Édouard Glissant Essay - Critical Essays

Glissant, Édouard


Glissant, Édouard 1928–

A Martinican poet, novelist, playwright, and editor, Glissant explores in his fiction the condition, culture, and history of West Indians. His first novel, La Lézarde, won the prestigious Renaudot Prize.

Beverley Ormerod

Among those who have sought beyond négritude for a more realistic approach to the problem of Caribbean identity, perhaps the most assured and convincing is the Martinican author Édouard Glissant. (p. 361)

In place of négritude, Glissant offers in his poetry, novels, and theater a new world view, of which the Caribbean is the center. Africa remains present in his system of thought, but not as a metaphor for black beauty or vanished dignity: Africa is, for Glissant, an instructive actuality, a paradigm of social cooperation. The African pattern of sharing, the prizing of the community above the individual, is opposed by Glissant to the European cult of personality and free will which militates against the concepts of participation and universality. (p. 362)

Poetry, in European tradition the most arcane of arts, is seen by Glissant as an obligation to explore and reveal, to understand the nature of things and to share this understanding. Where the conventional European lyric was content to immortalize an "anecdote"—a moment of joy or suffering—modern poetry should be concerned with man and his destiny, not with men and their personal concerns. (pp. 362-63)

The idea of history is omnipresent in Glissant's work: much of his poetry is devoted to what he has called "a prophetic vision of the past." Glissant shares with many West Indians a desire to restore and elucidate the vast areas of the Caribbean past which have been ignored by European historians or else recorded with an unjust bias….

[History] is viewed optimistically as a possible means of arriving at prescriptions for the contemporary situation. But history is also viewed in a wider context, as a particular obsession of those born in the Americas, who are impelled by the urge to define their own heritage and to establish a tradition apart from Europe. (p. 363)

[Underlying] all of Glissant's works is a deep political commitment to the concept of Martinique's independence from France. This concern is evident not only in the themes of his novels, but in the...

(The entire section is 873 words.)

Juris Silenieks

Glissant's third novel [Malemort] may be viewed as a polymorphous narrative as well as a compendium of the author's aesthetic and ideological tenets. Like most of his writing, Malemort deals with the condition of Glissant's homeland, Martinique, and therewith ramifies into a multi-directional search for a definition of Antillanité, a concept that Glissant wants to substitute for the much exalted and maligned Négritude. Among other things, Antillanité is predicated on the recognition of a collective consciousness of the Caribbean peoples, still to be distilled and instilled. If, by and large, Glissant's Renaudot-prize-winning first novel, La Lézarde, can be considered as an exploration of Martinican space in its dichotomous opposites of mountain/plain, sea/land, country/city, his second novel, Le Quatrième Siècle, is laid out on a predominantly temporal matrix, evoking "une vision prophétique du passé," the past which has been lost and is to be reconstituted from folkloric legends and recollections by means of historic research and creative sublimation. Malemort attempts a further integration of Martinican space and time, which are intricately enmeshed in the experience and consciousness of the Martinican people. Thus, there is no chronological plot line as the narrative scans back and forth between 1788 and 1974. 1788 is the year when a slave ship brought over from Africa Glissant's ancestors and the first rebels fled to the hills to become marrons. The fictional locus likewise encompasses a whole range of Martinican paysages that offer startling contrasts of geographic features, a lush rain forest, an arid salt plain, a volcanic landscape, fertile agricultural fields, etc., that Glissant's descriptions render vibrant: authenticated by his intimate knowledge of the island's fauna and flora; infused with his love for that "Eden potentiel" endowed with natural splendors and plagued with human miseries; impassioned with his anguish to see the island being destroyed by developers and promoters of tourism…. Along many facets, the novel, though imbedded in a very specific locale, dealing with endemic problems, transcends its topicality to reach a level of universal significance. The novel's stylistic and structural forms are disconcertingly complex, its language being couched in a very idiosyncratic idiom that occasionally flaunts grammatical improprieties and borrows from creole. (p. 826)

Juris Silenieks, in French Review (copyright 1976 by The American Association of Teachers of French), April, 1976.