Édouard Glissant Juris Silenieks - Essay

Juris Silenieks

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.