April 13, 2010

Thesis Statement

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Little cinematic ostentation infiltrates Manthia Diawara’s film, Edouard Glissant: One World in Relation, shown April 8 at Cornell Cinema. Rather than draw attention to his own filmmaking, Diawara presents the bare bones of his interview with poet and literary critic Edouard Glissant, only taking the small liberty of periodically showing the ocean over which he and Glissant travel on their ship-borne discourse. And perhaps this was all that was needed. For in a discussion of Glissant’s ideas on relation, multiplicity and politics, the theme that tied these ideas together was, like the sea over which they traveled, fluidity and motion.

“Opacity, Stupidity, Unintelligiblity” introduces the first discussion between Diawara and Glissant. But the bold title hardly matches Glissant’s subdued demeanor as he describes the projection of Western thought over other parts of the world. “I can accept what I don’t understand,” he said. But the problem with the Western world is that they cannot; they fear the other and the other’s difference.

According to Glissant, difference is not contrariness and not opposition. Difference is relation. “I say that nothing is true,” Glissant explains, by which he means that different cultures or ideas are not opposites, as if one is true and the other is false, but that difference is a kind of relationship from one idea to another. For this reason, he says, we must fear universals, as they diminish difference and multiplicity.

His concept of difference can even apply to individuals. A black man from Martinique, Glissant is especially concerned with the effects of colonization and creolization. He says that in creolization, when one culture absorbs new forms due to outside forces, “the self is not one.” Selves, particularly ones under the effect of colonization, contain differences. Individuals are in “a state of constant change,” always moving and always fluid, not unlike the globablizing world in which Glissant is so interested.

Similarly, Glissant’s theories seem to be in constant motion. One theory can first be applied to politics, then to the individual, then to art. Oddly enough, his theory which disparages the universal becomes universally applicable.

It is unclear what Diawara wants to accomplish in this film. There is no introduction to Glissant and no commentary. Diawara’s own voice is only heard a couple times for points of clarification. What’s more, the film seems to span a wide range of Glissant’s theories and thoughts, withholding preference for any particular one. One might therefore conclude that Diawara was aiming for nothing more than journalistic honesty.

For someone unfamiliar with Glissant’s works, the film is a little like reading the theses statements to all the works in a writer’s canon and from these alone trying to ascertain the complete weight of his life’s work. But we can appreciate the work for what it is: For a fan of Glissant, perhaps an experience which illumines or adds to their understanding and for the rest of us, a glimpse into this influential man’s work.

Original Author: Caiden Leavitt