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“to consent not to be a single being”
Edouard Glissant’s L’Intention poétique has recently been translated by Natalie Stephens; Poetic Intention will be out from Nightboat Books in March. I’ve been immersed in, and totally messed up (in the best sense) by, Glissant’s work since last Fall, when I got the chance to participate in one of a series of panel discussions on his work organized by Mantha Diawara and Avital Ronell at NYU. It was daunting enough having to deal with their presence, let alone his, and then when I got there, Kamau Brathwaite was sitting in the front row. By the time it was my turn to talk I couldn’t talk but I did have enough gumption to bring some help, in the form of a recording of Trane’s opening statement and parastatement of the theme of “My Favorite Things,” recorded in New York at the Half Note in 1961. I thought to bring Trane with me because of that rapid, tortuous flight from one pitch to another, an accelerated ascending and descending of the scale, that he performs at the end of the solo. I’m always stricken—by the way he glides (Mackey famously remembers how Baraka once said of John Tchicai that he slides) away from the proposed. But this gliding is rough, tossed, rolled by water, flung by waves. There’s a kind of obscurity, even a kind of madness in Trane’s glissement, his glissando. This opacity of gliding is chorographic philosophy, thinking on the move, over the edge, as exhaustive, imaginary mapping of an underworld and its baroque and broken surfaces. This ongoing, ruptural moment in the history of the philosophy of relation, “in which,” Glissant says (in a wonderful interview with Diawara—an excerpt, actually, from a film on Glissant that Diawara has shot that has been translated by Christopher Winks), “we try to see how humanities transform themselves,” is more and less than the same old story. It’s torqued seriality—bent, twisted, propelled off line—is occult, impossible articulation. The line is broken; the passage is overtaken, become detour; it is, again as Glissant says, unknown; it bears a non-violent, unavoidably violent overturning, a contrapuntal swerve, a voluntary submergence way on the outskirts of assent; it performs a rhizomatic voluntarity, roots escaping from themselves without schedule into the outer depths. This involuntary consent of the volunteer is our descent, our inheritance, should we choose to accept it, claim it, assent to it: forced by ourselves, against force, to a paraontological attendance upon being-sent, we are given to discover how being-sent turns to glide, glissando, fractured and incomplete releasement of and from the scale, into the immeasurable. Coltrane’s music, its elegiac celebration, has a dying rise and fall. It descends and ascends us. It sends us. We are given to it. We give ourselves away to its gliding movement just as we give ourselves to the depths and heights of Glissant’s words. But not without resistance.
I was already teaching Zong! back then and it sent me to ask Glissant about something else he says in that interview. Also, my students wanted to know something more about what it means to have been sent, as Glissant says, (Lorna Goodison says to have been sent by history) “to consent not to be a single being.” What does it mea n to have been sent to give yourself away? Pretty much everybody I know is driven to dissent from such a movement, where consent is inseparable from a monstrous imposition, but Zong! had me and my students primed, nevertheless, to be drawn, against ourselves, to the rail, to the abyss, by the iterative, broken singularity it hides and holds, by the murmur of submerged, impossible social life—that submarine, excluded, impossible middle passage into multiplicity, where pained, breathlessly overblown harmonic striation, from way underneath some unfathomable and impossible to overcome violation, animates ecstasies of chromatic saturation, driven down and out into the world as if risen into another: impossible assent, consentement impossible, glissment impossible, impossible Glissant. Last semester we wanted to claim that sound and I guess I’m browbeating my students this semester to want some variation on the same thing. Zong! does not represent the ones who become multiple; it just asks you to join them.