Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

The Body Politic and the Erotic Body: The (Male) Novel of the Quiet Revolution in Quebec

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

The Body Politic and the Erotic Body: The (Male) Novel of the Quiet Revolution in Quebec

Article excerpt

This article claims that the male novel of the Quiet Revolution in Quebec creates a spectacularly gendered world in which the body politic (as well as the cultural sphere as a whole: the writer, the novel and literary institutions) is defined as entirely male and the erotic body, which also becomes the raped and murdered body in many cases, as exclusively female. This focus on gendering and violence attempts to show the links between the two - that radical gendering is in itself a form of violence - and suggests that the nationalistic project, as least as set forth in fiction, is deeply compromised by its misogyny.

RECENT FEMINIST ANALYSIS HAS SHOWN HOW the body politic, that is the state and civil authority in its political reality and its symbolic manifestations, has been constructed across many Western cultures as a male sphere in which women are invisible or at best play a subordinate role. I will attempt to show in this article that male writers of the Quiet Revolution in Quebec shared that vision, creating a sharply polarised gender system in which not only the body politic, but also the cultural sphere, are defined as entirely male, while women represent the erotic body, which is frequently submitted to rape, mutilation and murder to serve the male characters' project of 'libération nationale'.

An article by Moira Gatens, 'Corporeal Representation in/and the Body Politic', usefully summarises the idea of the body politic as male.1 Beginning with Carole Pateman's demonstration that modern patriarchy rests on an 'original pact' (p. 2) between symbolic 'brothers' to control and dominate women and that the body fantasised as the 'body politic' (the analogy initially referred to the literal body of the male sovereign) is not gender-neutral but rather implicitly masculine,2 Gatens shows how men have created and maintain a 'semidivine political body' (p. 83), a homosocial social space in which both the individual and the group are fantasised as male. Admission to the sphere of 'liberté, égalité, fraternité' is refused to anyone 'who is not capable of miming its reason and its ethics, in its voice' (p. 85), with the result that our political vocabulary is reduced 'to one voice only: a voice that can speak of only one body, one reason, and one ethic' (p. 83). Women are defined as 'mere nature, mere corporality' and have 'no place in the semidivine political body except to serve it at its most basic and material level' (p. 83), that is as wives and mothers, sex objects and domestic help. Conversely, women who claim political rights are discredited by being 'animalized' - Gatens gives the famous example of Horace Walpole abusing Mary Wollstonecraft as 'a hyena in petticoats' (p. 84) - or labelled hysterical. Women's bodies, contributions, and voices are made invisible in order to maintain the fiction that it is possible to 'capture' and to 'contain' difference in a monument to unity (p. 88).

Gatens mentions in passing that the masculine image of fraternal unity and independence from women and nature has its roots in infantile anxieties surrounding maternal power. This point is worth pursuing in greater depth, since what many feminist theoreticians have called a common trait of male psychology - the need to dominate women in order to prove their manhood and free themselves from the all-powerful mother of childhood fantasy3 - takes a particularly deadly form in the Quebec context, where the reality of political and economic colonisation exacerbated men's feelings of powerlessness, lack of manhood, and dependence on women.4Diane Lamoureux, who also takes Pateman's work as her starting point, has studied Quebec nationalist political discourse, noting that recurring family metaphors, including that of men 'feminised' by colonisation and reduced to the status of powerless sons struggling in vain to become strong founding fathers, also conceptualise the political subject as male and conflate women, femininity and motherhood. …

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