Quebec Studies

Memories of Urban Development: Michael Delisle's Dée

Quebec Studies (2005), 39, (1), 99–108.


99 Memories of Urban Development: Michael Delisle's Dée Patrick Coleman University of California, Los Angeles One of the many qualities of Michael Delisle's second novel, Dée, published in 2002 to laudatory reviews, is the way it invites us to rethink the relationship between literary and urban development in Quebec. According to the broad consensus of la sociocritique, the emergence of diversified and formally sophisticated novelistic worlds accompanied the rise of the modern city, in this case Montreal. The period of the roman du terroir, the vehicle of a traditionalist ideology aimed at maintaining a stable and homogeneous way of life grounded in rural tradition, was followed in and after World War II by the era of what critics have called "l'arrivée en ville."1 Novelists such as the Gabrielle Roy of Bonheur d'occasion confronted a more differentiated, urban environment. In the modern city, characterized by the coexistence, in visible proximity of people of varying classes and ethnicities, as well as, in the case of Montreal, of two institutionalized languages, the identity of any given individual is not immediately given but requires an active form of cultural "reading." This reading, in turn, is seen as the necessary, and in some historical narratives almost sufficient condition for the refinement of literary self-consciousness. This process of differentiation involves not only the way the world is represented within an individual work but the dynamic of literary production as a whole. Novels, for example, begin to be written in a wider range of genres and styles. Even when authors remain within a single cultural milieu or do not address the boundaries that divide one part of the city from another, such gestures become more evidently a matter of choice, or of deliberate denial, thereby adding another dimension of consciousness to the articulation of the work. More recently, postmodern thinking about plural or hybrid identities seems to take for granted that the deconstruction of urban space, the blurring of cultural boundaries by a more nomadic consciousness, goes hand in hand with a further liberation of literary expression, enhanced, in the case of Quebec particularly, by various forms of external or internal translation that expand the potential for personal expression. Michael Delisle's work questions this neatly progressive vision, both by the story it tells the way it tells it. Like his earlier, more experimental Fontainebleau, subtitled "fiction," his novel Dée it is centered on a "domaine" built in the early 1960s on the South Shore of Montreal, in an area recognizable as Ville Jacques-Cartier (now part of Longueuil). Called "Fontainebleau" in the work of that title and "Chantilly" in Dée, this domaine is one of those suburban subdivisions whose pretentious names contrast with their cheap construction and their desolate setting in a hastily cleared borderland between the city and the countryside. Far from embodying the economic dynamism of the postwar boom, the domaine is a kind of limbo, a non-

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Author details

Coleman, Patrick