Memory and Resistance
- Lorena Gale (Author)
Je me souviens: Memories of an expatriate Anglophone Montréalaise Québécoise exiled in Canada. Talonbooks (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Adele Holoch
In the opening scene of Lorena Gale’s autobiographical performance essay, Gale is seated in a café in Vancouver, reminiscing in English with an old friend from Montreal. As she laments the ways in which her native city has changed, Gale is interrupted by a Francophone Québécois who has been listening to her conversation. “You don’t say nutting. Tu n’as pas le droit!” he tells her. Gale replies, “Je suis née à Montréal. Et j’ai le droit à parler”; as a black Anglophone, she has been defending her right to her Quebecoise identity all her life. Je me souviens is, in part, an illustration of Gale’s struggles, in her double “otherness,” to claim that identity; it is also an effort to preserve a place that was, for Gale, sometimes comfortable, sometimes painful, and always home. Evocative and profoundly personal, the play is a compelling account of what it is to be both “other” and Québécois.
In her introduction to Je me souviens, Gale writes that the work began as “the articulation of personal memory as political resistance”—specifically, resistance against Jacques Parizeau, who famously blamed the defeat of the 1995 referendum for Quebec’s sovereignty on “money and the ethnic vote.” But Gale, a writer, director, and actress, soon found the text evolving. What began as “an essay, a rebuttal, a scathing criticism of Mr. Parizeau” became foremost an homage to Gale’s memories and her home. Her memories, she writes in her introduction, “are mine. They make me who I am. They can not be negated or denied. It doesn’t matter what Parizeau or anybody thinks. Montreal was and always will be my home. I have a living history to prove it.”
A 75-minute monologue first produced by the Firehall Arts Centre in Vancouver in January 2000, Je me souviens strives to situate its audience within Gale’s experience of that history not only through spoken language, but also through projected images and recorded sounds. As Gale speaks, photographs of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination and of the “angry, intense and despairing faces of black people” loom on a large white projection screen. Strains of song—“This Land is your Land, This Land is my Land,” “Mon Pays”—and other recordings, such as “soundscape[s] of voices,” play in the background. For audience members, the effect can be both evocative and jarring, as the original production’s director, John Cooper, notes in his foreword to the text: as Lorena was alienated as a black Anglophone child, the “jump-cut style from scene to scene and form to form, supported by extreme shifts in sound, image, colour and intensity, creates a similar alienating effect in the viewer, heightening our visceral understanding of each relationship.” For readers of the text, the experience of Gale’s memories is more partial; Je me souviens’ multisensory elements do not transfer easily to the page.
But even in its limited textual form, Je me souviens is a significant achievement: through its articulation of Gale’s experiences, it stands as an effective illustration of the ways in which individuals are affected by the larger questions of Quebec’s collective identity. The performance traces Gale’s childhood through her family’s move from Montreal to Outremont, where, though they identify as more authentically Québécois than their immigrant neighbors, they are told they don’t belong. Gale’s stage directions note: “We hear the sound of ‘Go back where you came from’ being spoken in different languages.” It also chronicles Gale’s efforts to assimilate to that hostile culture, dancing Scottish, Jewish, Greek, and Chinese jigs and declaring, “‘Look Ma! I fit!’”. It details Gale’s love affair with a Francophone Québécois, the frustration of her Anglophone friends, who feel deserted and betrayed, and Gale’s own conflicted relationship with her native English tongue—“Massa’s tongue.”
Interspersed among Gale’s memories is a dream sequence written in French. In the sequence, Gale is alone and lost in a cold, snowy landscape awash in blinding white glare. Fearing she will die there, she begins to walk. As she walks, she sees a figure on the horizon; as she approaches, she realizes it is a woman. “Qui est cette femme qui défie les elements et ose revendiquer cet endroit pour elle-même?” Gale asks, then realizes the woman is Gale herself. The sequence is a powerful illustration of Gale’s process of establishing her claim to her culture, of discovering that her history and identity as a Québécois are fundamental aspects of who she is that can never be “legislated out of being.” This realization is itself a profound political statement—a powerful rebuke to those who have questioned Gale’s right to identify herself as Québécois.
Je me souviens is a valuable text for anyone interested in contemporary Quebec history or the ongoing struggle to establish and define Québécois identity, and would be an excellent resource for teaching Québécois culture in the classroom.
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MLA: Holoch, Adele. Memory and Resistance. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 18 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #193 (Summer 2007), Canada Reads. (pg. 159 - 160)
***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.