Quebec Studies

Despair as Oppositional Practice: Writing the Minority Within Québec's English Minority

Quebec Studies (2007), 44, (1), 65–70.

Abstract

65 Despair as Oppositional Practice: Writing the Minority Within Quebec's English Minority Robert Majzels University of Calgary1 Writing in Canada, not to mention Québec, is in crisis. And not only from a commercial point of view. In spite of, and in some ways because of long­ standing if minimal government support and a period of commercial and critical success extending, for a few well-packaged authors, to the interna­ tional market, the critical, aesthetic, social, and political edge of literature in this country has gradually been worn smooth and dull. I do not mean to say that there are not a number of individuals and even small groups of writers doing important work to expand the possibil­ ities of language, to slip free of the bounds of convention, to critically chal­ lenge the status quo; simply, that these traditionally marginalized elements are now working in increasingly difficult circumstances and their marginalization is greater than it has been for several decades. Because their writing practice goes largely unrecognized, in addition to worrying about supporting themselves, these few writers are confronted with the attendant doubts about the value of their work. Whereas I admit the distinct possi­ bility that history will judge my work as simply not worthy of support, in the interim I have little choice but to proceed as though my difficulties are the result of my political and aesthetic convictions. The situation is not so different in Québec. Where once literature was synonymous with iconic figures of rebellion like Gauvreau, Aquin, Bras­ sard, and Biais, we are now into the era of Cirque du Soleil. Culture has become an exportable commodity. The Quiet Revolution has gradually been muted to a whisper. At the same time, and the two are closely connected, both Canadian and Québec societies as a whole have drifted into a state of bourgeois com­ placency and a self-interested support for the murderous world-wide racist crusade of American imperialism. As we sit together in polite conversation within the polished halls of McGill University, historic bastion of English domination in Québec, Canadian mercenary troops are engaged in killing Afghan women, children, and freedom fighters. In the growing interna­ tional polarization, Canadians and Québécois seem happy to side with the powerful, to follow in the wake of the US armies and collect the scraps on the battlefield.2 The loss of creative literary power, I mean the power to move lan­ guage and one's own thinking through a writing practice, is manifest in many forms. Mainstream fiction, content to tell stories of individual tri­ umph that define happiness as a slice of the pie, aspires to be good bedtime reading — calming, reassuring, soporific.3 Most poetry offers itself as deco­ ration, tiny moments of gratification, reaffirming the illusion of solid sub­ jectivity and prettifying the status quo. Canadian stages are sagging under Québec Studies, Volume 44, Winter 2007/Spring 2008

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Majzels, Robert