Thursday, February 22, 2018

Lit Matters: Nicolle Brossard on making sense out of reality

January 20, 2016 by Keagan Hawthorne, contributing writer

“Before I became a feminist, I suppose I was an angel, a poet, a revolutionary,” wrote Nicolle Brossard, a Quebec poet, novelist, and essayist who has written more than 30 books since she began publishing in the 1960s. Along with numerous other awards she’s won, she’s taken home the Governor General’s Award for poetry twice, and she is a titaness of Quebec’s intellectual scene.

Known for the fierce and independent spirit that she applies to everything she does, Brossard is a feminist crusader, literary evangelist, lesbian advocate, and avant-garde publisher and anthologist. As a public intellectual, she engages, and clashes, with ideas of patriarchy and a social narrative that oppresses and constrains women.

But it is in the realm of literature (what she calls “that space propitious for the imagination, for dreams, for interrogating the world”) that she does her most important work.

In her novel Yesterday, at the Hotel Clarendon, Brossard follows the intertwining lives of four women whose stories converge on a single night. The novel is full of lyrical, highly poetic turns of phrase, though the complex language is not for the literary faint of heart.

As a writer, she has never shied away from innovation, be it in poetry or in prose. “I enjoy not conforming to what is expected of me,” she wrote. “Playing with fire, with my freedom of expression… I still write in order to explore and to understand.”

And for Brossard, the process of exploring and understanding is integral to the project of reshaping the very world she explores. She maintains that every artistic act of creation “is a way of engendering sense where before there had been merely evidence of reality.”

Perhaps she means a sense of a more open and possible world.

“We live in a fragmented society,” she wrote. “We live in story fragments. And in spite of all, we recreate a coherence.”

Nicolle Brossard must-read:

Yesterday, at the Hotel Clarendon (translated by Susanne de Lotbiniere-Harwood)
(UVIC Library code: PS8553 R66H5413)

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