Quebec Studies

Book Reviews

Quebec Studies (1990), 11, (1), 137–154.


BOOK REVIEWS LITERATURE ROBERT,LUCIE. L'înstitutkmduUttércareauQuébec. (Coll."ViedesLettres Québécoises.") Québec: Les Presses de l'Université Laval, 1989 Pp. 272. Lucie Robert, now professor at the Université du Québec à Montréal and managing editor of Voix et Images, has published an important study of how texts come to be "literary" in Québec. In her "Introduction," she explains her intellectual itinerary toward a conception of literary institution not as "apparatus" or "mediation," but as "un lent processus de revendication et de compromis qui prennent la forme d'organisations ponctuelles ou de normes contraignantes sans cesse remises en question et sans cesse transformées" (26). Her reexamination of pertinent theory in Marxist, deconstructionist, and sociological theory, brought her to rethink her ideas about literature and the concept of literariness ("le littéraire"). Part of Robert's point of departure was the work of Jacques Dubois {L'Institution de la littérature [Paris: Nathan, 1978]), but she did not slavishly take a meth­ odology based on the French situation to apply it to Quebec. Two major differences are, first, Dubois's focus on "littérature" and, second, his own reference to major theorists (Sartre, Barthes, Bourdieu, et al.) rather than to a widely based journalistic corpus of materials. Dubois stresses his focus on canonical works by appending analyses of Zola's Le Docteur Pascal, Mallarmé's Poe'sies, and Beckett's En attendant Godot. Robert's analysis bears principally on two types of discourse: the theoretical materials (Balibar, Bourdieu, Dubois, et al.) and a dossier of articles, interviews, and questionnaires concerning "la littérature ou sur la vie littéraire au Québec" (24). These were collected by the research team for the Dictionnaire des oeuvres littéraires du Québec at Université Laval. Robert selected three "textes fondateurs" (27) — "Loi sur le droit d'auteur" (1921), Rapport de la Commission Massey (La Commission royale d'enquête sur l'avancement des arts, lettres et sciences au Canada, 1951), and an article on FrenchCanadian literature by Professor Jeanne Lapointe, "Quelques apports positifs de notre littérature d'imagination" (Cité Libre, oct. 1954; 10:17-36) — as the organizing base for her L'Institution du littéraire au Québec. Authorial right is discussed in chapter I ("Fondations"). The Massey Commission Report and the ensuing debate constitute an important part of chapter II ("Questions de stratégie"). The debate provoked by Jeanne Lapointe's article and the critical responses by Félix-Antoine Savard and Pierre Gélinas are the central issue in chapter III ("L'illusion juridique"). This study of québécois discourse on what is "literary" has a precise and well documented socio-political context and it offers many historical insights into the development of both literary and paraliterary institutions. It is no surprise to learn that, until after World War II, the Catholic Church played a dominant role in the determination of what is literary. It is perhaps surprising that the publishing industry could develop at all with such a limited potential audience. World War II and the opportunity to publish major French authors who .would be read beyond the confines of Quebec provoked an important expansion of the book industry in Montreal, an expansion bound to bring depression to the book industry when France reassumed its dominance in the late forties. Literature traditionally crossed the ocean from Paris to Montreal but has rarely been transported from America to Paris. Robert traces the development of a reading public and of independent public opinion, in spite of the clergy's efforts to control what was read. She distinguishes and develops distinct concepts of "littérature," "droit d'auteur," and "culture nationale." A useful complement to L'Institution littéraire au Québec is the volume of essays edited by Maurice Lemire and Michel Lord, L'institution littéraire (Québec: Centre de Recherche en Littérature Québécoise, 1986), which includes a summary form of Robert's thesis, "Institution, forme institutionnelle et droit," Benoît Melançon's incisive "Théorie institutionnelle et littérature québécoise," and Denis Saint-Jacques's "L'envers de l'institution." It remains to complement the studies of discourse on literature and the literary with studies of paraliterary forms, apparatuses for governmental and commercial distribution of para/literature, publicity systems, book clubs, the organization and disorganization of criticism and censorship, and many other topics.

Access Token
If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here


Author details

Coates, Carrol