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literature

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Brossard, Nicole (b. 1943)  

A feminist and a lesbian, Québécoise writer and editor Nicole Brossard creates texts that are radical in their approach to gender, sexuality, and literary convention.

Brossard's native Montréal figures in her work as a site of writing and renewal. She was born into a prestigious family that included a supreme court judge and into a repressive culture controlled by the Catholic Church. She credits her personal independence to a breech birth, to a family tradition of high ideals and liberal ideas, and to her suffragist paternal grandmother.

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The timely demise in 1959 of the conservative prime minister, Maurice Duplessis, was a liberating event for Québec and for Brossard. A philosopher at fifteen, she resembled the heroine of Mauve Desert (Le Désert mauve [1987]): "Very young, I was already crying over humanity. With every new year I could see it dissolving in hope and in violence."

After a fashionable high school in English-speaking Westmount, she worked two years as a secretary, which her family felt would secure her future. With her savings, she went to Europe and then to the Université de Montréal. There she met poets, artists, and political activists; she discovered Québécois literature, jazz, and journalism.

In 1965, she published her first volume of poetry and cofounded the experimental literary journal, La Barre Du Jour. In 1966, she married and published a second book of poems. With her husband, she demonstrated against the Vietnam War and for Québécois independence. After graduation from the University, she taught high school for two years, publishing her first work of fiction, Turn of a Pang (Sold-out [1973]), with a grant from the Canada Arts Council.

In 1972, she met a young gym teacher, Germaine, and the next summer they left for six weeks in Greece, where they became lovers. Seized with an unquenchable thirst for feminist texts, she also found herself pregnant. Her body and her thoughts were transformed simultaneously. By the time her daughter was born in 1974, Brossard was a radical feminist and a lesbian in love. The problem was how to reinvent her life so that it would correspond to her revised values and her desire.

As she later explained in an interview, she "would have to venture, body and soul, into a semantic field strewn with countless mines, some already exploded in the form of everyday sexism, others, even more terrifying, the buried mines of misogyny." Along with the terror was a surge of energy, a communal sense of urgency shared with women of many backgrounds, and a perception that "normal," heterosexual lives now seemed incongruous or even surreal.

A guiding spirit of a generation determined to be "resolutely modern," Brossard's unconventional praxis stood her in good stead as she addressed the problems of creating a space in language--the inherited system of codes and symbols--for a revised subjectivity and a refurbished imagination that could accommodate the desire of women.

Beginning with These Our Mothers or The Exploding Chapter (L'Amèr [1977]), she creates texts that are radical in their approach to gender and sexuality while continuing to transgress literary conventions. Initiating young girls to the male is like a "current practice of lobotomy," she observes. She reads the institution of motherhood as forced reproduction, stating she has "killed [her] womb." She declares war against heterosexist ideas and patriarchal institutions.

These Our Mothers is the first work she qualifies as "fiction theory." The next two volumes in her lesbian trilogy, Lovhers (Amantes) and Surfaces of Sense (Le Sens apparent [1980]), continue to deconstruct phallogocentrism and open a space for lesbian desire.

In 1978, Brossard met Marisa, the woman of her life, and celebrated her love in Lovhers and in Picture Theory (1982), her most ambitious work. Always an explorer, she uses figures that suggest the indeterminacy and multidimensionality of quantum physics and laser optics, vertigo, the spiral, cortex (corps-texte), the hologram, the horizon.

Picture Theory is Brossard's answer to Joyce and Wittgenstein. Here she raises epistemological questions in what she describes as her "desire to unravel the great patriarchal enigma," setting language adrift in an effort to capture the "subliminal" or "generic" woman. She uses holography to figure "mental space for a contemporary vision," working with "potential" forms to "conquer reality, make it plausible." Negotiating between fiction and reality, in Picture Theory she invents "border crossers, radical city dwellers"; her "synchronous women" will "modify the horizon," using "the science of energy."

The death of Brossard's father in 1982 occasioned an uncharacteristic anguish over her writing. She wrote poetry and pondered translation--issues raised by the dual-language, post-colonial context of Québec, by work with her translators, and by her collaboration with Daphne Marlatt.

Eventually, Mauve Desert resulted, representing the "postmodern condition," set in the "indescribable," hyperreal, and unforgiving Southwestern landscape with its bombs and fragile motels, where no window frames the blinding play of light.

Like Escher's hand drawing itself drawing, the text is a self-translation. The hyped-up young narrator criss-crosses the desert at breakneck speed in her mother's Meteor, trying to understand, to "bend reality toward the light," while the translator tries to slip between the words. Translation, like writing, opens up a quantum field of inquiry into words, syntax, grammar, and the production of meaning.

Brossard's fiction foregrounds writing and book-making, playing with typography, problematizing literary conventions, interfacing visual images, creating books within books. Like an explorer, she investigates "surfaces of meaning," black marks on the white page, sometimes figured as skin or screen.

She creates "virtual" texts that resemble holographic images, with narrative elements continuously displaced. Brossard's writing is fueled by a utopian energy that has its source in the lesbian body. Relieved of gravity (in both senses) the island-continent of lesbian desire has "aerial roots."

Brossard explodes generic boundaries, working as she does, in interrelated cycles of poetry, theory, and fiction. With modernist lesbian writers Gertrude Stein and Djuna Barnes as models, she combines a formalist approach to textuality with a feminist consciousness, working always "in the light of a woman's gaze."

Theoretical essays in The Aerial Letter (La Lettre aérienne [1985]) have engaged two generations of feminist readers. "Writing in the feminine" for Brossard taps into an erotic substratum that is necessarily creative despite the nightmares, a symbolic code that forces women to stutter, and the daily violence of women's lives. Although Woman, a projection of phallic desire and will to power, lies "suspended over our heads like a threat of extinction," to intervene through writing is to create an alternative reality. As she remarks in These Our Mothers, "To write I am a woman is full of consequences."

Alice A. Parker

     

    
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    Bibliography
   

Dupré, Louise. Stratégies du vertige. Trois poètes: Nicole Brossard, Madeleine Gagnon, France Théoret. Montreal: Remue-Ménage, 1989.

Forsyth, Louise. "Beyond the Myths and Fictions of Traditionalism and Nationalism: The Political in the Work of Nicole Brossard." Traditionalism, Nationalism and Feminism: Women Writers of Quebec. Paula Gilbert Lewis, ed. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1985. 157-172.

Godard, Barbara. "L'Amèr or the Exploding Chapter: Nicole Brossard at the Site of Feminist Deconstruction," Atlantis 9:2 (Spring 1984): 23-43.

Gould, Karen. Writing in the Feminine: Feminism and Experimental Writing in Quebec. Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990.

Parker, Alice. "The Mauve Horizon of Nicole Brossard." Quebec Studies 10 (Spring/Summer 1990): 107-119.

_____. "Nicole Brossard: A Differential Equation of Lesbian Love." Lesbian Texts and Contexts: Radical Revisions. Karla Jay and Joanne Glasgow, eds. New York: New York University Press, 1990. 304-329.

Servin, Henri. "Le Désert mauve de Nicole Brossard ou l'indicible référent." Quebec Studies 13 (Fall 1991 / Winter 1992): 55-63.

Traces: Ecriture de Nicole Brossard. Colloquium Proceedings. La Nouvelle Barre du jour 118-119 (September 1982).

Weir, Lorraine. "From Picture to Hologram: Nicole Brossard's Grammar of Utopia." A Mazing Space: Writing Canadian Women Writing. Shirley Neuman and Smaro Kamboureli, eds. Edmonton: Longspoon/NeWest, 1986.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Parker, Alice A.  
    Entry Title: Brossard, Nicole  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated March 3, 2004  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/brossard_n.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  
 

 

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