Michael Dash passes away

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Michael Dash, professor of Francophone literature in the Departments of French and Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University, and known  for his work on Martinican writer Édouard Glissant, passed away on the morning of June 2 in New York City. I first met him when I was a graduate student and he a young UWI professor, and his example of diligent, insightful and committed scholarship has guided my own career. He will be sorely missed. 

Born in Trinidad, Prof. Dash began his career at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, and wrote extensively on Haitian and French Caribbean literature. His books include Culture and Customs of Haiti (2001), The Other America: Caribbean Literature in a New World Context (1998), Haiti and the United States (1997), Literature and Ideology in Haiti: 1915-1961 (1981), and Jacques Stephen Alexis (Black Images, 1975). He was also the co-editor of Libète: A Haiti Anthology (1999) and the translator of Edouard Glissant’s Monsieur Toussaint: A Play (2005) and Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays (1989).

In 2012, he spoke to The Public Archive about Glissant’s legacy, with which he is especially connected in the United States:
You were a close friend and translator of the late Edouard Glissant.  What is his enduring legacy – as a person and as an artist?

I remember reading recently that prophets are often defined by what they are not. I am not saying that Edouard Glissant was a prophet but he does represent an intellectual watershed in the Caribbean intellectual landscape. For the time being though, there is a tendency to regret what he was not. There has been a rash of criticism aimed at what critics call “the late Glissant” who is seen as blindly following Deleuzean nomadology in his apolitical celebration of global creolization.  Even his defenders have tried to construct him as a “warrior of the imaginary” or pointed to the various political pamphlets written with Chamoiseau before his death.  I think in both cases, critics are still haunted by the example of Frantz Fanon as a model for Caribbean writing. Glissant had never felt that literature should be put in the service of political causes – certainly not in a narrow, utilitarian way. He began writing at a time when a decolonized world heralded by politically committed writing was coming into being.  These new nation states were flawed and there but there was no way of imagining alternatives.  This was where literature as a new mode of cognition came in.  As I have written elsewhere, Glissant, from the outset, proposed that writers and thinkers should be approached and frequented like towns.  He said this about Faulkner and later about the figure of Toussaint Louverture.  I think his thought should be approached in this way – an urban space of diversity, open to all and facilitating various intellectual itineraries.  Perhaps, in accordance with the creole saying quoted in one of the epigraphs of Caribbean Discourse, “An neg se an siec” ( a black man is a century), the Glissantian century has only just begun.

 

6 thoughts on “Michael Dash passes away

  1. Professor Dash headed up the Department of Modern Languages at the University of the West Indies (Mona) during my time there. I was inspired by his mental acuity and touched by his kindness. He saw my linguistic talent and gave me the opportunity to bring it (back) to life and make something of it, after I had very nearly wrecked my academic life.

    I had not seen or heard of him for years. Just over a month ago I dreamt he died and having googled his name, I was happy to learn he was still alive. This news comes as a bit of a shock, then.

    What can I say now? This: he inspired, me, he helped to nurture my academic talents. I looked up to him as a teenage student. Much older now, I still have high regard for him – and always will. He, in some positive ways, contributed to who I am today. And in this regard, at least, he has left rays of sunlight and touches of his brilliance in this somewhat sadder world.

  2. I will remember Professor Dash fondly – he was a compassionate and enthusiastic teacher and it was obvious by how great of a professor he was that he loved his work. He will be missed.

  3. Strange to be reading this in New York where I’ve been living for six years, not knowing my former professor from UWI was here too. I would have looked him up if only to thank him for a thorough grounding in literary criticism and helping me to appreciate and better understand the forces at work in the Caribbean psyche and playing out in our literature across all our inherited languages. It would have been a treat to share with him how those same threads are still evident even now in non-literary texts on the world’s biggest stage yet where I play my lowly bit-part right here in New York. He will be greatly missed. I’m thankful to have been a student of his.

  4. I was a student at UWI Mona in the Faculty of Arts, during Prof. Dash’s time there, but he never taught me, which, I have been led to believe is my loss. Nevertheless, he always struck me as a kind, erudite man with a great sense of humour, and I only heard good things from people I know who were his students. My condolences to his family and to his former students at UWI and those in the US.

  5. Prof dash was my student at st George’s college in Trinidad where I taught briefly after a levels .I met him at Trinidad carnivals and was pleased to learn of his achievements in French literature. I just heard of his passing at 69 uwi class reunion in mona may his soul rest in God’s mercy

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