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Cover of issue #219

Current Issue: #219 Contested Migrations (Winter 2013)

Canadian Literature’s Issue 219 (Winter 2013), Contested Migrations is now available! The issue features articles by Vinh Nguyen, Mariam Pirbhai, Rachel Bower, Maude Lapierre, J. I. Little, David Williams, and more.

Fine Feminist Workings

  • Louise H. Forsyth (Author)
    Nicole Brossard: Essays on Her Works. Guernica Editions (purchase at Amazon.ca)

Reviewed by Susan Rudy

Here, finally, is a collection of essays in English about the work of Québécoise lesbian feminist experimental poet, essayist, and novelist Nicole Brossard. To our great fortune, the eminent Brossard scholar, Louise Forsyth, not only edited the collection but also provides an engaged and engaging chapter-length essay by way of introduction as well as her translation of “Fragments of a Conversation” that she carried out with Brossard in February 2003. (A glance at the topics covered in that conversation, chosen by Brossard for their relevance for her today, gives some sense of the enormous range of Brossard’s inquiry: “Creativity,” “Writing,” “Literature,” “Poetry,” “le sens apparent,” “A Fetish Sentence,” “The Feminine Body,” “Characters,” “Connivance,” “Men of Interest,” “Montreal,” "Travels, Being Elsewhere,” “The body, Humanity, the Spiritual,” “Silence,” “The Present, Presence.”) In addition to Forsyth’s, the collection is chock full of superb essays by established Brossard scholars Barbara Godard, Louise Dupré, Susan Knutson, Alice Parker, and Karen McPherson. We also have essays by Susan Holbrook and Katharine Conley, who have each published previously on Brossard, as well as by the significant feminist scholars Claudine Potvin and Lynette Hunter who turn their considerable perceptiveness here to Brossard. The result is an extremely fine and wide-ranging set of essays on the work of Nicole Brossard.

It is perhaps not unusual that four of the ten essays should focus on what was, at the time the volume was being prepared, Brossard’s most recent published fiction: the novel Hier (2001), which appeared as Yesterday, at the Hotel Clarendon in 2005 in an excellent English translation by Susanne de Lotbinière-Harwood. Hier is the focus of essays by McPherson, Parker, Dupré and Potvin, who look closely at the novel in the context of considering, respectively, Brossard’s “Writing After Loss,” “Performativity in Hier,” “Novels on the Edge,” and “Flirting with the Museum Narrative.” 

Potvin also discusses Picture Theory and it is the focus of Conley’s essay “Moving into the Third Dimension.” Picture Theory is also a key text, along with Brossard’s 1988 essay “Mémoire: Hologramme du désir” (1988), for Knutson’s crucial argument that “Brossard stands in a relationship of consilience to the most powerful knowledge practices of our time,” by which she means “brain science, wave theory, mathematics, optics and computer science.” (Knutson provides a note explaining that the term “consilience” was first used by William Whewell in The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (1840): “Literally a ‘jumping together’ of knowledge by the linking of facts and fact-based theory across disciplines to create a common groundwork of explanation” (6).)

In “Our Last Chance for Silence,” recently completed PhD Catherine Campbell provides thoughtful reflections on Brossard’s shifting concerns about silence in a discussion of Mauve Desert and Baroque at Dawn while Susan Holbrook’s “Delirious Translations” includes additional discussion of Mauve Desert set usefully alongside the much less frequently discussed poetry chapbooks published in 1985 and 1986 as Mauve (by Nicole Brossard, translated by Daphne Marlatt) and Character (by Marlatt) / Jeu de letters (Brossard’s translation of Character).

Barbara Godard’s investigation of Brossard’s “Life (in) Writing” begins with Intimate Journal (1998), her translation of Journal Intime (1984) but incorporates vital contributions to our thinking about many of Brossard’s early and more recent texts, including These Our Mothers (Godard’s 1983 translation), She Would be the First Sentence of My Next Novel (1998), La lettre aérienne (1985), le sens apparent (1980), Baroque at Dawn (1997), and Mauve Desert (1990).

The last essay is by Lynette Hunter, whose extraordinarily productive discussion of Brossard’s critical essays in the context of the “inédit”—which she productively if unusually translates as the not-yet-said—provides a fitting closure to the book. As Hunter points out, “The unknown doesn’t just get said. It’s a laborious process of working on the words, a kind of training in engagement specific to each reader-writer relationship, that is coincident with the engagement itself.” Hunter reminds us to “take up the invitation to work on articulation” that is always available in texts by Nicole Brossard. And after reading these essays, we want to do so. That itself is a mark of the success of the collection.

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MLA: Forsyth, Louise H and Rudy, Susan. Fine Feminist Workings. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 22 July 2014.

This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #204 (Spring 2010), 50th Anniversary Interventions. (pg. 178 - 179)

***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.

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