Édouard Glissant (21 September 1928 – 3 February 2011) was a Martinican writer, poet, philosopher, and literary critic. He is widely recognised as one of the most influential figures in Caribbean thought and cultural commentary.
Édouard Glissant was born in Sainte-Marie, Martinique. He studied at the Lycée Schoelcher, named after the abolitionist Victor Schoelcher, where the poet Aimé Césaire had studied and to which he returned as a teacher. Césaire had met Léon Damas there; later in Paris they would join with Léopold Senghor, a poet and the future first president of Senegal, to formulate and promote the concept of negritude. Césaire did not teach Glissant, but did serve as an inspiration to him (although Glissant sharply criticized many aspects of his philosophy); another student at the school at that time was Frantz Fanon.
Glissant left Martinique in 1946 for Paris, where he received his PhD, having studied ethnography at the Musée de l'Homme and History and philosophy at the Sorbonne. He established, with Paul Niger, the separatist Front Antillo-Guyanais pour l'Autonomie party in 1959, as a result of which Charles de Gaulle barred him from leaving France between 1961 and 1965. He returned to Martinique in 1965 and founded the Institut martiniquais d'études, as well as Acoma, a social sciences publication. Glissant divided his time between Martinique, Paris and New York; since 1995, he was Distinguished Professor of French at the CUNY Graduate Center. In January 2006, Glissant was asked by Jacques Chirac to take on the presidency of a new cultural centre devoted to the history of slave trade.
Shortlisted for the Nobel Prize in 1992, when Derek Walcott emerged as the recipient, Glissant was the pre-eminent critic of the Négritude school of Caribbean writing and father-figure for the subsequent Créolité group of writers that includes Patrick Chamoiseau and Raphaël Confiant. While his first novel portrays the political climate in 1940s Martinique, through the story of a group of young revolutionaries, his subsequent work focuses on questions of language, identity, space and history. Glissant's development of the notion of antillanité seeks to root Caribbean identity firmly within "the Other America" and springs from a critique of identity in previous schools of writing, specifically the work of Aimé Césaire, which looked to Africa for its principal source of identification. He is notable for his attempt to trace parallels between the history and culture of the Creole Caribbean and those of Latin America and the plantation culture of the American south, most obviously in his study of William Faulkner. Generally speaking, his thinking seeks to interrogate notions of centre, origin and linearity, embodied in his distinction between atavistic and composite cultures, which has influenced subsequent Martinican writers' trumpeting of hybridity as the bedrock of Caribbean identity and their "creolised" approach to textuality. As such he is both a key (though underrated) figure in postcolonial literature and criticism, but also he often pointed out that he was close to two French philosophers, Félix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze, and their theory of the rhizome.
Glissant died in Paris, France, at the age of 82.
Interviews with Glissant
- 1998: "Nous sommes tous des créoles", interview in Regards (January)
- 1998: "De la poétique de la relation au tout-monde", interview in Atalaia
- 1998: "Penser l’abolition", Le Monde (24 April)
- 1998: "L’Europe et les Antilles", interview in Mots Pluriels, No. 8 (October)
- 1998: interview in Le Pelletier, C. (ed.), Encre noire - la langue en liberté, Guadeloupe-Guyane-Martinique: Ibis Rouge.
- 2000: "La «créolisation» culturelle du monde", interview in Label France [BROKEN LINK]
Writings on Glissant
- Dash, M. 1995: Edouard Glissant, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
- Britton, C. 1999: Glissant and Postcolonial Theory; Strategies of Language and Resistance, Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia
- Britton, C. 1994: "Discours and histoire, magical and political discourse in Edouard Glissant’s Le quatrième siècle", French Cultural Studies, 5: 151-162.
- Britton, C. 1995: "Opacity and transparency: conceptions of history and cultural difference in the work of Michel Butor and Edouard Glissant", French Studies, 49: 308-320.
- Britton, C. 1996: "'A certain linguistic homelessness': relations to language in Edouard Glissant’s Malemort", Modern Language Review, 91: 597-609.
- Britton, C. 2000: "Fictions of identity and identities of fiction in Glissant’s Tout-monde", ASCALF Year Book, 4: 47-59.
- Dalleo, R. 2004: "Another 'Our America': Rooting a Caribbean Aesthetic in the Work of José Martí, Kamau Brathwaite and Édouard Glissant", Anthurium, 2.2.
- Dorschel, A. 2005: "Nicht-System und All-Welt", Süddeutsche Zeitung 278 (2 December 2005), 18 (in German).
- Oakley, S. 2008: "Commonplaces: Rhetorical Figures of Difference in Heidegger and Glissant", Philosophy & Rhetoric 41.1: 1-21.
- Delpech, C. & Rœlens, M. (eds). 1997: Société et littérature antillaises aujourd’hui, Perpignan: Presses Universitaires de Perpignan.
- Nick Coates. Gardens in the sands: the notion of space in recent critical theory and contemporary writing from the French Antilles (UCL: 2001) Coates devotes a chapter to Glissant's later fiction (Mahagony, Tout-monde, Sartorius), while the thesis is heavily indebted to Glissant's writings on space and chaos in particular in thinking about post-colonial treatments of space more widely.
- Schwieger Hiepko, Andrea, 2009: "Rhythm 'n' Creole. Antonio Benítez Rojo und Edouard Glissant - Postkoloniale Poetiken der kulturellen Globalisierung".
- Kuhn, Helke, 2013: Rhizome, Verzweigungen, Fraktale: Vernetztes Schreiben und Komponieren im Werk von Édouard Glissant, Berlin: Weidler, ISBN 978-3-89693-728-5.