Brossard, Nicole (Vol. 115)
Nicole Brossard 1943–
French Canadian poet, novelist, playwright, and essayist.
The following entry presents an overview of Brossard's life and career through 1997.
Nicole Brossard played a pivotal role in the development of a postmodern literary movement in Quebec which focused on gender and language. As co-founder of the avant-garde periodical La Barre du Jour and the feminist collective Les Têtes de Pioche, Brossard helped to create a dialogue in Quebec poetics which affected a generation of writers. Eventually Brossard gained an international reputation as a feminist theorist as her works were translated into English, German, Italian, and Spanish.
Born in Montreal, Brossard attended several different schools, including the University of Montreal. In 1965, she published her first group of poems in Trois—a collection of poetry which also featured Michel Beaulieu and Micheline de Jordy. That same year she co-founded La Barre du Jour, a literary journal devoted to the fusion of social and political analysis and the creative process. She taught from 1969 to 1971 before devoting herself to writing full time. Brossard's published work includes poetry, novels, and essays on feminist and literary theory. In 1976, she co-founded the radical feminist newspaper Les Têles de Pioche. In 1991 she received the Athanase-David Prize of Quebec for her body of work.
Brossard's career has had three distinct phases. In the 1960s she attempted to overcome the tendency in Quebec nationalist poetry to portray women as a mere representation of the land. The main focus of her poetry was similar to that of other 1960s writers in Quebec: portraying the country and its spatial features. However, Brossard took a new approach by using the human body and physiological features to map out history. She used language as a tool to explore new dimensions of being. In her poems, Brossard disrupted traditional rules of language, including syntax and French gender rules. In the 1970s, the second phase of her career, Brossard continued to write poetry, but also began experimenting with the novel. Her Un livre (1970; A Book) examines the construction of characters and plot as surface constructions ac-cessible only through the acts of reading and writing. To Brossard, literature does not need to represent reality, but takes on a life of its own. Asserting that writing is research, therefore a hypothesis-generating act, not a reality-representing one. Brossard combines fiction and theory in her poetry and novels. She believes in the power of language to liberate the individual and to restructure social institutions. Le Centre Blanc (1978) is characteristic of the poetry of this period, with syntactical subversion and a lack of traditional grammatical order. The third phase of her career tackles issues of sexual difference. The focus of Brossard's work has increasingly narrowed to the topics of feminist and lesbian politics. L'Amèr (1977; These Our Mothers) is both a search for new language and an exploration of the responsibilities of motherhood. This work, in conjunction with Le Sens apparent (1980; Surface of Sense) and Amantes (1980; Lovhers), attempts to overcome patriarchal censorship and celebrate a lesbian Utopia. Amantes is a collection of poetry dealing with lesbian love and the emotion of thought. Picture Theory (1982) reworks these ideas in a complex theoretical way. By developing combinations of meanings, the reader must engage in the creation of the text. Le Désert Mauve (1987: The Mauve Desert) takes up the issue of translation of language, and how translation is an act of transformation.
Some reviewers of Brossard's work complain that it is too complicated and difficult to understand. Critics assert that the intellectual nature and difficulty of Brossard's work makes it elitist and inaccessible to the masses. Marguerite Anderson admits that "while reading Nicole Brossard is invigorating, it is not easy." Much of the discussion surrounding Brossard's work centers on her theories of politics and literature. Louise H. Forsyth states that "Brossard writes with the assumption that both the personal and the poetic are political." Many reviewers point out Brossard's unique subversion of traditional syntax and narrative technique. Whether in complete agreement with her politics or her approach, most reviewers agree with Brossard's contributions to the literature of Quebec. Forsyth asserts Brossard's importance, saying, "Her works and activities have served to redefine Quebec letters and culture so effectively that her voice and the voices of many other women speaking and writing autonomously out of women-centered space are being heard and heeded."
Mordre en sa chair [To Bite the Flesh] (poetry) 1966
L'Echo bouge beau (poetry) 1968
Suite logique (poetry) 1970
Un Livre [A Book] (novel) 1970
Sold-out, étreinte/illustration [Turn of a Pang] (novel) 1973
Mécanique jongleuse [Daydream Mechanics] (poetry) 1973
French Kiss: étreinte-exploration (novel) 1974
La Partie pour le tout (poetry) 1975
La Nef des sorcières [with Marie-Claire Blais, Marthe Blackburn, Luce Guilbeault, France Theoret, Odette Gagnon, and Pol Pelletier; A Clash of Symbols] (plays) 1976
L'Amèr: ou, le chapitre effrité [These Our Mothers, or The Distintegrating Chapter] (novel) 1977
Le Centre blanc: poèmes 1965–1975 (poetry) 1978
D'Arc de cycle la derive (poetry) 1979
Amantes [Lovhers] (poetry) 1980
Le Sens apparent [Surface of Sense] (novel) 1980
Picture Theory (novel) 1982
Double Impression: poèmes et textes 1967–1984 (poetry) 1984
Journal intime, ou, Voilà donc un manusrit (novel) 1984
L'Aviva (poetry) 1985
Domaine d'écriture (poetry) 1985
La Lettre aérienne [The Aerial Letter] (essays) 1985
Le Désert Mauve [Mauve Desert] (novel) 1987
Installations (poetry) 1989
A Tout regard (poetry) 1989
Typhon gru (poetry) 1990
Langues obscures [Obscure Tongues]...
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SOURCE: "Subversion Is the Order of the Day," in Essays on Canadian Writing, Nos. 7/8, Fall, 1977, pp. 17-25.
[In the following essay, Bayard compares Brossard's earlier work to her later writing, tracing her growth as a writer.]
It has been said about Québécois writers that they start writing earlier and produce more than their English Canadian or European counterparts, as if the inner pressures and the cultural motivations which sustain them are intensely productive. Whether or not this generalization is valid, it holds true for Nicole Brossard. In 1965, when she was 22, her first volume of poetry, Aube à la saison, was published, and in that same year she founded La Bane du Jour; and her next, Mordre en sa chair, came out the following year.
It is surprising to examine these early works today in the light of her later, more daring, and complex avant-garde experiments, for they seem bent upon a different quest, less looped into their own linguistic movements and more interested in mapping out their spatial territory, their "appartenance".
This term, from appartenir or to belong to, to be owned by, to be possessed by, is essential to an understanding of the middle 50's and early 60's in Quebec. The poetic output from this period is constantly preoccupied with embodying a country and its spatial features. In his long poem Arbres,...
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SOURCE: "Interview with Nicole Brossard on Picture Theory." in Canadian Fiction Magazine, No. 47, 1983, pp. 122-35.
[In the following interview, Brossard discusses the form and major themes of her novel Picture Theory, and its relationship to her other work.]
[Canadian Fiction Magazine:] Firstly, why did you return to an English expression by an Austrian writer, Wittgenstein, in a Québecois novel that deals with language?
[Brossard:] In Amantes, I had already used the expression "Picture theory" for its intriguing, aesthetic qualities, if I may use those terms. It's an expression that fascinated, seduced me. On the one hand because of the word "picture," and on the other because of the word "theory." Little by little I got to know the works of Wittgenstein. So "Picture theory" could be rendered by "picture of reality" or "painting of reality." I don't think the word "theory" can be translated by the same word in French, not in that expression anyway. I was intrigued and probably got my first inspiration after reading: "one can not express reality, one can only show it." That's why I wrote in the last chapter: "Language is a spectacle of what we can not imagine as such." The only way I could express the spectacle of the unthinkable was by the grammatical intervention of the feminine plural. I am inspired by the works of Wittgenstein in much the same way as by the...
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SOURCE: "The Development of a Lesbian Sensibility in the Work of Jovette Marchessault and Nicole Brossard," in Traditionalism, Nationalism, and Feminism: Women Writers of Quebec, edited by Paula Gilbert Lewis, Greenwood Press, 1985, pp. 227-39.
[In the following essay, Rosenfeld compares the "great contributions [of Nicole Brossard and Jovette Marchessault] to the development of a lesbian sensibility in the literature of Quebec."]
Until the rise of the women's liberation movement, lesbianism as a theme had no real existence in the history of literature. From the age of Sappho in the sixth century B.C. to the beginnings of a lesbian culture in the Paris of the early twentieth century, a silence of two thousand five hundred years bears witness to the long war which the patriarch) waged against lesbianism. In Quebec the literary expression of lesbian love would be censored for an even longer period of time due to the misogyny of the Catholic Church and the sexism of the State. In this essay, I shall try to answer the following questions: Does a relationship exist between lesbianism as a way of life and as a form of writing? What audiences are the lesbian books of Jovette Marchessault and Nicole Brossard addressing? Are the experimentations of Brossard and Marchessault affecting the contemporary literature of Quebec?
Jovette Marchessault is a self-taught person. Born in Montreal in 1938,...
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SOURCE: "Women of Skin and Thought," in The Women's Review of Books, Vol. IV, No. 4, January, 1987, p. 16.
[In the following review, Andersen discusses the feminist aims of Brossard's French Kiss and Lovhers.]
Nicole Brossard is one of the leading writers of Quebec. From a feminist literary viewpoint she is probably the most important one: she is an innovative writer who is also a radical feminist. Questioning established cultural patterns and systems, her texts—prose, poetry, theory and often a mélange of the three—have since the seventies been showing Quebec writers the way to modernity. Brossard's writing is literary theory as well as political statement; it promotes and uses almost exclusively women's images, symbols, language and experiences. Her aim is to place woman in the center—of society, culture and politics.
Brossard has written more than twenty books since 1965. Several have already been translated; now, these two recent and excellent translations, and a forthcoming translation of La lettre aérienne, to be published by the Toronto Women's Press, will help anglophone readers make the more thorough acquaintance of this avant-garde feminist from Quebec.
In Brossard's poetic prose, writing perpetually resists two elements which threaten, like parasites, to invade the text. One is reality, whether dull or exciting, the other is...
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SOURCE: "Feminism and Postmodernism," in American Book Review, Vol. 10, No. 2, May-June, 1988, pp. 8, 20.
[In the following review, Godard discusses Nicole Brossard's Le Désert mauve and Gail Scott's Heroine and asserts that "It will be hard for [other writers] to surpass the brilliance of the writing of Gail Scott and Nicole Brossard in their critiques of representation and of narrative."]
Especially in Quebec, feminists have played an important role in theorizing postmodernism through their intervention as editors of the prominent periodicals La nouvelle barre du jour and Spirale, of which Nicole Brossard and Gail Scott were founding coeditors, respectively. The feminist editor of Island and Periodics, Daphne Marlatt, fulfilled a similar, if less lauded, function in English-Canadian writing. Feminism in these milieux has been seen as the salient feature of postmodernism through its deconstruction of binary oppositions and its critique of the master narratives of Western culture, indeed its critique of all narratives and all totalizing theories.
The publication of new fictions by two of the leading feminists and postmodernist writers of francophone and anglophone Canada, Le désert mauve by Nicole Brossard and Heroine by Gail Scott, reminds us once again of the pertinency of this linking of these discourses of critique. Indeed,...
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SOURCE: A review of Lovhers and Le Désert mauve, in Canadian Literature, Nos. 122-123, Autumn-Winter, 1989, pp. 190-93.
[In the following review, Forsyth states that in Brossard's Lovhers and Le Désert mauve she "writes with the assumption that both the personal and the poetic are political."]
Nicole Brossard published Amantes in 1980. Except for D'arcs de cycle la dérive, a limited edition poem and engraving, this was her first book of poetry following the publication of the retrospective Le Centre blanc in 1978. She was widely recognized by then as the major radical feminist and post-modern writer in Quebec. Amantes continues the experimental direction Brossard had established in her poetry, while also marking a fresh stage in her theoretical development. A set of love poems written for another woman, Amantes is richly erotic in language and theme. Along with the prose work Le sens apparent, it indicates the direction Brossard was to take in her writing through the 1980's.
Brossard makes use of unexpected interfaces in traditional literary genres to work out, in language that is sparse, condensed and rigorously precise, her compelling vision of women choosing to occupy all dimensions of space on their own terms by beginning at the vital centre. Therefore, the novel Picture Theory picked up in narrative...
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SOURCE: "i, a mother / i am other: L'Amèr and the Matter of Mater," in Studies in Canadian Literature, Vol. 16, No. 2, 1991, pp. 17-38.
[In the following essay, Bok asserts that in Brossard's L'Amèr, she "disarms phallogocentric language, disarms such words as 'mother' and 'woman' and 'figure' so that they can no longer he used as masculine weapons."]
Nicole Brossard calls L'Amèr a book of combat, and indeed the (s)wordplay begins with the title—one word that suggests three: la mère (the mother), la mer (the sea), and l'amer (the bitter). The English translation These Our Mothers by Barbara Godard cleverly sustains this tripartite pun through elision: these our mothers, the sea our mother, and the sour mothers. Such paranomasia recalls The Newly Born Woman by French feminists Hélène Cixous and Catherine Clément, a text whose title in French also suggests a phonetic conflation of signifiers: la jeune nèe (the newly born woman), là je n'est (there the first-person subject does not exist), and là je une nais (there an origin of a feminine subject). Within both texts, the (s)wordplay in the title immediately announces the feminist attempt to undercut, to parry, to disarm, the hegemony of phallogocentric signification. The word "title" has more than one meaning: a title not only represents the proper name for a...
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SOURCE: "Modernity and Lesbian Identity in the Later Works of Nicole Brossard," in Sexual Practice/Textual Theory: Lesbian Cultural Criticism, edited by Susan J. Wolfe and Julia Penelope, Blackwell, 1993, pp. 199-207.
[In the following essay, Rosenfeld discusses Brossard's Amantes and Picture Theory to show that "Nicole Brossard's postmodernism is linked inextricably to her lesbian-feminist vision of the world."]
Although there is no unique style that characterizes the work of all lesbian writers, it is not surprising that Nicole Brossard, the most famous lesbian poet of contemporary Quebec, should also be "resolutely modern" in her textual practice. A writer who seeks to convey a way of life that runs counter to the norms and values of the dominant culture is likely also to challenge the institutions that perpetuate those norms: the literary canon and the language of tradition. In an informative book entitled Les mots et les femmes, Marina Yaguello emphasizes the priority of the masculine over the feminine gender in French grammar; she demonstrates moreover how French words in the course of history have acquired meanings that convey negative images of women. Brossard's early awareness that language, as a system of communication, transmits the cultural codes of a society accounts for her faith in the transformative power of experimental writing even in the early 1970s, when the...
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SOURCE: "The Enigma of Writing," in Belles Lettres, Vol. 9, No. 3, Spring, 1994, pp. 6-7, 9.
[In the following review, Parker argues that Brassard's Picture Theory and Mauve Desert "are fine samples of how Brossard integrates the language of current scientific theories and technological advances into an intuitive, utopian vision of a more just future for women, lesbians, and other marginalized groups."]
Thanks to two fairly recent translations, American readers have access to major works of prose fiction by one of Québec's most provocative writers, Nicole Brossard. Picture Theory, a complex, challenging, exuberant, and erotic response to Joyce and Wittgenstein, and Mauve Desert, the first text Brossard is willing to call postmodern, are fine samples of how Brossard integrates the language of current scientific theories and technological advances into an intuitive, utopian vision of a more just future for women, lesbians, and other marginalized groups.
Brossard is an acknowledged leader among those writers whose experimental practices are usually categorized by the term "modernity"; she is also a spokeswoman for the feminist community. Like Adrienne Rich, Brossard received early recognition for the formal expertise of her poetry, and has since won many awards, including the prestigious Prix David for the ensemble of her work, now totalling more than 30...
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SOURCE: "An Interview with Nicole Brossard: Montreal, October 1993," in Yale French Studies, No. 87, 1995, pp. 115-21.
[In the following interview, Brossard discusses her relationship with feminism and fiction.]
[Huffer:] I would like to begin by talking about your work both as a writer and a feminist. Since the 1970s you have been a part of the feminist movement as a poet, novelist, editor, essayist. Could you put the history of these various activities in a contemporary context?
[Brossard:] The poet, the novelist, and the feminist are still very active. I am still trying to answer questions about what it means to be a contemporary subject in a civilization about to shift into another dimension. Very early on, I said that I saw myself as an explorer in language and that I was writing to comprehend the society in which I live and the civilization to which I belong. Actually, understanding what goes on means trying to process the double-time in which I feel I am living: on the one hand, a historical linear time-space with familiar patriarchal scenarios such as war, rape, and violence; on the other, a polysemic, polymorphic, polymoral time where the speed and volume of information erase depth of meaning, where science proposes itself as an alternative to nature, where reality and fiction manage exaequo to offer proof of our ordeals and of the most dreadful fantasies.
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SOURCE: "Producing Visibility for Lesbians: Nicole Brossard's Quantum Poetics," in English Studies in Canada, Vol. 21, No. 2, June, 1995, pp. 125-37.
[In the following essay, Godard discusses Brossard's use of quantum theory in her discussion of visualization and lesbian politics in Picture Theory.]
Vision, passion, reading, a mathematics of the imaginary—these key terms from the opening stanzas of "The Vision" section in Nicole Brossard's long poem Lovhers interweave the formal and thematic concerns more fully developed in her 1982 fiction, Picture Theory. The epigraph to the hologram version of the text, written in the future anterior of 2002 and presented as the final section of Picture Theory, includes in the list of titles produced by the same author "Faire exister ce qui existe, essai, Éditions de l'Hexagone 1992." This frames Brossard's concern with the affective as well as the cognitive and sensory networks of meaning production as a question of making visible, producing visibility, or outing. I use the term "outing" deliberately here to underline the fact that Brossard's concern with visualization in reading is connected to a lesbian politics. The poetics developed in Picture Theory is explicitly a theory of reading as research and aims to effect (and theorize—which literally means to be-hold or visualize—) a shift in perspective or parallax, a...
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SOURCE: "From Lesbos to Montreal: Nicole Brossard's Urban Fictions," in Yale French Studies, No. 90, 1996, pp. 95-114.
[In the following essay, Huffer asserts that "Brossard's oeuvre distinguishes itself from an entire Sapphic tradition of lesbian writing by demystifying nostalgia rather than celebrating it."]
Helen, my grandmother, is one hundred-and-one years old. Having never remarried since her husband died over thirty-five years ago, she dines and plays bridge with the other elderly residents of the group facility where she lives in Toledo, Ohio. It's funny how women endure. Like a lesbian enclave, the place is virtually without men. I think of this as some strange connection between us, a certain similarity between her home and mine, but one that will never be spoken. My grandmother will never know about me, unless, perhaps, she reads these lines. She will never know about the woman, my mother, who married her son, and who later came out as a lesbian, long before I did, when the going was rough and the stakes were high. Now, among the aunts and uncles and distant cousins, some know about us and whisper discreetly. Others, to be fair, are sympathetic. A few embrace us. But when you become a lesbian, you automatically get written out of someone's history. There is no branch there, for mother and daughter and the women we love, on the precious family tree.
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SOURCE: "Region/Body: In? Of? And? Or? (Alter/Native) Separatism in the Politics of Nicole Brossard," in Essays on Canadian Writing, No. 61, Spring, 1997, pp. 1-16.
[In the following essay, Verwaayen discusses the role of separatism in the politics set forth by Brossard in her writing.]
"What kind of message is this?" was one feminist response during a CBC round table (aired on "Prime Time Magazine" in prereferendum October 1995) in reaction to propagandist remarks made by Lucien Bouchard in a recent "yes"-side campaign linking reproduction and the sovereignty project in Quebec. While Bouchard's alienating comments exemplify a centuries-old validation of women through their reproductive function, their assigned use-value in Western tradition, my purpose here is to trace how the patriarchal impetus of the Quebec separatist movement circumscribes feminist aims and to suggest, through the movement from the regional to the international in the fiction of Nicole Brossard, the incompatibility of feminist and Quebec nationalism as discursive constructions. While both separatist and feminist ideologies are interested in issues of sameness and difference, of language/shared cultural experience/history, Brossard's evolving awareness of the incompatibility in definition of the "us/them" dichotomy can be traced throughout her oeuvre, in which physical place (Quebec) becomes supplanted, displaced, by the...
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Anthony, Elizabeth. Review of Mauve Desert, by Nicole Brossard. Books in Canada XIX, No. 8 (November 1990): 47.
Asserts that the reader is "frequently enriched by [Brossard's] gambles [in Mauve Desert]; at times, however, her philosophical abstractions so dematerialize the real that we lose the necessary obstruction and grounding of objects' provident solidity."
Baehler, Aline. "Traversée du Désert." Canadian Literature, No. 132 (Spring 1992): 177-79.
Reviews Brossard's A tout regard in French.
Bishop, Neil B. "Installations." Canadian Literature, No. 135 (Winter 1992): 158-60.
Regards Brossard's collection of poems, Installations, as "a joy."
Diehl-Jones, Charlene. "The Dance of Reading." Books in Canada XXII, No. 5 (Summer 1993): 38-40.
Remarks that in Brossard's Green Night of Labyrinth Park "there are moments of great loveliness."
Tilley, Jane. "Found Again." Canadian Literature, Nos. 138/139 (Fall/Winter 1993): 166-67.
Asserts the importance of Anthologie de la poésie des femmes an Québec, edited by Brossard and...
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