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American CreolesThe Francophone Caribbean and the American South$

Martin Munro and Celia Britton

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9781846317538

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: June 2013

DOI: 10.5949/UPO9781846317200

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Go Slow Now: Saying the Unsayable in Édouard Glissant's Reading of Faulkner

Go Slow Now: Saying the Unsayable in Édouard Glissant's Reading of Faulkner

(p.183) Go Slow Now: Saying the Unsayable in Édouard Glissant's Reading of Faulkner
American Creoles

Michael Wiedorn

Liverpool University Press

Abstract and Keywords

William Faulkner has been castigated for his loyalty to the reactionary attitudes of the traditional white South and his tolerance of its racism. This chapter demonstrates Édouard Glissant's rehabilitation of Faulkner as an anti-racist, white Southern novelist. Glissant's admiration for Faulkner is evident throughout his career, culminating in the book Faulkner, Mississippi, which proclaims Faulkner's affiliation with the South. Glissant reclaims Faulkner as a ‘Creole’ writer and argues that his novels are politically progressive in their intuition of the possible future creolization of American society.

Keywords:   William Faulkner, racism, Édouard Glissant, Faulkner, Mississippi, creolization

‘Nous réclamons le droit à l'opacité’ [We demand the right to opacity]:1 this demand, articulated on the first pages of the Discours antillais [Caribbean Discourse] (Glissant, 1981: 11), resonates throughout Édouard Glissant's work.2 For Glissant, one way that literature can deploy opacity is to engage in a set of paired, paradoxical operations. It can say the unsayable, or make the invisible visible – or, more accurately put, present the absent. With his literary-critical text Faulkner, Mississippi, Glissant perceives both of these operations in the novels of an author whom he has hailed as the greatest of the twentieth century (Glissant, 1996: 54). This poetics of paradox is born of what Glissant sees as the shared cultural zone made up of the Caribbean and the US Gulf South region (cf. ibid.: 134, and passim). It is a poetics proper to this space; indeed, for Glissant, a literary method characterized by paradox and contradiction is necessitated by the particularity of this place or group of places.

In a rather contentious literary-historical formulation positing Faulkner (p.184) as the genitor of a multilingual, pan-Caribbean poetics, Glissant holds that Caribbean writers ranging from Wilson Harris to Carpentier to Glissant himself have borrowed the langage [language] of Faulkner's literary practice (Glissant, 2005b).3 While this literary practice is peculiar to the US Gulf South-Caribbean region, this shared, paradoxical poetics, which Glissant suggests is aligned with the very force of life itself (Glissant, 1996: 139–40), has the potential to extend outward into other spaces and places. Glissant thus implies, as with his repeated assertion that ‘le monde entier s'archipélise et se créolise’ [the entire world is becoming archipelago-ized and creolized] (Glissant, 2005a: 25), that the Caribbean, and by extension the shared US Gulf South-Caribbean cultural zone, can point the way towards new and more desirable forms of thought and, subsequently, life.

The opacity demanded by Glissant's texts serves as a sort of protective mechanism insulating the radical difference of the other from the self's at times depredatory search for knowledge. Opacity thus dictates that in the other an unknowable remainder persists. Glissant's figure of opacity, as I will show, also proves to be applied to his own ideas (including the idea of opacity itself). Glissant uses opacity and the set of paradoxes that accompany it as part of a larger enterprise of creation: that is, not only the creation of an ethical mode of being between self and other but also the impetus for creation of new literary forms. Through accommodating contradiction and allowing paradox to perdure, opacity points us towards possibilities for new forms of literary creation. The importance of such literary innovation to Glissant cannot be emphasized enough. For in his thought the causal link between new forms of writing and the creation of new forms of ethical life is spelled out quite clearly. The formula for bringing about this sequence of causally linked creations, however, is somewhat less so.

In Faulkner, Mississippi, composed during Glissant's stint at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Glissant undertakes a survey of the entirety of Faulkner's oeuvre. He distills a reading that, as can be seen in (p.185) Glissant's literary-critical work on other authors (cf., e.g., Glissant, 1969: 96), brings Faulkner's thought into line with his own. This effort runs counter to the author's views on race, or what many take to be his view (cf. Weinstein, 2009: 117–18). For in his chronicle of a journey through the past and present of the American deep South, which he situates in a history of profound and continuing race-based antagonism, Glissant reads Faulkner's work as laying, perhaps despite itself, the groundwork for an ethics of alterity.4

What grounds Glissant's take on Faulkner's work is Glissant's slogan, ‘Nous réclamons pour tous le droit à l'opacité’ (Glissant, 1990: 209).5 As Patrick Crowley points out, this demand has gone beyond its earlier form in the Discours antillais. The right, or claim, to opacity has, almost ten years on in Poétique de la relation, left the colonizer–colonized opposition behind, extending the right of opacity to everyone (Crowley, 2006: 107). For Crowley, this shift proves that, pace Celia Britton, Glissant's main concern is less ‘postcolonial resistance’ than ‘the capacity of poetic language to unsettle categorical systems of thought that are allied to power’ (ibid.: 110). In Faulkner, Mississippi, I would like to submit, Glissant shows the potential of (his sense of) opacity to do both. In other words, Glissant uses opacity in Faulkner, Mississippi with both epistemological and political goals; indeed, his use of the term epitomizes the extent to which the political and epistemological dimensions are intertwined. And herein lies the entry point into Glissant's rehabilitation of Faulkner as an anti-racist, white Southern novelist: in Glissant's eyes, it is in Faulkner's epistemological opacity (his refusal or reluctance to make black subjects finally readable to his white characters and readers) that his political leanings (his fundamentally anti-racist poetics, his critical stance towards much of what his novels identify as Southern culture) can be discerned.

In work as in life, Glissant tells us, Faulkner was not interested in undertaking psychological studies (Glissant, 1996: 138). Glissant holds that Faulkner's concern, at least in his work, was what Glissant calls ‘the abyss’ (ibid.). Or rather, abysses, the abysses of non-knowledge and desperation that are brought about by ‘le refus de la créolisation’ [the refusal of creolization] and the refusal of the ‘Other’ (ibid.), cardinal sins in the Glissantian world view. Faulkner and his people (that is, Southern whites) struggle against the current that is the creolization of the world; they are ‘offended’ by ‘Le mélange, (p.186) le métissage, plus l'imprévu des résultantes’ [Mixing, hybridization, plus the unpredicted nature of resultants] (ibid.: 117). As Glissant makes this point, he maintains the semantic slippage in his sense of the word ‘creolization’: the term denotes at once the creolization that Faulkner and his contemporaries would have considered to be ‘racial mixing’ as well as the more abstract and metaphysical creolization that would signify ever-increasing interconnection, combination and unpredictability (cf. ibid.).

As is his wont in other treatments of literary figures whom he admires, Glissant bends Faulkner's thought to meet with his own philosophy and poetics. Glissant's use of créolisation [creolization] as well as the imprévu [unpredicted] shifts the scene of conflict here from the ethnic to the epistemological realms. The ‘refusal of creolization’ of course refers to the rejection, on the part of whites who believe themselves to be of a ‘pure’ race, of other races and races that contain others within them (read: races that are perceived to be ‘mixed’). But this refusal also refers to the rejection of a set of epistemological categories: again, ‘Mixing, hybridization, plus the unpredicted nature of resultants’. While he is of course describing a refusal on the part of Faulkner of a certain race or of the mixing of what he perceives to be races, Glissant is also indicating that the ‘sudistes’ [sympathizers of the Confederates in the US Civil War] are refusing a certain way of knowing the world, one that would be grounded upon Glissant's idea of creolization.

For Glissant, Faulkner both is and is not a member of this group. Glissant perceives an ambivalence in Faulkner's literary texts, where ‘La pose des nègres […] est d'allure phénoménologique, c'est-à-dire qu'elle ne prétend à aucune profondeur, qui eût été imposture’ [The way blacks are posed […] appears to be phenomenological, which is to say that it doesn't seek any profundity, for that would have been fraud] (Glissant, 1996: 97). It is this methodological choice of phenomenology over ontology that allows Glissant to recuperate Faulkner as a thinker of the ethics of opacity: in Glissant's reading, Faulkner is concerned not with the truth of African-American subjects' being, but rather with how these subjects appear, or how they do not appear, as objects of knowledge.

In a curious foregrounding of the subjective, Glissant suggests that his reading is a matter of choice, or preference, explaining that ‘je préfère penser qu'il y a dans ce choix méthodologique la lucidité et l'honnêteté (la générosité en somme, naturelle autant que systématique, c'est-à-dire d'ordre esthétique) de celui qui sait, qui admet en effet qu'il ne comprendra jamais ni les Noirs ni les Indiens’ [I prefer to think that in this methodological choice there are the lucidity and the honesty (in sum, the generosity, both natural and systematic, which is to say aesthetic) of he who knows, who in effect admits that he will never understand either blacks or Indians] (ibid.; emphasis added). Glissant (p.187) intensifies his speculation into Faulkner's psychology as he insists that Faulkner also knew that it would be, as Glissant puts it, ‘odieux (et, à ses yeux, ridicule) de poser au narrateur tout-puissant et d'essayer de pénétrer ces consciences pour lui impénétrables’ [odious (and, in his eyes, ridiculous) to posit an all-powerful narrator and to try to penetrate these consciousnesses which would have been for him impenetrable] (ibid.).

It is through this clarity of mind (lucidité [lucidity] – a curious way to praise Faulkner's understanding of the incomprehensible, the ‘impenetrable’, which is for Glissant the opaque) and in order to avoid the ‘odious’, that Faulkner has recourse to a language of his own invention (ibid.). Citing a critic who invokes Faulkner's ‘langage de l'obscur’ [Language of the obscure], Glissant holds that Faulkner ‘remonte au plus obscur, au plus essentiel, là vraiment où pas un ne va. Il ne décrit pas, il ne fait pas de tableaux de genre’ [goes back to the most obscure, the most essential, there where no one goes. He doesn't describe, he doesn't do genre painting] (ibid.: 216). It is thus in eschewing the search for the other's essence that Faulkner's literature sets in motion the essence of the encounter with the other. This apparent contradiction in terms – abandoning an essentialist framework in order to attain to ‘the essential’ – is made possible, once again, by Faulknerian language.

Noting that Faulkner's writing (in French translation) is fond of the phrasing ‘en même temps’ [at the same time], Glissant formulates a theory of the coexistence of opposites in Faulkner's work – a Faulknerian methodology that echoes Glissant's own. The language that makes Faulkner's writing possible does three things at once:

  1. 1. It describes.

  2. 2. And, in the process of description, it undertakes a paradoxical operation of saying the unsayable – ‘cherche à dire cela qui est indicible dans la description et qui pourtant signifierait pleinement (fonderait en raison dévoilée) le décrit’ [it seeks to say that which is unsayable in description and yet that which would fully signify (which would found in unveiled reason) that which is described] (Glissant, 1996: 190).

  3. 3. And, at the same time, it leads readers to understand that the underlying reason in the text can be unveiled but never attained – ‘laisse sans répit à entendre que cette raison dévoilable est aussi bien inatteignable’ [Ceaselessly makes it understood that this unveilable reason is also quite unattainable] (ibid.).

These three actions can be otherwise understood in terms of three objects, which Glissant sees at play in Faulkner's work. The first is the ‘hidden truth’ (ibid.), the shame or trauma that is the key to Faulkner's novels. This hidden (p.188) truth generally takes the form of the impossibility of establishing a series of traceable lines of filiation – a term which, as we have seen, Glissant connects to root-identity, system thinking and the cruelty of Western empires (Glissant, 1990: 23–31, and passim). Second is description, which in Faulkner's work is necessarily ‘visionary’, in that ‘elle est ainsi décidée par l'intuition, le pressentiment de la vérité primordiale’ [It is thus decided by the intuition, the premonition of primordial truth] (Glissant, 1996: 190). Finally, there is the unstable reassurance offered by the text that this secret of a lacking origin will never be revealed (ibid.).

For Glissant, slavery becomes the unsayable, the unspeakable, in Faulkner's novels: ‘Tout se fait comme si pour lui la tare de l'esclavage était une souffrance morale, disons de l'Être, une déchéance indélébile (l'absence à l'Histoire), beaucoup plus folle à porter que la souffrance physique de l'oppression et de la misère’ [Everything happens as if for him the defect that was slavery was a moral suffering, one of Being, an indelible decline (the absence to History), one much more maddening to carry than the physical suffering of oppression and misery] (Glissant, 1996: 99). The lingering stain of slavery on the conscience of Faulkner's whites would thus influence so profoundly Faulkner's text that, as Glissant puts it, it is as if this mark were harder to bear than the more concrete pains of oppression and poverty.

This is no small point. Faulkner's emphasis on the suffering of whites, while it may seem provocative or even taboo, is connected to another unspeakable, which Glissant presents as the cipher of Faulkner's depiction of race relations: that is, lack of transparency, epistemological failure and the (white) subject's inability finally and thoroughly to know the other. Just as Faulkner cannot describe outright the shame, the stain that marks the consciousness of southern whites, he cannot speak the being of Southern blacks. Two ‘primordial truths’ thus are and are not spoken in Faulkner's work. The latter truth, Faulkner's inability fully or finally to know the being of Southern blacks, serves as the point of departure for Glissant's development of his ethics of opacity. Glissant holds that, through the figure of opacity, Faulkner seeks one thing: ‘seulement et à toutes forces fonder en métaphysique l'obscur de la relation entre les Noirs et les Blancs’ [Only, and altogether, to establish in metaphysics the obscure within the relationship between blacks and whites] (Glissant, 1996: 99). While the term opacity is a metaphysical one for Glissant, it also has a direct impact on the social relations that structure the polis. It is thus in literature that Glissant locates the possibility for a viable ethics. This ethics does not remain abstract, however, as Glissant links it to real, lived social interactions. The opacity that Glissant finds in Faulkner's novels is precisely what allows for the knowledge of, and participation in, the whole represented by the all-important Glissantian figure of the (p.189) Tout-monde.6 Opacity makes possible the concept and lived experience of a community, while protecting the singularity of the individuals that form the community: ‘C'est aussi cette même opacité qui anime toute communauté: ce qui nous assemblerait à jamais, nous singularisant pour toujours. Le consentement général aux opacités particulières est le plus simple équivalent de la non-barbarie’ [It is also this very same opacity that animates every community: that which forever brings us together, while singularizing us forever. The general consent to particular opacities is the simplest equivalent of non-barbarism] (Glissant, 1990: 209). Acknowledging, and living in terms of, the opacity of the other is the most basic way of conceiving of a society that would oppose itself to the barbarism of the past.

Herein lies one of the fundamental links between Glissant's abstract conception of the ‘poetics of Relation’ and the effects of this idea upon political actuality. The other resists the self's effort to know him/her in two ways: in terms of density and in terms of change. The other is thus never ultimately knowable because the entirety of his/her being never becomes apparent or readable to the self. Even if it were to become thus, its nature of constant flux would preclude any mastery characterizing the knowledge of the other. As Glissant explains, ‘Car la poétique de la relation suppose qu'à chacun soit proposée la densité (l'opacité) de l'autre. Plus l'autre résiste dans son épaisseur ou sa fluidité (sans s'y limiter), plus sa réalité devient expressive, et plus la relation féconde’ [For the poetics of relation postulates that the density (the opacity) of the other is offered to each of us. The more the other resists in his/her thickness or fluidity (without being limited to either), the more his/her reality becomes expressive, and the more the relation fecundates] (Glissant, 1969: 23).

Otherwise put, for Glissant as for Faulkner, literature is the place where a certain, seemingly paradoxical phenomenon of perception occurs. This phenomenon is the coincidence of opposites, in this case in the form of a revelation of non-revelation: that is, the final revelation of the other as concealed and unknowable finally. This paradox is decisive in the elaboration of Faulkner's literary project. The différance of Faulkner's writing, for Glissant, lies in the fact that it stages difference in a continued pattern of deferral. For example, Glissant illustrates that the différé [differed/deferred] of Faulkner's (p.190) writing goes back, without ever finally arriving, to a presupposition: that of ‘l'établissement impossible, la légitimité déniée du Sud’ [The impossible establishment, the denied legitimacy of the South] (Glissant, 1996: 191). Given this impulse in Faulkner's work, it becomes clear that, as Glissant puts it, ‘Le travail de l'écrivain est de révéler ce présupposé, tout en exposant ses équivalences douloureuses dans le présent, tout en signifiant que cette révélation est à jamais reportée’ [The task of the writer is to reveal this presupposition, all the while exposing its painful equivalences in the present, all the while signifying that this revelation is forever deferred] (ibid.).

Faulkner would thus realize the impossible in literature. In his novels the (black) other is made visible in his/her final invisibility to the (white) self; the other's final absence to the self is unveiled. By the same token, the impossible knowledge that haunts the South is articulated without being spoken. More importantly, Glissant reads Faulkner as seeking political change though a literary language that undertakes the impossible. This newly invented form of writing may lead, Glissant suggests, to new political inventions. The Southern writer therefore seeks to ‘dire l'impossible du Sud sans avoir à le dire, d'en donner une écriture qui remonte patiemment à tout l'inexprimé de cet impossible, et s'il se trouve d'y changer quelque chose par la seule force de cette aventure’ [say the impossible of the South without ever having to say it, to set forth a writing of it that would go back to all that is unexpressed in this impossible, and perhaps to change something by the very force of this adventure] (Glissant, 1996: 207–08). In his lifetime, Glissant adds, Faulkner did all but the last.

Glissant's politicized reading of opacity in Faulkner's texts thus finds itself in conflict with the author's own political actions. Indeed, Glissant's enthusiasm for a white, Southern writer whose racial politics were well known proved troubling to the students of Southern University, to whom Faulkner, Mississippi is dedicated. Given Faulkner's famous remarks that African Americans should ‘go slow now’ (Glissant, 1996: 145) rather than seek rapid and revolutionary change, and given that, as Glissant puts it, African Americans in Faulkner's oeuvre are ‘dépositaires de la souffrance, gardiens du temple de l'indicible’ [depositories of suffering, guardians of the temple of the unsayable] who are never allowed the possibility to rise up (ibid.: 132), the students of this historically black university in the deep south proved loath to follow Glissant's example in reappropriating Faulkner. Glissant allows that these students taught him that ‘aucune qualité de littérature ne vaut le prix de la chosification même emblématique d'une communauté’ [no quality in a literature is worth the price of the thingification, even emblematic, of a community], but responds that Faulkner's readers are ‘libres de regarder Faulkner dans les yeux, d'aller avec lui où (p.191) nous voulons aller’ [free to look Faulkner in the eyes, to go with him where we'd like to go] (ibid.: 146).

In this retort, what Glissant holds to be the true value of Faulkner's work becomes evident. For Glissant, the effects of Faulkner's work are profoundly radical. For in the Faulknerian corpus careful readers can make out what Glissant calls ‘un bouleversement des conceptions unitaires de l'être, une mise en différé de l'absolu identitaire, un vertige de la parole’ [an overturning of the unitary conceptions of being, a differing/deferring of the identitarian absolute, a vertigo of speech] (ibid.: 146–47). These latter qualities constitute, for Glissant, the ‘revenge’ of the Faulknerian corpus against the ‘génial puritain qui l'a engendrée’ [the brilliant puritan who engendered it] (ibid.: 147). Glissant here presents himself as a partisan not of the author but of the author's corpus and, more specifically, of its effects. It is worth recalling Glissant's argument that Faulkner's method has influenced not only his own work but also that of many Caribbean writers, from Carpentier to Wilson Harris. Indeed, Glissant holds not only that these writers are ‘influenced’ by Faulkner, but that, much more provocatively, the ‘techniques of writing’ in the common langage of Caribbean writers in French, Spanish and English, were borrowed from Faulkner:

Un Alejo Carpentier (Cuba), qui écrit en espagnol, un Wilson Harris (Guyana), qui, lui, écrit en anglais, un Aimé Césaire (Martinique) ou moi-même, qui écrivons en français, avons un langage commun qui est fait de confiance dans les mots, dans le pouvoir du verbe, dans les techniques d'écriture que nous avons empruntées essentiellement à Faulkner: accumulation, listage, redondances, entassements, révélations différées. Tout cela constitue un langage, une manière de s'approprier les langues que nous avons tous en commun. Cela constitue une donnée littéraire spécifique, une esthétique de la relation, si vous voulez!7 (Glissant, 2005b)

Glissant would thus have his readers believe that he suffers from very little ‘anxiety of influence’ (Bloom, 1973). In this instance of self-representation, Glissant's relationship to Faulkner, like his access to Faulkner's psychology, (p.192) would appear to be transparent. For Glissant, Caribbean writers, or at least this diverse group of well-known Caribbean writers, are all heirs of the white, racist, sudiste Faulkner.8 This kinship, which would transcend perceived racial/ethnic differences without negating them finally, is made possible by a shared relationship to language and to literary technique.

Yet just as Faulkner, Mississippi maintains that there is a direct and traceable lineage connecting Faulkner and a host of Caribbean writers, Glissant holds that the Faulknerian literary corpus also marks a radical rupture with the Western literary tradition. Faulkner's writing is also the scene of a creative destruction of foundational genres in Western literature: not only the novel, but also the epic and tragedy. This death and rebirth of fundamental modes of literature will, in Glissant's view, contribute to bringing about a more ethical tomorrow. Seizing upon two interrelated definitions of the epic and tragic modes, Glissant argues that both come to know their decadence in Faulkner's writing. Faulkner's entire oeuvre becomes a ‘méditation sur l'impossibilité de l'épique, en ce temps et en ce lieu-ci. Ou plutôt un forcènement contre cet impossible, un effort héroïque pour le faire naître et l'exprimer à partir de l'improbable qu'il suppose’ [meditation on the impossibility of the epic, in this time and in this place. Or rather a fury raging against this impossible, a heroic effort to bring about its birth and to express it, taking as a point of departure the improbable that it postulates] (Glissant, 1996: 169). The tragic mode, just as swiftly defined, figures prominently in the Faulknerian corpus as well, a corpus that stages repeatedly this literary mode's downfall.

La légitimité, le drame de son épuisement et la course de sa restauration constituent le principe premier du théatre tragique traditionnel. Parce que la légitimité, dans les cultures occidentales, conduit le fil de l'être, le chemin obscur qui rattache toute communauté à une Genèse, l'établissant ainsi dans son droit souverain.9 (Glissant, 1996: 177)

The ‘grandeur’ and the nouveauté [novelty] in Faulkner, for Glissant, stem from the fact that both the epic and the tragic modes of literary production see their own downfall, or, as he puts it, ‘butent sur leurs propres impossibles’ (p.193) [come up against their own impossibles] in Faulkner's work (Glissant, 1996: 180).

For Glissant, salvation lies in the advent of a new epic form. Faulkner's work, in Glissant's view, intimates to us the possibility of a new sort of epic, one that would dispense with any effort to make whole what is fragmented, to seek resolution in the dissolute; one that would be, as Glissant puts it,

Une ouverture insoupçonnable, imprévisible, qui ne serait en rien système. Qui serait fragile, ambiguë, éphémère, mais brillerait de tous les éclats contradictoires du monde. Il faut qu'il en soit ainsi, sinon le tarissement de l'épique traditionnel aurait produit une mort plus froide et plus dure encore que la mort même.10 (Glissant, 1996: 139–40)

How is it that, in Glissant's thought, writing comes to serve as a conduit from individual subjects to the world-as-whole, and from the world as it is in the present to future Utopias? From a single, fixed origin set in the past to an origin become multiple and set in motion (‘l'en-aller’),11 from a myth that founds the legitimacy (or the ‘being’ in Glissant's parlance) of an ethnic or racial group to the literary project of deploying a new imagination: this is the shift from the moribund epic form to the epic-as-Relation. And, for Glissant, herein lies one of the ways in which Faulkner can be valued – as a writer who began to measure the changes that need to be made in the world and in the imaginations of his readership. For Glissant, Faulkner ‘mesure ce qu'il faudra de renversements dans les sensibilités’ [measures what kind of overturnings will be necessary in our sensibilities] (Glissant, 1996: 134). Crucially, political change is, in this view, prefaced by the work of literature: ‘Ce renversement, l'œuvre de Faulkner y travaille, non par leçon de morale, mais par changer nos poétiques’ [this overturning, Faulkner's oeuvre works towards it, not through moral lessons, but rather by changing our poetics] (Glissant, 1996: 134).

It is this impetus towards change in the imagination, towards change in poetics, that allows Glissant to recuperate Faulkner an ancestor of sorts. For Cilas Kemedjio, ‘The quest for founder-ancestors … is part of that canonizing tendency that torments writers and critics of Antillean literature’ (Kemedjio, 2002: 229). (p.194) It would seem, then, that Glissant has found in Faulkner a ‘founder–ancestor’ who allows him to critique the ideas of founding and of ancestry. Whether fuelled by ‘torment’ or not, Glissant's choice of Faulkner is significant in that it is not based on racial or ethnic confraternity, but rather on a shared poetics and a common spirit of critique: it is for this reason that Glissant's reading of Faulkner is relatively untroubled by the latter author's race or his overt implication in the politics of race of his time. For Glissant, imagination would thus transcend racial or socioeconomic belonging.12

For Glissant, the writer's role in the advent of the Tout-monde is to model new forms of thought and to breathe literary life into them. As is often the case in Glissant's work, progression towards a higher, future goal (e.g., the Tout-monde) does not imply a unilateral and conclusive departure. Rather, a relationship of simultaneous détour/retour [detour/return] is instated between the particular and the universal: in the case of Faulkner, for example, Glissant reads the writer as attaining to the ‘plus essentiel’ [most essential] (Glissant, 1996: 216) of human interaction precisely through his exploration of opacity and through deepening his study of Yoknapatawpha county, a very particular, very small place. Faulkner is ‘the greatest writer of the twentieth century’ for Glissant, in that he was ‘celui qui avait le plus à révéler de son propre lieu incontournable en même temps que de la Relation de ce lieu à la totalité-monde’ [he who had the most to reveal of his own incontrovertible [incontournable] place, at the same time as of the Relation of that place to the totality-world] (Glissant, 1996: 54). Herein lies the conduit between the particularity of Faulkner's novels and the universality (although Glissant would spurn the term) of the methodological experimentations that guide them. Through the decadence and rebirth of established literary forms that is staged in his work, Glissant's Faulkner becomes a deeply revolutionary ontological thinker:

Ces ouvertures infinies de l'épique et du tragique (leur échec en fin de compte, mais qui les renouvelle si complètement), et cet effort, le plus total que, depuis Nietzsche, un créateur ait entrepris pour ‘repenser’ cela (l'Être, et par dérivée dans le réel: l'identité, l'appartenance) sur quoi reposait depuis tant de siècles et avec tant de profondeur l'ontologie occidentale.13 (Glissant, 1996: 181–82)

(p.195) It is also through this project of rethinking Being, identity and belonging that Faulkner can be seen as one of Glissant's forerunners (and Glissant might have included Deleuze in this Nietzschean line or lineage as well). The terms Glissant uses to describe Faulkner's literary practice, terms such as ‘repenser’ [rethinking] (Glissant, 1996: 181–82), ‘renouvellement’ [renewal] (ibid.: 141), ‘renversement’ [overturning] (ibid.: 134) could be fruitfully applied to the Martinican author's own literary-philosophical project. Indeed, in response to Stathis Gourgouris's 2003 inquiry into the philosophical potential of literature entitled Does Literature Think?, one might propose a Glissantian reformulation of Gourgouris's question: Does literature re-think? If we are to take Glissant at his word and follow him in his rereading of Faulkner, a corollary question arises: How can a connection be drawn between thought and life, between a Faulknerian rethinking of ethical relations and concrete, political changes in actuality?

It can be said that Faulkner, Mississippi is a text on how to read opacity, on how to read opaquely, and on how to proffer an opaque reading. The ‘re-’ prefix, moreover, reveals Glissant's overall preoccupation with literature as a creative and creating activity whose effects extend beyond the book. As to the question of what might inhabit this beyond, and as for the political potentialities of ‘new’ Faulknerian literary forms, for the moment the idea of creolization dictates that there is only one prediction we can be sure of with regard to future creation, literary or otherwise: that it will be imbued with the unpredictable.

Works Cited

Bibliography references:

Bloom, Harold. 1973. The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry. New York: Oxford University Press.

Britton, Celia M. 1999. Edouard Glissant and Postcolonial Theory: Strategies of Language and Resistance. Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press.

Crowley, Patrick. 2006. ‘Édouard Glissant: Resistance and Opacité’. Romance Studies 24.2: 105–15.

Dash, J. Michael. 2006. ‘Caraïbe Fantôme: The Play of Difference in the Francophone Caribbean’. Yale French Studies 103: 93–105.

Gallagher, Mary. 1992. ‘La Poétique de la diversité dans les essais d'Édouard (p.196) Glissant’. In Yves-Alain Favre and Antonio Ferreira de Britto (eds), Horizons d'Édouard Glissant: actes du colloque international de Porto, 24–27 octobre 1990. Pau: J. & D. Éditions, 1992: 27–35.

Glissant, Édouard. 1956. Soleil de la conscience. Paris: Éditions du Seuil.

—. 1969. L'Intention poétique. Poétique II. Paris: Éditions du Seuil.

—. 1981. Le Discours antillais. Paris: Éditions du Seuil

—. 1990. Poétique de la relation. Poétique III. Paris: Gallimard.

—. 1993. Tout-monde. Paris: Gallimard.

—. 1996. Faulkner, Mississippi. Paris: Stock.

—. 1997. Le Traité du tout-monde. Poétique IV. Paris: Gallimard.

—. 2005a. La Cohée du Lamentin. Poétique V. Paris: Gallimard.

—. 2005b ‘La “créolisation” culturelle du monde, entretien avec Édouard Glissant’. By Tirthankar Chanda. France Diplomatie. 27 October 2005.

Glissant, Édouard, and Patrick Chamoiseau. 2007. ‘Les Murs, par Patrick Chamoiseau et Édouard Glissant’. 4 September 2007. 〈http://cabaret.voltaire.over-blog.com/article-les-murs-par-patrick-chamoiseau-et-edouard-glissanta-a-propos-de-l-identite-nationale–38387940.html〉. Consulted 11 December 2011.

Gourgouris, Stathis. 2003. Does Literature Think?: Literature as Theory for an Antimythical Era. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.

Hallward, Peter. 1998. ‘Édouard Glissant between the Singular and the Specific’. Yale Journal of Criticism 11.2: 441–64.

Kemedjio, Cilas. 2002. ‘Founding-Ancestors and Intertextuality in Francophone Caribbean Literature and Criticism’. Research in African Literatures 33.2: 210–29.

Weinstein, Philip M. 2009. Becoming Faulkner: The Art and Life of William Faulkner. New York: Oxford University Press.


(1) This and all subsequent quotations from this source and others were translated by the author of this chapter.

(2) Many of Glissant's ideas concerning opacity are present in a nascent form in texts dating back as far as Soleil de la conscience (1956), and they are elaborated with regard to Faulkner's work, in particular in L'Intention poétique (1969) – nearly thirty years before the publication of Faulkner, Mississippi (1996). This striking continuity casts doubt on portrayals of Glissant's thought as a long process of evolution, such as in Hallward, 1998.

(3) Here as elsewhere Glissant plays on the distinction in French between langage and langue, both of which are customarily rendered as ‘language’ in English. The two terms and the distinction between them have meant different things for different thinkers throughout history. For Glissant's purposes, ‘langage’ refers principally to the general code or sign system through which the subject frames his or her world. ‘Langue’, however, corresponds to the English word ‘tongue’, in terms of both the anatomical feature and the language spoken by a person (as in ‘the English language’). This contrast allows Glissant to argue in 2005 that authors writing in the various languages (langues) of the Caribbean speak a common language (langage).

(4) Mary Gallagher sketches some points of connection between Glissant and that other thinker of alterity, Emmanuel Levinas, in Gallagher, 1992.

(5) Poétique de la relation [Poetics of Relation]. This cry's form has varied in Glissant's work: here the addition of ‘pour tous’ [for everyone] emphasizes its applicability to all people and places, and therefore its universality.

(6) This figure, which has proved contagiously compelling to many of Glissant's readers, represents, in very broad strokes, Glissant's metaphysical sense of an oneness and interconnection underlying all worldly phenomena and beings. For a more elaborate treatment of the term, see Glissant's Traité du tout-monde (1997) (which, despite its title, is far from a treatise) or the novel Tout-monde (1993) that accompanies it.

(7) ‘An Alejo Carpentier (Cuba), who writes in Spanish, a Wilson Harris (Guyana), who writes in English, an Aimé Césaire (Martinique) or myself, who write in French, we have a common language [langage] that comes from confidence in words, in the power of the word, in the techniques of writing that we essentially borrowed from Faulkner: accumulation, listing, verbosities, hodgepodges, differed/deferred revelations. All that constitutes a language [langage], a way of appropriating languages [langues] that we all have in common. That constitutes a specific literary given, and aesthetics of relation, if you like!’

(8) Glissant's emphasis on Faulkner could, I would submit, be seen as vulnerable to J. Michael Dash's critique of the all-too-common assignation of what amounts to a single origin to Francophone Caribbean writing. See, for example, Dash's discussion of the Surrealist contact (Dash, 2006).

(9) ‘Legitimacy, the drama of its exhaustion and the course of its restoration constitute the first principle of traditional tragic theatre. Because legitimacy, in Western cultures, runs along the thread of being, the obscure path that attaches every community to a Genesis, thus establishing it in its sovereign right.’

(10) ‘An opening beyond suspicion, unpredictable, one that would in no way be a system. That would be fragile, ambiguous, ephemeral, but that would shine with all the contradictory radiance [éclats] of the world. It must be so, for otherwise the extinction of the traditional epic will have produced a death colder and harder than death itself.’

(11) This Glissantian neologism might be translated as ‘the in-the-process-ofgoing’, or ‘the in-motion’.

(12) Glissant writes that ‘The same skin can clothe different imaginaries [imaginaires] … Madam Condoleezza Rice draws on the same imaginary as Mr George W. Bush, and has nothing to do with Mr Mandela or with Martin Luther King’ (Glissant and Chamoiseau, 2007).

(13) ‘These infinite openings of the epic and the tragic (their failure, finally, but one that renews them so completely), and this effort, the most total that, since Nietzsche, a creator has undertaken in order to “rethink” that (Being, and by extension in the real: identity, belonging) upon which Western ontology has rested for so many centuries and with such profundity.’