Quebec Studies

Siting Memory in Normand Beaupré's Le petit mangeur de fleurs

Quebec Studies (2012), 53, (1), 63–74.

Abstract

63 Siting Memory in Normand Beaupré's Le petit mangeur de fleurs Cynthia Lees University of Delaware Il faut mouiller la terre/Pour que la graine pousse. Alors, / Laissez-moi pleurer Dans le fleuve/De mon passé Où j'ai pris le chemin des émigrés Avec mes souvenirs/Comme compagnons — Normand Dubé During the last two decades of the twentieth century, much attention has been given to memory theory and memory studies. For instance, Pierre Nora's seven volume series Les lieux de mémoire (1984-1992) explores the memory sites (practices, places, and icons) that have contributed to French national identity and have shaped the cultural values and ideologies of the French nation. The act of remembering, according to Nora, promotes a col­ lective social identity and attempts to block the forgetting of a shared past. Simply put, collective memory perpetuates, in consciousness of course, symbolic and material sites; in so doing, it may unify communities and forge a kind of virtual cultural identity. Why virtual? Nora explains: "À la différence de tous les objets de l'histoire, les lieux de mémoire n'ont pas de referents dans la réalité" (xli). Without objective correlatives then, these realms of memory have function but not form, existing, according to Nora, as pure signs. As he puts it: "Ils sont à eux-mêmes leur propre réfèrent, signes qui ne renvoient qu'à soi" (xli). Nora's notions of the realms of memory are particularly applicable to efforts to reconstruct, either discur­ sively, visually, or kinesthetically, a distinctly Franco-American ethnic iden­ tity by writers and by visual and performance artists, most especially in the six New England states. In his introduction to Les lieux de mémoire, Nora explores the intersec­ tion of memory and history. He clearly distinguishes memory, an evolving phenomenon of the present that creates imaginative communities and bonds them together emotionally, from history, a representation of the past, one that intellectually analyzes and organizes empirical data. He explains: "Mémoire, histoire: loin d'être synonymes, nous prenons conscience que tout les oppose. La mémoire est la vie, toujours portée par des groupes vivants et à ce titre, elle est en évolution permanente, ouverte à la dialec­ tique du souvenir et de l'amnésie [...]. L'histoire est la reconstruction tou­ jours problématique et incomplète de ce qui n'est plus" (xix). Writers themselves, of course, reconfigure history — including, or excluding, for that matter, what proves useful to their text, just as historians read the lit­ erary production of any given era in order to discover, if possible, the ways Québec Studies, Volume 53, Spring/Summer 2012

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Lees, Cynthia