Multiculturalism and Postmodern Theater: Staging Quebec's Otherness

Article excerpt

Over the last thirty years, Quebec has experienced massive social change in the course of its modernization. A fundamental aspect of this social change has been the diminishing ethnic homogeneity of the population. The more that demographers, statisticians and sociologists began to document the decline in the birthrate among French Canadians in the 1960s, the more it became obvious that immigrants would play a major role in determining the province's future. In response to this reality, the Quebec government adopted policies to assume more control over immigration, assimilation patterns and development of the various cultural communities.[1] The government's official politique culturelle envisioned Quebec as a multicultural francophone society in which there would be different ways to be Quebecois. As politicians and intellectuals debated the rapidly changing cultural identity of Quebec, literary scholars also took notice of the growing number of ethnic writers whose texts explored the experience of otherness.[2] In the process, however, theorists equally began to consider the extent to which the immigrant experience should be regarded as part of the postmodern mentality in general.

According to Sherry Simon, for example, the representation of foreignness, of ethnicity, is a feature of modernity: "l'ecriture de la modernite est celle qui se maintient dans un espace entre identites, dans un espace horsidentitaire. Ce ne sont pas les regimes d'appartenance, mais les espaces de l'exil, reel ou imaginaire qu'expriment les grandes oeuvres de la modernite" -- "the writing of modernity is that which sustains itself in a space between identities, in a space outside the identitary. It is not states of belonging, but spaces of exile, real or imaginary, that are signified by the great works of modernity" ("Espaces" 14).[3] Similarly, Michael M. J. Fischer, in his essay on ethnic autobiography in the United States, defines ethnic writing as a kind of postmodern cultural critique which is bifocal, inter-referential, able to switch linguistic codes and explore the multiple realities of pluralistic, post-industrial society (195, 218, 230). According to Fischer, ethnic memory establishes links of continuity with the past -- often by returning to the country of origin -- without losing its main orientation toward the future (201, 206). The ethnic writer, breaking the silence of the parents' generation, finds a voice in social discourse that is no longer identitary. In Le Roman memoriel, Regine Robin also insists that ethnicity is a question of memory -- of multiple and fragmented memories (see Simon, "Espaces" 39). Simon elaborates Robin's remarks by saying, "C'est seulement quand elle devient une problematique de la fragmentation, de la multiplicite des memoires et des traces que l'ethniciti peut agir de maniere feconde dans la critique litteraire, c'est-a-dire quand elle rejoint l'ensemble des soupcons qui entourent aujourd'hui l'identite culturelle et qui font de la culture un champ conflictuel du discours, d'interets et d'allegeances" -- "It is only when it becomes a problematic of fragmentation, of the multiplicity of memories and traces, that ethnicity can enrich literary criticism, that is to say when it joins with all the suspicions that surround cultural identity today and make culture a contested area of discourse, interests and allegiances ("Espaces" 48).

According to Pierre Nepveu, in his analysis of the contribution of l'ecriture migrante (writing by immigrants or the children of immigrants) to what he calls post-Quebecois literature, the (im)migrant writer is divided between the memory of ailleurs -- an elsewhere (the country of origin) which fills him or her with a nostalgia devoid of the possibility of return -- and ici, a present place (Quebec) experienced as disorder (203-08). Marked by cosmopolitanism, hybridity, cultural and linguistic mixing, l'ecriture migrante describes the experience of displacement and loss (203, 210). …