialisms. He declares: “Je ne suis pas nègre de pur sang…. Si l’on croit les ethnologues, il n’y a pas 25 pour cent de nègres de pur sang en Afrique. Les 75% se croient pourtant des nègres, et ils ont raison. [I am not a pure blooded Negro…. If one is to believe ethnologists, hardly 25 percent of Africans are of pure Negro blood. The other 75% nevertheless consider themselves Negroes, and they are correct]” (cited in Ngal, 76).
     There are striking similarities between Gratient and Senghor’s views of métissage and those of a number of contemporary francophone Caribbean writers, especially Patrick Chamoiseau and Raphäel Confiant, who, along with Jean Bernabé wrote Éloge de la créolité [In Praise of Creoleness]. The Éloge, acknowledged as the founding document of the Créolité school, echoes in remarkably unself-conscious ways Gratient’s phrasing and conceptualization of Caribbean identity.(15) The prologue to the Éloge asserts: “Ni Européens, ni Africains, ni Asiatiques, nous nous proclamons Créoles” [Neither Europeans, nor Africans, nor Asians, we proclaim ourselves Creoles]” (13). Many of Chamoiseau’s and Confiant’s novels reflect this idea of Caribbean identity as a fusion of its cultural and ethnic components, and certainly the Créolité movement theorists presented Caribbean identity with reference to Creole linguistic issues in ways that the early Negritude theorists did not.(16) But it is important to note that the issues of identity and assimilation first expounded upon by the writers in L’Étudiant noir became central conceptual tools for the succeeding generation of writers, who in many instances would then refer retrospectively to Negritude as the source of ideas about cultural or racial essences against which they were reacting. Glissant, too, argues throughout his work, and especially in his theoretical writings, for the hybrid quality of Caribbean identity.(17) And yet his view of Negritude’s philosophy as too essentialistic in its turn towards a unified Black (primarily African-based) identity was belied by the internal diversity of the movement’s foundational texts, which suggest a much more complicated and contested set of responses to questions of racial and cultural identity.
     Despite the evident complexity of the Negritude movement’s relation to questions of identity and assimilation, Aimé Césaire’s own contribution to L’Étudiant noir reveals much less tolerance for the idea of Black identity conceived as an amalgam than does the writing of Gratient, Senghor or Léonard Sainville. As Ngal points out, Césaire’s article, “Nègreries [niggeries],” contains all the elements of Césaire’s later poetry, with its rejection of logical argumentation in favor of powerful symbolism and didactic allegory. In opposition to Gratient’s nuanced arguments about cultural and racial hybridity, Césaire approaches the question of black identity in stridently rhetorical terms as a struggle against assimilation. He is sharply critical of hybrid terms such as “amalgame” and “métissage” (Ngal, 73). His article begins with a traditional creole conte, or folktale, that warns of the consequences of being caught in the “trap” of obsequious mimicry of the white man. In doing so, he kills the Black man in himself [“tue en lui le Nègre”] (cited in Ngal, 73). As Ngal concludes, “Pour Césaire il existe une ‘nature’ nègre qu’il appelle ailleurs ‘qualité de nègre’, pure, inaltérable. Aucune contingence géographique ne peut le modifier. [For Césaire there exists a pure, unalterable Negro ‘nature’ that he elsewhere calls ‘Negro character.’ No geographical contingency is capable of altering it]” (ibid.).
     This sense of an essential black identity appears again in Césaire’s Cahier d’un retour au pays natal, which he was beginning to write when his article “Nègreries” appeared in L’Étudiant noir in 1935. The Cahier appeared for the first time in the review Volontés in 1939, and soon afterwards, just three days after the outbreak of World War II, Césaire left France for Martinique. Césaire’s Cahier exhibits a tension between a sort of broad universalism of the oppressed, and the resort to a more narrow conception of identity that crosses geographical and social, but not racial or cultural, boundaries. Early on, in a now famous passage often cited as a demonstration of Césaire’s universalism, the poet of the Cahier announces:

Partir. / Comme il y a des hommes-hyènes et des hommes-panthères, je serais un homme-juif / un homme-cafre / un homme-hindou-de-Calcutta / un homme-de-Harlem-qui-ne-vote-pas // l’homme-famine, l’homme-insulte, l’homme-torture….
[To go away. / As there are hyena-men and panther-men, / I would be a jew-man / a Kaffir man / a Hindu-from-Calcutta / a Harlem-man-who-doesn’t-vote. // the famine man, the insult-man, the torture man….] (Césaire, Eshleman and Smith, 42-3).(18)

The poet’s wish to shift among oppressed identites in this early passage of the poem hinges upon a word: partir. The Cahier must be conceived not just in terms of the poet’s wish to return, but also as a reflection of his earlier need to leave his native home, and in this section the poet acknowledges the horseshoe trajectory and gives both an impetus and a justification to the initial departure. Only by leaving “les Antilles…échouées dans la boue de cette baie [the Antilles…stranded in the mud of this bay]” (34-5) can the poet articulate a connection with those individuals living elsewhere whose privation he now understands as being related to his own: “Je retrouverais le secret des grandes communications et des grandes combustions [I would rediscover the secret of great communications and great combustions]” (42-3).(19)
     Later in the poem, however, this notion of a universal solidarity among the oppressed gives way to a more specific identity differentiated from the “monde blanc [white world],” whose “victoires proditoires trompeter ses défaites [deceptive victories tout its defeats]” despite “alibis grandioses [grandiose alibis]” (68-9). Now the poet enumerates the ways in which he will become in a specific sense “l’amant de cet unique peuple [the lover of this unique people]” (71-2) and its representative agent: “Faites-moi rebelle à toute vanité, mais docile à son génie comme le poing à l’allongée du bras! [Make me resist any vanity, but espouse its genius as the fist the extended arm]” (ibid.). The appearance in the Cahier of ethnographic biologicisms, like the term génie above, need not be conjured away, as Gregson Davis does, in an attempt to refute “the mistaken notion that négritude is a form of ‘racism in reverse’” (Davis, 53). Arnold more convincingly points out that Césaire’s ideas about race had changed over time. In the wartime journal Tropiques, notably, Césaire expressed what can be read as a racialized concept of African “blood” presumably inspired by Frobenius’s pseudo-biological anthropology; such views, Arnold argues, place the younger Césaire closer to the increasingly racialist views of Senghor, at least until the 1950s or 1960s, when Césaire developed an explicitly cultural understanding of race (Arnold, Modernism and Negritude, 37-8).
     The early, most canonical Césaire of the Cahier thus elaborates an ideological position that many, including Glissant, would later approach critically, and which Ngal correctly notes is marked by an emphasis on purity. Racial consciousness is not merely, for Césaire, a momentary if necessary awakening that, to follow Sartre’s dialectical reasoning in “Orphée noir,” ultimately seeks to render itself unnecessary. If anything, Césaire’s concept is one in which negritude  —the idea of an identifiable Black consciousness unifying the race — perfects itself as “la vielle négritude progressivement se cadavérise [the old negritude progressively cadavers itself]” (78-9), and a new generation of self-aware and historically informed members of a racially defined fraternity strive to recuperate an identity through the transvaluation of formerly despised qualities. Césaire is thus only a universalist in a limited sense: every people, he believes, seeks the same goals of freedom and productivity; but each one does so in the name of its own singular identity.(20)
     Given Aimé Césaire’s complicated and shifting ideas about race, the young Glissant’s reading of the Negritude founder’s work appears profoundly revisionistic — at once deeply indebted to his literary mentor, and, at the same time, ready to impose a “strong reading” of his work that appropriates him to a cultural and ideological project more identifiably Glissantian than Césairean.(21) In an article that had appeared in the newly founded French Communust Party-affiliated literary journal Les Lettres Nouvelles in 1956, Glissant discusses Césaire’s poetry in ways that clearly echo the meditations on Paris in Soleil de la conscience, published that same year. In the article, Glissant reads into the history of Negritude a dialectical dynamic in which Césaire’s contribution is only the beginning, albeit outwardly most radical, step (Glissant, “Aimé Césaire Et La Découverte Du Monde”). As the title of his article suggests, Glissant inverts the literal signification of Césaire’s twin thematics of psychological self-reconciliation and the spiritual redemption of a racially defined people. In Glissant’s reading, Césaire’s work is reconstrued as “une ‘communication’ avec le monde, l’englobant [a ‘communication’ with the world, englobing it];” here “communication fonde la révolte, et la révolte l’autorise [communication founds revolt, and revolt authorizes it]” (46; all translations from this text are mine). The emphasis on communication, according to Glissant, is what makes Césaire eminently “moderne” (ibid.; italics in the original). By using the term “modern,” Glissant suggests that Césaire is not the poet of situational necessity that Sartre’s dialectical concept of negritude supposes. Of Sartre’s thesis that the “racisme anti-raciste” of the Negritude movement was a stage in the dialectical process of Black identity overcoming itself, Glissant writes:

Il n’est pas vrai, comme le propose Sartre dans son admirable Orphée noir, qu’il y ait une sorte de drame de la “négritude,” et que celle si soit vouée, dans sa générosité même, à se dépasser en tant que “négritude.” Césaire s’écrie: “En nous le homme de tous le temps. En nous tous les hommes. En nous l’animal, le végétal, le minéral….” C’est parce que, par rapport à la totalité du monde, il est dans la situation extrêmement moderne de celui qui s’ouvre, naît et reçoit, que le poète nègre devient le porte-parole du dépassement. … [C]’est en se réalisant pleinement que l’être atteint à l’universel qui le dépasse mais qui le parfait aussi.
[It is not true, as Sartre proposes in his admirable “Black Orpheus,” that there is a sort of drama of “negritude,” and that this is consecrated, in its very generosity, to the surpassing of “negritude” as such. Césaire writes: “In us the man of all eras. In us all men. In us the animal, the vegetable, the mineral….” It is because, in relation to the totality of the world, he is in the extremely modern situation of the one who opens himself, is born and receives, that the black poet becomes the mouthpiece of surpassing. … [I]t is in realizing himself fully that the being achieves the universal, which surpasses him but also perfects him.] (51).(22)

Glissant’s assertion is that Sartre’s version of dialectics yields a synthesis that abolishes its initial contradictions. In the case of Negritude, however, Glissant believes that the dialectic works precisely conversely: achieving the “universal,” as Glissant conceives it, does not entail a flattening of differences, but rather the recognition that through a process of emphasizing such differences one produces “la totalité du monde.”(23) That is one reason why Glissant pays such close attention to Césaire’s natural metaphors, as when in the above passage he cites Césaire’s reference to the animal, vegetable and mineral components of the collective “nous.” In this reading, Césaire is not merely interested in developing a natural paradigm of racial essences. Césaire’s purpose, in Glissant’s view, is instead to discover the constituent elements of an identity no longer able to contain its explosive multiplicity.
     Glissant describes Césaire’s general project, therefore, as the discovery not of the authentic Black self but of the world that resides in the self. Césaire’s point of departure, according to Glissant, is the same as that of other Black writers: he understands that poetry is the search for, and communion with, “un autre” [an other] that resides not only outside but also within the self as an introjected history of social being: “en nous tous les hommes.” This search is hindered, for the Black writer particularly, by force of the barriers erected between the self and its internal other (44). While the Black writer is aware of the need for liberation from such barriers, Glissant suggests that Césaire particularly understands that such a liberation only arrives with a corresponding release of “primitive being.” Once again, Glissant is not asserting that Césaire intends to postulate here an essential and immutable self; rather, he is interested in the idea that Césaire seeks to reveal the layers of identity as the accretions of a social dialectic in reverse. Glissant suggests that these residual accumulations are the material remainders of identity whose multiplicity must be maintained, even as its cohesion turns volatile.
     The greatest crystalization of Césaire’s work appears, for Glissant, in his collection of revolutionary poems published in 1944 as Les Armes miraculeuses [Miraculous weapons]. Glissant remarks that this collection fully exhibits Césaire’s experiential awareness, his poetic connaissance, of the natural environment of the Caribbean: “le climat, le genre, la lumière, la profusion, l’atmosphère de la végétation et l’allure de la géographie [the climate, the character, the light, the profusion, the atmosphere of the vegetation and the allure of the geography]” (46). Césaire’s poetry in Les Armes miraculeuses reveals, in short, the dense associative patterns that combine to form a Caribbean identity linked with a specific geography and a series of repeating cultural tropes. Such patterns, according to Glissant, indicate Césaire’s ability to present “tout le passé et tout l’avenir de cette terre que le poète ‘prophétise belle’ [all of the past and all of the future of this land whose beauty the poet ‘prophesizes beautiful’]” (46).(24) Glissant links Césaire’s rhythmic patterns with this prophetic quality. He cites as an example the poem “Tam-tam II,” from Les Armes miraculeuses, whose crescendo from the “petits pas de chenille [small steps of a caterpillar]” (46) to the “grands pas de trouée de parole dans un gosier de bègue [great steps of breaking words in a stuttering throat]” (47) emulates the beating of a traditional tambour drum. The poem’s first four lines (of ten) begin with the same repeated phrase, “à petit pas [with small steps],” and the word “trouée [break]” is repeated in three of the last six lines. The last line ends with a single, reverberating word: “alleluiah.”
     The entire poem, beginning with its title, “Tam-tam II,” is a meditation on the formal patterns of repetition, or what Glissant calls the inseparable “abandon au rhythm et l’exercise de la mesure [abandonment to rhythm and the exercise of measure]” (49).(25) Glissant’s example of this dialectical tension between rhythm and measure is expressed here in a term to which Glissant would return later as a key concept of his own aesthetic practice: le style baroque. As in later and more extensive theorizations, Glissant here describes the baroque style as that in which “tout fatigue l’oeil…sans que l’attention puisse reposer [everything fatigues the eye…without one’s attention being able to come to a rest]” (47).(26) The baroque style consists of an endless and excessive profusion of instants that Glissant identifies as the repetitive structural underpinning of Césaire’s poetry. As structure, however, the excessive quality of these repetitions tends to negate any single instance in favor of what generally has been understood, and which Glissant here affirms, as Césaire’s paradoxical postulation of an elemental identity: “Il n’y a pas ici de minutie tourmentée, mais le déploiement solaire d’une nature [One does not find here tormented minutiae, but the solar unfurling of a nature]” (47, italics in the original). What Glissant is suggesting here, if rather obscurely, is that Césaire reconstrues the concept of (Black) nature as a process (or a “déploiement”) rather than as a figure. Césaire’s repetitions “prophesize” identity in the dialectical tension between past and present, just as the ongoing tension in his poetry between rhythm and measure reveals the existence of “primitive identity” within a specific natural context. In this sense, when Glissant refers to the “solar unfurling of a nature” he is implicitly speaking of the double-sense with which he reads Césaire’s poems, wherein that which, like the sun, is most universal dialectically implies that which is irreducibly specific. Glissant thus comments ironically on the difficulty of Césaire’s Les Armes miraculeuses for a French audience: “Peut-être la majorité du public français estime-t-elle ce livre insoutenable, probablement comme elle ferait pour un autre soleil? [Does the majority of the French public perhaps deem this book unbearable, as probably it would another sun?]” (47). French readers find Césaire’s poetry unbearable because they are no more used to conceiving of differences within the universal than they are ready to acknowledge the irrefutable impact of Caribbean difference on the unity of the French nation.
     Glissant’s reading of Césaire’s dialectics thus posits a new conception of Negritude’s project, in which identity and nature are defined in terms of an “éthique du dépassement [ethics of surpassing]” (51). This ethics of surpassing partakes of the concept of a variegated collective whole that differs from Sartre’s transcendental dialectics, but that nevertheless relies on a synthesis of opposed elements. Glissant singles out Césaire’s character of the Rebelle [Rebel], in his epic tragedy “Et les chiens se taisaient… [And the dogs were silent…],” as the single most important figure of this oppositional relation. In expounding on the figure of Césaire’s Rebelle, Glissant begins to conceptualize a dynamic that would inform his own writings throughout a literary career that is still in process as of this writing. The rebellion and ultimate death of the Rebelle, according to Glissant, is a symbolic event of collective synthesis; insofar as the Rebelle “refuse [refuses],” the poet is able to “accepter [accept]” the conditions in which he has become free to “choisir [choose]” (52). Glissant’s point is born out in the Cahier, when, responding to the history of misery and degradation, the poet repeatedly declares “j’accepte [I accept]” (76-7), as if reciting a litany. This acceptance is the redemptive moment of the Cahier, after which the poet is able to announce the resurrection of his people, “debout / et / libre [standing / and / free]” (80-1), an instance of the community being constituted in its “surpassing” of universal collectivity.
     In Glissant’s second novel, Le Quatrième siècle, he would depart from Césaire’s apocalyptic or redemptive frame of reference and transform the acts of refusal and acceptance into a kind of material dialectics of Caribbean history. In this view, the slaves who were transported to Martinique and the other islands elaborated a new world out of a dialectic of powerlessness. A few resisted overtly (or “refused”) by escaping their masters and marooning in the densely forested hills, while most remained on the slave plantations and survived by sheer endurance (or “accepted”). Glissant does not clearly indicate whether the maroons or the slaves actually exerted individual or collective will in choosing how to respond to their conditions. The maroons refused to admit, as Glissant makes clear, that it would have been impossible for all the slaves to hide in the hills of the tiny islands, and in this sense, the gesture of marooning would have been an individual act of rebellion rather than a collective response. But whether or not they have actively “chosen” their way of life, the maroons in Glissant’s novel tend inevitably to see themselves as “active” resisters and therefore superior to the “passively” accepting slaves. It is only with the end of colonialism, when the maroon way of life reaches its terminus, that the maroons begin to realize how dependent they are for their self-definition upon the sense of superiority they have nurtured towards the descendants of the slaves.(27) And it is at this point — contra Burton’s critique of Glissant’s francocentrism discussed above — that the characters Mathieu, Thaël, Mycéa and others express the extent to which they are heirs to both maroons and slaves, the echoes of whose cacophonous voices give rise to the fractured poetics with which the characters express themselves.
     Glissant’s reading of Césaire in his essay written eight years before Le Quatrième siècle, however, parallels his contemporaneous reading of Paris in Soleil de la conscience. His evident supposition is that the major figure of an already reified Negritude movement, on one hand, and the metropolis associated with a grandiose but crumbling empire, on the other, are each striated by a dialectics that cuts through their apparent solidity and destabilizes the meanings that have become attached to them. Paris is no longer the stable center of the universe because its margins have begun to exert a gravitational force of their own. “L’Europe ‘s’archipélise’ [Europe ‘archipelagizes’],” as Glissant has since remarked.(28) Likewise, Glissant’s early literary criticism exposes as outdated and reductive Césaire’s marked initial sympathies for the essentialist positions drawn from Frobenius and others who aimed to amalgamate disparate social and cultural conditions in a general theory of the Black race. What interests Glissant, rather, is the Césaire who understands that Caribbean identity is caught in the tension between “révolte et…enracinement [revolt and…rootedness]” (52), wherein identity has no stable quality but is a feature of an irreducibly specific yet constantly shifting set of cultural conflicts and conditions.(29) Césaire’s Negritude, in these terms, can be defined only in the endless iterations by which it accomplishes its own “dépassement.” In the same way, Césaire himself is the poet of “la première tragédie et le premier cri [the first tragedy and the first outcry]” (52), whose literary and political revolt prepares the ground for the “enracinement” of his successors and their resulting engagement with the “totalité de vécu [totality of the lived]” (52).
     In his own case, Glissant conceives of this rootedness as the breakdown of barriers between himself and an “other” self, perhaps Césaire’s “primitive” self, which Glissant redefines as that unknowable alterity “que je serai [which I will become]” (54). Glissant thus turns Negritude’s tendency to cultural conservatism against itself, creating the tension of deferred and indeterminate possibility out of what many, including Césaire at one time, seem to have conceived as a particularist theory of essential qualities and idealist assumptions. And yet, Glissant insists on his debt to Negritude’s founding moment. Without personally having known, as he says, “les déchirements qui ont marqué l’apparition d’une littérature nègre de langue française [the tearing which marked the appearance of a black literature in the French language]” (54), he has nevertheless benefitted from Césaire’s demolition of the barrier imposed between himself, as a Black poet, and that “other” self. Rather than discovering a latent Black soul, however, Glissant and his generation participate in “la découverte du monde [the discovery of the world],” which as the title of Glissant’s essay one now understands to be the concomitant discovery of a contextual self within the totality of the world. Glissant presents this discovery in the form of a logical alternative: “On devra, ou me réfuser ma ‘négritude’ (exemple: ‘bien sûr, c’est un assimilé’) ou concevoir qu’il n’y a plus là d’isolement ni de drame [One must either refuse me my ‘negritude’ (for example: ‘of course, he’s assimilated’) or realize that here there is no longer either isolation or drama]” (54). Glissant’s essay explicitly rules out the former possibility: for he is a Black poet precisely because—and not in spite—of the Negritude movement, whose initiation of a dialectic of rebellion and acceptance allows its inheritors freely to choose a relation to the world, an act too often mistaken for “assimilation.” If Glissant’s idiosyncratic relation to Negritude is granted, however, the cultural and racial “isolation” once implied or necessitated by that affiliation has given way, and the “drama” of writing as a Black poet no longer can be located (solely) in the racial question.(30)
     Césaire and Negritude no longer mark, for Glissant, the radical separation and involution of Black consciousness as the “other” to the West; nor do they reflect the reification of Black identity as a totalizing mythos. Glissant admonishes the readers of “Aimé Césaire et la découverte du monde:”

Il faut en finir avec le mythe du nègre qui a, presque sans le savoir, toutes les qualités dont l’Occident éprouve cruellement le manque. De même de l’homme noir possède en lui toutes les mesures d’une Connaissance, de même l’Occident détient au plus obscur et au plus profond toutes les forces nécessaires de revitalisation. Tel est notre plus sûr garant d’une re-naissance commune. (54, italics in the original)
[We should be done with the myth of the Black man who, almost without knowing it, has all the qualities woefully lacking in the Occident. Just as the black man possesses within himself the full measure of a certain Knowledge, so too the Occident, at its most obscure and most profound, contains all the forces necessary for revitalization. This is our most certain guarantee of a collective re-nascence.]

Glissant exhibits here the kind of ecumenical refusal to align himself completely with an ideology or political position that continues to mark his work to the present. Later he would be unable to sustain the same faith in the “commune” or collective destiny of humankind that he displays here, nor would he be as sanguine about the kind of bildung that he offers here as the positive cultural dialectic of dépassement. And yet it is informative to attend the ways in which Glissant’s theories of cultural development have arisen and grown with unusual consistency from a very early point in his literary career. What is evident is that from an early moment, he was able to conceive and put forth an idea of culture in which change is an almost geologically slow process of accumulation, or iteration, of that which has come before and that which may yet be. Glissant’s alignment of Césaire with the baroque style is indicative of this: the excess and profusion of the Caribbean landscape that Glissant finds in Césaire’s best writing is always presented in alternation with the idea of Mesure [measure], a kind of order characteristic of a specific geography. In Soleil de la conscience, the differing European and Caribbean sense of Mesure as rhythm (as in the patterns of seasons or horticulture) is folded into a larger sense of Mesure as boundary, a general phenomenon of self-awareness or restraint that every culture variously expresses, and indeed that is a crucial marker of culture itself: “La Mesure est de connaissance [Measure is of knowledge]” (16).
     Measure and excess are regulated, or balanced, as it were, by the patterns of repetition within which cultural difference is asserted. Glissant’s very specific understanding of repetition has much to do with this complicated, at times seemingly contradictory, sense that culture cannot be understood absent an awareness of the repetitive tropical or structural patterns with which cultures produce meanings. This accounts for Glissant’s readiness to reconsider Césaire beyond his poetic symbology of racial and cultural particularisms. Césaire was more than a poet of racial essences: he was also, as Glissant shows, a complicated theorist who was able to recognize the patterns of cultural logic and symbolism that give form to the culturally encoded concept of nature Césaire was said to have overdetermined. Glissant is likewise interested in Paris, not merely because the Caribbean islands and the other former colonies had begun to decenter the metropole—to form it in their own image—but also because Paris itself gave a particular definition to the term “measure,” and suggested the ways in which the term replicated itself in specific cultural contexts. Glissant, I will show in conclusion, recognized that he could find in Paris not just a weak reflection of the formerly hegemonic reality of the West, but also that Paris could provide a point of reference for a discovery of the islands themselves as discernable locations. Paris paradoxically seems to offer, in Glissant’s early writing, a “tropical” or patterned substrate, in the context of which the islands assume definition.(31) Paris gives to Glissant, in other words, the Caribbean archipelago.


Insularity and Drift: Between Paris and the Caribbean

     Glissant’s reframing of Aimé Césaire’s legacy reveals much in common with his approach to Paris in Soleil de la conscience. He locates in Césaire’s work a dialectics that at once reduces the particularities (or essentialisms) of identity underpinning Negritude, while at the same time excavating another Césaire whose work is more complexly engaged with the social and cultural geography (or “nature”) of the Caribbean. Glissant’s approach to Paris, as I argued above, begins by pointing out that the French capital has lost the historical aura of empire, and that it is in the process of disintegrating into a fragmentary reflection of the territories and cultures it has assimilated into itself. The Parisians live in isolated and insular dwellings; they are far removed from the notion of a collective art; much of their art and culture is kept stored in dusty basements of museums; they value specular and affective distance beyond all other aesthetic virtues: in short, the aesthetic culture of Paris results in a kind of mass alienation that parallels the outcome of France’s failed colonial efforts to appropriate and rationalize the world. Surprisingly, however, given these indications of cultural decay, the counter-history of empire that Glissant puts forth in Soleil is supplemented by another view of Paris. In much more assenting terms, Paris is acknowledged as the interpretive reference point for Glissant’s developing notion of a Caribbean poetics. Paris, in this view, not only “déracine [deracinates]” its putative dominion, but it also “éclaircit [illuminates]” (82) the pluripotential features of the postcolonial world within which it remains a historical nodal point.
     Soleil de la conscience, as a work of literary and social theory, represents Glissant’s working out of a relationship between cultural geography, ethics and aesthetics. Glissant expands upon and deepens ideas in the text that were implicit but not fully explored in Césaire’s poetic engagements with the Caribbean: the structure of the island, in particular, becomes the conceptual focus of a theoretical analysis of social relations between self and other, metropolitan and colonial, master and slave. As Glissant shows, the island was already a formal or tropic feature of Césaire’s poetic vocabulary. Glissant gives an example from Césaire’s tragedy, Et les chiens se taisaient… [And the dogs grew silent…], which concludes with the lines of the Récitante (who survives the death of the Rebelle): “Je suis une de vous / Iles [I am one of you / Islands]” (52). But Glissant goes much farther in working out the specificities of insular existence and the consequences of conceiving the island as a locus of cultural production that extends (beyond) specific geographical boundaries. Glissant is evidently fascinated with the formal and aesthetic possibilites that the islands suggest. In an early essay in the collection, he writes:

ici, dans l’île, l’encerclement qui risquait d’entraver l’imagination, au contraire l’exacerbe et lui court sus, cavales marines. Alors le manège est consommé, l’homme tombe et embrasse la terre. (…) Fermé, cerné, brûlant d’imaginer le reste à son image, il faut qu’il oeuvre, qu’il s’oeuvre, qu’il voie autre chose, l’autre. (Soleil, 28)
[here, on the island, the encircling that threatened to shackle the imagination, on the contrary exacerbates it and flows over it, marine cavalry. Thus the maneuver is completed, the man falls down and kisses the earth. (…) Closed in, ringed, burning to imagine the remainder in his image, he must work, work on himself, see something other, the other.]

What is remarkable about this passage is its poetically paradoxical insistence that geographical enclosure permits, indeed conditions, the cultural profusion necessary to social connection. The very fact of the island’s insularity nourishes the poetic imagination and enables the island’s inhabitants to work, in the sense of acting creatively, towards the “other” and themselves. As he discerns of Césaire’s work, Glissant here is also interested in the spectre of the other within: the primitive, ghostly alterity whose remainder must be excavated and exposed. And yet one feels in Glissant’s prose a greater tendency to what may only be called “measure:” that the riotous free associations of Césaire’s early poetry are tempered in Glissant’s highly conceptual and stylistically wrought poetics. In all of its involuted gracefulness, Glissant’s prose is also unexpectedly prosaic: he is building a theory of aesthetics by means of a rhythmic and repetitive prosaism (“il faut qu’il oeuvre, qu’il s’oeuvre, qu’il voie autre chose, l’autre”) that bespeaks his tendency to iterative accumulation rather than Césairean revelation.
     This notion of Glissant’s iterative approach to aesthetics may account for the curious commencement of the above-cited passage. Glissant locates himself at the outset of this fragmentary reflection as “ici, dans l’île,” while biographically we know that, as everything else in Soleil de la conscience, this fragmentary essay was written during his nearly two decades-long sojourn in Paris from the mid-’40s to the mid-’60s. Did Glissant write this during one of his possible return visits to Martinique? Far more likely is that Glissant imaginatively projects himself back to his youth on the island and writes as if he were still there, or as if ‘here’ and ‘there’ momentarily can be inverted and the distance between them converted into a kind of partial presence. This creation of a metonymical space conducive to cross-cultural theorization is arguably the overall conceptual project of Soleil de la conscience. In no sense, however, does Glissant do away with geography, which serves as the source of his cultural comparisons and tropic iterations. Instead, he continues to articulate a dialectic of difference which permits him to further elaborate, rather than synthesizing, the conceptual distance between Paris and the Caribbean. Thus, whether or not Glissant was in Paris when he wrote the deictic phrase “ici, dans l’île,” what is evident is that his relation to his native island is filtered through his attachment and simultaneous aversion to Paris. Despite his insistence on the collapse of Paris as a metropolitan center of a far-flung empire, Glissant’s conceptualizations of the significance of insularity and the other structural features of the island are inconceivable without reference to Paris.
     For all its effects of alienation, Paris for Glissant thus has surprisingly fertile poetic value. Primary among its attributes, as Coutinho Mendes observes, is Glissant’s tendency to see Paris as a place, like Carthage or Alexandria, at which civilizations of the West and Africa meet, and where there is a form of integration that does not efface differences (Coutinho Mendes, 47). But Paris is not only a point of cultural intersection in Soleil de la conscience; it also encourages the kind of isolation and insularity to which Glissant is strangely attracted. He writes:

Silence et solitude. L’expérience, d’abord, est ici que la solitude n’émeut pas; qu’elle est sous-entendue par chaque poignée de mains ou de neige: Qu’il faut, en sursis d’oubli, la convaincre, cette solitude, de vous armer contre elle. (67)
[Silence and solitude. Here, the experience, first of all, is that solitude does not give rise to emotion; that it is implied by each ball of snow or fist: that one must, suspending forgetfulness, convince this solitude to arm you against it.]

It is Paris’s very solitude, implied in its quotidian violence, that gives rise to the creative impulse to resist it. The very suspicions, betrayals and fervid rivalry that fester in the city also make it an inventive matrix: “La verité pourtant qui effare: la poésie, la connaissance, l’art sont présents. Ils mûrissent cet univers, ils grandissent de cette solitude multipliée [The truth that nevertheless alarms: poetry, knowledge, art are present. They ripen this universe, they grow out of this condensed solitude]” (ibid.). And as if to negate the idea that this demiurge may merely be the tainted shadow of a more authentic creativity to be found elsewhere, Glissant concludes: “Grandeur et servitude de Paris, qui enseigne l’art d’être seul. Un enfer sans saisons. D’où il faut pour chacun que lève le Soleil de la Conscience [Grandeur and servitude of Paris, that teaches the art of being alone. A hell without seasons. Thus the necessity that for each individual the Sun of Consciousness rise]” (ibid.). Glissant ironically inverts the notion of an equatorial substrate of Western empire, descibed stereotypically as an overheated ‘hell without seasons.’ Now it is Paris in which hell—the hell of silence, solitude and alienation—is figured as an undifferentiated season. Paris, in other words, is a product of its universalizing projections. And yet, such undifferentiation is the ground that gives rise to conscience, which for Glissant is evidently a mental attitude that articulates itself as difference. One is reminded here of the light ridicule with which Glissant treats a French readership’s dismissal of Césaire’s Les Armes miraculeuses. To accept that Césaire’s poem was written “pour un autre soleil” [for another sun] (“Aimé Césaire,” 47) is to give credence to an assumption that Glissant here implicitly rejects: that the “Sun of Conscience” rises in one place but not another.
     Glissant extends this oddly redemptive gesture towards Paris in a subsequent meditation, in which he suggests that metropolitan solitude is precisely what is productive of cultural and individual difference. Glissant’s attribution to Paris of any sense of authenticity at all is unexpected, considering his immediately prior description of the city as consigned to dissimulation: “Oui, l’ami qui assure que. L’autre qui applaudit, mais. Je ne fais que décrire le cercle, j’y suis moi-même. [Yes, the friend who assures that. Another who applauds, but. I am only describing the circle, I myself am within it]” (67). But such concerns about the possibility of friendship in Paris temporarily become bracketed as Glissant describes a scene in which he and a group of friends hold forth in a Parisian café. Each person contributes to the discussion, he writes, “mais il est vrai que chacun se réserve une oasis, derrière les mots, où il se consolide [but it is true that each preserves as oasis, behind the words, where he fortifies himself]” (71). Glissant has always been fascinated by such reserve: “On vit en secret dans l’arène d’une discussion [one lives in secret in the arena of a discussion],” he continues, echoing his famous subsequent declaration of resistance: “nous réclamons le droit à l’opacité [we reclaim the right to opacity]” Discours antillais, 14; Caribbean Discourse, 2). But here, Glissant suggests that such reserve, with its secret oases, permits a kind of collective unity: “Il n’y a plus d’individus, mais un seul corps tendu vers son destin. À ce niveau, je ne suis en rien insulaire, je ne répresente pas; je suis dans ce café une voix qui s’ajoute aux autres. [We are no longer individuals, but a single body reaching towards its destiny. On this level, I am in no way an islander, I do not represent; I am in this café one voice adding itself to the others]” (71). Glissant admits, however, that he, like the others in the café, recognizes that “le résidu en moi demeure [the residue in me abides],” and that the very conditions of secret reserve and insularity which permit collective solidarity are also those which breach the supposed unity. This breach provides an opening onto the world: “Ouverture inouïe du monde, et conscience, qui cristallise, de cette ouverture [Unknown opening of the world, and conscience, which crystallizes, from that opening].” This breach, which crystallizes consciousness, is much like the opening outward to the world that Glissant accomplishes by leaving the Caribbean and entering the unfamiliar social matrix of Paris. In Paris, the island becomes a conceptual figure as Glissant begins to elaborate metaphors of isolation and connection that pertain equally, he insists, to the insular as well as the metropolitan situation. His conceptualizations of the islands as well as the city, therefore, appear to arise simultaneously, the one giving definition to the other.
     Nevertheless, a certain undecidability arises in Soleil de la conscience as to whether, in Glissant’s poetic inscription of isolation and aperture, Paris or the Antilles bears conceptual priority. On one hand, Glissant asserts that his sojourn in Paris enables him to comprehend the conceptual significance of his native islands: “Puissance encore de cette ville! qui abstrait l’être, mais pour le rejeter aussitôt dans sa vérité même. [Abiding strength of this city! which abstracts the self, only to eject it immediately into its proper truth]” (71). Here it is Glissant’s interest in the conceptually “abstract” aesthetics of Paris that inspires in him a reflection on the meaning of insular existence and subjectivity. The islander, Glissant suggests, comes to know her or himself through a process of self-differentiation and metaphorical mooring that begins with the abstractions (as exhibited in the café) of urban collective and individual identity. Yet, at a later moment in Soleil, Glissant writes: “Paris ainsi, au coeur de notre temps, reçoit, déracine, brouille, puis éclaircit et rassure. Je sais soudain son secret: et c’est que Paris est une île, qui capte de partout et diffracte aussitôt. [Thus Paris, at the heart of our era, receives, deracinates, jumbles, then clarifies and reassures. I know suddenly its secret: and it’s that Paris is an island, which attracts from everywhere and just as quickly diffracts]” (82). Here, Glissant suggests that he appreciates Paris because, ultimately, he understands its alienating and abstract features to be variations on the conceptual figure of the island. Reading Soleil de la conscience is thus an experience of apprehending that the conceptual clusters — or islands, as it were — of Glissant’s developing aesthetics have multiple possible inspirations or origins.
     In these early essays, Glissant is certainly interested in undermining the idea of Paris as the monolithic center of (Western) culture. And yet his intriguingly dialectical approach suggests that in the process of deconstructing the centrality of Paris within the larger colonial paradigm, he is also aware that Paris and its (post)colonial ‘outposts’ become mutually epistemologically entangled. Otherness insinuates itself into the colonial metropole, just as that metropole gives impetus and definition to alterity. Perhaps this is the reason why Glissant early on considers a form of writing whose anarchic logic could potentially provide a form proper to the expression of the dynamic relationship between Paris and the islands. Near the beginning of Soleil, Glissant mentions what he calls “chaos-writing.” Long predating the astrophysical theory of chaos that Glissant would later take up as an important theoretical (if metaphorical) category for understanding culture (Poétique de la Relation, 147-54; Poetics of Relation, 133-40), the notion of chaos-writing in Soleil de la conscience nevertheless exhibits important parallels with his subsequent understanding of the physical concept.(32) Chaos-writing, in this early conception of it, depends for its definition on a differential logic that operates all the more forcefully as the subject of writing becomes further displaced from a postulated center:

Ce que je voudrais établir d’abord, c’est la quasi-nécessité d’un chaos d’écriture dans le temps où l’être est tout chaos; c’est à dire, comment l’expression suit la même épure que l’individu. Mais pourquoi, et quand, l’être serait-il tout chaos? C’est quand, par exemple, s’éprouvant comme lancé dans une aventure très collective, dans le commencement de quelque périple nouveau, ébloui il s’ébat, tenté par mille directions successivement, avant de trouver son ordre. S’il advient de surcroît que cet être soit déporté, physiquement déporté de son centre d’aventure, le déséquilibre s’accentue, mais dans le même temps accélère la reprise de soi (20).
[What I want to establish first of all is the quasi-necessity of a chaos of writing at a time when the self is entirely chaotic; that is, the way in which expression follows the same outline as the individual. But why, and when, would a being be entirely chaotic? This is when, for example, acting as though launched in a very collective endeavor, in the commencement of some new journey, dazzled he flutters, tempted in a thousand directions at once, before finding his order. If it happens in addition that the self is deported, physically deported from the center of his endeavors, this disequilibrium becomes accentuated, but at the same time it accelerates his possession of himself.]

In Glissant’s highly associative presentation of it, the subject of writing thus requires a certain measure of chaos in order to come into her or himself. This chaos is not anarchy utterly without rules — rather, it is a disposition to slippage or drift between a center and its unexplored peripheries. To the extent that the writing subject slips further from that center — whether towards or away from any “objective” point of reference—a process of relational definition begins to organize this slippage, until it is the drift itself that begins to serve as the principle of interpretation and figuration. There is, theoretically, no way to halt this drift, because its very iterations become the pattern along whose shifting lines the subject writes itself into being. Glissant, suspended as he is between Paris and the Caribbean, unwilling or unable to make clear-cut distinctions between the two locations and aware of their interdependency, is this drifting figure. And in his early writings, this paratactic space between the center and its margins becomes a kind of magical writing pad for him, where the boundaries and signposts leave traces but no indelible marks. In his enthusiasm, Glissant accepts the premise of a perpetually unstable gravity exerting its differential force between historically overdetermined positions. His writing posits the parallax that never alligns an assymetry of origins. Only later, with the failure of departmentalization and its postcolonial enterprise in Martinique, would Glissant begin to revise his early idealist conception of the effects exerted by such mutually deforming forces.


1. [huge rock tumbled hollowed from within / by some ineffable music the prisoner / of a melody nevertheless to be saved from the Disaster”]. “Nous Savoir… [To Know Ourselves…]” (from Ferrements), in Aimé Césaire, Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith, Aimé Césaire,The Collected Poetry, 278-9.

2. [the residue within me remains.] Édouard Glissant, Soleil de la conscience, 71. All translations from Soleil de la conscience are mine.

3. Richard D. E. Burton has convincingly argued that Glissant’s identification of slaves with “acceptance” and maroons with “refusal” is a serious distortion of history that opposes slave passivity to maroon activity; he rightly reminds us of the long history of Martinican slave rebellion that Glissant’s binarism conceals. Glissant’s subsequent literary output, as I suggest above in reference to Faulkner, Mississippi, but which is even more true of his recent novel Ormerod, has greatly complicated his notion of the historical legacy of maroons and slaves. Richard D. E. Burton, Le Roman marron: Études sur la littérature martiniquaise contemporaine (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1997), Édouard Glissant, Ormerod: roman ([Paris]: Gallimard, 2003).

4. See Edward Kamau Brathwaite, The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica, 1770-1820 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), Edward Kamau Brathwaite, Contradictory Omens: Cultural Diversity and Integration in the Caribbean (Mona, Jamaica: Savacou Publications, 1974). Brathwaite was by no means the first, in turn, to discuss Caribbean identity in terms of a “Creole” culture; see, for example, my discussion of Gilbert Gratient below.

5. Hallward argues this point throughout the chapter on Glissant in his provocative study, Absolutely Postcolonial. Just one example: “Glissant fragments, then, in order to become more rather than less total. Rather than one positioned voice among others, his ‘larval selves’ express the consensus embodied by a multiplicity of voices caught up in a single uni-vocity.” Peter Hallward, Absolutely Postcolonial: Writing between the Singular and the Specific, 118.

6. The best study of the Negritude movement’s relationship to Marxism and Surrealism remains A. James Arnold’s. See A. James Arnold, Modernism and Negritude: The Poetry and Poetics of Aimé Césaire, 44-9, 96-101 and passim.

7. Arnold details some of the artistic sequelae for Césaire of Breton’s visit to Martinique. Arnold, Modernism and Negritude. Sartre’s controversial essay was published as the introduction to the first francophone anthology of Black poetry. Jean Paul Sartre, “Orphée Noir,” Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache de langue française.

8. See Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” trans. Harry Zohn, Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt and Walter Benjamin and Rolf Tiedemann, The Arcades Project.

9. Glissant’s conception of Paris in terms of an archipelago reflects a larger historical shift that only later would be referred to, in some assessments, as the process of globalization.  As one theory of globalism and postmodernity describes, “[t]he simultaneous development of unity and differentiation within the global economy” leads to a breakdown of the core-periphery geographical paradigm which was developed in the 1960s. “Due to the onslaught of technology and capital, the core now has islands of consolidated capitalist development in countries like South Korea, Taiwan, Mexico and Brazil.  But simultaneously, the periphery has spread to the developed world as well.  Cities like New York, Los Angeles, London and Paris now contain large areas where economic and social conditions are similar to those of many Third World countries, with people unemployed, hungry, illiterate, homeless and completely marginalized.” Roger Burbach, Orlando Núñez Soto and Boris Kagarlitsky, Globalization and Its Discontents: The Rise of Postmodern Socialisms, 55-56. Glissant’s ascription of an ‘island paradigm’ to the Parisian metropole is, in this sense, well ahead of a general academic and institutional recognition that center and periphery were no longer hermetic categories, nor even necessarily coherent units of analysis.

10. Césaire does invoke volcanic explosion, for example, as a conspicuous metaphor for political and psychological liberation, but he does not use this or other natural images, as Glissant does, as comprehensive figures of Caribbean alterity.

11. For a helpful discussion of the important differences between the successive versions of Césaire’s Cahier, see A. James Arnold, “Césaire’s Notebook as Palimpsest: The Text before, During, and after World War II,” Research in African Literatures 35.3 (2004).

12. For a discussion of anthropological influences on the Negritude movement’s founders, see Christopher L. Miller, Theories of Africans: Francophone Literature and Anthropology in Africa, 16-25.

13. All translations from Ngal’s text are mine.

14. The issue of assimilation, and in this sense, of “humanism,” was one of the defining early debates of the Negritude movement, as is reflected in L’Étudiant noir. Léopold Sédar Senghor, “L’humanisme et nous: René Maran,” L’Étudiant noir: journal de l’Association des étudiants martiniquais en France 1.1 (1935).

15. Chamoiseau, Confiant and Bernabé may be the only remaining exemplars of this school, since for various reasons their compatriots did not take up the Créolité banner. Among the critics of Créolité are writers such as Guadeloupean novelist and critic Maryse Condé, who, in keeping with her early refusal of didacticism (in works such as La Parole des femmes) has criticized the founders of the Créolité movement for having produced just another example of what Condé describes, in a 1993 essay, as the prescriptive philosophies and literary movements invented by Caribbean male writers. Maryse Condé, La Parole des femmes: Essai sur des romancières des antilles de langue française (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1979), Maryse Condé, “Order, Disorder, Freedom, and the West Indian Writer,” Yale French Studies 83 (1993): 121, 30. Condé’s critique has been echoed and expanded elsewhere; for one of the most powerful critiques, see Shalini Puri, The Caribbean Postcolonial: Social Equality, Post-Nationalism, and Cultural Hybridity (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004). Glissant himself, to whom Chamoiseau et al. swear filial poetic allegiance in the Éloge, has maintained his distance from the ideas of the Créolité movement. He criticizes its practitioners for having transformed the culturally diffuse process of créolisation into a static designation, créolité — a term which, he claims, threatens to solidify into yet another cultural essentialism. See Andrea Schweiger Hiepko, “L’ Europe Et Les Antilles: Une Interview D’ Edouard Glissant,” Mots Pluriels 8 (1998). But Glissant has also collaborated in recent years with Chamoiseau on a variety of literary projects, including a publication addressed to Barack Obama upon his election as the forty-fourth US president; see Édouard Glissant and Patrick Chamoiseau, L’Intraitable beauté du monde: Adresse à Barack Obama (Paris: Galaade: Institut du tout-monde, 2009).

16. See, for example, Patrick Chamoiseau, Chronique des sept misères; suivi de paroles de djobeurs (Paris: Gallimard, 1988), Patrick Chamoiseau, Solibo magnifique (Paris: Gallimard, 1991), Patrick Chamoiseau, Texaco (Paris: Gallimard, 1992), Raphaël Confiant, Le Nègre et l’amiral (Paris: B. Grasset, 1988), Raphaël Confiant, L’allée des soupirs (Paris: Grasset, 1994).

17. “Ajourd’hui l’Antillais ne renie plus la part africaine de son être; il n’a plus, par réaction, à la prôner comme exclusive (…). Il n’est plus contraint de rejeter par tactique les composantes occidentales, aujourd’hui encore aliénantes, dont il sait qu’il peut choisir entre elles. Il voit que l’aliénation réside d’abord dans l’impossibilité du choix, dans l’imposition arbitraire des valeurs, et peut-être dans la notion de Valeur. Il conçoit que la synthèse n’est pas l’operation d’abâtardissement qu’on lui disait, mais pratique féconde par quoi les composantes s’enrichissent. Il est devenu antillais [Today the French Caribbean individual does not deny the African part of himself; he does not have, in reaction, to go to the extreme of celebrating it exclusively (…). He is no longer forced to reject strategically the European elements in his composition, although they continue to be a source of alienation, since he knows that he can choose between them. He can see that alienation first and foremost resides in the impossibility of choice, in the arbitrary imposition of values, and perhaps, in the concept of value itself. He can conceive that synthesis is not a process of bastardization as he used to be told, but a prodictive activity through which each element is enriched.  He has become Caribbean].” Édouard Glissant, Le Discours antillais, 25-6 and Édouard Glissant, Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays, 8.

18. The bilingual Eshelman and Smith edition cited here is from the final post-war version of the Cahier.

19. Condé points out that the Cahier introduces a stereotypical messianic male hero, and that the negative effect of this heroic paradigm was to “obliterate for years to come any literary production prior to itself” (“Order, Disorder, Freedom,” 125-6).

20. Glissant has recently made a very similar argument regarding Césaire, although he does so in the service of subverting the principle of universalism, while I am claiming here that Césaire’s particularism was what made him a target of later intellectuals, such as Glissant, who initially wished to distance themselves from what they perceived as Negritude’s parochial legacy. Édouard Glissant, La Cohée du Lamentin, 108.

21. I mean the term “strong reading” in the sense that Harold Bloom uses it. Harold Bloom, Agon: Towards a Theory of Revisionism (New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982).

22. Glissant is citing a passage from Césaire’s essay on aesthetics, “Poésie et connaissance, which was first printed in Tropiques 12 (1945).

23. Glissant would often return to this language of totality, as in his notion of the tout-monde (in more recent novels) and the totalité-monde. It is striking to see this phrase used so early in his critical oeuvre. Just as striking, however, is Glissant’s volte-face regarding the “universel,” which, at least since the 1980s, he has rejected as a source of ethics. He argues, for example, that the universalist humanism of the French Republic was never more than a concealed assertion of bourgeois interests; see Glissant, Le Discours antillais, 328.

24. Glissant’s reference to prophecy is a citation from the Cahier. Césaire, Eshleman and Smith, The Collected Poetry, 70.

25. The poem is dedicated to “Wifredo [Lam],” the Cuban painter of African and Chinese heritage who, like Césaire, tapped into Surrealism’s primitivist fascination in forging his own notion of a collective African identity. 

26. Later elaborations on this theme appear in Édouard Glissant, Poétique de la Relation, 91-4, Édouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation, trans. Betsy Wing, 77-9.

27. This point is developed in Britton, 64.

28. See Avner Perez, “Interview D’edouard Glissant: De la Poétique de la Relation au Tout-monde,” Atalaia.1/2 (1995). Compare Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference.

29. Mireille Rosello points out that exile under these conditions comes to be “perceived as a permanent gap, no longer between the speaking subject and a clearly identified cultural or national identity, but between the ‘I’ and the community within which that ‘I’ temporarily finds itself (speaking).” Mireille Rosello, “One More Sea to Cross: Exile and Intertextuality in Aimé Césaire’s Cahier d’un retour au pays natal,” Yale French Studies.83 (1993): 181.

30. Glissant makes essentially this same point in his nearly contemporaneous discussion of racism in Soleil de la conscience: “Le problème racial est dépassé. (J’ai mal au coeur, de cette soupe au lait!). Je veux dire qu’il faut cesser d’en faire un absolu, pour élucider les raisons motrices du racisme, qu’on les trouve sociales, économiques ou politiques, et qui l’autorisent à sévir encore. [The racial problem is surpassed.  (This milk soup gives me heartburn!)  I mean that one must cease making of it an absolute, in order to elucidate the motive reasons of racism, whether one determines them social, economic or political, and which authorize them to continue to rage]” (Soleil, 63). Glissant’s aside about ‘milk soup’ is an obvious reference to Frantz Fanon’s description of ‘lactification’ as the form of black self-negation that characterizes the encounter of Africans and Caribbeans with European racism. See Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, 47.

31. Chris Bongie discusses the epigraph to Glissant’s Introduction à une poétique du divers, in which a citation from Brathwaite refers to the “sub-marine” unity of the Caribbean (this is also the epigraph to Glissant’s Poétique de la relation). In the conclusion to his essay on Césaire, Glissant writes that Césaire’s oeuvre expresses a “force of liberation,” which, Glissant insists, explains the “unité en quelque sorte souterraine de son langage” [the somehow subterranean unity of his language] (54). That Césaire’s work is understood by Glissant to offer a subterranean unity, while he himself identifies with the sub-marine, suggests some of the differences and similarities that Glissant locates between his own work and that of his literary predecessor, as Bongie points out.  Bongie’s chapter explains the ways in which the metaphor of the medusa, or jellyfish, refers readers to Glissant’s description of the abyss opened up in the Middle Passage, where African slaves are thrown into the belly of the slave ship only to reappear as creolized Caribbeans. Whereas Derek Walcott has described the confrontation with this history as potentially paralyzing, Kamau Brathwaite, according to Bongie, argues for a confrontation with the depths of the marine abyss, and Glissant has found (postmodern) ways of accomplishing this.  See Chris Bongie, Islands and Exiles: The Creole Identities of Post/Colonial Literature, 135-6.

32. Glissant’s notion of “chaos-writing” can be compared to Césaire’s use of “automatic writing,” a concept he had learned from Breton. See Arnold, 130-2 and 191-8. Glissant effectively gives Césaire’s concept an insular dimension that links it to the geopolitical tensions and postcolonial dialectic of center and periphery.

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