"A Schizophrenia That Wasn’t One: Édouard Glissant and Poetry, Painting and Politics in 1950s Paris."
French Forum 41.3 (2013): 257-72.
This article explores comments made by Édouard Glissant about his activities in 1950s Paris, where he has described himself as exhibiting “schizophrenic” behavior.
On the one hand, he was working hard with Martinican and Guadeloupean friends to increase the political autonomy that the two Caribbean islands had from metropolitan France. On the other, he was frequenting a group of little-known French poets: working on experimental literary journals with them, and reviewing art exhibitions at the small Parisian gallery where they regularly met.
Glissant underscores how he maintained a strict distance between the two groups at the time - even trying to keep his friendships with one group secret from the other. But decades later, when asked about this time period in interviews, he would argue that the two friendship groups had more in common than one might think. Ultimately, he claimed, his poet friends were just as preoccupied by the need to respond to the world’s chaotic turbulences as his Antillean compatriots - albeit in somewhat different ways.
This article probes these enigmatic comments, and investigates precisely how young French writers in the 1950s worked in close collaboration with authors from the shrinking French empire to make "the presence of the world" resonate more keenly in poetry. This involved a searing interrogation of language, and an exacerbation of words’ concrete qualities - even as their writing highlighted and played on the disjunctions between signifier and referent.
I look closely at how Glissant’s poetry participated in this project, and I analyze how his desire for a material, concrete language also manifested itself in his contemporary art criticism. The essay concludes by considering how Glissant's oft-overlooked reviews of the work of French and Latin American artists offer insight into his own views on space, aesthetics, and reality.