The issue of translation and time in Chamoiseau’s movement from Créolité to Glissant’s ‘Relation’

9 Apr

While gathering scholarly articles, I came across a 2012 interview with Chamoiseau conducted by Olivia Sheringham for the the International Migration Institute at the University of Oxford, as part of the Oxford Diasporas Program(me), in which Chamoiseau talks about how more recently, he has in fact moved away from Créolité, for very similar reasons as to why he first stayed away from Negritude.

According to Sheringham, Glissant’s concept of ‘Relation’ “… refers to the interconnectedness and interdependence of the world and seeks to move beyond atavistic notions of identity”, which is now a stance adopted by Chamoiseau, who was a close friend and collaborator of Glissant, who died in 2011.

In the interview, Chamoiseau discusses his reasons for giving up Créolité in favor of Relation, mentioning the dilution of the original term that was used to discuss Creole language, and the false binary logic of Negritude that feeds into Créolité. Throughout the interview, Chamoiseau points outs the role of language in forming identities, Creole or otherwise, which then speaks to the points on the limitations of translation raised by Maryse Condé, an important Caribbean writer, in an conversation with Emily Apter, published in the journal of Public culture.

Chamoiseau responds to Sheringham’s question regarding the origin of the term ‘Creole’, by stating that in its original form, it was only meant by (Glissant, himself and others) to refer to “… the mechanical constitution of the creole language” and that Glissant himself claimed once “… that the mechanical constitution of the creole language is an echo of the world – showing that the creole language is formed of a mosaic of multiple languages and lexical presences.”

However, Chamoiseau book-ends this statement by saying that historically, the term was used to designate any object, animal, artifact, social identity or food that was created in or “acclimatized to” the Americas, though it first began as a way of describing “… the descendants of European colonisers.” For me personally, this explanation brings us directly to the doorstep of ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’, and fills in all the gaps left by Rhys in my understanding of the binary of white creole/black creole set up in her book.

Explaining why he prefers the concept of Relation as it allows for “relational identity, which is an identity that is defined by the fact that it changes all the time without losing anything or being distorted”, Chamoiseau states–

“… I would prefer to get rid of the term [creolization] and to use the term Relation instead. Because the idea of creolization presupposes that we are still in the former absolutes – racial absolutes, black/white, linguistic absolutes – all the former identity markers that elsewhere defined métissage: métissage is black/white that gives us grey.”

I feel that this concept of Relation really does bring the Post Colonial/Subaltern discussion directly into our current time, as it allows for a discussion of the influence of and relationship between multiple times and spaces that both Fabian and Nixon raise as issues faced by marginalized populations all throughout the Global South (in fact, it even challenges the static nature of the concept of the ‘Global South’!).

Chamoiseau stresses the fluidity allowed by Relation, and also when prompted by Sheringham, goes on to place ideas of Globalization, Fixed Identity and the falling away of Absolute concepts in this context of Relation. I feel that Maryse Condé raises many of the same issues in her discussion with Emily Apter of translating Caribbean writing, being as she is fully aware of the ‘Africa Chic’ co-opting within Euro-centric cultures throughout the 90’s and 2000’s.

When speaking with Apter about the translation of her work, conducted by her husband, Richard Philcox, Condé states–

“… if there is a phrase in Creole, he leaves it, but he also includes a translation in the notes (and most publishers resist this). And when he says his translations are market-driven, it really means only in this narrow sense of maximizing clarity and accessibility. He knows that I have resisted being “marketed” in America within the confines of the preestablished “black writers” niche.”

In response to Apter’s question regarding how her work is marketed, she responds with the following:

“Editors tend to see everything in black and white, and they have tried to target the African American reading public in marketing my fiction. But this really doesn’t work, since my books are concerned less with race and much more with the complexities of overlapping cultures, with conditions of diaspora, and with cross-racial, cross-generational encounters.”

Not to say that Conde agrees with everything Chamoiseau and Glissant claim regarding Relation– in fact, in response to Apter’s direct question regarding the Créolité manifesto penned by Chamoiseau and a few fellow writers in 1989, she claims that the term itself “… effaces the history of slavery, of the plantation culture, and the economic foundations of the island. The term créolité makes the cultural laboratory more important than the memory of a sugarbased economy.” While thus making a case for the inclusion of plantation memory in the discussion of the Creole language and culture, Condé still seems to be making a case for a movement away from binaries– It is easy to see how the very act of translation itself ensures that oral tradition, the heart of Creolite, “observes hierarchy as it can only be communicated in translation”, as claimed by Amy Emery in book, ‘The anthropological imagination in Latin American literature’. Emery states:

“The role of the anthropologist or the writer… is to transcribe the spontaneous richness of oral narrative with a minimal amount of authorial intervention. The positioning of the writer and his or her informant is meant to guarantee that the document will be an authentic expression of the informant’s voice, which the literate writer has facilitated, but not produced as such” (70).

This point raised by Emery speaks to the problem of allogenic time as raised by Fabian, which leads me to believe that more than any other sub-set (if you will) of Post Colonial writing, Caribbean Writing addresses the issues highlighted in ‘Time and the Other’ as well as Nixon’s ‘Slow Violence’ by discusses ways in which to decrease the distance between center and periphery caused by the binary oppositions within language and discussions about language, as well as resists the forced hierarchy of translation.


Amy Emery, The anthropological imagination in Latin American literature, 1996.

Emily Apter, Crossover Texts/Creole Tongues: A Conversation with Maryse Condé, 2001. Public Culture 13(1): 89–96.

From Creolization to Relation: An interview with Patrick Chamoiseau

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