Book Review Édouard Glissant, philosophe: Héraclite et Hegel dans le Tout-Monde

Alexandre Leupin. Édouard Glissant, philosophe: Héraclite et Hegel dans le Tout-Monde. Paris: Hermann, 2016. Pp. 382. 27 €.


Édouard Glissant has often been called a novelist, an essayist, a theorist, and—his preference— a poet, but he has less frequently been called a philosopher. Despite the ontological and epistemological thrust of his notions of creolization, Relation, and the Tout-Monde, Glissant always balked at the self-enclosed systems associated with philosophy. Yet his work, in its terminological consistency and conceptual rigor, undeniably develops a kind of system—a system non systématique, to quote a short letter that Glissant wrote to his friend and colleague Alexandre Leupin. This paradox lies at the heart of Leupin’s rich and original new study, Édouard Glissant, philosophe, which argues that Glissant is a philosopher precisely in his challenge to Plato’s banishment of poetry from the realm of rational philosophical inquiry. Against the Platonic quest for fixed forms of Truth and Being, Glissant allows the unpredictable play of poetic language to generate an ontic system of ongoing creation and perpetual becoming. He thereby inscribes himself into a lineage running from Heraclitus through Hegel, following a particular line of Western thought in order ultimately to dispel the idea that philosophy belongs exclusively to the West.

According to Leupin, Hegel is Glissant’s primary philosophical interlocutor throughout his career. On the surface, this is a surprising claim given that Hegel’s name shows up sparingly in Glissant’s work (compared with, say, Deleuze) and that, when Glissant does mention Hegel, particularly in Le discours antillais (1981), it is to criticize his Eurocentrism, universalist History, and racism. Yet, as Leupin demonstrates in detail, Hegel was a key figure in Glissant’s education, and Hegelian processes underlie much of his thinking: the negation of African cultures in the slave trade forces the synthesis of new Caribbean cultures, in Relation; reflections on particularities always open onto a broader thinking of totality; and for both thinkers, human knowledge originates in a poème primordial, although for Glissant this poem is not a simple origin but an ongoing, endless textual “weave.” Early authors of this poème primordial, Leupin explains, included the pre-Socratics, especially Heraclitus, whose maxims on totality and becoming Glissant would adopt and reconfigure. Glissant’s egalitarian vision of the Tout-Monde—where forms, ideas, bodies, and landscapes interact in the same immanent space—largely results from his conversation with these ante- and anti-Platonic philosophers.

Glissant is not the only twentieth-century thinker to question the Platonic tradition, however, and we know that Glissant was in direct conversation with at least two others: Deleuze and Derrida. Leupin mentions them both several times but never analyzes their relationship to Glissant in detail. While Édouard Glissant, philosophe is refreshing in its claim that Glissant is a philosopher irreducible to academic labels rather than a postcolonial ‘theorist’ reliant on post-structuralism, the reader is left with questions about how Glissant conversed with his contemporaries. Given Leupin’s close personal relationship with Glissant, he would seem particularly well positioned to address these questions. Still, this book is an indispensable reference for how Glissant engages deeply with Western philosophy and constructs a stunningly original philosophical system (albeit non systématique) of his own.


Tsinghua University

© L’Esprit Créateur, Vol. 56, No. 4 (2016), pp. 160–161

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