Writing Heartlands and Nicole Brossard's Hier1

Article excerpt

In recent years, Quebec's 'regions' have registered their presence more fully in the public consciousness, in response to issues such as economic variation across the province and growing ethnic diversity outside of Montreal. This article is part of a larger project on a consideration of literary representations of the province's secondary cities, towns and villages, which seeks to problematise the relegation of these as secondary to an urban, specifically Montreal-based canon. It looks at how Nicole Brossard's novel, Hier (2001) mobilises particular cultural associations with Quebec City to constitute this as a space of feminine and lesbian desire. In so doing, it plays on the connotations of the term 'heartland' to think about how various mappings of affect or emotion contribute to our experiencing of space and place.

I'm looking through the layers of my memory. Having decided to have one last stay in Montreal, I had more or less escaped the life I'd been brought up to have: husband, children, a stable banality. I was so tired when I got on the plane that I fell asleep before take-off. When we approached the city, my neighbour and I looked at the River, just to reassure ourselves that it was still there. The Saint Lawrence, that 'obsessive presence' as Nicole Brossard describes it (Baroque at Dawn, trans. Patricia Claxton [1997], 45), ran grey through the window, traces of ice scattered here and there on the immense surface of the water. (Morgan 2007-8)

This article comes out of a project entitled Heartlands/Pays du coeur, which looks at representations of places outside of Montreal in contemporary Québécois fiction. The Quiet Revolution symbolically relegated many of these to a collective cultural oblivion while, somewhat paradoxically, also rendering them the repository of an 'authentic' communal memory that could not be preserved within the resolutely modern space of the city. In more recent years, these places have registered their presence in the public consciousness. The 2007 provincial election and the Consultation Commission on Accommodation Practices Related to Cultural Differences (2007-8) are two events which have prompted a renewed focus on Québec's 'regions'. The optimism that characterised the run-up to the 2007 election due to opinion polls repeatedly forecasting a return to power for the Parti québécois soon dissipated in the wake of support for Mario Dumont's 'right wing populist' (Jones 2007) Action démocratique du Québec, which briefly became official opposition to a weak Liberal minority government.2 The Commission, which carried out seventeen public hearings across the province during the autumn and winter of 2007, was prompted by a number of tensions around the integration of immigrants. Although, as Comissioners Gérard Bouchard and Charles Taylor and others point out, many accommodations of cultural difference are carried out at the scale of the individual in everyday life (Germain forthcoming), the media storm around the Commission seemed to highlight deep fractures within Quebec society. Watching some of the coverage of the public hearings on television at the time, what was striking was the degree of apparent ethnic diversity of places like Sept-Îles. The Report predicts that this is likely to grow in the foreseeable future (Bouchard and Taylor 2008: 10). This represents a challenge to dominant 'cognitive mapping[s]' (Jameson 1988: 347) of the province, which figure Montreal's mixité as a contrast to the supposedly homogeneous white francophone communities along the Saint Lawrence River.

The project aims to contribute to a new consideration of Quebec's secondary cities and regions as living communities that are experiencing significant social change at the same time as it examines the ways in which these contribute to the cultural memory of Quebeckers. Whilst the term 'heartland' is usually used to refer to the rural, or else to places where there is a strength of feeling, such as nationalist sentiment, I also use it to think about the mapping of affect. …