Quebec Studies

Making Women Pay: Revolution, Violence, Decolonizing Quebec in Hubert Aquin's Trou de mémoire

Quebec Studies (2000), 30, (1), 17–27.

Abstract

17 Making Women Pay: Revolution, Violence, Decolonizing Quebec in Hubert Aquin's Trou de mémoire By Katherine A. Roberts Bowling Green State University It seems that at some point in her career, the feminist critic of Quebec literature is compelled to study Hubert Aquin, and in particular, his controversial and often violent rapport with all things female. It is not an altogether pleasant moment, but it is definitely a fascinating and necessary step to a better under­ standing of 1960s Quebec revolutionary literature. Born in Montreal in 1929, Aquin is best known for his four complex modernist novels, Prochain épisode (1965), Trou de mémoire (1968), L'antiphonaire (1973), and Neige noire (1974), although he also influenced contemporary Quebec culture as a political activist, filmmaker, and editor. A brilliant and deeply tormented figure—he committed suicide in 1977—Aquin was perhaps the most important intellectual of his gen­ eration. He was without a doubt the Quebec writer to have experienced most intensely the French-Canadian male dilemma of the 1960s: that is to be both an "homme international," influenced by European aesthetic and political currents, and an "homme local," deeply committed to Quebec indépendance and to the promotion of Quebec culture. The treatment of women in Aquin's second novel, Trou de mémoire, pub­ lished in 1968, continues thirty years on to fascinate, provoke, disturb, and dis­ rupt a gendered reading of his work. The novel's main character, a revolutionary pharmacist-writer, Pierre X. Magnant, murders his English-Canadian lover and then writes in a vain attempt to fill with words the absence created by her death, an absence that becomes a metaphor for Quebec's erasure from history and its ambivalent relationship with English Canada. As Patricia Smart first stated in 1988, the entire novelistic universe of Hubert Aquin is "tendue vers la fusion mystique avec une femme-archétype qui s'identifie au pays, à la révolution et à la mort" (238). For Smart, "faire la révolution en littérature, était un projet de fils élevé contre la mère, c'était une 'virilité' à assumer contre et au dépens de la femme ... une naissance conçue comme rejet, refus et rempart contre la mère trop enveloppante" (239-40). Another leading feminist critic, Lori Saint-Martin, has analyzed this same desire for female annihilation in several important men's novels of the 1960s and 70s, including Trou de mémoire, in order to expose their inherent pornographic structure in which women are reduced to sex objects who in fact desire the treatment—read rape—that they receive (95,100-04). It is not my intention here to go over ground that has been so well covered by others but to suggest a different, yet related explanation for Hubert Aquin's revolutionary/sexual violence, one which has been only briefly touched upon by most critics in their quest to decipher the text's complex narrative structure. 1 I intend to show how Aquin's victimization of women stems from the sexual tropology that invariably accompanies the adoption of the (de)colonization par­ adigm. Borrowing heavily from such thinkers as Frantz Fanon, Albert Memmi, and Aimé Césaire, Aquin has adopted a pre-existing master narrative of sexual relationships in which the submissive position is already marked as female. Québec Studies, Volume 30, Fall/Winter 2000

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Roberts, Katherine