Quebec Studies

Narrative, Memory, and Identity in François-Xavier Garneau's Histoire du Canada

Quebec Studies (2002), 34, (1), 31–46.

Abstract

31 Narrative, Memory, and Identity in François-Xavier Garneau's Histoire du Canada Lisa M. Gasbarrone Franklin and Marshall College D'Alembert.—Docteur, encore un mot, et je vous envoie à votre patient. A travers toutes les vicissitudes que je subis dans le cours de ma durée, n'ayant peut-être pas à présent une des molécules que j'apportai en naissant, comment suis-je resté moi pour les autres et pour moi? Bordeu.—Vous l'avez dit en rêvant. D'Alembert.—[...] Et l'animal, que disait-il? Bordeu.—Que c'était par la mémoire qu'il était lui pour les autres et pour lui... —Diderot, Le Rêve de d'Alembert Memory and its official counterpart, history, are never far from the center of any discussion of ethnic or national identity, and Quebec proves no excep­ tion to this rule. As even a glance at the pages of Quebec's virtual newspa­ pers and magazines confirms, narratives of memory and history frame the discussion either openly or implicitly. Through such narratives, people define who they are by positioning themselves in relation to history and, in a broader sense, in relation to time itself. People tell stories about their pasts to establish authenticity and claim legitimacy; they tell stories about their futures to articulate a sense of the destiny they hope to realize. Where iden­ tities are threatened, it is all the more crucial that a people tell stories of who they are, grounded in a sense of where they have been and directed towards where they hope to be. The stakes in such an effort are high. In the absence of storytelling, a people risks remaining outside of history, relegated by those who continue to develop their own national or ethnic narratives to the silence of anachronism or the dangerously timeless realm of myth. The debates on sovereignty (or more recently, citizenship) in Quebec illustrate the extent to which a sense of the past, as revealed in the telling of a people's memory and history, is vital to the formulation of that people's identity, to what Régine Robin has called "la reconquête identitaire." Many voices raised in Quebec today affirm, as did François-Xavier Garneau in his own time and idiom, the necessity of negotiating a secure relationship to the past—the importance, quite simply, of writing one's own history. A failure to do so, as we see time and again, may result in a loss of memory and the subsequent inability to sustain a sense of (collective) self over time. Though we in the West have tended to romanticize or even idealize peoples whom we place outside of the history we write—as Rousseau did the Caraïbes of the Second Discourse—this same history has clearly shown that life at its Québec Studies, Volume 34, Fall 2002/Winter 2003

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Gasbarrone, Lisa