Brossard, Nicole (Vol. 169)
Nicole Brossard 1943-
Canadian poet, novelist, essayist, director, editor, and playwright.
The following entry presents an overview of Brossard's career through 2001. For further information on her life and works, see CLC, Volume 115.
One of the most outspoken and innovative figures of late-twentieth-century Québécois literature, Brossard is an experimental and avant-garde writer, numbered among the foremost representatives of literary modernité, and regarded as a leading theoretician of écriture au féminin—women's writing—in French-speaking Canada. Openly and unapologetically political, Brossard's writing stresses her radical feminist beliefs, embracing her lesbianism and offering a literary celebration of the woman's body while promoting a sustained attack against the traditional orthodoxies of the dominant, patriarchal language, social systems, and cultural values. Additionally, Brossard's strong reaction against conventional views of poetry and fiction as mimetic representations of objective reality has become a central and defining theme in her writing—which values transgression and forbidden feminine desire—viewing these as integral elements in the creation of a radical, utopian, modern, and woman-centered vision of literature and society.
Brossard was born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, in 1943. Educated at the Collège Marguerite-Bourgeois in her youth, she later attended the Université de Montréal, graduating with a bachelor of arts degree in literature in 1965. That same year, Brossard published her first collection of verse, Aube à la saison, in the volume Trois—which included poetry by Michel Beaulieu and Micheline de Jordy—and co-founded the literary journal La Barre du jour, which published poetry by the significant figures of the avant-garde poetry scene in Quebec, including Brossard's own experimental verse. Brossard continued her education into the late 1960s and early 1970s, obtaining pedagogical certification and teaching briefly at secondary schools before opting to devote her full attention to a literary career. The birth of her daughter Julie and a new awareness of her lesbianism in the early 1970s shaped Brossard's emerging literary identity and helped to define the political motivations that would characterize her subsequent career as a writer and activist. She began to publish a steady stream of poetry and prose, which expanded upon the ideas suggested in her novel Un livre (1970; A Book) and her poetry collection Le Centre blanc (1970). In 1976 she co-created the radical feminist magazine Les Têtes de Pioche. By this time, Brossard had joined a community of avant-garde feminist writers and activists in Quebec, which included Marthe Blackburn, Marie-Claire Blais, Odette Gagnon, Luce Guilbeault, Pol Pelletier, and France Théoret. Among the products of this artistic collective was the theatrical production La Nef des sorcières (1976; A Clash of Symbols), for which Brossard contributed “L'Écrivain,” a monologue on the creative process of the writer. In 1977 she co-directed the documentary film Quelques féministes américaines (Some American Feminists) with Luce Guilbeault and Margaret Wescott. Later that year, Brossard was elected to the first executive board of the Union des Écrivains Québécois, a literary organization designed to define and protect the ethical and economic rights of its constituents. She subsequently served as the group's vice-president between 1983 and 1985. Meanwhile, Brossard continued her increasingly prolific literary output in the 1980s with such novels as Picture Theory (1982) and Le Désert mauve (1987; Mauve Desert). By the 1990s, Brossard had become an icon of the radical, urban feminist movement in Quebec, and continued to write, edit, and speak about such issues as postmodern literature, semiotic theory, and the awakening of feminine consciousness and lesbian desire.
Among Brossard's early collections of poetry, Aube à la saison and Mordre en sa chair (1966) are thought to reflect the influence of contemporary poets Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau, Alain Grandbois, and Anne Hébert, although they also demonstrate Brossard's movement away from the landscape focus then prevalent among Québécois writers. Her third volume, L'Écho bouge beau (1968), exhibits a more assured and individual control of poetic language, introducing many of the erotic and body-centered themes that Brossard has subsequently explored throughout her literary oeuvre. The collection also demonstrates her developing interest in semiotics and linguistic signification associated with such French poststructuralist theorists as Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida. Beginning with L'Écho bouge beau, Brossard also began a process of experimentalism in her writing, seeking to divorce her work from the misrepresentation of dominant ideologies, particularly those linked with patriarchy and its manifestations in language. In her subsequent poetic works, including Suite logique (1970), Le Centre blanc, and Mécanique jongleuse (1973; Daydream Mechanics), Brossard continued to expand and develop this effort. Le Centre blanc endeavors to displace the conventional ordering of syntactic elements such as subject, verb, and predicate in order to multiply and expand the range of signification and meaning in poetic language. Additionally, these works demonstrate Brossard's interest in the seductive and desire-laden dimensions of writing, as well as its subversive potential. Installations: Avec et sans pronoms (1989) and the prose poem La Nuit verte du Parc Labyrinthe (1992; Green Night of Labyrinth Park) offer thorough examinations of language, sexuality, subjectivity, and representation and uses such themes to suggest multivalent layers of meaning.
Brossard's narrative texts, which often feature a mélange of poetry and prose, generally dismiss traditional plotting and schemes of characterization. Un livre focuses on a small group of acquaintances and lovers whose movements, actions, and gestures form the structural center of the work and contribute to its themes of liberation, autonomy, and simultaneity. Brossard's second novel, French Kiss: étreinte/exploration (1974; French Kiss; or, A Pang's Progress), shows more of a concern with the emotions and physical sensations of the main characters, rather than conforming to traditional notions of plot or narrative. The novel follows Marielle and four other underground revolutionaries who create a short-lived utopian community, successfully staving off outside reality and Montreal's authorities before their experiment is destroyed by police intervention. Evidencing the influence of the French nouveau roman and other experimental fiction of the twentieth century, French Kiss subverts traditional modes of psychological characterization, instead offering a deep focus on the characters's movements, smell, texture, skin, and hair. Brossard's lesbian-feminist viewpoint and its consequent critique of patriarchal society is the driving force behind L'Amèr ou, le chapitre effrité: fiction théorétique (1977; These Our Mothers; or, the Disintegrating Chapter), a work that probes the psycho-social dynamics of the relationships between mothers and daughters. Another defining element of Brossard's prose is its focus on sexuality, particularly in the novels Amantes (1980; Lovhers) and Le Sens apparent (1980; Surfaces of Sense). Lovhers ostensibly takes place at the Barbizon Hotel for Women in New York City, though the work itself is more specifically a mixture of erotic poetry and utopian prose focused on the lesbian body. Drawing upon technology for its central image, Picture Theory—the term is borrowed from the theoretical work of the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein—nevertheless critiques and transgresses notions of linear, scientific logic. Its central focus is the daily repression and potential liberation of feminine desire, which Brossard visualizes in the symbolic contexts of the hologram—a construct that employs laser light to create a seemingly animate, three-dimensional image in space. Brossard uses this image as an abstracted reference to the mystery of the feminine and of a woman's limitless potential for interpretation. In a departure from Montreal, the setting of most of her fiction, Brossard favors the symbolically suggestive desert of the American Southwest in her postmodern novel Le Désert mauve, a text that plays with categories of writing, reading, and translation. Its first portion recounts the adventures of an alienated and rebellious fifteen-year-old girl, Mélanie Kerouac, detailing her high-speed drives through the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico. In the novel's second section, Mélanie's narrative is transformed into a book written by an author named Laure Angstelle. In the third and final section of the volume, a woman named Maude Laures discovers Angstelle's long forgotten work and decides to translate and rework the story under the title Mauve, l'horizon. More fictionally accessible than Brossard's earlier novels, Baroque d'aube (1995; Baroque at Dawn) explores the theme of feminine imaginative desire as it follows the efforts of three women—a writer, a photographer, and an oceanographer—to understand and interpret the creative process.
Since the early 1970s, Brossard has been widely recognized as a principal figure among North American feminist intellectuals and writers. Her unique poetic voice, radical politics, and provocative interpretation of lesbian poetics have positioned Brossard as a central figure in the avant-garde movement in late-twentieth-century Québécois literature. While some commentators have criticized her fiction for its experimental and non-traditional treatment of plot and character as well as its heavily meta-literary content, many contemporary critics have praised Brossard's writing as demanding, multifaceted, and richly suggestive. Amid those undisturbed by Brossard's open challenge to existing social, cultural, literary, and political institutions, her creative and theoretical work has been regarded as among the most esteemed in contemporary Francophone literature.
Aube à la saison (poetry) 1965
Mordre en sa chair (poetry) 1966
L'Écho bouge beau (poetry) 1968
Le Centre blanc (poetry) 1970
Suite logique (poetry) 1970
Un livre [A Book] (novel) 1970
Narrateur et personnages (radio play) 1971
Mécanique jongleuse [Daydream Mechanics] (poetry) 1973
Sold-out: étreinte/illustration [Turn of a Pang] (novel) 1973
French Kiss: étreinte/exploration [French Kiss; or, A Pang's Progress] (novel) 1974
Mécanique jongleuse suivi de masculin grammaticale (poetry) 1974
La Partie pour le tout (poetry) 1975
*La Nef des sorcières [A Clash of Symbols; with Marthe Blackburn, Marie-Claire Blais, Odette Gagnon, Luce Guilbeault, Pol Pelletier, and France Théoret] (play) 1976
L'Amèr ou, le chapitre effrité: fiction théorétique [These Our Mothers; or, the Disintegrating Chapter] (novel) 1977
Quelques féministes américaines [Some American Feminists; director; with Luce Guilbeault and Margaret Wescott] (documentary film) 1977
D'Arcs de cycle la dérive (poetry) 1979
The Story So Far 6/Les...
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SOURCE: Brossard, Nicole. “Poetic Politics.” In The Politics of Poetic Form: Poetry and Public Policy, edited by Charles Bernstein, pp. 73-82. New York: Roof Books, 1990.
[In the following essay, Brossard outlines her views on writing, desire, language, and reality, considering the political element of each.]
I have divided my presentation into two parts. The first part has to do with the body of writing, its motivations, its energies. The second part has to do with the references and values that surround us and the kinds of linguistic reaction they call for when we disagree with them. I say when we disagree with them because I don't believe that one becomes a writer to reinforce common values or common perspectives on reality.
I would like, in this talk, to make space for questions regarding different rituals, different approaches, different postures that we take in language in order to exist, fulfill our needs to express, communicate, or to challenge language itself: hoping that by playing with language it will reveal unknown dimensions of reality. I have been writing for more than 20 years. I have written poetry, novels, texts, essays. Today, I am still fascinated by the act of writing, the processes, the trouble, the pain, and the joy that we go through in order to put in words what we feel, what we recall vaguely but which insists on being recalled, what we envision...
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SOURCE: Gould, Karen. “Nicole Brossard: Beyond Modernity or Writing in the Third Dimension.” In Writing in the Feminine: Feminism and Experimental Writing in Quebec, pp. 52-107. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990.
[In the following excerpt, Gould evaluates Brossard's poetry volumes Suite logique and Le Centre blanc, and particularly her novel Un livre, as key texts in the formulation of a new, experimental literary modernity in Quebec.]
To imagine a language means to imagine a form of life.
Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations
Political liberation of sexuality: this is a double transgression, of politics by the sexual, and conversely. But this is nothing at all: let us now imagine reintroducing into the politico-sexual field thus discovered, recognized, traversed, and liberated … a touch of sentimentality: would that not be the ultimate transgression? For, after all, that would be love: which would return: but in another place.
Roland Barthes, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes
Women whirling in be-ing shift the center of gravity.
Mary Daly, Gyn/Ecology
The writing of Nicole Brossard lies at a...
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SOURCE: Bishop, Neil B. “Installations.” Canadian Literature, no. 135 (winter 1992): 158-60.
[In the following review, Bishop offers a positive assessment of Installations, calling the work “a joy.”]
It is paradoxical but stimulating to read these two books [Installations and Corps de glorie] together. The authors seem to share little either as poets or individuals, with the exception of Montreal (and while Brossard is a long-time Montrealer, [Juan] Garcia lived there only from 1957 to 1967, although he has continued to publish there since). And although metaphysical preoccupations are present in some of Brossard's large body of work, they are not nearly as religiously-oriented as in Garcia's poems, where references to a monotheistic religion and mystical elements often clearly related to Christianity are thematically predominant. Stylistically also, the two books diverge so markedly as to signify profound ideological differences.
While Nicole Brossard's work is well-known among Anglophone Canadian literature aficionados, Juan Garcia's probably is not. Some English-Canadian readers will be intrigued to know how this immigrant writer from Morocco achieved such prestige in Quebec as to have this retrospective and quasi-complete collection of his work (1963-1988) published by one of Montreal's leading publishers. While it would be tempting to answer “the...
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SOURCE: Malin, Irving. Review of Mauve Desert, by Nicole Brossard. Review of Contemporary Fiction 12, no. 1 (spring 1992): 158.
[In the following review, Malin comments favorably on Brossard's “subversive, otherworldly” novel Mauve Desert, admiring its play with perception, language, and reality.]
The epigraph to this wonderfully constructed novel [Mauve Desert] is by Calvino: “Reading is going toward something that is about to be, and no one yet knows what it will be.” The epigraph suggests that reading is an “adventure”—an approach to some final meaning. But it also implies that this adventure is somehow dangerous—there may not, after all, be a complete disclosure, an ultimate truth. The epigraph hints at uncertainty, misdirection, indirection.
When we first read the novel we don't know how to summarize and interpret it. The novel consists of at least three parts—Mélanie travels across the desert to escape her mother and the ordinary life in the motel in which they live. There is a sudden change. We are given part of another novel in which another heroine, Maude Laures, also seeks adventure and knowledge. Maude is a reader of Mélanie's life story. In effect, the two women merge, so that we are not completely sure who is author and character. Does Mélanie create Maude or vice versa? And, to complicate matters, we are given an...
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SOURCE: Brossard, Nicole, and Janice Williamson. “Nicole Brossard: ‘Before I became a feminist, I suppose I was an angel, a poet, a revolutionary. …’” In Sounding Differences: Conversations with Seventeen Canadian Women Writers, by Janice Williamson, pp. 59-72. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993.
[In the following interview, Brossard discusses her feminism and political motivation in relation to her literary works.]
[Williamson]: Would you reflect on a comment you made during a 1975 Quebec conference on women and writing? You said, ‘For that which speaks wants at the same time to condemn the law that calls for its repression, that which is forbidden desires and that which desires writes propelled by the very law it transgresses.’ What do you mean by transgression and desire?
[Brossard]: The notion of transgression has always been important in my writing. In books, mainly those published in the seventies, transgressing meant taking risks, making trouble in language and the bourgeois mentality, going over the limits of what is expected in a poem or a novel. Very often, I made a connection between transgression and desire because you transgress the permissible social space in order to make space for your desire. Transgression is defiance and can also be read as an attempt at renewal. If we talk in terms of feminist transgression, it is more complicated...
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SOURCE: Green, Maria. Review of Baroque d'aube, by Nicole Brossard. World Literature in Review 70, no. 4 (autumn 1996): 905-06.
[In the following review, Green discusses the plot and thematic content of Brossard's novel Baroque d'aube, noting its glorification of women and dismissive depiction of male characters.]
At daybreak, Cybil Noland, the middle-aged écrivaine, heroine, and narrator of Baroque d'aube, brings to orgasm an unknown woman, picked up in the hotel's elevator. She learned in her youth to look straight into the eyes of women, and the beautiful young girl responded. Reader, don't put down the book after this first paragraph! The novel is not about lesbian love but rather the gestation of a novel, the intricate problems of the creative process, and the many questions it raises. The girl exits from Nicole Brossard's novel after the first chapter but emerges as the dramatis persona of the écrivaine's book. She turns out to be a gifted violinist with an adventure-filled life.
Daybreak intonates the novel and enlightens the second word of the title, while baroque has many ramifications. Cybil has a baroque heart, a baroque imagination, and above all a baroque, exuberant style. Brossard cannot suppress the poet of her innermost being. Clusters of images sprint forth irrepressibly from her fertile imagination. They are always original,...
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SOURCE: Brossard, Nicole, and Beverley Daurio. “Patriarchal Mothers: Nicole Brossard.” In The Power to Bend Spoons: Interviews with Canadian Novelists, edited by Beverley Daurio, pp. 42-8. Toronto: Mercury Press, 1998.
[In the following interview, Brossard discusses her feminist theory of writing and explains the linguistic effects she created in her novel Mauve Desert.]
[Daurio]: Among others, you have often referred to Djuna Barnes and Gertrude Stein in your work. Who else has influenced your writing, and who do you think people should be reading?
[Brossard]: I make a distinction between people who have influenced you and people who are accompanying you in the writing. In the beginning when you are writing, you are much more impressed by other texts. For me, the main influences were Mallarmé, Maurice Blanchot, and then, in terms of women's writing, when I was much older: Adrienne Rich in her feminist essays; Mary Daly; Ti-Grace Atkinson and Kate Millet were important to me at the time that I read them; Clarice Lispector, a Brazilian writer who is stimulating and exciting.
It has been twenty-five years since your first book of poetry, Aube à la saison, came out. What have been the major changes in your approach to writing during that time?
You can see Nicole Brossard in my first two books, but as with most first...
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SOURCE: Moyes, Lianne. “Nothing Sacred: Nicole Brossard's Baroque at Dawn at the Limits of Lesbian Feminist Discourses of Sexuality.” Essays on Canadian Writing, no. 70 (spring 2000): 28-63.
[In the following essay, Moyes examines how Baroque at Dawn uses the baroque genre to “explore new vocabularies and new discourses of lesbian sexuality.”]
RESISTING THE BAROQUE
Although the term “Baroque” surfaces occasionally in interviews with Nicole Brossard and in her essays and fiction from the mid-1970s onward, she resisted using the term to qualify her writing until she published the novel Baroque at Dawn1 in 1995. In an effort to understand the meanings accrued to the baroque across the discourses of Brossard's oeuvre and to discern the terms of her initial resistance to the baroque, I begin this analysis of Baroque at Dawn with a brief discussion of three earlier texts: a 1982 interview with Brossard, the 1982 fiction Picture Theory, and the 1975 essay “E Muet Mutant.” This gesture of doubling back helps to situate her use of the term within the field of Québécois literary discourse as well as within the broader field of baroque aesthetic practice. First used by late-eighteenth-century European art critics to refer to conventions and practices from the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries that were out of...
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SOURCE: Knutson, Susan. “Text: In Which the Reader Sees a Hologram in Her Mind's Eye.” In Narrative in the Feminine: Daphne Marlatt and Nicole Brossard, pp. 155-68. Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2000.
[In the following essay, Knutson studies Brossard's feminist vision of woman as it is symbolized by a three-dimensional, holographic image in her novel Picture Theory.]
La langue est ce qui nous permet d'acheminer l'image mentale vers la pensée.
—Nicole Brossard, Accès à l'écriture
The first edition of Picture Theory (1982) has a design on the bottom right-hand corner of page 97, showing the corner of the page lifting to reveal a three-dimensional city, its highrises modelled in shimmering white outline against a dark grid. “Enter this book/city,” suggests the picture, “and enter a virtual and three-dimensional world.” The image corresponds to a densely written passage describing the vacationers' last night on the island, during which they negotiate the ninth and richest turn of the spiral: “une nuit parfaite”1 (112):
À l'autre bout de la nuit, j'allais ouvrir une bouteillle. Les cités convergeaient dans nos verres. Des femmes émergeaient de partout, l'architecture; la somme des lois tournait dans leurs yeux, la vélocité...
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SOURCE: Holbrook, Susan. “Delirium and Desire in Nicole Brossard's Le Désert mauve/Mauve Desert.” Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 12, no. 2 (summer 2001): 70-85.
[In the following essay, Holbrook explores the suggestive relationships among reading, writing, translation, interpretation, and desire illustrated in Brossard's novel Mauve Desert.]
“le ravissement” dit L. pour saisir le sens d'une expérience mentale où fragments et delire de l'éclat traduisent une pratique de l'émeute en soi comme une théorie de la réalité … … … … … … JE N'ARRÊTE PAS DE LIRE
(Brossard, Amantes 11)
“the rapture” said L. to grasp the sense of a mental experience where fragments and delirium from the explosion translate and experiment on riot within the self as a theory of reality … … … … … … I DON'T STOP READING/DELIRING
(Godard, Lovhers 16)
Hurtling home on the C-train, Calgary's rapid transit car, I read Nicole...
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Brossard, Nicole. “Interview with Nicole Brossard on Picture Theory.” Canadian Fiction Magazine, no. 47 (1983): 122-35.
Brossard discusses the form and major themes of Picture Theory and the novel's relationship to her entire body of work.
Brossard, Nicole, and Daphne Marlatt. “Only a Body to Measure Reality By: Writing the In-Between.” Journal of Commonwealth Literature 31, no. 2 (1996): 5-17.
Brossard and Marlatt discuss their thoughts and observations on the centrality of the body in relation to their writing.
Diehl-Jones, Charlene. Review of Green Night of Labyrinth Park, by Nicole Brossard. Books in Canada 22, no. 5 (summer 1993): 38-40.
Diehl-Jones lauds Brossard's fascination with subjectivity and sensitivity to language in the poetry of Green Night of Labyrinth Park.
Godard, Barbara. “Producing Visibility for Lesbians: Nicole Brossard's Quantum Poetics.” English Studies in Canada 21, no. 2 (June 1995): 125-37.
Godard considers Brossard's application of quantum theory to her discussion of visualization and lesbian poetics in Picture Theory.
Huffer, Lynne. “From Lesbos to Montreal: Nicole Brossard's Urban Fictions.” Yale French Studies, no. 90 (1996): 95-114.
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