Journal of Transatlantic Studies

, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp 304–316 | Cite as

Roots, rhizomes and l’Africano: traces of Glissant in Tierno Monénembo’s Pelourinho

  • Audrey SmallEmail author


This article explores the parallels between Tierno Monénembo’s fifth novel Pelourinho (1995) and Édouard Glissant’s theorisation of identity, using these two leading francophone writers to examine to explore the apparently competing models of identity of the single and the rhizomatic root. Where Glissant rejects the atavistic, linear, single-root model as inherently destructive, Monénembo’s novel problematises the very real need for a sense of history and heritage linking Africa and the Americas in the aftermath of the slave trade and in the face of new forms of imperialism, thus providing a challenge to Glissant’s model.


Tierno Monénembo Édouard Glissant identity relation rhizome 


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  1. 1.
    Tierno Monénembo, Pelourinho (Paris: Seuil, 1995).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    ‘Relation’ may be regarded as the principal guiding force in Glissant’s conception of identity, where emphasis is always upon relationship, inter-relatedness, and incompleteness. For an excellent overview of ‘relation’, see Celia Britton, Edouard Glissant and Postcolonial Theory: Strategies of Language and Resistance (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1999), 11–34. For examinations of how Glissant’s thinking relates to European thought, seeGoogle Scholar
  3. 2a.
    Celia Britton, The Sense of Community in French Caribbean Fiction (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2008), 36–54; andGoogle Scholar
  4. 2b.
    Nick Nesbitt, Voicing Memory: History and Subjectivity in French Caribbean Literature (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2003), 170–191.Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    Edouard Glissant, Poétique de la Relation (Paris: Gallimard, 1990), 28. All translations from the French in this article are my own, unless otherwise indicated. The other texts referred to areGoogle Scholar
  6. 3a.
    Edouard Glissant, Le discours antillais (Paris: Seuil, 1981); Introduction à une poétique du divers (Paris: Gallimard, 1996); and Traite du Tout-Monde (Paris: Gallimard, 1997).Google Scholar
  7. 4.
    Maryse Condé, ‘Chercher nos vérités’, in Penser la créolité, ed. Maryse Condé and Madeleine Cottenet-Hage (Paris: Karthala, 1995), 305.Google Scholar
  8. 5.
    Tierno Monénembo, Les Crapauds-brousse (Paris: Seuil, 1979); Cinema (Paris: Seuil, 1997); Un attiéké pour Elgass (Paris: Seuil, 1993); Peuls (Paris: Seuil, 2004).Google Scholar
  9. 6.
    The choice of Pelourinho as the starting point for this quest is an apposite one, given its status as one of the key memorial sites of the transatlantic slave trade and as one of the Americas’ first established slave markets. However, it is also possibly a clumsy one on the part of the stranger, as Pelourinho emphasises the modern reality that Pelourinho makes its tourist dollars today by exploiting its African cultural heritage; and indeed, the two narrators are directly subject to this new exploitation.Google Scholar
  10. 7.
    ‘Opacité’ is a crucial facet to Glissant’s construction of ‘relation’: for Glissant, it is only in accepting that certain aspects of the Other will always remain unknowable, or opaque to the gaze, that the Other becomes knowable. See J. Michael Dash, Edouard Glissant (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 138–145; andCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 7a.
    Edouard Glissant, L’Intention poétique (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1969), 175–182. It could be argued that the enigma of the central character discussed here actually springs from this ‘opacity’, which would allow for a much more positive and Glissantian reading of how the character is constructed.Google Scholar
  12. 8.
    Monénembo, Pelourinho, 149.Google Scholar
  13. 9.
    Ibid., 32.Google Scholar
  14. 10.
    Glissant, Traite du Tout-Monde, 35.Google Scholar
  15. 11.
    Idem.; added emphasis.Google Scholar
  16. 12.
    Glissant, Traite du Tout-Monde, 21.Google Scholar
  17. 13.
    For an excellent critical examination of the political and intellectual history of Afrocentrism, see Stephen Howe, Afrocentrism: Mythical Pasts and Imagined Homes (London: Verso, 1998).Google Scholar
  18. 14.
    Monénembo, Pelourinho, 150.Google Scholar
  19. 15.
    Aimé Césaire, Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (Paris: Bordas, 1947).Google Scholar
  20. 16.
    For example, the dossier on Monénembo published in Notre Librairie in 1996 uses precisely this citation in a page presenting the dossier, reading it as ‘lignes pleines d’espérance’ [lines full of hope]: see ‘Dossier auteur: Tierno Monénembo’, Notre Librairie, no. 126 (1996), 81.Google Scholar
  21. 17.
    Glissant, Introduction à une poétique du divers, 59; original emphasis.Google Scholar
  22. 18.
    This deployment of a narrative voice inured to and perhaps desensitised by trauma is perhaps best exemplified by Faustin Nsenghimana’s account of the Rwandan genocide in Monénembo’s L’Aîne des orphelins (Paris: Seuil, 2000).Google Scholar
  23. 19.
    Quoted in Noémie Auzas, Tierno Monénembo: Une écriture de l’instable (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2004), 14.Google Scholar
  24. 20.
    Monénembo, Pelourinho, 65.Google Scholar
  25. 21.
    Ibid., 67.Google Scholar
  26. 22.
    Ibid., 145.Google Scholar
  27. 23.
    Ibid., 150.Google Scholar
  28. 24.
    Ibid., 101.Google Scholar
  29. 25.
    Ibid., 65.Google Scholar
  30. 26.
    Ibid., 59.Google Scholar
  31. 27.
    Ibid., 63.Google Scholar
  32. 28.
  33. 29.
    Monénembo, Pelourinho, 96.Google Scholar
  34. 30.
  35. 31.
    See Auzas, Tierno Monénembo, 14.Google Scholar
  36. 32.
    Howe, Afrocentrism, 110 and 13, respectively.Google Scholar
  37. 33.
    Monénembo, Pelourinho, 80.Google Scholar
  38. 34.
    Ibid., 165.Google Scholar
  39. 35.
    Glissant, Traité du Tout-Monde, 21.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Board of Transatlantic Studies 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of French, School of Modern Languages and LinguisticsUniversity of Sheffield, Jessop WestSheffieldUK

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