Note: Quotes from Édouard Glissant’s Poetics of Relation (trans. Betsy Wing. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997; French original by Paris: Gallimard, 1990) are here put in conversation with fragments excerpted from my writings, some of which are from previous publications (with slight modifications), as indicated. The bold characters are mine

ELEMENTS - The elementary reconstitutes itself absolutely
“Exclusion is the rule in binary practice, whereas poetics aims for the space of difference—not exclusion but, rather where difference is realized in going beyond” (Édouard Glissant, 82)

What’s your name?

The woman breathes out in relief. She has just finished taking a stones journey with her inquirer and is now ready to give a reading of what she has seen. “You’re a dreamwalker… I see a large blue butterfly at your throat. A very large silvery blue butterfly slowly opening and closing. Your name appears to me repeatedly. I can still hear the sound but I can’t imitate it nor write it down. I got help from your guardian spirits and was simply told it was ‘Autumn Butterfly.’”

Autumn bathed in rich golden light
painted in colors that neither summer nor winter has ever seen
a season of letting things go with its swan song

The color is a futuristic light blue grey: not the result of a black and white métissage; not two in opposition or in juxtaposition, but a one-in-four where blue, grey, silver, and white (or a mixture of red, green, blue, and silver) come together.


To refuse the ready-made of packaged, specialized knowledge is to maintain open that relation to infinity within the finite. Politics as a dimension of one’s consciousness permeates our everyday, which turns out to be most difficult to “discover” because it is what we are, what we do, ordinarily. The everyday evades our grasp; we may try to tame it with order and control, and we tend to equate it with habit, but it allows no hold. It is where the familiar could turn out to be extra-ordinary. As the feminist struggle used to remind us, the personal is political. Not because everything personal is naturally political but because everything can be politicized down to the smallest details of our daily activities.

Each encounter is utterly bound to the elements that define it [and] the specificity of each encounter would dictate a different course for each film. Each film having its own field of energies, the unique form it takes on in the process remains non-predetermined. Here, form is a way of tuning in with the formless. (In conversation with Benjamin Schultz-Figueroa and Patricia Alvarez in Independent Female Filmmakers: A Chronicle through Interviews, Profiles, and Manifestos, ed. Michele Meek, New York & London: Routledge, 2019, 240-253)

PATHS - Out loud, to mark the split
“Creolization…is not merely an encounter, a shock (in Segalen’s sense) a métissage, but a new and original dimension allowing each person to be there and elsewhere, rooted and open, lost in the mountains and free beneath the sea, in harmony and in errantry” (EG, 34)

“When the very idea of territory becomes relative, nuances appear in the legitimacy of territorial possession” (EG, 15)

I am a stranger to myself and a stranger now in a strange land. There is no arcane territory to return to. For I am no more an “overseas” person in their land than in my own. Sometimes I see my country people as complete strangers. But their country is my country. In the adopted country, however, I can’t go on being an exile or an immigrant either. It’s not a tenable place to be. I feel at once in it and out of it. Out of the named exiled, migrant, hyphenated, split self. The margin of the center. The Asian in America. The fragment of Woman. The Third within the Second. Here too, Their country is my country. The source continues to travel. The predicament of crossing boundaries cannot be merely rejected or accepted. (From Elsewhere, Within Here. Immigration, Refugeeism and the Boundary Event, Routledge, 2011, 34)


Why follow only the vertical and its hierarchies when the oblique and the horizontal in their multiplicities are no less relevant and no less fascinating for the quest of truth and knowledge? Why not explore first and foremost how any theory or any writing speaks specifically to us—to our situated social and individual selves—from where we are, in our actualities, our cultural differences, our circumstantial positionings and diversely mediated background? How does a text engage and strike the reader? What layers in the investigation of self and other has opened up in her as she interacts with it in her reading journey? In this continuum where the past and the future happen in the present, one should be able to come in at any point and reverberate accordingly. (In conversation with Toroa Pohatu in Cinema Interval, Routledge, 1999, 188)

APPROACHES - One way ashore, a thousand channels
“A poetics of structure. The creator of a text is effaced, or rather, is done away with, to be revealed in the texture of his creation” (EG, 25)

Always start with water and earth
when sky and sea meet
and land lits up with the sunrays
turning sweet, tangy and juicy
the world goes round
blue blue like an orange

gushing over Paul Eluard’s line
“la terre est bleue comme une orange”


If you record a scene, or let’s say, the quality of light in the in the kitchen space of a house as I did in the film Naked Spaces: Living is Round, what you capture is the intensity of a sun beam that gives a feel of the dark interior, you are not merely showing “African” or “West African houses” even though the mode of lighting is characteristic of these houses. You are first seeing the “light” through the camera eye and also conveying with it, the experience as a visitor coming in from the blinding sunlit outside into a very dark inside and discovering as you move deeper inside these stunning shafts of light that define the hearth of a home. The whole trajectory shows, for example, what going inside towards the unknown requires; it is at once a physical and a spiritual journey—one in which, in order to see, the move from outside to inside demands that you go temporarily sightless. Here, reflexivity becomes all-inclusive: everything is interrelated and mutually reflexive. The way we make film, the way we engage people, the way we live our environment, and the way images, sound and text reflect each other, sometimes beyond our control. (In conversation with Kaori Nakasone and Mayumi Inoue in “The Shadow of The Real,” forthcoming in FAR-NEAR, ed. Lulu Gioiello)

APPROACHES - One way ashore, a thousand channels
Errantry, Exile
“Rhizomatic thought is the principle behind what I call the Poetics of Relation, in which each and every identity is extended through a relationship with the Other” (EG, 11)

Criticism is not a mere matter of judging or of pointing, from a safe place, at what is right and what is wrong. The finger pointing out is bound to point back in. In telling, one is told. The reflexive dimension of film practice, for example, could be extensive and indefinite. It is not a mere matter of self-criticism, for what is at stake could be much larger than the self and the human. In the politics of representation, it is not enough to come up with a narrative of self-location as a solution (by showing oneself on camera or by revealing one’s attributes, background, and conditions of research for example), just so as to give oneself the license to go on with the business of representing others as usual. This was how certain cultures’ observers conveniently reduce the question of reflexivity—to a question of fieldwork technique and method—in their attempts at “correcting” or “improving” their politics. (In conversation with Benjamin Schultz-Figueroa and Patricia Alvarez in Independent Female Filmmakers: A Chronicle through Interviews, Profiles, and Manifestos, ed. Michele Meek, Routledge, 2019, 240-253)


For me, what is called documentary could be a movement from outside in. You receive the world and what comes out in documenting is the way you take in the world. What is called fiction film could come from the inside out—the way you reach out to the world from the inside. Those two movements are in fact one—one multiplicity. Partaking in what has been called “reflexive cinema,” each film reflects on itself and refers to itself. The term is, however, prone to misunderstanding because “reflexive” is often thought of only as a focus on oneself. But the self can be small or very vast. With an empty or non-reductive self, for example, one can take in as many identities as there are encounters in one’s life. Rather than being bound to let’s say, Asian, Vietnamese, woman, or doctor, lawyer, scientist or artist, one could actually be skin, water, sea, tree, moonlight in the many realities one lives. Reflexive on all levels at once: between maker, viewer and viewed; between diverse elements of the cinematic fabric, so that the film in itself—its formation, constitution and composition—is reflexive. (In conversation with Kaori Nakasone and Mayumi Inoue in “The Shadow of The Real,” forthcoming in FAR-NEAR, ed. Lulu Gioiello)

ELEMENTS - The elementary reconstitutes itself absolutely
Closed Place, Open Word (EG, 63)

Far Away, From Home
The Comma Between
(From Elsewhere, Within Here, Routledge, 2011, 11)

APPROACHES - One way ashore, a thousand channels
“Relation informs not simply the relayed but also the relative and the related” (EG, 27)

What is new? There are no new objects so to speak; rather, there are new relations that one can draw from things, from the way people relate to one another, the way things communicate among themselves, and the way language reflects back on itself even when it is used to point to a reality outside itself.

What seems more important is how one puts oneself in relation, in the intervals of things, people, moments, and events, for example, so as to bring forth new forms of subjectivity and explore new relationships in their differences and multiplicities. (In conversation with Toroa Pohatu, Linda Tyler, Sarah Williams and Tessa Barringer in Cinema Interval, Routledge, 1999, 182-83)

APPROACHES - One way ashore, a thousand channels
“The poet’s word leads from periphery to periphery, and yes, it reproduces the track of circular nomadism: that is it makes every periphery into a center; furthermore, it abolishes the very notion of center and periphery” (EG, 29)

The story never really begins nor ends, even though there is a beginning and an end to every story, just as there is a beginning and an end to every teller. (From Woman Native Other, Indiana University Press, 1989, 1)


In color genetics, grey is at the center of humans’ sphere of colors. A human is grey in the midst of the chromatic world. And grey is composed at its core of multiplicities. Similarly, twilight, the in-between of endings and beginnings, or of two lights, two worlds, is a becoming-no-thing moment in which the play on the visible and the invisible creates a sense of intense ephemeral reality—or of life as no more no less than an interval between birth and death…

Taking women and the question of gender as departure point or as strategic position to question what tends to be taken for granted in relation to knowledge and power is not the same as legitimizing this in order to occupy and exclude. Being attentive, conscious, and aware, like being alive, cannot be retrieved nor prescribed for validation purposes. The challenge of emancipation knows no single time frame and no boundary. (In conversation with Rosa Reitsamer, D-Passage. The Digital Way, Duke University Press, 2013, 125; 134)

APPROACHES - One way ashore, a thousand channels
Errantry, Exile
“Most of the nations that gained freedom from colonization have tended to form around an idea of power—the totalitarian drive of a single unique root—rather than around a fundamental relationship with the Other. Nothing has ever more solidly opposed the thought of errantry than this period in human history when Western nations were established and then made their impact on the world” (EG, 14)

What one sees in an image tells of how one sees it. But those bound by a centralized narrative or message often resort to the authority of “facts” and what they see as history. Nothing is more reductive than a linear approach to history—the way people look at it chronologically according to the day, time and year when a political event happened in Okinawa for example, and take for granted that such a Westernized systemic ordering is the one and only way to process history. Whereas it is only one among the many possible threads to enter history, his story, histories. In challenging such a prevailing mode of historicizing reality so typical of modern rationale, it is necessary to work at expanding history in its rich, multi-layered affective dimensions.

History in certain indigenous cultures around the world, for example, could be predominantly cyclic. I myself think of history as a spiral—not necessary as a circle, although this also depends on how you understand the circle. The circle in modern rationale may be closed and repetitive, because you think you keep on coming back to the same. But with the spiral, you never return to the same. Even if you encounter similar situations, your starting point and your ending point could never be the same. The spiraling in and out is a form of constant growth. In that sense, the mobility we so value in our technological age could be drawn closer to this other mobility vital to ancient arts, which is very subtle and imperceptible to the “normal” eye. So that when you look at a tree or a mountain, it’s never unchanging, and you can draw the same mountain everyday and it’s never the same.

In ancient Eastern Asian painting, there’s no “nature morte.” Even when caught on paper, the subject is alive, inexhaustible, and the painter is usually also a poet and a musician. I am often asked whether I see myself as a writer or as a filmmaker, which makes me wonder, why such a need to choose, fix, and categorize? You can be more than one while being one. (In conversation with Kaori Nakasone and Mayumi Inoue in “The Shadow of The Real,” forthcoming in FAR-NEAR, ed. Lulu Gioiello)


In speaking nearby, rather than speaking about, one leaves the space of representation open so that at the same time as one is very close to one’s subject, one is also committed to not speaking on their behalf, in their place or on top of them. One can only speak nearby, in proximity, with or to (whether the other is physically present or absent), which requires that one deliberately suspends meaning, preventing it from merely closing and hence, leaving a gap in between in the formation process. This allows the other person to come in and fill in that space as they wish.

Such an approach gives freedom to both sides and this may account for it being taken up by filmmakers who recognize in it a strong ethical position. By not trying to assume a position of authority in relation to the other, one is actually freeing oneself from the endless criteria generated with such an all-knowing claim and its hierarchies in knowledge. While this freedom opens to many possibilities in positioning the voice of the film, it is also most demanding in its praxis. (In conversation with Erika Balsom in Frieze, No. 199, November-December, 2018, 136)

APPROACHES - One way ashore, a thousand channels
”Sometimes, by taking up the problems of the Other, it is possible to find oneself. Contemporary history provides several striking examples of this, among them Frantz Fanon, whose path led from Martinique to Algeria. That is very much the image of the rhizome, prompting the knowledge that identity is no longer completely within the root but also in Relation. Because the thought of errantry is also the thought of what is relative, the thing relayed as well as the thing related. The thought of errantry is a poetics…The tale of errantry is the tale of Relation” (EG, 18)

Every voyage is the unfolding of a poetic. The departure, the cross-over, the fall, the wandering, the discovery, the return, the transformation. If traveling perpetuates a discontinuous state of being, it also satisfies, despite the existential difficulties it often entails, one’s insatiable need for detours and displacements in postmodern culture. The complex experience of self and other (the all-other within me and without me) is bound to forms that belong but are neither subject to “home” nor to “abroad;” and it is through them and through cultural configurations they gather that the universe over there and over here can be named, accounted for, and becomes narrative. Travelers’ tales do not only bring the over there home, and the over here abroad. They do not only bring the far away within reach, but also contribute, as discussed, to challenging the home and abroad, dwelling and traveling dichotomy within specific actualities. (From Elsewhere, Within Here, Routledge, 2011, 40)


In homage to Franz Fanon, one can say there are three phases marking the struggle of the colonized and the marginalized. The first is that of assimilation—to survive, the dominated has to assimilate. The second is that of rejection—the younger generation often rejects with anger whatever their parents had assimilated, for example. The third phase, the most challenging one, is for me that of speaking ‘nearby,’ with, across and in between: it is the phase of struggle. (In conversation with Erika Balsom in Frieze, No. 199, November-December, 2018, 136)

POETICS - Beings, multiple infinite in subsistence
Poetics? Precisely this double thrust, being a theory that tries to conclude, a presence that concludes (presumes) nothing. Never one without the other. That is how the instant and duration comfort us.
Every poetics is a palliative for eternity (EG, 183)

On the one hand, s/he [the Traveler] develops a highly refined ear and eye for close readings, but remains oblivious to the landscape and the “built environment” which makes the traveler-seer’s activities possible and communicable. On the other hand, deliberate mis-seeing is necessitated to bring about a different form of seeing. When the look is “a three-way imperfection” developed between the subject observed, the subject observing and the tools for observation, the encounter is likely to resonate in strangely familiar and unpredictable ways. (From Elsewhere, Within Here, 42)

PATHS - Out loud, to mark the split
“Linguistic multiplicity protects ways of speaking, from the most extensive to the most fragile” (EG, 96)

Loss to language or forbidden from language? Sometimes events she sees smother her voice and leave her with no more than a few dislocated shreds of language. The words that remain are strangely hollow. Turned inside out, they lose substance; repeated without love, they resonate emptily. Or else, they dig in, they crack, they swallow themselves in an act of disappearance. Buried deep somewhere down the throat, perhaps further down in the belly of life, they lie still, entombed until…one day, without warning they rise again from the forbidden. Excuse me, I’m speaking. I’m trying to say something. I’m saying to unsay…and the journey continues.

PATHS - Out loud, to mark the split
“The possibility for each one at every moment to be both solidary and solitary there” (EG, 131)

In trying to tell something, a woman is told, shredding herself into opaque words while her voice dissolves on the walls of silence. Writing: a commitment of language. The web of her gestures, like all modes of writing, denotes a historical solidarity (on the understanding that her story remains inseparable from history). She has been warned of the risk she incurs by letting words run off the rails…[But] how many, already, have been condemned to premature deaths for having borrowed the master’s tools and thereby played into his hands? Solitude is a common prerequisite, even though this may only mean solitude in the immediate surroundings. Elsewhere, in every corner of the world, there exist women who, despite the threat of rejection, resolutely work toward the unlearning of institutionalized language, while staying alert to every deflection of their body compass needle. (From Woman Native Other, Indiana University Press, 1989, 80)