Édouard Glissant, the Colonial Body and Biopolitics

This is my abstract for the SFPS Annual Conference (University of London, 16 & 17 November 2012)

‘Rien n’est Vrai, tout est vivant is the title Édouard Glissant chose to give one of his last public speeches – held within the context of seminars organized by the Institut du Tout-monde in 2010. This philosophical-poetic intervention introduced a new concept within the spiraling nature of both his oeuvre and his thought: le vivant. Glissant’s poetry maintained a constant and fertile relationship with the most significant moments of contemporary thought, particularly that of French philosophy in the second half of the twentieth century. In a highly original manner, this decisive convergence toward an idea of living, in contrast with the notion of a trascendental and incorporeal Truth, connects to the contemporary debate on biopolitics.

Cap 110 Memorial, Anse Caffard, Martinique.

Drawing on the later reflections of Foucault, philosophers such as Deleuze, Nancy, Esposito, Agamben, Butler have argued for the complex relationship between life and form, body and power, the incommensurable potency of living and the structures of language and knowledge. These subjects show an evident connection to and a specific developement within a post-colonial and post-slavery context, and they are particulary evident in Glissant’s poetic and narrative production. Glissant’s thought and poetry, precisely due to his deep connection to the historic parabola of the African diaspora, slavery and colonial domination, have managed to shed new light on the relationship between the political horizon and that of ‘bare life’, in a deep connection between language and body. This paper argues that this relationship is particulary evident in his novels, where the governed and alienated colonial body is finally able to tip over into a new kind of performativity, marked by relation, impersonality and a new common language, which is deeply linked with the non-appropriability of the body. This paper advances the belief that Glissant’s vision is also able to overcome negative impasses of contemporary thought, deterritorializing it, while giving life to a language and a writing able of face up to the unpredictability, opacity and non-appropriability of the living body.’

‘Venus de partout, ils décentrent le connu. Errants et offensés, ils enseignent. Quelles voix débattent là, qui annoncent toutes les langues qu’il se pourra?’
(É. Glissant, Les Grands Chaos)

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