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Edouard Glissant's and Edward Braithwaite's Appropriations of Colonial Languages

Patterson, Jeremy

Martinican writer and anticolonial voice Frantz Fanon wrote in Peau noire,
masques blancs that language is intimately linked to one’s culture and language.
If language is central to culture and civilization, then it is central to identity, and,
particularly in (post)colonial contexts, could present a significant site of internal
and external conflict and trauma. Two more recent Caribbean writers have reflected
on language at least as extensively as Fanon, and from a different perspective,
not so much anticolonial as postcolonial. Edward Braithwaite, in his essay “History
of the Voice,” and Edouard Glissant, in Le Discours antillais, in particular the
essay “Langue, multilinguisme,” reflect in similar ways on the linguistic situations
in which they find themselves. Glissant seeks to “relativise” the French language
in order for it to enter into “la relation multiple au monde,” questioning language
specifically in relation to nation. In his Martinican context, this results in what he
calls a forced poetics in another essay of Le Discours antillais. Braithwaite, in his
essay, specifically relates his concept of nation-language to Glissant’s forced poetics.
Both writers thus seek to reclaim colonial languages for their own situation,
a situation of postcoloniality that does not necessarily face the black and white
choices (independence or subjugation) that Fanon saw a few decades earlier. This
article juxtaposes Braithwaite and Glissant in order to show what different Caribbean
writers, languages, and societies have in common without trying to portray
them as equivalent, and thereby to demonstrate how Caribbean literature can be
comparative literature.

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