Quebec Studies

Modalities of Mourning: Lamentation and Traumatic Grief in the Theater of Normand Chaurette

Quebec Studies (2004), 37, (1), 63–78.

Abstract

63 Modalities of Mourning: Lamentation and Traumatic Grief in the Theater of Normand Chaurette Shawn Huffman Université du Québec à Montréal "Already madness has taken Half my soul under its wing, Giving me heady wine to drink, Into a dark valley beckoning. And I have come to terms with this: The battle's lost." — "Requiem" (Akhmatova 93) The theater of Normand Chaurette is suffused with signs of sorrow. From one of his earliest plays, Provincetown Playhouse, to his most recent, Le Petit Kachel, the Quebec author explores the rituals associated with death and grieving. In his work, culturally prescribed rites of mourning — the social regulation of personal loss — come unraveled in situations where the indi­ vidual is prevented from undertaking the "emotional work" associated with psychic healing. This breakdown is signaled in Chaurette's theater by an obsession with the rituals of mourning, and is expressed both through intertextuality, more precisely the repetition of theatrical or musical refer­ ence, and metatextuality, which multiplies levels of fiction in order to blur perceptions of reality. While most critics tend to view Chaurette's use of these techniques in the light of a postmodernist esthetic (David, Loffree, Riendeau), it is my contention that they are in fact symptomatic of his char­ acters' inability to absorb tragic loss. Intertextuality and metatextuality help create what Kristeva describes as the "passé qui ne passe pas" (70), a moment inscribed not within the postmodern, but rather within the posttraumatic. Indeed, the rituals devised by the playwright's characters come to determine the conditions of survival imposed by inconsolable sorrow and the individual's fundamental inability to comprehend violent loss. In addition, Chaurette's exploration of this inability is further complicated by the fact that in many of his plays the survivor does not suffer from events over which he has no control. In fact, it is often this self-same character who has initiated or participated in the traumatic event. In this article, I will focus then on the use of lamentation and the rep­ resentation of grief and memory in three plays by the Québécois dramatist: Provincetown Playhouse, Stabat Mater II, and Le Petit Kachel. While other plays representing traumatic grief could easily be added to this list, including, for example, Le Petit navire, or Fragments d'une lettre d'adieu lus par des géologues, those selected create a paradigm of sorrow against which Chaurette's use of lamentation and ritual may be understood as expressions of traumatic sur­ vival. I seek to show how the rituals of lamentation — the modalities of Québec Studies, Volume 37, Spring/Summer 2004

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Huffman, Shawn