September 21, 1928
Born in Sainte-Marie, Martinique, Edouard Glissant and his contemporary Frantz Fanon are the best known of the generation of writers who came after the founding father of Négritude, Aimé Césaire. Like Fanon, Glissant was educated at the Lycée Schoelcher and later left for Paris after participating in Césaire's electoral campaign. Unlike that of many of his contemporaries in the 1950s, Glissant's early poetry was not overtly political but a dense exploration of Caribbean landscape. His first book of essays, Soleil de la conscience (Sun of Consciousness ), in 1956 is essentially a travel book dealing with his relation to France as an insider and an outsider. This "ethnography of the self," as he called it, was written as a series of prose poems and contained the major themes of his later work: the importance of place, the idea of an open insularity, and the fundamentally interconnected nature of all cultures. The theme of individual self-discovery is continued in Glissant's early novels La Lezarde (The Ripening ), which won the Prix Renaudot in 1958, and Le quatrième siècle (The Fourth Century ) in 1965. Both brought him to prominence because of their original evocations of Martinican space and history and their experimental treatment of generic conventions.
Glassant spent nineteen years in Paris, during which he produced a number of essays on the most influential writers of the Americas, Saint-John Perse, Aimé Césaire, William Faulkner, and Alejo Carpentier, which later became the basis for the 1969 book of essays L'intention poétique (The Poetic Intention ). He also became involved in anticolonial politics through the Front Antillo-Guyanais formed with Paul Niger, and he returned to Martinique in 1965 and founded the Institut Martiniquais d'Études. By inviting artists such as Roberto Matta from Chile and Agustín Cárdenas from Cuba and with the publication of the magazine Acoma, Glissant tried to counter the rapid Europeanization of Martinique, which had become a French Department in 1946. His bleak view of Martinique's future as a department is recorded in the 1975 novel, significantly titled Malemort (Undead ).
In 1980 Glissant left Martinique to become the editor of the UNESCO Courier in Paris. In the following year he published his well-known Le discours Antillais (Caribbean Discourse ) and the novel La case du commandeur (The Driver's Cabin ). In his essays he established himself as the major Caribbean theorist of the post-Négritude period, proposing a view of the Caribbean as an exemplary site of creolization that transcended racial and linguistic divisions. He left Paris in 1988 for a teaching position in the United States, and his interrelated novels evolved into narratives of nomadic wanderings and an exploded sense of place in Mahagony (1987) and Tout monde (1993). Similarly, his later essays, Poétique de la Relation (Poetics of Relating ) in 1990 and Faulkner, Mississippi (1996), develop his theories of rhizomatic identity and the Americas as a site of pervasive métissage, or intermixing of peoples. Glissant's ideas have spawned a movement of cultural affirmation in Martinique called the créolité movement of which Patrick Chamoiseau is the most prominent literary figure.
Baudot, Alain. Bibliographie annotee d'Edouard Glissant. Toronto: Éditions du Gref, 1993.
Dash, J. Michael. Edouard Glissant. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Glissant, Edouard. Caribbean Discourse. Translated by J. Michael Dash. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1989.
j. michael dash (2005)