Ménil and the marvelous

September 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

As I complete the critical introduction for my translation, I’m  working through ideas of the marvelous in Ménil’s work. In particular, I’m wondering how the créolité manifesto draws upon those ideas to, in part, surmount the Césaire’s work on Négritude.

It is a complicated question. On the one hand, the question is stalled from the outset because neither Ménil nor the marvelous get explicit treatment in Éloge de la créolité. In terms of historical influences, the manifesto offers Césaire as a foil and Glissant as a hero. That’s the dialectic or at least tension. Césaire’s eschewing of vernacular forms and cultural locality is rightly held to severe scrutiny, even as the manifest writers go ahead and concede Négritude as an important moment. The moment is important because Césaire (unlike Fanon, perhaps) turns attention back to black people as such, without evoking, in any way (it is claimed), whiteness as a measure. Glissant is the hero because of his turn to Caribbeanness – the idea that there is already in the archipelago all the dynamism, intensity, and complexity one wants or needs in conceiving identity. While Glissant is plenty local, he is also (by his own account) plenty global; the notion of tout-monde that comes to dominate his work in Poetics of Relation and after deterritorializes any and all accounts of identity. Including Caribbean identity. Créolité halts that move to tout-monde in the simple appeal to creoleness, and not creolization. Identity as a result of, not simply as, chaotic activity.

Rene-Menil

Ménil’s tweak of French Surrealism makes for such an interesting account of locality, identity, and aesthetics. Surrealism’s commitment, generally, to the senses is retooled by Ménil in order to account for race, history, and embodiment. But he doesn’t account for race, history, and embodiment for the sake of an ideological point, whether that point turns to the memory of the civilizational past (Césaire) or toward an undefined and undefinable future (Fanon). Rather, Ménil’s accounting for the specificity of the Caribbean historical experience enhances the presence of the body to the world in this landscape. Not the landscape of a geographic or temporal elsewhere. The landscape here, the tropics, the intensity of this moment in this body for these words. Ménil, after all, employs the term Antillanité – and does so for this reason, on the basis of this contact and engagement with the Caribbean landscape as such.

In that sense, I think Ménil’s influence, however quiet, might be exceptionally important for the creolist manifesto. Bernabé, et al are importantly more concerned with words, but, as with all creole or patois or vernacular forms of expression, the relation between sound and place is everything. Ménil’s recasting of Surrealism gives us something akin to the metaphysics of any creolism, a sense of the ultimate reality that keeps creoleness connected to a non-transferrable space, time, and place. It strikes me that what In Praise of Creoleness needs, in terms of conceptual completeness, is a firmer ground than the plainly moral call to value vernacular cultural forms. Perhaps Ménil’s sense of the marvelous starts describing that ground.

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