Amy J. Ransom
(Un)common Ground: National Sovereignty and Individual Identity in Contemporary Science Fiction from Québec
Je me souviens.*
*Ancienne devise de la province du Québec.— Jean-Michel Wyl, Québec Banana
*Former motto of the province of Québec.]1
The problems of colonialism, nationalism, and collective will, and their particular effects on individual rights and identity, figure as central themes not only in such classics of social science fiction as George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) but also in stock sf adventures featuring alien invasions of earth or human space exploration. An examination of sf from Québec (SFQ) reveals its complex engagement with these issues, which are especially pertinent to this Canadian province in its ongoing struggle to determine its future political status. In the early seventeenth century, European colonists established a French-speaking, predominantly Catholic society along the Saint Lawrence River. The development of that society was interrupted by the “Conquest” of New France by the British in 1760. Ever since then, the need to preserve a unique French heritage from being engulfed by the predominantly English-language culture of North America has figured as a major preoccupation for many Québécois, including its sf and fantasy writers. Their works figure as documents in the struggle to establish and/or protect a unique identity against both real and perceived forms of social, economic, and political domination by federal power in Ottawa as well as by Canada’s anglophone majority.
In the early twentieth century, Québec’s francophone majority received little support and was, in fact, the occasional target of obvious discrimination from the policies of the Canadian federal government and the practices of Anglo-Saxon capitalists. During this same period, however, certain writers fantasized about strong French-Catholic utopias established in Québec and extending into all of North America. Allan Weiss has documented the clearly nationalistic tendencies of such works as Jules-Paul Tardivel’s Pour la patrie (For the Fatherland, 1895) and Ubald Paquin’s La Cité dans les fers (The City in Chains, 1925), which imagine how the oppressed French-Catholics of Canada establish independent Republics (53-55). The power of fantasy to subvert existing power structures can be seen throughout the first half of the century, as works such as François Hertel’s alternate history “Lepic et l’histoire hypothétique” (Lepic and the Hypothetical History, c. 1940) reversed the results of the famed Battle of the Plains of Abraham fought outside Québec city in 1759, depicting a French victory (Gouanvic 73-74). The complexity of the issue of nationalism, however, precludes the simplistic conclusion that francophone fantasy would naturally represent French dominance or independence for Québec; obviously, not all Québec’s sf and fantasy supports a French, Catholic, and/or nationalist agenda. Early on, Ulric Barthe’s alternate history, Simila Similibus ou La Guerre au Canada (Simila Similibus or The War in Canada, 1916), depicted the Prussian army conquering Québec in order to support British and Canadian participation in World War I (Trudel, “La Science-fiction” 58).
As the twentieth century progressed, various groups were formed to promote the French language and culture; this eventually developed into an organized reform movement to increase the power of Québec’s francophone majority and to decrease the province’s political and economic dependence. Known as the period of the Quiet Revolution, the 1960s witnessed the active consolidation of provincial power and the enactment of pro-French social and economic reforms. Hélène Colas-Charpentier observes, however, that the SFQ produced during this period of particular strength for an increasingly sovereign Québec reflects a certain ambivalence toward state-centered nationalism (383). Such works as Suzanne Martel’s Surréal 3000 (Surreal 3000, 1963) and Maurice Gagnon’s Les Tours de Babylone (The Towers of Babylon, 1972) no longer imagine the utopias found in earlier works studied by Weiss, but instead present dystopias in which individuals struggle to assert their own identity in the face of a monolithic and repressive state.
This present study examines how subsequent works of SFQ continue the trend toward dystopic fantasies as they manipulate and (re)project reality through alternate history and near-future extrapolation. Contemporary writers of SFQ create strange yet uncannily familiar landscapes to express their own visions of the challenges facing both Québec and Canada today. Although Québec has built a strong identity for itself rooted in its French-language culture since the beginning of the Quiet Revolution, it continues to face obstacles, including new federal onslaughts to limit provincial power, US cultural and economic hegemony, and rising non-francophone immigration. While such Québécois intellectuals as Fernand Dumont seek common ground for the construction of national identity and for the resolution of the current political impasse with Canada—see his Raisons communes (1995), for example—the sf works analyzed here explore uncommon ground, revealing a wide range of attitudes toward the increasingly complex issue of national identity and the roles of both state and individual in the construction of that identity.
Jean-Michel Wyl’s Québec Banana State (1978). Soon after their first victory, which resulted in the election of René Lévesque as Premier of Québec in 1976, the Parti Québécois manifested its sovereignist platform by changing the motto on all of Québec’s automobile license plates from the quaint “La belle province” [the beautiful province] to the ambivalent “Je me souviens” [I remember] (Nemni 170). This ubiquitous symbol, rather than expressing Québec’s participation as a beautiful province within the union of Canada, proclaims both nationalistic pride in Québec’s unique French origins as well as a chauvinistic reminder of a long-held grudge against first British and then federal oppression. The self-destructive nature of Québec’s ambivalence—both to the federation and to its own independence—appears prophetically in Jean-Michel Wyl’s Québec Banana State. Written at the time of the Parti Québécois’s rise to power, the novel projects how the extreme nationalism of a few destroys for all the quality of uniqueness upon which that nationalism is based. In an independent but totalitarian Québec, the motto “Je me souviens” becomes an impossible paradox as all individualism (“je” [I]) and all memory (“me souviens” [remember]) are destroyed by a monolithic State that dictates collective conformity to a new order.
Compiled as a pastiche of fictional personal journals, footnoted pseudo-historical documents, and even the mock “interview” of an exiled resistance leader by the author himself, Québec Banana State paints a worst-case scenario for the province’s independence. As alternate history, it begins with a “cruel” hypothesis:
Ce livre est l’histoire vraie d’une cruelle hypothèse qui advint un matin où tout était calme. Tandis que le pays dormait encore à poings fermés, faisant, de lit en lit ses rêves stupides, comme seuls en font les peuples repus et de pain et d’argent.. [sic], dans l’occulte du temps, une autre histoire se tramait lourdement. Ce peuple qui s’était couché le 23 juin allait se réveiller le 24 messidor de l’An I. (12; emphasis added)
[This book is the true story of a cruel hypothesis that occurred one morning when all was calm. While the nation still slept, fists closed, dreaming, from bed to bed, its stupid dreams, as only a people stuffed with bread and money can dream ... in the darkness of time, another history, another plot was being hatched. This nation that had gone to bed on the twenty-third of June would wake up on the twenty-fourth of Messidor, Year I.]
One history, shared alike by fictional sleepers and by Wyl’s readers, changes overnight, as the French Terror of 1792 re-enacts itself on the other side of the Atlantic, in Montréal, Abitibi, the Laurentians, and on the Jacques Cartier Bridge (11-12). After Communist Party victories at the polls, France has become a Soviet satellite and aids a group of Québec revolutionaries in a massive military attack, effectively isolating the province from the rest of North America. The Castro-like leader of the putsch, Numéro-Un [Number One], installs himself as absolute dictator in the name of liberating the people.
Unfortunately, that liberation soon reveals itself to be spurious. Dominated by former colonial ties to France and dependent on its Soviet ally, the “État libre du Québec” [Free State of Québec] (71) falls victim to a perverted Marxism. Ironically, as Numéro-Un consolidates power, “La liberté collective allait passer par la liberté d’un seul, par un totalitarisme sans bornes” [Collective freedom would go through the freedom of a single person, through a totalitarianism without limits] (21). The total loss of freedom suffered in this alternate Québec becomes clear as the new regime seeks control over every aspect of life. In addition to imposing such traditional means of state control as censorship (29, 185, 313), nationalized media (35-36), surveillance (105, 251, 308), denial of freedom of movement (63, 77), and denial of religious freedom (72-75, 303), the state seeks to rewrite history and to control even time itself. This transition appears in the terms of its propaganda, which refers to the “ère nouvelle, ancien régime, renaissance sociale” [new era, old regime, social renaissance] (36; original emphasis). As in Nineteen Eighty-Four, an implied or explicit intertext for several of the works studied here, the past must be rewritten to accord with the present regime’s agenda. For this reason, Québec’s universities reinvent the very discipline of History (161-63).
Such control functions toward the creation of sameness, providing for a uniform and homogeneous national identity. Those expressing unorthodox opinions are arrested, executed, or incarcerated in prisons or mental facilities; the Free State mirrors Nazi Germany, its own Holocaust accumulating “Des morts empilés, sédiments nus ou habillés, en pyjamas ou en costumes, en bleus de chauffe d’ouvriers ou en chemises d’anciens braves types” [dead bodies piled up, dregs, naked or clothed, in pyjamas or suits, in workers’ overalls or the shirts of good ol’ boys] (71-72). The new regime eliminates so-called inferior races, including the English:
Parmi ces malheureux tassés dans des wagons plombés, il y avait des Noirs, des Juifs, des immigrants de divers pays et des Anglais: tout ce qui a pu être anglais jusqu’à présent. Tous des gens qui, en somme, s’écartaient de l’archétype social du Québécois rénové tel que l’avait défini, un jour, Numéro-Un.... (112-113)
[Among these unfortunate people jumbled into lead-sealed railroad cars, there were Blacks, Jews, immigrants from various countries and Anglos: all that might have been English up until now. All of the people who, in essence, diverged from the social archetype of the renovated Québécois that Number-One had, one day, defined....]
Ironically, the leader models the Québécois of the future on pioneers from the past, as demonstrated in Numéro-Un’s description of his diplomats: “Nos ambassadeurs sont de constitution robuste. Ils descendent des anciens Canadiens et ne craignent ni le froid, ni les revers du destin” [Our ambassadors are of a robust constitution. They descend from the Old Canadians and fear neither cold, nor life’s little setbacks] (148).
The death and violence behind this attitude suggest the dark side of race politics employed in actual campaigns for provincial sovereignty during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Numéro-Un’s statement caricatures the doctrines of such nationalist leaders as Lionel Groulx, who touted the racial incompatibility of Anglo-Saxon and Franco-Latin in essays and propaganda novels including L’Appel de la race (The Call of the Race, 1922). The fear expressed by QuébecBananaState that an independent state will be only for the Québécois de vieille souche [old roots Québécois], descendants of the first French colonists, continues to plague the campaign for Québec nationalism up to the present. Twenty years after Wyl’s novel, intellectual Micheline Labelle criticizes the Parti Québécois’s failure to decry the public use of race as an archaic aspect of nationalism.2 Echoes of Numéro-Un’s fictional racism resonate in the real-life discourse of Jacques Parizeau, former PQ Premier of Québec. Not only has he expressed his concern over the low birth rate of the “races blanches” [white races] (cited in Labelle 192), he has also publicly blamed the “vote ethnique” [ethnic vote] of the growing immigrant community for the failure of Québec’s second referendum for sovereignty held on October 30, 1995 (Chelhot 45; Labelle 192; Noreau 131; Sarra-Bournet 19).3
The critique of Marxism and the fear of the totalitarian state found in Wyl’s alternate history reflect political concerns about provincial power and autonomy raised after the Quiet Revolution. Beginning in the 1960s under the Liberal government of Jean Lesage, the province of Québec began a series of reforms that resulted in economic modernization and the creation of a social democracy. Although Kenneth McRoberts and others have challenged the myth that this Révolution tranquille brought about an overnight transformation, few dispute that continued reforms through the 1970s resulted in an increasingly powerful and centralized state. Wyl’s novel reflects the concerns raised by various intellectuals throughout the 1980s about state intervention in arenas formerly controlled by the private sector and its potential power to limit individual rights (Pelletier 22). One particular element of that sector, the Catholic Church, had long served the educational, public health, and welfare needs of the province (Laurin 96), and has also been a key supporter of French-Canadian nationalism from the inception of that movement. Turning from Wyl’s novel, we see how Denis Côté’s “1534” parallels the concerns expressed in Québec Banana State, substituting Catholicism and the Vatican for the Marxism and Moscow targeted by Wyl.
Denis Côté’s “1534” (1985).
The New Year has swept in with its cargo of filth and lies.
Nothing changes here. Not even the name of the year.
It is 1534.
I know how to count though. I know how to read. I know how to think. It’s a good thing that I know how to read! That’s the only personal thing I have left, that they won’t touch, over which they have no power.
My name is Winston. I’m an archivist. All the archivists are called Winston in Nu-Franz. And in other places? (111)
So begins Denis Côté’s homage to George Orwell, which transposes the latter’s classic political allegory to a thinly disguised French-Canadian “1534,” the date of Jacques Cartier’s discovery of the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River. As the protagonist’s encounter with a battered, forbidden copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four opens his eyes to the parallels between his own situation and that of Orwell’s Winston Smith, the reader observes not only the similarities between Nu-Franz and Oceania, but also the author’s reference to the former New France. Locked in direct dialogue with Québec’s colonial past, present, and future, “1534” alters the course of history, offering a shocking image of a sovereign pseudo-Québec theocracy.
Erasing the historical defeat of 1760, which forced France to cede its northern territories in the New World to England, Côté’s text portrays a battle between futuristic Nu-Franz, which benefits from an advanced technology, and the “Anglish.” Allied with the “Watikan” of “Jan Pol 2” (an obvious reference to current Pope John Paul II), the patriarchal “Father State” (118) reflects both colonial-era New France, governed by the divine-right absolutist Valois and Bourbon monarchs, and the potential for a sovereign state of Québec, a concept essential to nineteenth- and twentieth-century battles for provincial rights.
The Citizens of Nu-Franz pay a very high price for national sovereignty. Their government maintains order and serves the common good through strict regulation of the social hierarchy. At the bottom are the untouchable “Redskins,” who by law must be shunned and may be beaten at random by the dominant “Males” (113). As his ironic references to state leaders as “gentlemen who wish us so well” (112) and to head-of-state Duplex 6 as “our benefactor” (112) reveal, Winston sees through propaganda about the common good. These men exploit technology to exert ideological control over the public through constant surveillance and through the omnipresence of national symbols, projecting the fleur-de-lys of the real Québec flag, for example, onto the holographic blue sky. Côté’s story assigns the role played by Orwell’s Big Brother to a seventeenth-century explorer, Samuel de Champlain, and to today’s Pope, John Paul II, as Citizens of Nu-Franz are reminded by signs on the walls that “Emmanuel de Shamplain is watching you” (114) and “Jan Pol 2 is watching you” (116).
To ensure conformity, the state reduces intimacy through control of sexual activity, cultivating fear and hatred of difference. As Winston observes: “Knowing someone is a dangerous activity. It permits the realization that something exists other than that clay from which we were all modeled. That difference exists, an absence of uniformity, not an exact copy” (118). Winston’s frustrated desire to assert his own difference as an individual and to know the difference of another through genuine, spontaneous sexuality erupts into a searing cry for individual freedom in this repressive society. But like his Orwellian counterpart, Winston must accept the impossibility of change: “Tomorrow […] It will still be 1534” (121).
The key to state control over the individual appears in the creation of a homogeneous national identity, and in “1534” religion provides the foundation for that identity. As Winston reveals, worship of “Gawd” serves both as an opiate of the people and as a tool through which to instill hatred for a common enemy:
Friday, day of artificial fog and third celebration of the Eucharist. […] Have I ever fallen in rapture, as happens to the majority of the faithful every time? I have often pretended to, especially when I was little. Now, I choose my days to fake it. Today, my weariness suggests I should stay sitting quietly, hands folded, eyelids closed, while the others do their little epileptic numbers, speak in foreign tongues, scream their love for Gawd and Duplex 6, spit their venom on the Anglish who threaten Nu-Franz and the whole world. No doubt a good many Citizens and Lady Citizens are just as talented as I at dissembling. (115)
Hypocrisy, fanaticism, and hatred are the fruits of perverting religious ideology through state control.
Just as state meddling interferes with genuine religious faith, “1534” suggests that ultramontane political alliances like that of Nu-Franz with the Watikan interfere with the sovereignty of the state. The story’s critique of the marriage between political leaders and the Catholic Church since the beginning of the sovereignty movement becomes patent in the figure of Duplex 6. The name of Nu-Franz’s leader resonates strongly with that of Maurice Duplessis, a traditionalist Québec Premier who held office from 1936 to 1939 and again from 1944 to 1959. Although recent studies contest over-simplified views of Duplessis (Fortin 24), his pro-Catholic, traditionalist, nationalist platform has provided a focus for liberal critique since the earliest days of the Quiet Revolution.
“1534” is a cautionary tale about the dangers of a national identity formed through an alliance between Church and State and rooted in a Crusade mentality; it warns that a nation that blurs past with present, no matter how technologically advanced it becomes in the future, will nevertheless remain firmly embedded in the past. In fact, Nu-Franz uses its advanced technology—including sophisticated holographic imaging, high-tech surveillance devices, artificial human-reproduction technologies, and disintegrating ray gun—the better to fight age-old battles, the better to repress its citizens. In order to ensure conformity to a monolithic but artificially-established nationalist identity rooted in religion, the state must restrain individual freedom for genuine development. Côté’s liberal critique, which privileges the right to individual difference over a violently enforced Church-State conception of the common good, implies approval of the Quiet Revolution’s unspoken but clearly manifest agenda to secularize Québec. As its partisans built the myth of the Quiet Revolution, they also disseminated a dichotomous view of Québécois identity: the traditional, agricultural, Catholic Canadien-français of the Duplessis era and earlier was opposed to the post-Quiet Revolution modern, urban, secular Québécois. The problematic nature of that dichotomy appears not only in recent intellectual thought (including, among others, that of Dumont, Bélanger, McRoberts, and Fortin), but also in the works of SFQ by such writers as Wyl and Côté, who demonstrate the similarities and dangers inherent in both constructions of national identity. Québec Banana State and “1534” clearly question forms of identity rooted in a colonial past identified with a French and Catholic heritage. But their interrogations of the State and its power over the individual also presage later debates over the results of the Quiet Revolution and the ability of groups such as the Parti Québécois to build a new identity for Québec that is not simply a recylcing of the old.
Jean-Louis Trudel, “Remember, the Dead Say” (1992). Fear of a sovereign Québec achieved through ill-chosen allies and warnings about the repressive potential of the state recur in an English-language story by a bilingual native of Toronto whose parents are French and Franco-Manitoban (e-mail correspondence).3 Jean-Louis Trudel can trace his ancestors back to Québec, however, and “Remember, the Dead Say” ultimately draws on a traditional conception of French-Canadian identity as a source of future healing for its protagonist. Nonetheless, like its SFQ counterparts, it exposes the dangers of national identities rooted too firmly in the past. Set in the near future, “Remember” depicts a North America locked in repeated wars between the new alliances that result when the Cold War ends, not in the fall of the Berlin Wall, but in nuclear conflict between the US and the USSR. It is within the context of old colonial battles and shifting national identities that Trudel’s Canadian protagonist Patline Doyle must construct her new identity.
Trudel’s structurally savvy narrative begins and ends with a mirrored frame that reflects current political tensions between Québec and Canada and calls into question both francophone and anglophone stereotypes. It opens as Canadian bombers fire down upon a small boy “with golden hair and eyes of an indefinite grey-blue … called Brendan, Devin … maybe Gerald?” (368). Despite his typically Anglo-Saxon name and appearance, the boy speaks French and lives in Hull, Québec. In this war, “Québec [is] standing up after four centuries of colonization” (383), but unfortunately its poor choice of allies results in new oppression for its citizens.
Some time after the “fiftieth anniversary of Québec’s war of independence” (369-70), its alliance with the Franco-Maghrebi coalition subjects its citizens to the demands of the Islamic Sharia, including the veil for women (370). Constant war imposes strict control of information and the threat of the draft (378). This system oppresses not just one race, but all, as we see in the closing frame. Again, the reader sees a small boy, but this time his “hair is black and curly, and his skin remembers the Mediterranean sun he was born under. He is called Esmail, Tahar … maybe Ahmed” (386). Although a child of the new oppres-sor—his culture is, after all, the source of the Sharia that governs this fictional Québec—he is also a victim seeking freedom from oppression. Tapping into the Net, a last source of hope and resistance, “he types in the ultimate code word: ‘Liberté’” (387). With its final word in French, “Remember” establishes individual freedom as the ultimate value in the face of state attempts to force conformity to any language, religion, or national identity, be it Anglo-Saxon Protestant, French Catholic, or Arabic Islamic.
The protagonist Pat Doyle’s first appearance in the text reveals a unique adaptability, given these societal constraints: “She combed the snow out of her beard” (369). Her unisex name and facial hair—a fashion statement of the future—signal an identity crisis in the making, but also provide the cover Pat needs to accomplish her mission to build a memorial to the martyred dead: “She’d come to Lowell to find the mass grave of distant relatives, the Marcottes, on behalf of La Nouvelle Patente, the one organization that had linked francophones in Canada, Denendeh, the Maritime Confederacy, and the F.S.A. [Free States of America]” (373).
Although she is an agent for a francophone organization, Pat cannot identify with the enemy state of Québec, for “any loyalty she felt for Québec was very old indeed” (379). In fact, divided by all the national allegiances that contribute to her identity, she really has no idea who she is:
At times her mind reeled from the welter of her identities, which burdened her with a dozen masks. Francophone in English-speaking Canada, Métis in a land owned by others, and now a Canadian in Lowell, formerly a city of the F.S.A., but now an “Occupied Territory” of the Franco-Maghrebi Coalition. As a Canadian, she could be shot as a spy; as a francophone, drafted; as a Métis, who could claim kinship with the rich farmers of the Denendeh, interned as an illegal alien....
And she didn’t even know for sure what the Sharia dictated for women using men’s clothing. On the whole, she preferred to be an American, even in an occupied city. (372-73)
From all the possible choices afforded her by a very diverse background, Pat assumes the broadest possible sense of identity for herself, using “American” in its continental rather than national sense.
Like Scrooge visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future, Pat encounters three men, operatives of various political factions. As each shows her a possible path to allegiance and, consequently, identity, Pat must “contemplate her alternatives” (384) and make a choice. Rejecting Québec in its present form, Pat also eschews allegiance to the past, refusing to build the memorial. Contradicting the story’s title, Pat asserts, “You need to be alive to remember” (386). Agreeing to leave with Marc Gendreau, a Franco-American operative for the underground Net resistance, Pat reinvents her identity by performing two rituals. She shaves off her beard and takes a new name: “She remembered an old book [saying]: ‘Call me Maria’...” (386). Thus, the Pat of the future claims the name of the traditional French-Canadian heroine of Louis Hémon’s Maria Chapdelaine (1916). Like the défricheurs, the agricultural settlers who cleared the northern forests and whom that novel (and its later film version) idealized, Pat-Maria rejects a violent, oppressive society; imitating her namesake, she chooses the suitor who will lead her to freedom in the wilderness of the underground.
Confronting the myths of nationalism and national identity, “Remember” argues for a strong and free individual within a multicultural global community. The story allows the French language to prevail through the technology of the internet, as Pat’s new friend explains:
You come from Canada, I from the good old U.S. of A., and a hundred years ago nobody would have bet that we would still speak French to each other. Why? Because we were the pioneers of the electronic community. No ghettoes for us, no Little Italys, no Chinatowns. We can be found across the continent, but we are invisible. Our grandparents used to come home from a day at work in English or Japanese, and light up the television, turn on the radio, plug in the modem.... Et ils pouvaient alors se parler en français [And then they could speak to each other in French]. No borders. One community from sea to sea to sea. (385)
Imagining a new French-speaking community created through technology, the text can reject separatist arguments for a distinct French culture based in the territory of Québec. For while Pat-Maria adopts a traditional French-Canadian identity, she does so not out of loyalty to today’s Québec, but in acknowledgment of an older tradition of independence expressed by the first French colonists in North America. In fact, Pat’s predilection for her American identity remains valid to the end, as she and Marc, Canadian and American, leave together with the same pioneering spirit of the first colonists arriving in the New World.4
In its use of the francophone rejection of a “Québécois” identity, “Remember” critiques the exclusiveness of homogeneous conceptions of national identity. In the first place, such characters as Pat, Marc, and the Marcottes serve as a reminder that not all North-American francophones live in Québec. In addition, characters’ multiple origins and allegiances render a unified, “pure” national identity impossible. Nonetheless, the story depicts state efforts to create that unity by destroying difference, as in the case of Pat’s New England relatives who, “guilty of being too ostentatiously francophone, had been rounded up as spies, had seen their houses burned, and had been shot later that night” (377). These multiple sources for identity demonstrate that as long as geopolitical reality does not exactly mirror the fiction behind the construction of nationality—an ambiguity caused by colonialism, imperialism, immigration—societies will continue to force individuals into impossible standards of conformity. Current debates over the role of increasing numbers of ethnically diverse immigrants in the formation of a sovereign Québec reflect the actuality of this problem.
Sovereignist or not, Québec’s intellectuals recognize the need to combat the ideology of a society reserved for the ethnic pure laine [pure wool] critiqued in the works of Wyl, Côté, and Trudel. Philosopher Charles Taylor, for example, focuses on the construction of a civil, rather than racial, religious, or cultural basis for national identity, a notion supported by the Mouvement national des Québécoises et Québécois [National Movement of Women and Men of Québec]. In her description of the MNQ’s platform, Louise Laurin asserts the necessity for a political and territorial definition of citizenship:
Le projet de société défendu par les souverainistes et auquel est convié l’ensemble des Québécois quelles que soient leurs origines, ne s’appuie pas sur le lien ethnique mais sur le lien civique, non sur les relations entre groupes ethniques en concurrence mais sur celles qui doivent prévaloir entre les citoyens d’un État démocratique et pluraliste. (110)
[The societal project that the sovereignists defend and to which all citizens of Québec are invited, regardless of their origins, is based not on ethnic ties but on civic ties, not on competition between ethnic groups, but on the type of relationship that must prevail between the citizens of a democratic, pluralist State.]
For most sovereignists, however, as well as for francophone federalists like the author of “Remember,” protection of the French language remains a key element in that civic identity. We see these issues debated in Jean Dion’s “Base de négociation” (1992), which offers an extrapolated vision of Québec’s future relationship with Canada at the same time as it supports the contemporary vision of Québécois identity proposed by the MNQ.
Jean Dion’s “Base de négociation”(1992). Dion’s title, “Base de négociation” [A Basis for Negotiation], ironically refers to failed negotiations between Québec and Ottawa, and, although delivered as near-future sf, the text barely conceals its condemnation of the contemporary political situation.5 Québec and Canada initially appear encoded as “Enclave” and “Union,” but the text soon refuses any ambiguity with an overt reference to “Montréal, capitale de l’Enclave Québec” [Montreal, capital of the Québec Enclave] (81). It transforms Canada into a totalitarian regime, “un modèle démocratique … échoué” [a failed ... model of democracy] (78), evoking Nineteen Eighty-Four’s Oceania with unveiled intertextual references to government-organized hate rallies (100) and signs reading “Le gouvernement canadien veille sur vous” [The Canadian government is watching you] (81; emphasis in original).
The circumstances that created the francophone ghetto of the Enclave and its submission to the Canadian Union as a protectorate are extrapolated from a very real historical situation. Although the story adds a few future referenda to the actual number of Québec’s bids for sovereignty since the first in 1980, it otherwise neatly mirrors the downhill slide in provincial relations with the Federal government around the time of its composition.6 And although the protagonists, French diplomat Christian Gallet and his wife Marie-Eve, have arrived to negotiate peace between the Enclave and its various immigrant minorities, the story ends as it begins, in a stalemate. Not only does “Base” reflect the political impasse of 1992, it also predicts the defeat of the second referendum for independence in 1995. In a passage eerily presaging Parizeau’s attack on the immigrant vote for its failure to support Québec separatism (cited above), the fictional Gallet holds forth: “L’Enclave n’est pas un état souverain, les courants historiques ne l’ont pas permis. Les minorités auxquelles votre gouvernement est confronté, toutes couleurs confondues, ne le désirent pas” [The Enclave is not a sovereign state; historical trends have not permitted it. The minorities that confront your government, all colors included, do not want it] (103).
Dealing with the same questions as many of its SFQ counterparts, “Base” highlights the effects of colonialism on current issues, supporting, in its depiction of Gallet, the sovereignist argument that Québec has been doubly colonized, first by France and then by Canada. The overbearing Frenchman’s arrival recalls not only the first colonization of Québec but also the British conquest. Far from revealing the “allié naturel” [natural ally] (76) expected by Enclave leaders, Gallet’s thoughts reflect those of “l’envahisseur venu faire son nid parmi les incultes, les mêmes, décida-t-il, qui devaient animer les découvreurs de France et, plus tard, les conquérants britanniques” [the invader come to make a nest among the uncivilized, the same (thoughts), he decided, that must have inspired the French explorers and later the British conquerors] (82). As conqueror he identifies more with his Anglo-Saxon counterparts, wagging his finger at Québec’s obstinacy: “On ne peut pas toujours faire semblant qu’on n’a pas perdu” [You can’t always pretend you haven’t lost] (105). This parting shot is yet another re-enactment of history, as the French diplomat repeats the 1763 abandonment of Québec by Louis XV, who signed away New France to the English in the Treaty of Paris. Although anglophone Federal Canada clearly appears as the enemy, the text refuses a simplistic alliance between France and the French-speakers of Québec: Gallet is not de Gaulle,7 nor should Québécois identity be based on Gallic ethnicity.8
This critique of a national identity based on colonial ties to France reappears in accusations leveled at the fictional Enclave that it is living in the past. Gallet asserts that he has arrived, again in the role of colonial savior, for yet another attempt to “tirer ce territoire de l’immobilisme historique où il s’était lui-même confiné” [pull this territory out of the historical immobility to which it has confined itself] (77). The text illustrates the problematic nature of the “Je me souviens” [I remember] mentality, as Marie-Eve reflects: “Comment toute une population avait-elle pu adopter un message de rancoeur comme ligne de conduite? Et pourtant, la réalité donnait raison à cette devise. Toute résistance exigeait ici un effort de mémoire. C’était la condition pour ne pas être avalé” [How had an entire population adopted a message of rancor as a mode of conduct? And yet reality confirmed the rightness of this motto. Here, any resistance required the effort of remembering. It was the condition for not being devoured] (101).
While admitting the negativity fostered by extreme elements depicted as rioting “fanatiques catholiques” [Catholic fanatics] (88), Marie-Eve justifies the Enclave’s need to remember the past. Her husband, however, stolidly ignores its appeals, asking its officials to learn English. In their eyes, Gallet has asked them to “renoncer à être nous mêmes, à dire non à notre langue et à nos institutions” [renounce being ourselves, to say no to our language and institutions], to accept “des politiques conduisant à notre ... extinction” [policies that would lead to our ... extinction] (104). Renunciation of the French language, symbol of their difference, and the resulting assimilation to the dominant culture of North America, represents a death sentence to them.
The problems of assimilation and authenticity9 serve as the crux of an issue left unresolved both by Dion’s story and by current pro-sovereignty debates, a problem extrapolated through a central character, Carlos Alvarez, secretary to the Enclave’s Prime Minister. Of Puerto Rican origin (99), Alvarez champions the French language and supports the Enclave’s bid for sovereignty. This convert, more ardent than the born believer, condemns immigrants who refuse to assimilate, seeing them as a threat to the Enclave’s French spirit: “Tous ces nouveaux venus rêvent d’une Amérique où nous serions invisibles. Mais nous tiendrons le coup. Jusqu’à ce que, nous aussi, nous puissions hurler notre droit d’être différents...” [All of these newcomers dream of an America where we would be invisible. But we’ll make it. Until we too can shout our right to be different] (101). Modeled on real-life immigrants who defend the status of French in Québec (Dion, e-mail correspondence), Alvarez argues that the language itself serves as a common ground through which all can participate in the community. Speaking a common language in a common territory, “Notre terre” [Our land] (93), provides the basis for democratic civic identity. Acceptance of the democratic principle, sovereignty of the majority, subtends Alvarez’s decision to speak French: “Après tout, comme beaucoup d’autres non blancs, il avait choisi de s’installer dans ce morceau d’Amérique et d’y vivre en parlant français, parce que c’était plutôt bien d’adhérer au mouvement de la majorité” [After all, like many other non-whites, he had chosen to move to this piece of America and to live here speaking French because it was better to go along with the majority] (76).
But later, when Alvarez speaks about the French language, he falls victim to an almost traditionalist essentialism, arguing that language not only conveys a culture, it also conveys an “esprit” [mentality]:
“Le français n’est pas différent de l’anglais ou du yiddish; ce n’est pas seulement une langue mais une façon d’animer l’esprit. C’est à notre esprit que beaucoup s’opposent, exigeant d’oblitérer notre culture avec la leur et se réfugiant sous la politique protectionniste de l’Union. Et vous savez aussi bien que moi que la source de cet esprit a toujours été la langue.” (92)
[French is no different from English or Yiddish; it’s not only a language but a means of inspiring the mind. It’s our mentality that they are opposed to, wanting to obliterate our culture with their own and seeking refuge under the protectionist policies of the Union.]
This paradox lies at the heart of current sovereignist discourse about the essential necessity to preserve the French language: the desire to be different as a collective, to preserve a distinct francophone culture, while at the same time respecting individual difference. On the one hand, sovereignists reject their own assimilation into the dominant anglophone culture of North America, yet on the other many support legislation favoring the French instruction of newly arrived immigrants and their children. Jacques-Yvan Morin claims that in Québec “la communauté politique francophone n’entraîne nullement le monolithisme culturel ou l’«assimilation» des groupes minoritaires” [the French-speaking political community in no way implies a monolithic culture or the “assimiliation” of minority groups] (16). Even a cursory glance at the linguistic and educational policies of nineteenth-century France or Franco-era Spain, however, reveals the historical role played by language and education in both national and colonial assimilation.
An internal questioning of the authenticity of Alvarez’s assimilation does, however, appear in the narrative. First, the narrator undermines the secretary’s claims to French esprit, claiming: “La question de la langue mise à part, la France lui était aussi étrangère que la Chine” [The question of language set aside, France was as foreign to him as China] (76). While this may serve simply to distance the French language (good) from the nation of France (bad)—if, as Alvarez claims, language conveys an esprit—would not that esprit be shared by both France and Québec? In addition, the narrator describes Alvarez as “cette tête de clown piquée dans un complet officiel” [this clown-face quilted on a business suit] (91), a reference to his habit of wearing white make-up. Alvarez attempts to rationalize this practice to Gallet: “[N]e vous trompez pas, la blancheur de mon maquillage ne signifie pas que je crois à la supériorité d’une race sur une autre. Cela sert simplement à rappeler que nous vivons sous un masque. … Notre terre est toujours là sous nos pieds. Et derrière le fard et le rouge à lèvres, l’esprit brûle toujours” [(D)on’t be confused, the whiteness of my make-up doesn’t mean that I believe in the superiority of one race over another. It simply serves to remind us that we live under a mask [...] Our land is always there under our feet. And behind the make-up and the lipstick, the spirit still glows] (92-93). Explaining that names and even skin color may change, but that the ground below one’s feet remains eternal, Alvarez claims that make-up signifies the masks of identity that we all wear; nonetheless the narrator’s disparaging comment undercuts this character’s authenticity.
The notion that national identity is a mask, a role we assume, supports contemporary sovereignist arguments that Québec can construct a national identity available to all its citizens and distinct from any inherent or essential traits including race, ancestry, or religion. Yet the notion of the mask remains bothersome in its implied relationship to the inauthentic. This problem appears in anti-colonial and post-colonial theories such as Franz Fanon’s Peau noire, masques blancs [Black Skin, White Masks] (1952). Inspired by the Marxist approach to racial oppression and assimilation to a dominant culture found in Fanon, the radical separatist Pierre Vallières, in Nègres blancs d’Amerique [White Negroes of America] (1969), overtly connects the Québécois to the colonized nations of Africa and the Caribbean described by Fanon. “Canadian Dream,” a work of SFQ by Jean-Pierre April, questions such formulaic depictions of Québec’s colonial victimization, implying that there is a greater threat to cultural integrity than anglophone Canada, that of the economic and cultural imperialism of the United States.
Jean-Pierre April’s “Canadian Dream”(1982). In the near future, French-Canadian ethnopsychologist Robert Langlois travels to Africa to study a local myth about Jacques Cartier’s historic discovery of the mouth of the Saint Lawrence. When the griot Tambu recounts the story that Cartier had never reached the New World at all, having really landed in Cameroon, Langlois refuses to believe it, maintaining the reality of his own and the reader’s understanding of the events of 1534. But, flying home, he realizes that, “To all the passengers he had met, Jacques Cartier was an unknown, Montriall [sic] was purely English-speaking, and his country was in fact the United States. Canada was therefore only a dream! Tambu was right. ... The sacred word of the witch doctor had erased Canada from reality!” (97).
Allowing the African story to change the past, April’s alternate history reconfigures the geopolitical model of North America shared by reader and protagonist alike. Distinct in its political stance from the sovereignist polemic “Base de négociation,” “Canadian Dream” includes Québec in a national whole, not only in its title but in its identification of the protagonist as Canadian. This vision of Canada as a non-existent dreamland, a mere annex of the United States, can be effected, however, only through the effacement of the French presence on the continent, as the francophone author’s use of an English-language title suggests. For with the telling of Tambu’s story, Langlois’s unique French heritage disappears and “They no more speak French in Montriall that [sic] they speak Polish in Chicago” (95), with the result that Canada becomes nothing more than a brand name for U.S. consumers: “Canada? It’s where they make our Canadian Club!” (94).
In some ways, the playful “Canadian Dream” presents a positive image of future society and has little in common in tone with the dark Orwellian works already analyzed. There is little evidence of state control over the individual; marijuana and cocaine provide legal recreation and global institutions such as the International Free Press and the Green Cross inform and protect the cosmopolitan order. This extrapolated world does, however, suffer from the vicissitudes of colonialism.
The establishment of a parallel between Canada and Africa as colonized lands appears early in the narrative, as Langlois defends himself against an interpreter’s accusations of scientific colonialism, arguing that: “We, too, in Canada have lost our forests, our folklore and our beliefs. All cultures disappear, but they can either be wiped out or modernized!” (83) The interpreter holds his own in the debate, clarifying the difference between the situation of the French-Canadian and that of the Cameroonian. His argument introduces the highly charged issue of language pertinent not only to Québec but to all post-colonial debates over national and cultural identity:
“We know the story,” interrupted the interpreter. “Canada, land of peace, with its democratic biculturalism …. It must be an imaginary country! And President Banikele wanted to impose this model on the people the better to divide them. But you had the choice between two founding languages, the language of the discoverer or the language of the conqueror, while we are offered two colonial languages, two alienating cultures…!” (83)
This interchange reveals the paradox of extremist sovereignist discourse like that of Nègres blancs d’Amérique. The African implies that Langlois descends from a race of colonizers himself, reminding readers that Canada is a land with “two founding languages,” placing French on an equal footing with English. While the text thus undermines a Vallières-type mythification of Québec’s colonial victimization, it also refuses to glorify Canada’s efforts at recognizing cultural difference, as the narrator’s sarcasm about the reality of Canada’s biculturalism makes clear. In fact, “Canadian Dream” offers a prophetic vision of that dream’s failure in the constitutional reforms of 1982, the same year that “Canadian Dream” was published. These federal reforms undermined provincial rights to legislate by establishing the Canadian Supreme Court as final arbiter of all citizens’ rights, reducing the status of Québec’s distinct French-speaking culture by equating it with any other immigrant culture through Canada’s new focus on multiculturalism.
For many Québécois, the policy of biculturalism had held out great hope for the recognition of their role in building a strong Federal Union. In fact, some have argued with Jean Larose that “sans le Québec, il n’y aurait pas de Canada” [without Québec, there would be no Canada] (75), that the French presence provides the essential difference that distinguishes Canada from the U.S. Larose goes so far as to argue that, as the only truly bilingual area of the nation, Québec is the only true Canada (75). Although some skepticism about Canada’s bilingual and bicultural policies does appear in “Canadian Dream,” April’s story nonetheless implies that Canadian unity is necessary to combat cultural imperialism from south of the border as it effects the erasure of Canada through the erasure of Langlois’s French heritage. As we shall see, however, Élisabeth Vonarburg’s treatment of an alternate Québec envisions a greater threat to Canadian identity than the United States could ever pose.
Élisabeth Vonarburg’s Reluctant Voyagers (1994). Reluctant Voyagers is a long and complex sf alternate history of Québec set in the very recent past, the winter of 1988-89. In what Vonarburg herself calls “un univers parallèle” [a parallel universe] (e-mail correspondence), complex historical revision allows the realignment of North American boundaries, including the Montréal Enclave, which under Canadian tutelage has provided its francophone citizens with a ghetto-like independence for one hundred years. But by 1989 a mysterious land to the Far North represents a source of political fear and suspected terrorist activity both for leaders of the Enclave and its guardian federation.
When she begins to experience dramatic shifts in personal and historical memory, the novel’s protagonist, Catherine Rhymer, travels to the North seeking answers. This college professor of creative writing10 discovers that the bizarre phenomena she has experienced result from the intervention of extraterrestrial beings called Voyagers. The work’s complex sociopolitical context—Vonarburg constructs an intricate system of altered historical and religious beliefs for the Enclave and the North—serves as backdrop for the protagonist’s Bildungsroman. In the end, Catherine Rhymer’s identity crisis and its resolution address many of the issues raised about sovereignty and individual identity found not only in the works of SFQ analyzed here, but also in contemporary intellectual discourse on those issues.
The problem of colonization, embodied in the person of Catherine Rhymer, works on several different levels in the novel. While she ultimately discovers that she is a Voyager, an alien living on earth, other levels of colonization inform Rhymer’s perceived identity: her grandfather represented Europe’s colonial presence in Asia; her mother is of Vietnamese origin, and she herself has emigrated from France. As such, while her journey to the New World mirrors that of Québec’s original colonizers, she also maintains an outsider’s distance from which to critique the Enclave/Québec.
Catherine attacks her original homeland as “that wicked step-motherland, old and hypocritical” (16), but she also criticizes the Enclave for its slavish imitation of its former colonizer, an imitation which “always lagged ten years behind what some of its older inhabitants still referred to as ‘the mother country’” (25). She sees in her students’ mockery of her French accent a shield for their own inferiority complex (26), and she understands her ex-husband’s remarks that “They filched their New World from the Indians” (107). But her own ambiguous position, neither completely of the New World nor of the Old, leaves Rhymer facing an identity crisis: “She was no longer French-from-France, although she’d probably never be what was meant by ‘Québécois’” (113).
As the novel unfolds, it reveals to reader and protagonist alike that as a Voyager, Catherine literally belongs to neither of the earth’s worlds. Fellow aliens reveal to her the common essence of all life on earth, a substance called “the blue,” and the erasure of difference it implies undermines the racial bias of Catherine’s alter ego, a Voyager called Katrin. The latter refuses to stay on earth to be recreated “on the basis of a native of this planet” (453), revealing that such miscegenation repels her because “they are ... what they are [...] and I am what I am. I don’t want a mixture” (453). In addition to her fear of being polluted by the other, Katrin argues that the planet has undergone enough interference. Rhymer’s reflections imply that some interference, some interchange among different worlds, lands, and races is necessary for development to occur: “Of course she had a point. But was there a moment when the native life of the planet had existed without interference? It had begun to exist because of the cloud’s interference. [...] All in all, interference was perhaps one of the inevitable features of life” (454).11 Who interferes and to what extent are questions that Vonarburg addresses in her novel through, for example, the character of Athana, a fantastic god-like being revealed to Catherine during her quest. While at first Athana seeks to manipulate life as the Voyagers do, she ultimately learns that such abuse of power is wrong. She decides that what is best for human beings is to “Let them all go their own way” (456), just as the novel suggests that individuals, or colonized lands, must be left to develop for themselves.
In Reluctant Voyagers,earthly colonial powers such as England and France share the blame with the extraterrestrial Voyagers for fostering conflict through political, linguistic, and religious division; all are guilty of excessive interference with individual freedom. Rhymer condemns not only the repressive actions against francophones of the PNC (Canadian National Police), but also experiences the same potential for repression within the Enclave. Wishing to admit a non-traditional, Native American student into her class, Rhymer is questioned by a colleague: “You don’t think that ... will affect the, uh, uniformity of your seminar groups?” (23). The residents of the Enclave are happy in their ghetto because it is a homogeneous one. To maintain that uniform national identity, its leaders adopt a collaborationist attitude: for example, school administrators refuse to protest the arrest and torture of college students involved in anti-government protests.
That the Voyagers have constructed the fictions behind national conflicts literalizes a current commonplace of political theory: that national identity is not an essential quality but a cultural construct, often developed negatively in opposition to an other.12 As Catherine reflects on this problem: “by definition the North wasn’t the South. It had come into being to oppose the South and even considered itself, or was considered, the enemy of the South. And so, yes, it would be a ridiculous irony, although very logical, if North and South were really pretty much the same!” (271-272).
The realization of the illusory nature of such divisions leads her to resolve her own identity crisis. Spurred by the postcolonial angst of belonging to neither culture, once she realizes that their differences are false, she can see that all identity develops through processes of assimilation and integration. Catherine’s reflections about the developing identity of the god-child Athana apply just as well to herself:
The child has given herself names fabricated from the names of others, and she thinks this is a sign of her subjugation when it’s only a sign of her provenance. This is how beings are created, and consciousness: by assimilation and integration of what went before, in the flesh and in the mind, by successive separations and re-creations, a chain without beginning or end. (445)
Just as a child must imitate but also separate itself from its parents, so an adult citizen must imitate but also remain free within society. Counter to some contemporary discourse on colonialism and identity that views assimilation negatively, Catherine expresses an idea shared by the MNQ and other proponents for the State of Québec: that it may be possible to integrate oneself into the French-language culture without betraying one’s original and individual self.
The Search for Common Ground.
Unlike the voters of Québec who gave a simple “oui” or “non” in the Referenda of 1980 and 1995, the writers of SFQ send varied and ambiguous messages about Québec sovereignty and its relationship to the issues of a colonial past, national identity, and individual versus collective rights. Yet their works clearly convey the diversity of intellectual stances towards these issues in Québec.Today’s thinkers seek resolution to the tensions between diverse individuals and the state found in these works of imaginative fiction. Looking for the commonality necessary for civic participation, however, Charles Taylor and Fernand Dumont question the viability of a democratic system that places an excessive emphasis on individual rights. These critics argue that, in political systems like those in Canada (since 1982) and the US—systems that afford final power to the judicial branch of government—each individual negotiates the terms of citizenship separately through the courts. According to Dumont, such a system renders it nearly impossible to find the raisons communes [common ground] necessary for the creation of civic community. For him, just as the Confederation has failed to build “une communauté politique” [a political community] (58) for all Canadians, so also has Québec failed to build internally an inclusive political community (66).
The traditional foundations of Québec’s national identity—race and religion—certainly provided a sense of community in their time, but with the increasing diversity of Québec’s population they have become perceived as increasingly exclusive, as the cautionary tales of Wyl and Côté illustrate so well. The incompatibility between traditional Québec nationalism and the democratic principles of inclusion and equality continue to haunt intellectuals like Jean-Yvon Thériault, Associate Dean of Social Sciences at the University of Ottawa. He posits that in Québec the debate over collective versus individual rights has been aggravated by the establishment of two separate conceptions of the nation—one communal and collectivist, the other liberal, democratic, and individualist—that are irreducibly opposed (165). Current critiques of liberal constitutionalism like those of Dumont, however, do not seek a return to the traditional models of collective identity espoused by Lionel Groulx or Maurice Duplessis or even by Jacques Parizeau. Rather, Thériault observes that a truly modern conception of democracy must not see opposition, but rather seek balance, between the collective and the individual. As French intellectual Alain Finkelkraut explains it: “Il y a un jeu de pluralité et de l’unité qui est vertigin-eux dans la démocratie moderne. Quand la pluralité fait oublier l’unité, on tombe dans l’atomisation et la société de consommation. Quand, au contraire, c’est l’unité qui l’emporte, la démocratie tremble” [There is an interplay of plurality and unity that is dizzying in modern democracy. When the plurality makes one forget unity, one falls into fragmentation and the consumer society. When, on the contrary, unity has the upper hand, democracy trembles] (41).
The narrative forms of science fiction and alternate history have allowed Québec’s writers to extrapolate the vicissitudes of both of these extremes (April, Wyl, Côté, Trudel), as well as to hope for sources of compromise (Dion, Vonarburg). These works illustrate that, for democracy to survive in Québec, in Canada, or in the U.S. for that matter, the nationalist politics of exclusion must give way to the search for a common ground of civil identity.
1. Bracketed translations from the original French are my own. Whenever possible, I have cited the published English translations. Complete bibliographical information for both French and English versions of works cited appears below.
2. See Labelle’s “Les minorités et le pays du Québec: une citoyenneté à construire.”
3. Jean-Louis Trudel now lives in Québec and has played an essential role in the development of “sf canadienne d’expression française” [Canadian sf of French expression], a term he prefers to the more limited “SFQ.” That fact, along with the strong thematic similarity to other texts I examine in this discussion, justifies the inclusion of an English-language story written before the author ever lived in la belle province.
4. Pat’s fictional claim to the American identity as a continental identity reflects current political/linguistic trends in real life. Seeking recognition of the fact that US citizens are not the only Americans, a tacit critique of US political, economic, and cultural hegemony appears in the current usage of new terms for US nationals in French and Spanish, at least in the Western hemisphere. The terms Étatsunien and Estadounidense [United Stateser], which have begun to replace the traditional Américain and (Norte)americano, serve as a reminder that the term “American” encompasses all of the New World, north and south of the US border.
5. In fact, Dion’s story was ultimately judged too controversial for anglophone consumption; initially slated for translation, editors later dropped it (Dion, e-mail correspondence); even francophone readers may find it “trop québécois” [too Québec-ish] as does Jean-Louis Trudel (e-mail correspondence).
6. The 1969 passage of the Law on Official Languages gave French and English equal status in an officially bilingual Canada. In 1971, however, then-Prime Minister Pierre Eliot Trudeau instituted a new policy of multiculturalism (Dumont 39-40). According to sovereignists, that policy undermines the unique status of French in Québec, placing it on a par with any other immigrant language or culture. To the injury of the failed 1980 referendum for Québec sovereignty was added the insult of the 1982 Canadian constitutional reform, ultimately ratified by the Queen of England. With its statement of the primacy of individual rights, the protection of which accrues to the Federal Supreme Court, the province of Québec once again witnessed an erosion of its status (Dumont 43-45). By 1990, however, with the Lake Meech Accord, its leaders had negotiated to restore Québec’s “distinct society” status as a condition for ratifying the Constitution of 1982. Meech failed to pass, and the Charlottetown Accord of 1992, a second attempt at reconciliation, also failed. To date Québec remains in limbo as to its political status either as a full member of the Canadian confederation or as an independent state.
7. After the bitter experience of the Algerian War, French President Charles de Gaulle pursued the policy of peaceful transition to independence for France’s former colonies during the 1960s. At the same time, he sought to maintain cultural and economic alliances with the newly emerging nations in Africa and other French-speaking areas. In 1967, he made an official visit to Québec to promote a French counterpart to the British Commonwealth called “la Francophonie” [the French-speaking world]. His use of slogans like “Vive le Québec libre!” [Long live free Québec!] was meant to demonstrate France’s desire to build a strong relationship with Québec, but, not surprisingly, it only served to exacerbate the rising tensions between a province requesting increased autonomy, including the right to establish diplomatic missions abroad, and the Canadian federal government in Ottawa.
8. Parizeau is quoted as stating that the vote for separation was lost because of “l’argent and les votes ethniques, essentiellement” (Le Devoir, 1 November 1995, A8).
9. One aspect of the problem of authenticity in “Base de négociation” appears in its treatment of the relationships among Québec, Canada, and the First Nations. In fact, many of the works analyzed here deal with this issue, which falls outside the scope of the present discussion. I will, however, comment briefly on two items, Marie-Eve Gallet’s tour through the Enclave’s Native American territory and the text’s treatment of immigrant minorities. On her arrival, the diplomat’s wife claims: “S’il y avait quelque chose d’authentique à découvrir dans l’Enclave … c’était bien les premiers habitants de ce pays” [If there was anything authentic to discover in the Enclave ... it was certainly the first inhabitants of the land] (80). She discovers, however, that the First Nations have reconstructed traditional Native American life in massive skyscrapers housing holographic displays that have nothing authentic about them; this culture has been reduced to a folkloric parody. Not only does “Base” refuse authenticity to the indigenous population of North America, it also undermines that of other ethnic groups, describing them as holding the francophones of the Enclave practically under seige, competing for tourists’ attention “vêtus de versions dénaturées de costumes nationaux” [dressed in deformed versions of national costumes] (99).
10. The temptation to equate author and character becomes difficult to resist here, as Catherine Rhymer strongly resembles Vonarburg. An immigrant from France, she lives in Chicoutimi where she began occasional teaching at the university in 1971. Today Vonarburg is one of very few writers active in SFQ who support themselves solely through literary activity.
11. Among the complexities of Vonarburg’s novel is its creation of an alternate theology to correspond with its alternate history. The energy “cloud” figures in an imaginary cosmogony as the creative impulse and source of all life.
12. See, in particular, Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities.
Ancelovici, Marcos and Francis Dupuis-Déri, eds. L’Archipel identitaire. Montréal: Boréal, 1997.
Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 1983.
April, Jean-Pierre. “Rêve Canadien.” Trans. Howard Scott. In Vonarburg and Brierley, eds. 80-89. Trans. of “Canadian Dream.” imagine… 14 (Fall 1982): 2-25.
Balthazar, Louis, Guy Laforest, and Vincent Lemieux, eds. Le Québec et la restructuration du Canada, 1980-1992. Sillery, Québec: Septentrion, 1991.
Bélanger, André. “Les Leçons de l’expérience québécoise.” In Elbaz et al., eds. 46-64.
Chelhot, Jean-Pierre. “Le pays que j’ai choisi.” In Sarra-Bournet and Gendron, eds. 39-48.
Colas-Charpentier, Hélène. “Four Québécois Dystopias, 1963-1972.” SFS 20.3 (November 1993): 383-393.
Côté, Denis. “1534.” Trans. Howard Scott. In Vonarburg and Brierley, eds. 111-121. Trans. of “1534.” Dix nouvelles de science-fiction québécoise, ed. André Carpentier. Montreal: Les Quinze, 1985. 65-81.
Dion, Jean. “Base de négociation.” Solaris 101 (Spring/Summer 1992): 6-17. Rpt. in Escales sur Solaris, eds. Joël Champetier and Yves Meynard. Hull, Québec: Vents d’Ouest, 1993. 75-105.
─────. E-mail to the author. 15 March 1999.
Dumont, Fernand. Raisons communes. 1995. Montréal: Boréal, 1997.
Elbaz, Mikhaël, Andrée Fortin, and Guy Laforest, eds. Les Frontières de l’identité. Ste. Foy, Québec: Les Presses de l’Université Laval, 1996.
Finkelkraut, Alain. Interview. By Ancelovici and Dupuis-Déri, 37-51.
Fortin, Andrée. “Les trajets de la modernité.” Elbaz et al., eds. 23-28.
Gouanvic, Jean-Marc. “Rational Speculations in French Canada, 1839-1974.” SFS 15.1 (March 1988): 71-81.
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