Quebec Studies

Paratactics: Marie-Claire Blais's Feminist Praxis in Soifs

Quebec Studies (2011), 52, (1), 123–136.

Abstract

123 Paratactics: Marie-Claire Blais's Feminist Praxis in Soifs Myra Bloom University of Toronto La féminité dans l'écriture je la sens passer d'abord par: un pri­ vilège de la voix: écriture et voix se tressent, se trament et s'échan­ gent, continuité de l'écriture/rythme de la voix, se coupent le souffle, font haleter le texte ou le composent de suspens, de silences, l'aphonisent ou le déchirent de cris. — Hélène Cixous, "Sorties" Marie-Claire Blais's novel Soife, with its atypical diegetic and linguistic structures, is a good example of a feminist literary praxis.1 The plot re­ volves around a group of characters loosely associated by their cohabita­ tion of a Caribbean island. Many are directly or obliquely involved in a three-day party planned to mark the birth of Vincent, whose asthmatic breathing punctuates the narrative; others have assembled to say goodbye to their friend Jacques, rapidly losing his battle with AIDS. Although not all the characters know each other, they are connected for the reader not only by thematic commonalities, but also literally by means of a writing that syntactically blends their storylines. Blais's main stylistic device is parataxis, "a coordinate ranging of clauses, phrases, or words one after another without coordinating connectives" (Webster's in Hayles 394). By placing textual elements side by side without obeying the traditional or­ dering constraints of the hypotactic sentence (subject — verb — object), the author is able to portray a world influenced by poetic rhythm rather than strict contiguity in time and space. This technique was famously explored by Modernist writers such as Joyce, Faulkner, and Virginia Woolf, whom Biais cites in the novel's epigraph, and to whom she is avowedly indebted (Ricouart "Poète," 28). Paratactic writing presents particular challenges; in her Précis des figures de style, Christine Klein-Lataud states that it enjoins the reader to par­ ticipate in the creative process by working to make sense of disconnected semantic units. Parataxis can accordingly be regarded as a generative tex­ tual strategy, which not only breaks down entrenched literary convention but furthermore compels the reader to work to understand the text. Some theorists such as Josephine Donovan have accordingly embraced parataxis as a means of breaking with the conventions of hegemonic, goal-oriented, phallogocentric, discourse, and drawing the reader into a different form of experience (85-94). Others, however, have noted a sinister alliance between parataxis and the forms of late capitalism; Bob Perelman went so far as to label it "the dominant mode of postindustrial experience" (313). According to his view, parataxis represents the modality par excellence of a generation swamped by advertisements, sound bites, and fragments of dislocated in­ formation. It is the grammatical denotation for what post-structuralists Québec Studies, Volume 52, Fall 201 I/Winter 2012

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Bloom, Myra