Quebec Studies

Bearing Witness and Transmitting Memory in the Works of Marie-Célie Agnant

Quebec Studies (2005), 39, (1), 35–54.

Abstract

35 Bearing Witness and Transmitting Memory in the Works of Marie-Célie Agnant Patrice J. Proulx University of Nebraska, Omaha ... there should be no dead, silenced, forgotten foremothers among us, for it is they who provide us with a guide to a memory that will transform our forward motion. (Chancy, Searching for Safe Spaces 214) ... il voulut se faire voix, voix de tous ceux, qui, comme lui, se trouvaient posés sur un bout d'île comme des pierres sur la route, voix de tous ceux qui jamais n'émergeront de l'absence, et dont la disparition ne fera jamais partie des cataclysmes. (Agnant, "Le vieil homme" 41-42) The textualization of memory as it relates to an affirmation of origins and a reclaiming of voice has taken on a central role in the works of Marie-Célie Agnant, who was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and emigrated to Quebec in 1970 for political reasons. Themes of bearing witness and transmitting memory give shape to her texts, while concomitantly serving to underscore Agnant's commitment to exploring issues of individual and collective identity related to the legacy of colonialism. Her works can be situated within a fairly recent tradition of writing in Quebec that has been characterized as l'écriture migrante (writing in movement) by Robert Berrouët-Oriol and Robert Fournier.1 Although the literary texts emerging from Quebec's ethnic groups 2 are diverse in nature, they often articulate such issues related to the immigrant experience as exile, alienation, bicultural identities, hybridity, and migrant memory, both individual and collective. Certainly, as Mary Jean Green contends, literary figurations of memory constitute a recurrent motif in the texts of writers of immigrant origin: "the process of transmitting memory is foregrounded in the text and becomes an integral part of the story being told, intermingling memories of a familial or ethnic past with the experience of living in contemporary Quebec" ("Transcultural Identities" 19). These narratives have added a new dimension to the traditional Québécois literary corpus and, in a broader sense, to the definition of what it means to be Québécois.3 In the past three decades, members of the Haitian community in Quebec have produced a wide variety of literary texts, and writers such as Dany Laferrière, Emile Ollivier, Stanley Péan, Anthony Phelps, and Joël Des Rosiers have received a considerable amount of critical attention. It is worth noting that Agnant, one of only a few Haitian women writers in Quebec, has yet to receive the same level of media recognition as her male counterparts. Sylvie Bernier, while highlighting the primordial importance of bearing witness in Agnant's texts, draws attention to the issue of the rela- Québec Studies, Volume 39, Spring/Summer 2005

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Proulx, Patrice