The relation between colonizer and colonized has been the subject of study for many postcolonial thinkers, such as Chinua Achebe, Edward Said, Homi Bhabha, and Gayatri Spivak, whose English literary contributions to the study of postcolonial literature and theory have influenced the philosophical and psychoanalytic approach to the examination of postcolonial studies. However, another thinker, Édouard Glissant, the Martinican author and philosopher, is considered to be one of the most influential figures in both Caribbean and Francophone literature. This article stakes out the ground for a thorough examination of the Glissantian theory of the ‘Poetics of Relation’ in parallel with a study of the process of Caribbean identity formation through a Deleuzian approach. The article then studies Glissant’s theoretical notions of ‘detour’, ‘ruse or trickery’ and ‘opacity’ as parts of the ‘deferred speech’ in Creole.
A giant of Caribbean literature [oil painting]. Susan Mains Gallery, Grand Anse, Grenada.
The Poetics of Relation
Glissant’s philosophy of the study of ‘Relation’ is interpreted as a systematic entity, whereby ‘Relation’ is a whole organization of cultural and lingual interchange leading to diversity, argues Britton (1999). That is to say, ‘Relation’ is established through diversity and not through “unity” as it “is never fixed but remains an open, constantly mobile totality.” (Britton, 1999, p.13). Hence, the two attributes of dynamism and constant movement that are at the core of the Glissantian theory of ‘Relation’ are associated with the scientific chaos theory, explains Britton (1999). In other words, the chaos theory, whose principle is the incapability of describing an entity, is used by Glissant as an attempt to explain the “totality of Relation” like “the chaos-world as it relates (to itself)/relates (i.e. tells) itself”, describes Britton (1999). The dynamism and heterogeneity of the ‘Relation’ in Glissant’s interpretation of the relation of the colonized to the colonizer is interrelated and juxtaposed with the Deleuze/Guattari concept of the “rhizome”.
The Deleuzian rhizome and Caribbean identity
The Deleuzian concept of the rhizome, which is based on the figures of the tree and the rhizome, is used by Glissant for further examination of the ‘Relation’ of the colonized to the colonizer. In terms of postcolonial studies, the tree stands for imperial power and authority, whereas the rhizome refers to the rootedness of the Caribbean identity. Britton (1999) qualifies the root as being “absolute” or “totalitarian” in opposition to the rhizome being “relative”. Coupled with the metaphorical description of the concept of rhizome, Burns (2012) explains that according to Glissant, the rhizome does have a certain connection to the roots, and so despite its free nature, the rhizome reflects a certain kind of “rootedness but challenges that of a totalitarian root. Rhizomatic thought is the principle behind what I call the Poetics of Relation, in which each and every identity is extended through a relationship with the Other.” In other words, the ‘rhizomatic thought’ can be traced in métissage or the notion of Creolization, par excellence.
“The poetics of métissage is the poetics of Relation.” (Britton, pp.14)
The Barbadian poet Edward Brathwaite claims that “creolization is ‘a cultural process’”, whereby societal, cultural, and racial interactions are in constant interchange, paving the way firstly to “a set of fixed contents or identities that then intermix and creolize” (Burns, 2012). The diversity in the Caribbean identity is explained, in Deleuzian terms, by a state of ‘becoming’. As the process of creolization is characterized by being in a constant state of becoming where identities “emerge and change” (Burns, 2012), Glissant explains that the French Caribbean individual is a mixture of both African and French heritage. Such an individual cannot forget about his/her African roots, nor can he/she deny his/her assimilation and acceptance of the French culture and heritage in the Caribbean, explains Burns (2012). The recognition of the multicultural diversity is achieved through a process of "becoming-Caribbean" (Burns, 2012, p.116), for the Caribbean individual will no longer need to exclude “the European elements in his composition,” as they trigger alienation and frustration. On the contrary, the Caribbean individual is given the possibility to choose—either accept or reject what he/she is becoming. The impossibility of accepting what he/she is becoming is rooted in the feeling of alienation—not being able to embrace what he/she is becoming: Caribbean.
“Synthesis is not a process of bastardization as he used to be told, but a productive activity through which each element is enriched. He has become Caribbean.” (Burns, 2012).
[Book Cover of Poetics of Relation by Édouard Glissant, translated by Betsy Wing]
Creole: the deferred language
In the process of "becoming-Caribbean", the enslaved people had to construct what Britton (1999) refers to as ‘a particular usage of Creole’ as a subversive communicative tool to distinguish themselves from the enslavers and the common spoken language of Creole between enslavers and the enslaved. In fact, Glissant perceives Creole “as a linguistic reaction […] in the presence of whites: lisping, slurring, gibberish. Camouflage.” (Burns, 2012, p. 113). The use of Creole, therefore, was meant to serve the hidden agenda of the enslaved people in front of their enslavers—that of disguising the signification of the Creole language and so making it a communicative weapon to be used against the enslaver. In this sense, camouflage in Creole is determined through what Glissant defines as the ‘parole différée’, meaning the deferred speech.
In fact, the deferred speech is located in Glissant’s novels. The Martinican writer is known to write mostly in French, and not in Creole. However, there is a deep connection to Creole in Glissant’s literature depicted in the dialogues between his fictional characters, where the use of French is more of a translated version of Creole into French and not simply French. Moreover, the deferred speech in Glissant’s novels is infiltrated by what Britton (1999) calls ‘Camouflaged Language’, which is a language full of detour (diversion), ruse (trickery), and opacity. Detour is described by Britton (1999) as a trickery tactic, favoring the use of “concrete images instead of abstract concepts”, the meaning is, thus, deferred through “digression and repetition”, and finally a certain nonsense in terms of spoken or written language is camouflaged.
“When Glissant recommends the practice of the detour, he is suggesting that the writer becomes a trickster figure, that he ‘maroons’ [marronne, that is, both escapes and attacks] traditional writing and thereby makes us hear Creole speech within writing in the French language.” (Britton, 1999).
Furthermore, in Glissant’s poetics of Relation the concept of opacity is explained through the preliminary rapport between the colonizer and colonized, characterized mainly by violence and tension, which led the colonized to protect his/her identity through resistance and protest for fear of being objectified and driven to assimilation and submission, explains Britton (1999). In the dynamics of relation between colonizer and colonized, the colonizer has to have “respect for the Other,” which “includes respect for the 'opacity' of the Other’s difference”, and thus resisting “one’s attempt to assimilate or objectify it.” (Britton, 1999, p.18).
On the whole, Glissant’s attempt to theorize and examine the poetics of ‘Relation’ by using the Deleuzian concept of the rhizome comes to give further insights into the mechanics of the deferred language, such as the use of detour (diversion), ruse (trickery), and opacity as a counter-discourse to undermine the hegemonic power of the canonical language. Creole, as the representative language of the Caribbean identity, emphasizes the process through which the Caribbean individual needs to go in order to establish a state of "becoming-Caribbean" and thus, to achieve creolization.
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Susan Mains Gallery. (2020). A giant of Caribbean literature [Oil Painting]. Susan Mains Gallery, Grand Anse, Grenada. https://www.susanmainsgallery.com/new-products/edouard-glissant-caribbean-literature
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————————————————————. rhizome. In Post-Colonial Studies: The Key Concepts (2nd ed., pp. 190–191). Routledge.
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—————. (1999). Camouflaged Language : Detour and Ruse. In A. J. Arnold & University Press of Virginia (Eds.), Edouard Glissant and Postcolonial Theory: Strategies of Language and Resistance (pp.137–163). The University Press of Virginia.
Burns, L. (2012). Édouard Glissant’s Poetics of the Chaosmos. In Contemporary Caribbean Writing and Deleuze: Literature between Postcolonialism and Post-Continental Philosophy (pp. 109–147). Continuum International Publishing Group.
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