Édouard Glissant Beverley Ormerod - Essay

Beverley Ormerod

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)