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The Living and the Poetic Intention: Glissants Biopolitics of Literature

Alessandro Corio

Callaloo, Volume 36, Number 4, Fall 2013, pp. 916-931 (Article)

Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press

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THE LIVING AND THE POETIC INTENTION Glissants Biopolitics of Literature

by Alessandro Corio

In this sense, life is that which is capable of error. . . . With man, life has led to a living being that is never completely in the right place, that is destined to err and to be wrong. Michel Foucault, Life: Experience and Science Ah! La connaissance est l, si loin, mais quimporte: voici que tout est vivant, dans toutes les directions, et sur les hauts plateaux! douard Glissant, La terre le feu leau et les vents

Nothing is True, everything is living This statement, seemingly so radical and definitive, recurs as both a motto and an admonition in the later publications and lectures of douard Glissant. It is used as the epigraph to the Tout-monde poetry anthology La terre le feu leau et les vents, the final work to be published during the authors lifetime. Glissant himself suggested that in 2010, this phrase should be the theme for the annual seminar cycle of the Institut du Tout-monde, the institution he had founded in Paris. In this seminar cycle, he gave a keynote lecture with the same title, Nothing is true, everything is living (Rien nest vrai, tout est vivant), and it is this speech which will structure many of the reflections developed in this article. Glissants 2010 lecture was intended to be part of a larger work in progressa great poem, as he defined it, which would hinge on the relationship between the true and the living. Reflections on life and living, particularly in their often conflictual relationship with truth, historic sense, rational consciousness, and the discourse of knowledge, became increasingly important in Glissants later works. However, as we shall see, this theme runs through his entire oeuvre and, at a deeper level, constantly structuresand destructureshis literary language. Glissant had accustomed us to these sudden shifts, to these abrupt movements, to ruptures which could paradoxically co-exist alongside recurrences and continuity. These genuine detours, where theoretical and conceptual investigations cannot be separated from the generative force of poetry, serve to create a breach in the logico-argumentative 916
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fabric of the discourse, sometimes reaching a veritable point of vertigo. A new concept or figurethat of the living in contrast with the notion of the absolute of truthsurfaces here, exposing what had previously been thought and written to new perspectives. Borrowing a term recently applied in the Italian context by Roberto Esposito, it can be defined as a living thought: an uninterrupted movement characterized by continuity and rupture, analytic rationality perpetually open to the unexpectedness of the event, and alert to the vertigo of the unimagined. Glissant represented this a number of times through the baroque metaphor of the spiral which, as we shall see, is the very form of the livings inherent coming-into-being, as well as the form of language generated from this transition. Language crosses the living and allows itself to be crossed by it, establishing a relationship that both separates and articulates: this is its immanent and impersonal form-of-life. In using this term, I am drawing from the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben: What I call a form-of-life is a life which can never be separate from its form, a life in which it is never possible to separate something like bare life (Forma-di-vita89, my translation). This openness toward the living in the last phase of Glissants work produces a double movement that is both hermeneutic and theoretical. It represents a return to several particularly significant moments in his work. These can be reinterpreted through an analysis which focuses on the relationship between life and form, between origin and history, and also between the living bodyin its indomitable opacityand poetic language. This requires a new, innovative approach, and can be best achieved by relating Glissants oeuvre to contemporary thought on biopolitics. The latter, driven by the later writings of Foucault and Deleuze and other philosophers working mainly in France and in Italyincluding Agamben and Espositohas shaped the more recent critical discussion on power, the subject, language, and community.

The body of the World: Power over Life and Power of Life Recent philosophical debate on the implications of the concept of biopolitics has focused on and developed the implicit ambivalence existing within the Foucauldian microphysics of power. Biopolitics has revealed itself to be a particularly effective and fertile space of critical thought with which to explore the relationship between the living, subjectivity, and power. In his later years, Foucault developed reflections on the relationship of co-implication between power and life, which remained, to some extent, a mere outline.1 His work presented significant conceptual ambivalences and went on to inform the politico-philosophical debate of recent years. The reciprocal and substantial involvement of life and power in contemporary society made itself increasingly evident: in politics, the bodies of those who have power, and the bodies of those who are subjected to power, become central (Bazzicalupo 13, my translation). The concept thus indicates powers life-controlling grip and alerts us to the shifting of this biopower toward a destructive practice which threatens life itself. It is the ephemeral border which marks the spilling over of biopolitics into thanatopolitics and which, according to very recent philosophical reflection by Agamben and Esposito, has simultaneously shown its most devastating and paradigmatic results in Nazism and concentration camps.2 In the contemporary era, this 917

dynamic seems to operate at a planetary level and to involve the most important political phenomena of our era: From the war of and against terrorism to mass migrations, from the politics of public health to those of demography; from measures of security to the unlimited extension of emergency legislation . . . the body that experiences even more intensely the indistinction between power and life is no longer that of the individual, nor it is that sovereign body of nations, but that body of the world that is both torn and unified. (Esposito, Bos 711; emphasis added) The classical separation between natural life (zo) and politically qualified life (bos) disappears when the body and the biological life of man, individual, and population, become not only passive objects addressed by power through norms and disciplines, but the product of a positive action of power itself. The reciprocal involvement of knowledge and power plays itself out entirely on bodies, which are the repositories of power as well as being shaped by it. From Foucault onwards, thinkers have conceptually developed the co-implication and intersection of power over life and power of life, that problematic interpretative question which Esposito describes as the enigma of biopolitics (Bos13).

A Biopolitical Approach to Glissant The argument I wish to advance here is that a biopolitical perspective directed at the intersection between poetics and politics, which does not ignore the distance between the two terms but rather relies on this very distance, may supply a new key to interpreting Glissants oeuvre.3 The focus will not be a desire to isolate a biopolitical discourse in his theoretical texts, nor to identify or describe its literary representations. The aim is to establish a deeper connection between the poetic-linguistic creative work of the author, the writing process (Glissant, Les entretiens63), and its specific political effectiveness. With reference to Jacques Rancires considerations on the politics of literature, in this context I am not interested in analyzing the political ideas or commitment of the author.4 Instead, as Rancire suggests, it is the specific relationship of dissensus, of rupture and rearticulation of the connection between the sensible and sense, between the living and signification, which is of chief concern. Reading Glissant from a biopolitical perspective means, first and foremost, taking into consideration the relationship between poetry and thoughtbetween eccentric thought and ex-centered word, as explained in Les entretiens de Baton Rouge (5657)a relationship which runs through his entire practice. In Glissant, this exploration considers the necessary entanglement (intrication) of language and the living. This necessarily reciprocal relationship generates the vital tension between measure and dmesure, a term usually translated as excess but perhaps more accurately captured by the English neologism dismeasureor, as Glissant wrote in The Poetic Intention, between lucidity of writing and vertigo of contamination (165). 918

Using biopolitics to approach Glissant may help to supply new affirmative politicotheoretical perspectives. It deepens current reflections on biopolitics, which, as some interpreters have rightly stressed, despite producing interesting analyses of the negative aspects of contemporary biopower, have remained underdeveloped. This may potentially be as a result of biopolitics ethnocentric presuppositions: from Foucault onward, the reflection on biopolitics and biopower has almost exclusively dealt with Western history and thought, ignoring and perhaps even repressing the margins and outskirts of modernity which Spivak terms the broader narratives of imperialism (Spivak291).5 Yet it is precisely in such areas thatbetween colonialism and post-colonialismbiopower has developed and carried out some of its cruellest and most effective devices of capture, government, subjugation, and negation of the living. In a certain sense, it can be stated that slavery and colonial domination, with their biopolitical practices of dominion and subjugation of bodies, and also with their legal formalization (for instance, the infamous Code Noir, drafted by Colbert and promulgated by Louis XIV) and their racist social, ideological, and cultural structures, have constituted a veritable laboratory of biopolitics and the thanatopolitical implications of Western modernity. Glissantian thought on Relation and creolization, which establishes fundamental connections to the historic tragedy of the peoples of the slave trade and the African diaspora, has traced a path that may be considered to some extent contrary, or at least alternative, to that of post-Foucauldian biopolitical thought. Through an unwavering openness toward an affirmative and plural biopolitics, Glissants poetic and philosophical reflection of a politics that is no longer over life but of life (Esposito, Bos 11), may also be read as a patient and steady maneuver to overturn colonial and post-colonial thanatopolitics. This affirmative openness of Glissantian poetics is the fruit of a conflictual dialectic, of a reciprocal tension and split between the One and the Many; between the lightning bolt ecstasy of the instant and the necessary density of the duration; between the abyss of silence and oblivion that envelopes the history of deported peoplesthose enormous expanses of silence in which my history became lost (Glissant, Poetic Intention32)and the unstoppable global dissemination of creolization and Relation.6 It is the painful and fertile enunciation of both the cry and the word, in which Glissants most poetic and authentic gesture is located, as in these beautiful lines from The Poetic Intention: And it is to this absence this silence and this involution that I bind in my throat my language, which thus begins with a lack: And my language, rigid and dark or alive or strained is that lack first, then the will to slough the cry into speech before the sea. (38)

The Living and the Dialectic of History Contrary to Western historicismfrom which Glissant often distanced himselfthe entry of the peoples of the African diaspora into history is a violent irruption, followed by an equally violent oblivion that has rendered any attempt at a return to origins fleeting. 919

We find ourselves at the opposite end of that divergence between life and the historic sense which Nietzsche signalled as a serious risk for the life of Western peoples in the second of his Unfashionable Observations. Historys exclusion of colonized peoplethe nonhistory and the erasing of the collective memory (Glissant, Caribbean Discourse62)has instead caused a radical lack of historic sense: a violent oblivion leading to a radical alienation from ones own surroundings and suppressing any dialectic of the living and form. It is also for this reason that the poetic words ability to give voice to the inherent opacity of the living manifests itself as a never-ending process of symbolization, in which the unsettling power of the Real never fails to reappear. A surging, dismeasured potency meets the measured proportions of a discourse which, like the speech of the storyteller, must cross the mute density of the unspeakable suffering of peoplesThe suffering of people is not speakable; only their hope, their presence (Glissant, Poetic Intention89)before presenting itself in the face of History: The story-teller measures his words in the measureless brightness. Through his very solitude, he will sing of the land and those who suffer it. His words are not offered to those who delight in them, are elated by them; but to bodies burned by time: brushwood, oppressed peoples, bare villages, the multitudes of the shore. Then, his song destroys this wise sailor, this measured speaker, and recreates him. He comes, a child, into the first morning. He sees the primordial sea-spray, the first sweating of salt. History, which awaits him. (Glissant, Black Salt173)

Moving along the Abyss During his 2010 lecture in Paris, Nothing is true, everything is living, Glissant defined his text on the living as a dark and deliberately difficult meditation: contemplated over a long period of time, it was written in a burst of often elliptical and allusive prose. A magma-like composition of visionary poetic language and philosophical considerations, it assumes the messianic tones to which his readers are accustomed. The lecture must be interpreted as a first approach to the question of the living and its relationship with discourse and truth. Moreover, we do not know whetheras is probable in the last months of his lifeit was developed and expanded into other, as yet unpublished texts. In Philosophie de la Relation he defined this particular style of thought as a poem in extension and a trembling thought, explicitly aimed at bypassing the canonical divisions of literary genres and those discursive devices that may refer to a systematic metaphysical structure (5, 54). Glissants later writings are charged with a strong desire to search for a language which is capable of breaking free of the shackles of any systemization of thought; of searching, even in the most philosophical prose, for a continuous contact with the life-giving force of poetry and the imagination. Glissant was aware of moving along the margins of an abyss, along a vertiginous point of thought, a mandatory, unavoidable, unthinkable zone; a territory into which even those 920

Western philosophers who had tried to imagine the margins of metaphysics, humanism, and historicismquestioning the absolute of Being and the transcendence of cogito7had not ventured. He advocated a shift towards multiciplicity. Nonetheless, he emphasized that he aimed to represent the same world in which we are living: the potency of the chaotic, inextricable, and unpredictable movement of the living. As he writes in fascinating lyric prose in the introduction to the Anthologie du Tout-Monde: All of this reels and skids and turns and drifts. And does it form a unity? We dream of landscapes which shape us, mud and embers, tides and typhoons, earth and fire, and water and air. We lift up the infinite words that depend on us (Glissant, La terre 13). We can thus read the 2010 conference on the living as a further chapter of the conflict structuring his entire oeuvre, between the transcendence of the profondeur and the immanence of the tendue, and also between the universal machine and its heretic margins and lines of flight (Glissant, Les entretiens24).

The Living and Language Nothing is True, everything is living was divided into five movements: Expression, Continuity, Rupture, Of the Dark, and Intermixing. In the opening section, he questions the relationship between Truth, the living and discourse: Is there a langage, a discourse, of truth? Certainly not, but there is a langage which claims truth. Just as there is no language of the living; but nothing that is living does not express itself. Therefore, the expression of the living acts as its langage, while the expression of the True can be its desire or its hidden silence. But if we distinguish between langage and langue, we can see that there is no langue of what could be the True. This means that the langage of the True does not and cannot operate in any langue, while the living knows neither langue nor langage. Because the living finds expression in nothing except its own movement. And the True necessarily goes through the speaker who lays claim to it and who therefore, in his claim, confuses langage and langue. (Glissant, Rien nest vrai 211; emphasis added)8 That the question of expression and of language is raised at the very beginning is a clear indication of a distance from the metaphysical tradition of presence, which interpreted representation and writing as an imperfect repetition of the transcendental Truth. Yet at the same time, Glissant deals with another theme that signals the beginnings of Western philosophy in its founding interweaving of metaphysics and politics: the relationship between the living and the speaking and between natural life, zo, and politically qualified life, bos (Agamben, Homo Sacer9). In Glissants words, truth appears as an absolute transcendence, separated from everything, even the discourse that wishes to express it. In order to find expression, truth must necessarily pass through its concealment, its desire or its hidden silence (Agamben, Homo Sacer9). It is an absolute void, existing solely by virtue of the discourses produced by the subjects that demand and desire it. In turn, these subjects are constituted by and subjugated to this linking together of the will of 921

potency and the discourse of truth. This approaches a poststructuralist interpretation of the relation between the discourse and the subject, and the relationship of co-implication between knowledge and power at the base of Foucaults genealogical method, from which the French philosopher introduced and elaborated the concept of biopolitics in his final books and seminars. The problem of expression is particularly urgent with respect to the living, which, in its absolute immanence, is disconnected from any logos: the living knows neither langue nor langage. Glissant argues that a language of the living does not exist, even if nothing that is living does not express itself (Rien nest vrai 211). The living does not have a language of its own; it is conceivable only in immanent and impersonal terms. As he emphasized in Limaginaire des langues, the concept of langage, clearly distinct from that of langue, is further disconnected from any possible appropriation by a sovereign, individual, or community subject, which bends it to the demands of a discourse on truth and identity. On the contrary, throughout Glissants oeuvre, the torment of languageour speaking . . . impossible and sought after (Malemort 154)is connected to the absence of testimony, to the lack and the tragic abyss of silence and forgetting in which the relentless and mute universe of slavery sinks, and from which the cry of the marron primordial is unleashed: What then is language? This cry that I elected? Not only the cry, but absence beating in the cry (Poetic Intention37). Language cannot avoid this lack, and must strive to integrate it and bring it into expression. For Glissant, poetry is the only language truly able to come close to expressing the living and the cry, and is moreover remarkable as it attempts neither to dominate nor to appropriate their expression. Referring to a long poetic tradition spanning from Mallarm to Saint-John Perse and Faulkner, Glissant argues that poetry does not utter or appropriate the expression of the living, but relentlessly searches for a word which is capable of listening for the cry of the world and which thereby allows itself to intersect with its enigma: poetry is the only literary art which says without saying, all the while saying (Limaginaire116). Nevertheless, even in the absence of testimony and therefore of a community of words that transmits and symbolizes it, the lost cry of the marron primordial is not wholly obliterated. It belongs to the living, and returns as a kind of collective subconscious which takes the form of a verbal delirium (Caribbean Discourse 128), the drift and the neurosis of the peoples of the African diaspora, as well as in that creative anguish which drives poetic errancy. 9 Only through the words immersion in the opacity of oblivion and in the density of the living can a new language be born. This new language will express the cry lived in the assumed duration, the duration lived in the reasoned cry (Poetic Intention32); it will be jolted and inflected by the trembling and the vertigo of the living: We finally realize that these are the new modes of knowledge, the leaves indicating the trace, the voice trembling on the surface of the water. All this work is in suspensionas supremely as is our thought of the world (Faulkner, Mississippi191). Expression, according to Glissant, is inherent to the living. Furthermore, the relationship between language and truth is necessarily mediated by a will to know and the search for a foundation and a presence: So the man of the Occident believed himself to be living the life of the world, where often he only reduced the world and suffused it with an ideational globalitywhich was not at all totality of the world (Poetic Intention22). The 922

question thus arises as to the forms which language and thought might assume in order to relate to the living. What modalities of language can detach themselves from the discourse of knowledge which tends to entrap the living and its potency? Glissants poetic word, in its multiple folds and facets, has never freed itself from this excess. His poetic language has attempted to maintain a primordial telluric relationship with the interminable creation of the world. It also strives to listen to and represent the coming-to-the-world of the creative word of those who have been systematically excluded and silenced: those who populated the chasms. The maimed (22).

Continuity and Rupture The relationship between continuity and rupture has been a veritable leitmotiv of contemporary thoughtespecially Frenchfrom the 1960s onward (cf. Deleuze, Difference and Repetition). However, in his 2010 lecture, Glissant engages with it from a different theoretical and historical perspective, which is deeply linked with the past and the present of the African diaspora. As a corollary, his thought on continuity and rupture is deeply connected with the search for a new correlation between origin and history. Glissant creates anti-essentialist reformulations, developed through a denial of filiation and through the concept of a multiple and dispersed origin, the digense: There is no absolute beginning. Beginnings flow from everywhere, like meandering rivers: these are what we call digeneses (La Cohe 37). Claiming that nothing is true and, consequently, that Truth is nothing, throws the doors wide open to the vertigo of an abyss which lies beneath the apparent stability of rational and systematic thought. A decisive openness toward unpredictability and unexpected transitions is placed in contrast to the predominant instrumental relationship that the epistemic subject wishes to establish with the useful truths of the real: So the break in continuity in the langage which claims truth is a definitive end, which leaves room only for useful truths. But the break in the continuity of the living questions us endlessly, not about useful things, but about unexpected transitions. The continuity of the True is not wound around anything: it is a fragile line of fire. The continuity of the living is a spiral which does not fear interruptions. (Glissant, Rien nest vrai 212; emphasis added) Rupture, in the living, is therefore neither interruption nor separation. It is its own continuous, unpredictable spiral-like advancement, through leaps and gaps that calculating reason is unable to foresee or control, and to which only a trembling thought may approach: It is often the element of chance in the living, that makes the living, that also breaks it, dismantling it for another place or another way. Chance is both break and continuity in the living, without need for recourse to a dialectic (Rien nest vrai 212). A complete historicization of the living is not viable. As every reader of Glissant is aware, the concepts of Relation, crolization, and the chaos-monde which he develops are predicated on an 923

opening to the unpredictable, to multiplicity, and to their destructive and creative forces. The 2010 lecture touches on a veritable cornerstone of his thought: the concept of opacity which, since his earliest texts, is fundamentally connected to that of Relation. It is well known that the idea of truth () in Western thought, since Greek antiquity, has been connected to the metaphorical zones of light and darkness, of concealment and revelation (cf. Heidegger). Glissant contrasts the metaphor of the darkness of falsity and ignorancewhich blocks the upward movement of knowledge in a metaphysical, and later, Christian-humanistic sensewith the fertility of opacitywhich is what allows us to enter into relation, to mutually change and exchange with one another. What is usually represented as an obstacle in the classical gnoseological patha dark wood where one risks losing oneself definitivelybecomes a freedom to choose not to conform to a norm or a pre-established hierarchy of values and criteria of truth: Opacity benefits us when we are brought to a halt by darkness. We grow in opacity: it is the freedom of the living (Glissant, Rien nest vrai 212). Opacity, together with detour, is also a tactic of escape from the devicesnot only discursivethat facilitate the grip of biopower on bodies and lives, thus both concepts contribute to the poetic and political production of an affirmative biopolitics.

Intermixing Glissants speech closed with comments on intermixing, the section which perhaps best distinguishes his concept of the living. As with creolization, the living is constituted by a continuous, unpredictable mixing, which irrupts and interferesperfectly conveyed through the term intermixing (immixtion). The confluence of artistic creativity (poiesis) and the active transformation of the existing (praxis) becomes evident at this point: The intermixing of the living is its reform and its very expression. It is a mixing process which distinguishes between mixtures, transforming them. Intermixing is impetus and break and brutal innovation, which is nonetheless continuity, like the continuity of the sap and the flower (Glissant, Rien nest vrai213; emphasis added). Intermixing transforms any place into a frontier: not as the limit which dividesas per the disciplinary devices of organization and normalization analyzed by Foucaultbut, almost contrarily, as the incontrovertible space where differences touch each other and co-exist. This new thought on frontiers, as he defines it in Philosophie de la Relation, understood as a continuous tremblement of the being and its incessant relational transformation, constitutes Glissants essential contribution to an original and global affirmative biopolitics (57).

Crossing once more the Sea Before proceeding to a brief comparison with another recent reflection on biopolitics, it is essential to point out that the question of the living and its relationship with the 924

truth, knowledge, and language is not solely to be found in Glissants later works. On the contrary, this meditation runs through his entire oeuvregoing as far back as Soleil de la conscience (1956)and is present in a rather explicit and significant way from the first pages of The Poetic Intention (1969). In this work, the desire to surpass the dualistic separation between the truth of knowledge and the errant nature of life, an assumption on which much of Western thought is built, is already evident. There is an immediate need to surpass the absolute of knowledge and of the magniloquent One, to recognize instead its lack which leads us to the hybrid plurality of the living: The One, the flourish of stars which perhaps comprise the unattackable body of Truth. Yes, every passion of the world, of the living, of the tremor by which being is provoked, begins with this consensual lack: the One. . . . To move beyond the ecstatic ambition of the One is to build with patience, without denying the primordial burst, the stages of a knowledge at long last approached. The oeuvre in its continuity traces this itinerary, beyond which are its markers or, to the letter, its milestones: books. (Glissant, Poetic Intention 7) This epistemological shift will alter our very conception of knowledge. In Glissant, there is no nostalgic drive to revive a pure and primordial dimension of the living, deceptively located outside the corruption and violence of history. On the contrary, the literary work and the poetic experience tirelessly attempt to break the deadly separations produced by metaphysics and historicism, and to cross once more the sea (Poetic Intention 13). Unpredictability, surprise, discrepancy, transformation, and irruption represent that nonhistoric mass, situated in every fold of history itselfa sort of opaque limit or point of internal resistancecontinuously challenging every attempt at historicizing the living. It is that dimension which, some years later, Glissant and his characters would imagine, think, and experience as the Tout-monde: so many from so far away who call out to you in a great cry (Glissant, Mahagony35). The term Tout-monde is not introduced as a theoretical definition, but rather as the opaque intuition of Hgsippe, a character in Mahagony, who is, significantly, the first slave to handle writing and to appropriate it as a tool for entering in relation with the mystery of the living: I bring together what is not understood (31). As Glissant had already outlined in The Caribbean Discourse, this enigmatic impulse expresses the artistic works need for a return to the point of entanglement (point dintrication) between the living and historicization: We must return to the point from which we started. [Detour] is not a useful ploy unless it is nourished by [return]: not a return to the longing for origins, to some immutable state of Being, but a return to the point of entanglement, from which we were forcibly turned away (Glissant, Caribbean Discourse26; translation amended by Britton). Glissants oeuvre may be read as a restless search which moves through the tragic and mute abyss of history to forge a new language that is the shared invention of a new biopolitical articulation of bodies in the Tout-monde. This continuous espacement, which is opened by the poetic languages of the archipelago-world, begins to conceptualize an affirmative planetary biopolitics. It becomes imperative to make room for forms-of-life able to free themselves from the deadly grip of power and to be born into the world, in a reciprocal openness and constituent relationship. 925

The Absolute Immanence of the Living The French philosopher Gilles Deleuze occupies a central position in the current debate on biopolitics, particularly in its affirmative aspect. Together with Flix Guattari, he greatly influenced Glissants poetics of the living as intermixing and relation. It is no coincidence that both Deleuzes and Glissants final articles and papers were philosophically centred on the concept of life, prophetically reaching out to reveal to us the future need to think of the living in its absolute immanence. This involves disconnecting it from every appropriating pretense on the part of consciousness and knowledge. In Immanence: A Life, Deleuze develops his concept of the living as a pure plane of immanence, explaining that this nascent philosophy must explore a vertigo of thought which has neither consciousness nor subject, which he defines as a transcendental empiricism (26, 25). Similarly to Glissants concept of living, the pure plane of immanence acts as a flux preceding every form of conscious transcendence and every dialectic process of subjectification and objectification: Absolute immanence is in itself: it is not in something, to something; it does not depend on an object or belong to a subject (Deleuze, Immanence 26). Immanence, confirms Deleuze along with Guattari, is immanent only to itself and consequently captures everything, absorbs All-One, and leaves nothing remaining to which it could be immanent (Deleuze and Guattari 45). The tendency of more recent biopolitical philosophy to privilege the impersonal only partially approaches Glissants poetics of Relation. However, it is apparent how much this concept of a pure plane of immanence influenced Glissants thoughts on Relation and creolization, as he progressively distanced his ideas away from the initial phenomenological formation still evident in his early texts. In his introduction to anthologie de la posie du Tout-monde, which explores the Relation and its connection with the becoming-totality of the living, Glissants proximity to the Deleuzian plane of immanence is evident: The Tout-monde is total in so far as we all dream of it thus, and its difference from the totality is that its whole is a process of becoming. The totality of the Tout-Monde is thus the realized quantity of all the worlds differences, without the omission of even the least certain of them. The relation between the different elements does not inaugurate or refer back to an isolated geography . . . because the difference of the Tout-Monde (from itself) is that it is a totality which is not realized but is nevertheless visible in the future. (Glissant, La terre19)10 Our meander through the theme of the living and through its most recent philosophical developments remains synthetic and introductive, requiring further elaboration. It must therefore lead us back to an analysis of Glissants poetic-narrative texts and language and the way in which they articulate an affirmative biopolitical perspective.


Mahagony: The Entanglement of Writing and the Living As it has become evident throughout this article, the complex relation between the living and the form, in all its different facets, is perhaps the main concern in a biopolitical analysis of the artistic forms of representation, and in particular of literature. The novel Mahagony reveals particularly rich ground for analysis of the relationship between the indomitable and opaque immanence of the living, its abyssal excess of unspeakability and potency, and the poetic articulation of the ceaseless search for a form that can deal with its chaotic and unpredictable becoming. It is in this novel that the tension between the historic-hermeneutic planethe search for a possible order joining the past to the presentand the confrontation with the traumatic abyss of the unspeakable and the untestifiable, reaches an intense point of rupture. This is in itself an evolution which becomes a kind of vertiginous leap on the level of the signifier, announcing an opening to the Tout-monde. For this reason, I hold that the novel articulates through literary language an affirmative biopolitical perspective which I will now go on to illustrate. In Mahagony, any authorial stance and gravitational center of meaning is definitively questionedeven by the characters themselvesleading to a proliferation and a concatenation of narrative voices and points of view, and to a polyphonic multiplicity of stylistic and linguistic planes (Britton, douard Glissant 16478). This entails a dizzying reciprocal involvement between language and the living which leads to an inevitable opening to the complexity of Relation, something which can only be achieved through the agony of every transcendental and authorial source of meaning; a process suggested by the atypical spelling of the title. The character of Mathieu, the hermeneutic and historicizing subject continuously in search of meaning and the symbolic order of History, begins speaking directly, removing himself from the totalizing authorial position, which itself is now also divided and plural. In addition to him, a myriad of other people and voices alternate, following the traces and the repetitions of an unrecoverable traumatic past, in a veritable baroque explosion and dissemination of the narrative. Marie Celat is perhaps the character who, more than any other, manages to capture the essence of this primordial pulsing of the living, as she passes through verbal delirium, madness, pain, and death. Rather than resigning herself to silence, she generates a new language which praises the determined vitality of nameless weeds: I myself, I confess, I prefer the weeds splashed with cement on the edges of towns or motorways. Those weeds bring me to tears at their stubborn determination to live. . . . When you have been amongst great trees, you dont immediately understand the miseries or the joys of small pastures (Glissant, Mahagony 18587). Here, as nature and characters become intertwined, an analysis of the specific overlapping of three registers in Glissants textsthe logic of characters, the logic of landscape, and the logic of the signifiercan help us understand an essential aspect of his writing. This is elaborated in the essay On opacity, one of his fundamental texts on William Faulkner (published in Poetic Intention), which deals with the relationship between writing and opacity. 11 Glissant highlights the necessary connection of landscape, character, and writing in a context dominated by the atavistic violence of racism and slavery. In Faulkner, he tells us, the entanglement (intrication) and the reciprocal exposure of landscape and character are a direct indication of the role of opacity in the American authors writing:


Moreover, what Faulkner is able to describe for us, by means of human beings intricated in a mutual problematic, is a landscape. The inextricable and chaotic logic of the characters describes the forest. In other words, Faulkners characters are not dense with psychology, but by their attachment to their glebe. To their fatality, their injustice, their tragic silt, their barbarism. . . . yes, the landscape here is father and son to the character, who exposes it. (Glissant, Poetic Intention 16162) The narrative dynamic and the forms of enunciation are therefore not geared, as in a traditional realist novel, toward the representation of actions and the psychology of the characters, but to their entour, their surroundings. In fact, the force of opacitystates Glissant regarding Faulkner, but this is evidently valid for his own writinginvades the entire system of enunciation, transforming the very body of the letter. Thus the letter is led toward a mechanics of unveiling which can never reach a definitive revelation (170). What is secret, opaque, mysterious, the fundamental trace (171), does not find expression in logic, in a formula, or in a rational language, but itself constantly modifies and informs that language which incessantly exposes it in its vertigo: This collective American vertigo is translated at the level of literary creation, into the vertigo of the veiled struggle with its unveiling. . . . here there is no unveiled. No certain reason. . . . The novel unveils something veiled that never becomes purely unveiled but exposes itself in the very mechanism of unveiling (Poetic Intention 16364). Writing becomes testimony of this indomitable opacity of the living and the constant drama it stages between continuity and rupture, deferment and exposure. At a poetic and narrative level, Mahagony elaborates the principles which Glissant had begun to articulate in his essay on Faulkner. The novel shows a reciprocal entanglement of the opacity of the living and the poetic word, which is sensitive to this opacity and responds to it. In Glissant, the poetic word relentlessly searches for a grasp on the living, not to capture it or to isolate it in a specific meaning, but rather to touch and expose its inherent ungraspable nature, to maintain an anxiety, vertigo (Poetic Intention 165). Throughout his diverse literary production, Glissant strove to escape those biopolitical devices which, in their colonial and postcolonial metamorphoses, through the discourse of an absolute Truth sustaining old and new civilizing missions, tried to capture, restrain, and dominate the indomitable potency of the living.
ACKNOWLEDGMENT The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/20072013) under grant agreement no. 298455. I would like to gratefully acknowledge the European CommissionResearch Executive Agency (REA) for awarding me a Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship to conduct this research into Caribbean Literature and Biopolitics with Dr Louise Hardwick at the University of Birmingham (for further details of the project, see <http://caribiolit.wordpress.com/>). Thanks must also go to Louise for her thorough readings of this article at various stages, and the helpful comments and suggestions she made regarding its development.


NOTES 1. Foucaults fundamental texts on biopolitics are: The Will to Knowledge (1976), particularly the last chapter, Right on Death and Power over Life; the lectures on racism held the same year at the Collge de France (19751976); Society Must Be Defended (1997); and the two series of lectures held, also at the Collge de France, in the period between 1977 and 1979, Security, Territory, Population (2004) and The Birth of Biopolitics (2004). 2. For reasons of space, we can only refer here to a few essential texts, like Agambens Homo Sacer: Sovereign power and bare life and Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive, and Espositos Immunitas: The Protection and Negation of Life and Bos: Biopolitics and Philosophy. 3. On the relationship between writing and political struggle, see Les entretiens de Baton Rouge, mainly the chapter entitled Lcriture na pas pour objet de prcipiter le politique (Glissant 5564). 4. The politics of literature is not the politics of its writers. It does not deal with their personal commitment to the social and political issues and struggles of their times. Nor does it deal with the modes of representation of political events or the social structure and the social struggles in their books. The syntagma politics of literature means that literature does politics as literature that there is a specific link between politics as a definite way of doing and literature as a definite practice of writing (Rancire10). For a careful reading of the relationship between Glissants evolution of thought and his political commitment, see Britton. 5. See also the perhaps excessively drastic critique, led by Spivak and other postcolonial scholars, of the Foucauldian theory of power: Foucault is a brilliant thinker of power-in-spacing, but the awareness of the topographical reinscription of imperialism does not inform his presuppositions. He is taken in by the restricted version of the West produced by that inscription and thus helps to consolidate its effects. . . . Sometimes it seems as if the very brilliance of Foucaults analysis of the centuries of European imperialism produces a miniature version of that heterogeneous phenomenon . . . The clinic, the asylum, the prison, the universityall seem to be screen allegories that foreclose a reading of the broader narratives of imperialism. (Spivak 29091) For a reflection on postcolonial readings of Foucault by Edward Said and Valentin Mudimbe, see Alix. 6. Also see the exceptional chapteralmost a poem in prosethat opens the Potique de la Relation, entitled The Open Boat (Glissant 59). This covers the entire transition from the abyss of the unknown, of pain, and of ontological vertigo experienced by the deported slave towards a new form of shared knowledge, which paradoxically emerges from this negation and from this pain: Thus, the absolute unknown, projected by the abyss and bearing into eternity the womb abyss and the infinite abyss, in the end became knowledge (8). 7. See the conference proceedings arising from a conference held in Italy in 2004 on the theme of tremblement and which saw a dialogue between Glissantian and Derridian thought: Annali: Fondazione europea del disegno (Fondation Adami), 2006/II, Milano, Bruno Mondadori. 8. A video of the conference Rien nest Vrai, tout est vivant realized by Guillaume Robillard for the lInstitut du Tout-monde is available at the web address: <http://www.dailymotion.com/Kreolfeeling>. I am grateful to Celia Britton for helping me with the translation of quotations where no published English version of the text exists. 9. This creative anguish is the opposite of the metaphysical pessimism or despair born of the idea of being (Glissant, Introduction 39). 10. The idea of totality connected to the concept of Relation in Glissant has been criticized by Jacques Derrida, at the previously mentioned conference of 2004, in which he highlighted the existing contradiction between a thought on the becoming and on the tremblement and the idea of totality implicit in the Glissantian vision of the Tout-monde. 11. This essay, which begins with Faulkner, reaches a more general level of poetics. The work would be amplified in his magisterial study on the American writer, published several years later (Glissant, Faulkner, Mississippi).


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douard Glissant at the Serpentine Gallery, London, where he gave a lecture in 2007.

Caecilia Tripp 2007