Quebec Studies

Mrs. Beckett's Old Steamer Trunk

Quebec Studies (2007), 44, (1), 89–94.

Abstract

89 Mrs. Beckett's Old Steamer Trunk Gail Scott Université de Montréal My home is the city state of Montreal, but a writer is a traveler. Like most, I keep moving, geographically, virtually, artistically; the question of dé/localisation or displacement as an anglo-québecoise writer was a sub­ ject of passionate concern, along with the feminist question — because the two coincided in my experience — from the mid-eighties to the early nineties. Indeed, the impact of franco-québécois feminist writing on my own attempts to find a mode of expression, in my book of essays Spaces Like Stairs and my novel Heroine as well as in occasional publications of the period, produced, via these works, a kind of avant-garde moment in the English writing community that in turn influenced writers like Robert Majzels and Erin Mouré, or so they have both told me privately. Strangely, there has been little public or critical acknowledgment of the fact that what greatly impacted interesting writing, during a time in the English commu­ nity, was, of all things, experimental francophone feminist writing. One does not leave behind one's early loves; they become part of one; mercifully, only part. It is interesting how consciousness focuses and refocuses with changing social, textual, personal, context (as I write the head­ lines have again swung to the environmental issue; young writers have started using words like "natural" and "authentic" again; the Québec citi­ zenship debate has been confronted with reasonable accommodation, and so on). If one's writerly modes and means keep changing, it is in the interest of staying focused on what seems to be the urgency of the moment. This is more of a formal matter than it may appear at first glance. How to write is always the question: I'm interested in issues, but those I have written about best, the means I have found to write about them, get subsumed into an ongoing interrogation of "method." Every novel is an exploration of method. I feel, like Walter Benjamin in the first of his "Theses on the Philo­ sophy of History," that there is a theologian or a magician under the table, directing the puppet making the chess moves (253). In other words, the out­ come of what I am writing at any time is unpredictable and not reducible to single issues, although the moves keep getting refined. She, the magician under the table is in touch with some other kind of knowing, knowing with arcane movements of language and shape, capable of embracing the com­ plex of currents that enter a single phrase, which currents, surfacing and synthesizing, are THE WORK of writing, are its unforeseeable itinerary. Of course, identity is part of the ongoing story — is it even possible to write without some minimal core identity? — but there are many identitary threads in the single human experience, so there seems no point in selecting one from the crowd, evermore. Conjunctural identities and rela­ tions get worked on as part of a larger picture until they become integrated formally in the moment of language itself. One word feels another word, as Québec Studies, Volume 44. Winter 2007/Spring 2008

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Scott, Gail