Review: The Fourth Century

The Fourth Century

Title: The Fourth Century
Author: Édouard Glissant
Translation: Betsy Wing.
ISBN: 0-8032-7083-6
Publisher: University of Nebraska Press, 2001

“All this wind…”

These are Papa Longoué’s first words in The Fourth Century by Édouard Glissant. The wind is a constant theme in the novel. It is a wind of enormous force, a hurricane which carries off his silent wife, Edmée, to her death. It is the wind of history, of our own histories which if not known blows us all to our deaths, asleep. The Fourth Century awakens the dead and gives them voice. This is the African descendants’ history of Martinique. A history not written, not examined, trivialized by the French colonialists who, as the conquerors, the ones in power, annihilate the people they must control by annihilating their languages and histories.

History is written by the dominant culture and is primarily concerned with the battles and victories of the most powerful and wealthy in that culture. The Fourth Century departs from that paradigm and presents the oral history of the African descendants’ experience as slave, as maroon, as freed men and women, as toilers in the soil, as individuals and families seeking meaning and life on the island, while never quite able to forget or remember the “infinite country” from which they were torn.

Glissant’s stream of consciousness approach creates a prose poem of a novel, beautiful from the beginning to the end. In many ways it is incomprehensible for the non-African, non-Martinican, but what is gleanable, what is knowable, is so worth knowing that what is unknowable can only be mourned, not ignored. To read Glissant is to begin to scratch the back of the mirror, to see through the slivers to another world.

My rating: 5.0 stars

The Experiment is Over

Democracy in America is dead. It is official.

Anti-Republican activists, correction–those suspected of being anti-Republican activists, in Minneapolis this week encountered police who aimed rifles at them. This was not even a crowd of protesters. Just people in a van. On the street. In Minneapolis.

While McCain is being annointed to assume the mantle of power, all semblance of democracy has fallen away. Freedom of speech and the right to peacefully assemble no longer exist in this country.

If we are not willing to fight then we should leave. If we do not love freedom enough to fight for it, then we should leave. If we do not believe in democracy enough to defend it, then we should leave.

Love it or leave it. Peace.

Myth Making & the Great American Cover-up

There is a yearning in America. Actually there are myriad yearnings. But I think they are all based in a yearning to be everybody’s best everything. Best form of government, democracy. Most powerful military. Best economic system, capitalism. Most powerful military. Best religion, christianity. Most powerful military. Most generous people. Most powerful military. Best athletes. Most powerful military. Best rocket scientist, one small step for mankind. . .Most powerful military. Richest nation. Most powerful military. Largest per capita prison populaton (in the first world–which is the only world). Most powerful military.

Losing at anything is a deep blow to Americans. It shakes the faith. Viet Nam shook the faith, but did not destroy the myth and the myth grew new stories to explain the problem. This is what Americans are really good at–myth creation. Is there a pesky reality we don’t want to acknowledge? Can’t bear to look at? Doesn’t fit in with our need to see ourselves as the best people on earth? We can cover that up. We can spin a tale to cover that up. We can make the bad things disappear.

Not always and not forever.

We think we’ve smoothed it out, covered it up and then someone lifts a corner, or the wind blows the wrong way or someone digs too deep and damn if something ugly doesn’t just pop up and hit us in the face.

We’ve been trying to re-imagine Viet Nam ever since the last planeload of Americans escaped the fall of Saigon and Ho Chi Minh City rose up behind them. We imagined that it was all Jane Fonda’s fault. If she hadn’t gone to Hanoi, America would have won. We imagined that it was the fault of all the peaceniks, of all the hippies and yippies. We could not imagine that the Vietnamese people won because they persevered, because they were fighting for freedom too long denied them, because they were fighting against colonialism and oppression. They took up with the communists because the communists were on their side. We couldn’t grasp that because democracy is best. It must be best. It’s our system.

So we had to say that we gave up too soon. We had to say the peaceniks broke the will of the people. We had to say the fault was with the media showing too much death and destruction. We buried the truth and taught our children lies.

This is the American way. It has always been the American way.

How we do revere those lovely pilgrims in their white bonnets and buckled shoes carrying bibles and muskets unfairly persecuted by the mean old English. There was that nasty little scene there with the witch trials. Sorry to keep bringing it up, but it really is important. The pilgrims were fleeing religious persecution so goes the myth. The English, whose general behavior I don’t mean to excuse, were appalled at the intolerance of these protestants. The pilgrims may not have employed the horrific torture tools of the inquisition, but their methods of persecuting those who did not profess their faith in a manner such that satisfied the elders were no less abominable. These were not nice people. They were cultish and they destroyed everything they did not understand.

They certainly did not understand the people who were there on the shores of this continent before them. These they did not consider people. Our pious forefathers and foremothers stole everything from the first people. Stole their food, stole their land, murdered their children, murdered their mothers, murdered their fathers and drove whomever remained away from the land which had been the home of their people for thousands of years. After the pious managed this they made many myths about the first people. Many of these were contradictory, but that didn’t stop the European Christians from spinning them and covering up those ugly moments, those pesky massacres.

Every day, we Americans perpetuate these myths in some form or another. At the heart of the myth is the need to believe that we have a right to be here on this continent pursuing our lives and our happiness, our American dream. We really have no legal right to be here on this stolen land. Every massacre and every broken treaty is a testament to our criminality. It is a monumental irony that we would call the descendants of the first people illegal immigrants, that we would call them criminals. For them there should be no borders.