Homage to Edouard Glissant, Martinique's whole world poet

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An immensely generous work

Today we are left with a vast opus, which will take a long time to collate, as Edouard Glissant never stinted on his creation, adding to his own writings hundreds of prefaces out of friendship, thousands of passionate conversations. And ceaseless poetry, but also seven novels and two plays, including the unforgettable Monsieur Toussaint. The official literary works (mostly published by Gallimard) are an endless archipelago, in which texts respond to one another and are prolonged, illustrating that unity of diversity he professed. But never did the construction of this literary monument become an obstacle to his availability, or, even more rare, to his admiration and praise of the work of others.

Only poets, he liked to say, are unafraid of admiring. In La Cohée du Lamentin (2005), he writes about his Italian friend, the writer Antonio Tabucchi: "The pure need to admire is not only a step towards changing oneself, but a real commitment to doing so. The poet whose work is his life is always besotted with the poetry of others. I change therefore I exchange." Glissant was not content to simply write this. He often initiated events where various artists and creative spirits gathered to express their admiration by reading poems. The last work he published was a homage to others, a vast anthology of the poetry of the ‘All-World': Earth, Fire, Water and Wind (La Terre, le Feu, l'Eau et les Vents, Editions Galaade, 2010). In it you will indeed find poets mostly, with no pecking order of fame, but there are also sundry unlikely characters, philosophers, politicians, filmmakers, painters, novelists...

One writer is particularly well-placed to testify to this overwhelming generosity: Martinican Patrick Chamoiseau, with whom Edouard Glissant had a particularly fruitful relationship. We will be forever indebted to these two, who joined forces to sound the alarm bell from 2007. From their indictment of the French Minister of National Identity, in When Walls Fall1 (Quand les murs tombent, 2007), to their manifesto written during the Antilles social uprising A Plea for "Products of High Necessity" (Pour les produits de haute nécessité, 2009), via their open letter to Barack Obama, The Intractable Beauty of the World (L'Intraitable Beauté du monde, 2008), they were among the first to take a dignified stance against the current French presidency's devaluation of our nation.

No work is a given thing, especially when it is innovative and goes against the grain of status quo. The truth is not obtained without cost. Always rising above complaint, Edouard Glissant didn't let anything show, but we know how much he had to make his own way in the world. Banned from a career in public education following the repression of the national Antilles movement, he created his own private establishment in the 1960s, the Institut Martiniquais d'Etudes (Martinican Study Institute - IME), where innovative teaching methods blossomed.

During this period he also edited a magazine, Acoma, which lasted until 1973. At the end of the 1970's he was to be found at The Unesco Courier, where - another coincidence - he was succeeded by the duo Mahmoud Hussein, at the forefront of the recent Cairo uprising.

On paper he had reached retirement age, but for lack of a ‘sensible' career behind him, he still had to earn his living. This is how he became a teacher in the United States: first at the University of Louisiana, then at the University of New York. It is to these years teaching in the United States that we owe Faulkner, Mississippi (Faulkner, Mississippi, Stock, 1996), a superb study of this southern ink-brother, of whom he loved to quote the droll admission: "I am a failed poet". It is also to this American period that we owe anthologies of interviews, which are illuminating introductions to his work, including the very last The Imagination of Languages1 (L'Imaginaire des langues, Gallimard, 2010), dialogues with Lise Gauvin, the Canadian academic from Quebec, spanning the period 1991 to 2009.

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1: This title, apparently unpublished in English, is translated from the French by Mediapart.

2: Common pseudonym used by the two Egyptian authors Baghgat Elnadi and Adel Rifaat.

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Click on' Prolonger' top of page to go to Edouard Glissant's 2009 video interview with Mediapart.