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Glissant and the Middle Passage: Philosophy, Beginning, Abyss is the result of many years of reflection on the human meaning of catastrophe. My own philosophical interest in this issue dates back to my graduate training in post-World War II Jewish philosophy – something I recount in a research statement on this site – and how thinkers like Paul Celan, Emmanuel Levinas, Claude Lanzmann, and others reckoned with the painful past. When I shifted my focus to philosophy in the Americas around 1998/1999, I kept this interest. Édouard Glissant’s work hold special place for me, for that reason alone. Poet, critic, and political actor, Glissant’s writings and activism centered on questions of representing the traumatic past from the outset of his writerly career. What does conquest mean to afro-Caribbean life? This is given complex treatment in Les Indes: Un champ d’iles, la terre inquiete and in his earliest critical poetics. How does the legacy of the Middle Passage and plantation slavery inform, in ways both melancholic and ecstatic, cultural production in the black Americas? This is Glissant’s constant preoccupation. And what does reflection on the traumatic origins of black life in the Americas have to say to how we think, create, and act in anti-, de-, and post-colonial milieux? This is how Glissant casts memory across what he calls, simply, tout-monde. This book of mine tries to tell a conceptual story about Glissant the philosopher, engaged with these three questions, and how his work reflects as some of the most profound and important thinking about philosophy’s foundational question: what does it mean to begin?

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 Glissant and the Middle Passage is the single most comprehensive and compelling treatment to date of the philosophical dimension of Édouard Glissant’s non-fiction. John E. Drabinski maps Glissant’s geography of reason in the mode of a postcolonial ‘intensification of qualities,’ summoning a philosophy of post-traumatic relationality that tracks the philosophical valences and aftershocks of the Middle Passage. Essential reading.  —Nick Nesbitt, Princeton University

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Glissant and the Middle Passage is an ingeniously cast light on Glissant’s remarkable philosophical proposition to the world from the Caribbean geography of reason. It critically shows how the singularity of a Caribbean mode of thought strikingly disrupts admitted stances on crucial philosophical precepts to fruitfully expand and broaden the realm of a philosophy that ordinarily centered its concerns and frames of reference around an established European worldview.  —Hanétha Vété-Congolo, Bowdoin College

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“John E. Drabinski has composed a work of exceptional depth that is yet fathomable, in remarkably beautiful prose, given the severity of the subject matter … On a subject that could for centuries find no purchase, the author has given to twenty-first century philosophy, of all fields, a treatment of the Middle Passage from a major Caribbean thinker with a rich, existential, deliberately non-reductionist description of the forced migration of African peoples. The work is nuanced and detailed, and provides several avenues forward in the continuation of his expedition into the complex waters of the Middle Passage. Within the grim history of forced migration and slavery lies a gentle, lyrical composition whose depth of inquiry yields beautiful truths, genuine struggles, and always, the possibility of moving from dislocation to connection, from the ocean’s abyss to the island’s shore.” – Al-Yasha Ilhaam Williams

Read full review at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

“This edifying study looks at the archipelagic thought of Édouard Glissant in fiction and criticism. Drabinski discusses Glissant as a reader of local thinkers (Fanon, Césaire, Senghor, Lamming, Chamoiseau, Peck, Walcott, et al.) in their deliberations on the Caribbean subjectivity facing the traumatic experience of the Middle Passage and slavery, against the trail of Atlantic thought (Heidegger, Levinas, Derrida, Lacan, Foucault, Deleuze, Guattari). Fleshing out the main intellectual itinerary that Glissant’s work establishes outside conventional Western confines, Drabinski highlights human experiences such as history, representation, memory, de/relocation, and specificities of the Caribbean islands. Against the claim of the irretrievability of memory, the author underscores the ambiguous centrality of the Middle Passage as a sign of loss and presence of memory…A must-read for anyone interested in modern theories of the Caribbeans.” – K. M. Kapanga

Read full short review from Choice