Archipelago Approach

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Its roots in the thinking of Edouard Glissant

"In the 1970s Glissant took his theory one step further and, using the postulates put forward by Felix Guattari and Giles Deleuze in their theory of ‘rhizomes’, he devised a system of non-hierarchical relations that would consider all of the elements present in the development of a regional identity (indigenous, African, Spanish, Portuguese, French, English, Irish influences, and so on), without giving primacy to any of them. In many ways, Édouard Glissant made the same point as Kamau Brathwaite and, indeed, the Martinican often borrowed a famous image from the Bajan poet, alluding to an underground connection or affinity linking the entire Caribbean basin. As a matter of fact, Glissant used a liberal interpretation of the word ‘Caribbean’ and included in the region everything from the northern coast of Brazil through to Central America, the southern coast of the United States (especially Louisiana) and, of course, the atoll. Despite this tremendous extension, Glissant says, Caribbean people make a distinction from country to country, from island to island, from rock to rock. There is no generalisation in the Caribbean, no simplistic way of looking at it. Therefore, he claims, traditional ways of analysis will not suffice to comprehend the region: something else is needed – something along the lines of intuition.

Glissant’s ‘rhizomatic’ notion of antillanité goes a long way to create a palpable image of what it is that people from the Caribbean have in common. Nevertheless, at the same time it leaves itself open to the opposite extreme, whereby that which Caribbean people have in common is not only common to them, but to everyone else, too. In this sense, one could say that people from Martinique and Montserrat share one human nature. Not that Glissant would likely have had any trouble with this, because in the end, through his concept of the ‘total-world’ (tout-monde) Glissant seemed to think that in the future relations would be maintained by a large number of specific (and therefore differentiated) small entities all interconnected with each other in a horizontal frame. In other words, Édouard Glissant, the ultimate islander, saw a future world where continents, nations, states might break up into small ‘islands’ that would depend on each other to exist: one enveloping, universal archipelago to nurture the full diversity of mankind." (