“… restoring liberating, catalysing, and dangerous power to the object, that he gives back the profaned object its dignity of mystery and its radiant force…”Aimé Césaire, Calling the Magician, Haiti-Journal (20 May 1944) on Andre Breton
My work for the 6th Grenada Contemporary, based on Aimé Césaire’s, “Calling the Magician” takes a step beyond my work with “Empathy of Place” and explores Glissant’s concept of the “right to opacity.” In Glissant’s work, he makes a case for opacity in terms of the state of relation where we are open to learning about “the other” but also the right to not understand. Transparency is a state where the knowable things about an “other” lay on the surface, easily categorized and labeled. It is part of a Western project, perhaps within the Aristotelian lineage that knowledge is the end result of deconstruction – reduction. This idea that somehow we can reach a totality of knowledge through stringent labeling and classifying ignores the diversity of cultures and individuals and the multiplicity of relations between them. I think about Fred Moten’s idea, “Consent not to be a single being.” The insistence on transparency requires all intricacy and diversity to be laid bare on the surface so that the illusion of “understanding” can occur.
Manthia Diawara stresses that the right to opacity protects diversity. A threat to diversity is the premise that one can be easily understood based on any generalizing principle. Glissant, while describing the Caribbean in a variety of ways is always assertive of the role of relation as opposed to an atavistic culture that draws its identity from an ancestral lineage. People, society, environment, language, etc. are always in flux and affecting each other. Our reality is not static and therefore resists generalizing identification. Even as Glissant discusses totalité, or some end point of knowledge, much like Hegel’s “absolute knowledge” does not occur because anyone is trying to achieve it. In Western thought, this absolute knowledge is achieved through dialectics and Glissant proposes a method that is more Hegelian than Hegel. Glissant’s proposal is a global one and through relation, tout-monde, engages all people, in all places, and at times – all times. The past is not dead to Glissant and is still being formed in the present.
I have always been fascinated with the Bois Canot and its form. It is only after considering it within the context of “Empathy of Place” that I realized how apt this leaf was at describing the right to opacity. This leaf “grasps”; it pulls towards itself. Like a fist, the leaf defiantly conceals. This leaf has what Cesaire would call “the dignity of mystery.” Walcott refers to the leaf as well, “inverted design of unrigged schooners.” The Bois Canot leaf represents, for me, the opaqueness that Glissant describes. It twists and writhes in its right to its own secrets and identity. In this work, I explore adding more layers of opacity in a dialogue with the form of the leaf. The grid wire serves to confine and protect but also to “frame” these natural icons to incite further questions.
To bring Glissant back to Cesaire, Betsy Wing, translator of Glissant’s “Poetics of Relation” summarizes, “Glissant sees imagination as the force that can change mentalities; relation as the process of this change; and poetics as a transformative mode of history.”