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."