Table of Contents
- Introduction: The Immediacy of Space
- A Faint Spark
- Resonances: A Lexicon of Memory and Imagination
- Silence, Space, and Lapse: L’Inédit
- (Re)Writing the Womb
Québécoise author Nicole Brossard has produced an extensive literary oeuvre over the nearly fifty years that she has been actively writing. A considerable aspect of the broad range of her work involves the concept of space as it is both figuratively and physically conceived within her texts. Reading the spaces which she presents to her readers in her work, as well as reading the concept of space into areas of her work that might not otherwise directly invoke such a concept, provides one of many lenses through which a reader might view Brossard’s vast amount of writing. Taking space as a primary angle from which to approach Brossard’s work, the complexity and diversity of her writing becomes clearer, and certain key figures in her work gain a tangibility even for first time readers of Brossard. Space imports numerous meanings throughout Brossard’s work, forcing readers to reorient their relation(s) to language, text, sexuality, gender, reality, and more. Examining only a few of Brossard’s many works, this reading spirals through the depths of Brossard’s writing in a way that tries to explore the spaces that she has created, provided, discovered, opened up, and revealed throughout her ongoing career.
I can safely say that this paper would be absolutely nonexistent if not for the presence of Karen McPherson in my life. Indeed, my interest in and love for the work of Brossard was born during a class that she taught in the winter months of 2009. Brossard’s Mauve Desert, one of many assigned readings of the class, introduced me to a literary world that has continued to stimulate, reorient, baffle, and sometime shatter certain aspects of my own reality. I owe Karen a great deal of thanks for showing me this world in which I cannot see myself ever losing interest.
I also owe thanks to Louise Bishop for her continual support of my constantly changing interests and goals. It seems as though she has been there from day one of my freshman year, appropriately praising and criticizing my writing and ideas when needed. Likewise, I must thank Katy Brundan for never ceasing to take the time and effort to truly critique my work and point out flaws and pitfalls that I often overlook. I believe that I’ve taken more classes from her than any other instructor at the University of Oregon, and I can proudly say that I have thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of every class, from her elucidation of trauma theory, her extreme passion for Dracula, and her interest in technology of every kind in literature.
As a prompt for the remainder of this paper, I’d like to acknowledge and thank my family and friends in terms of space. First, my mother, father, and grandmother, who have provided me the most loving spaces of all. Without these spaces—their warm homes, open tables, accepting arms—not only could I not have completed this rather long project, but I also could not have hoped to flourish throughout these years at the University of Oregon. In addition, I must thank any and all of my family members that have aided me throughout my life and provided me various spaces out of nothing more than simple love.
Lastly, I’d like to thank all my friends and acquaintances who have helped with this process in a few ways. First, Katherine Strandberg, Nicole Lynch, and Russell Melia among many, many others to whom I apologize for not having the space to list their names, have more than indulged me by joining me in the space of dialogue, discussing topics ranging from Brossard herself, to feminist theory, to the practice and technique of writing. Second, Dominique Rossi, Jessica Pruitt, and Erika Unruh, also among many others to whom I make the same apology, have provided me spaces to rest, to eat, and to rejuvenate my mind after much physical and intellectual travel. Finally, André Escamilla, Daryle Chang, and so many others have unfalteringly given me a shoulder on which to rest or cry, provided me spaces in which to forget or remember, and simply done more for me than I can express in the tight space of this page.
Thank you all.
… je tente l’exploration cherchant l’évidence propre à détruire l’écran chacun des angles devant être abstraits développant lors les possibilités plus tard au-delà de la crispation diffuser s’inscrire alors en tant que stratégie dans l’espace
— Nicole Brossard, Le Centre Blanc
Space surrounds us. For some, it is emptiness; it is that which is unoccupied by matter; it is nothingness. For some, it is an obstacle; it is that which separates entities, something that one must traverse in order to move from one point to another. For some, it is nonexistent; it is that which seems void of substance but is in fact filled with particles, molecules, atoms, and other material invisible to the naked eye. Still, for others, it is a palpable reality; it is that which is yet to be, its mystery representing the very vastness of its potential. Future(s).
In 2010, the concept of space imports a multitude of meanings and implications. Space exploration in the physical sense, a feat of humankind only a few decades old, has only begun to reveal the absolute minuteness of earthly existence within the expanse of the universe. On a smaller scale, the past five centuries of imperialism, colonialism, and globalization have reoriented the individual’s relation to space on scales of both micro and macro importance. Indeed, space on this planet continues to grow limited, disappearing as populations increase, as societies merge, and as resources grow limited. Perhaps something of an oversimplification, it seems that the future viability of humanity fundamentally depends on the use of space—more specifically, the manipulation of both occupied space and the future employment of untouched space.
Fortunately for me, these are the concerns and tasks of politicians, scientists, engineers, and others. The questions of how much forest should be cleared to make way for vital farmland or how new forms of transportation might be most efficiently implemented to carry millions of people across continents clearly do not fall into the realm of my discipline and the project it has spawned here. And yet, my concern with space bears upon the future existence of humankind in a way that potentially affects the livability of individual lives as well as the relationships between these lives as entities existing together within various shared political, social, and cultural realities.
As a student of language and literature, my primary interest with space lies within the realm of discourse. Discourse as an umbrella term consists of all linguistic exchanges, from political speeches, to cultural and literary histories, to social norms conditioning the ways in which individuals interpret race, gender, ethnicity, economic class, and so on. Material and geographical constraints notwithstanding, discourse proves a powerful force in the production of individual subjects and the relationships that these subjects share among one another. Discourse shapes the very contours of reality for those who participate within it, and to be sure it is virtually impossible to exist without participating in some form of discourse. In relation to space, discourse has the power to open, fill, manipulate, and eradicate. It can reveal space as well as den y the existence of space. It has the power to relegate space for particular uses and even for particular lives. It is therefore pertinent, in light of the claim that space will determine the future (or is it the other way around?), that the concept of space play a more important role in discussions concerning language and its transformative powers.
Bordering on an obsession for me, the work of Québécoise lesbian-feminist writer Nicole Brossard has both initiated, expanded, and exploded my fascination with this very relation of space to language, discourse, reality, and the future of these entities as they shape even the most insignificant aspects of human experience. At once an experimental work of metafiction, translation theory, gender theory, and ecstatic poetry, Brossard’s Mauve Desert (Le desert mauve) provided an introduction to what I would later come to understand as a disorienting spiral motion, vertiginous and delirious—a process of reading, writing, and translating that is hard to escape once discovered. It follows, then, that her oeuvre, which will be discussed more in depth throughout this paper, forms the basis of my understanding of space and its relation to discourse. Certainly, I am far from the first reader to recognize Brossard’s deep concern with the immediacy of space and the incredible deftness with which she handles this concern in regards to what Catherine Campbell describes as “women’s collective mark.” Furthermore, Campbell notes that “[m]uch of her work has been an effort to create a space in which women can make that mark,” and that “Brossard’s approach to the problem is unique in terms of her views of both language and space” (139). I am, therefore, taking part in an ongoing effort to bring Brossard’s name and project, both still largely unknown in many literary and academic circles, into a more visible space where its effects have yet to make themselves felt.
At the heart of this effort lies the magic of Brossard’s writing, which has permeated my mind and transformed my own reality in ways that I can only try to relay within the space of these pages. Brossard’s words, both precise and enigmatic, both highly abstract and frighteningly real, both distant and immediate, have affected me in the way one of her most seminal works The Aerial Letter (La Lettre aérienne) seems to have affected Louise H. Forsyth, a well-known reader and citric of Brossard’s work, as she writes the following in her introduction to the work: “A friend said to me with considerable fervour that she had read La Lettre aérienne and had loved it. Such a strong emotional response to a book of theory may seem strange, and yet I too have read and loved these texts” (Brossard, The Aerial Letter 9). Before delving any further into Brossard’s background, work, and literary project as it relates to my concerns with space, however, I would like to continue with a very general discussion of discourse to provide some context for later claims I will make about Brossard’s writing.
Unsurprisingly, the primary focus of studies in discourse (philosophically, rhetorically, linguistically, and otherwise) often concentrates on the presence of discourse and its effects: language as it is spoken, written, filmed, performed, or otherwise inscribed into that collective memory we generally label “history.” This, more often than not, is the space of “dominant discourse”—a language of reality and existence that most either understand and accept or are expected to do so. The study of alternate or “minority” discourses has only recently emerged in the past century in light of various historical events, including decolonization and the rise of post-colonialism, the U.S. Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, the rise of feminist and gay/lesbian politics and activism, and the rapid growth of globalization. These events have not only called attention to the existence of lives that do not necessarily conform to the dominant discourse in place, but often they have also involved a call to include such lives, along with their languages and individual political, social, and cultural realities, within the dominant discourse; that is, to create new spaces of recognition within the dominant discourse in order that these lives may cease existing as marginal, foreign, unhuman and other and gain inclusion into the prevailing history.
Thus, the recurring question: is this a possibility? Is there space or are there spaces within dominant discourse for the realities of those who have hitherto been excluded from such discourse? Because Western dominant discourse has its origins in Greco-Roman antiquity, this discourse is fundamentally patriarchal, phallocentric, logocentric, heterocentric and heteronormative, Judeo-Christian, and Eurocentric. As such, it has traditionally excluded women, all people of color, homosexuals, non-Christians, and all other people falling outside of the paradigms created by the intersection of the above “centrisms.” As Judith Butler points out, this process of exclusion is, in fact, the very essence of subject formation: “the subject is constituted through the force of exclusion and abjection, one which produces a constitutive outside to the subject, an abjected outside, which is, after all, “inside” the subject as its own founding repudiation” (Bodies That Matter 3). In their exclusion or repudiation the populations occupying this “abjected outside” have experienced oppression not only in an obviously physical sense, but also through a systematic silencing. Within the reality forged by dominant discourse, the languages of these marginalized groups have been excluded as unintelligible; they do not make sense. Therefore, the inclusion of marginalized identities into the dominant discourse would necessitate an inclusion of the various languages of these excluded populations. In the end, however, it is not simply a process of carrying languages of marginal spaces into the space of dominant discourse, but rather a process of disrupting and altering the space of dominant discourse itself—all the while, transforming existing languages in a way that perceptibly alters reality as we experience it.
It seems that I cannot stress enough the importance of language—its every sentence, word, letter, and sound—in this endeavor to alter reality in such a way that the realm of recognition might be expanded to include the realities of marginal lives. I would also like to stress, however, that I refuse to envision this process as one of submission or assimilation, one in which marginal realities would be subsumed into the dominant discourse in such a way that they still remain ostensibly inferior or less “real” than the prevailing reality. In fact, in the ideal situation the “prevailing reality” would no longer be an issue: the spaces revealed and opened by the inclusion of other discourses and reality would so feverishly ignite a linguistic crisis that a new discourse would emerge, one of multiplicity and infinite possibility.
For now, however, we must operate within history, the restrictive and often violent narrative that our Fathers have fashioned over millennia. However, as previously implied, this circumstance is quickly changing, due greatly to the fact that modernity and postmodernity have instilled in many a greater awareness of the influence of language on every layer of human experience. Brossard’s work literally embodies changes in writing that have taken place over the past half-century, and its transformative powers hold immense promise for the potential futures not only of writing, but of reality itself. As critic Lynne Huffer notes, it may seem as though the entirety of this planet has been traversed and that the potential of uncharted space is a thing of the past. Surely, our desire for language, especially in the form of stories, has seemingly led us across all surfaces of Earth. Huffer explains: “Alas, we long for stories, but it seems that there are no more earthly places to travel. The world is mapped: there are no more journeys and no more stories to tell” (132). And yet, just as I have found new meaning, narratives, and stories in Brossard’s writing of space, Huffer immediately seems to hear “Brossard saying, ‘Not so! Not so! See, here’s another layer of graffiti, another aerial letter!’,” and she concedes: “OK, I think, so let’s look again” (133).
Even as space surrounds us, it continually escapes our grasp. Perhaps this is its allure: It is uncertain, unmade, awaiting the future(s) that will create within it a reality or a multitude of realities. To read space solely as absence or negativity, thereby negating its potential, is to ignore its immediacy. It beckons us to create, to manipulate, to disrupt, and most of all, to write. For it is through writing that space materializes, takes shape, moves, expands or diminishes, and ultimately becomes a tool in its own right. From the very beginning of her literary career, this tool proves indispensable for Brossard as she reasserts and manipulates its presence through language, always cognizant of its power to reveal new possibilities, breach the seeming solidity of dominant discourses, and open our eyes to the potential future(s) that lie before us.
I have attempted as much as possible to anchor the work presented here in the concept of space. That said, it exists first and foremost as a critical work that takes as its focal point the body of literary and theoretical texts that Nicole Brossard has produced throughout her career. As such, I have chosen to implement an organizational scheme that attempts to feed the general into the specific. Beginning with a discussion of rather broad social, political, cultural, philosophical, and literary issues and how these issues relate the work of Brossard, I will move to an exploration of general ideas that are particular to Brossard’s oeuvre. From there, I will ultimately take on the task of analyzing individual works that Brossard has written, in order to elucidate the ways in which the topics of the first two tasks I mentioned bear upon the form and content of Brossard’s writing.
To write: I am a woman is heavy with consequences.
— Nicole Brossard, These Our Mothers Or: The Disintegrating Chapter
The men try to recognize the flowers the women point out to them in the flower-beds shrubberies meadows fields. The women chose names with the men for the things round about them. They make them look at the space which everywhere extends to their feet.
— Monique Wittig, Les Guérillères
Less renowned outside of her native Québec, Nicole Brossard has been a driving force in Québécoise feminist, literary, and political circles for over thirty years (Parker 3). Her oeuvre, extensive in both quantity and diversity, breaches the boundaries traditionally drawn between various conventional literary genres and forms; her works range from theoretical poetic texts like Lovhers (Amantes) and Surfaces of Sense (Le sens apparent), to meta-novels like Mauve Desert, Picture Theory, and These Our Mothers Or: The Disintegrating Chapter (L’amèr ou le chapitre effrité) to compendia like The Aerial Letter, which brings various texts, fragments, and utterances of Brossard’s into a space of non-linear dialogue. The transgressive nature of Brossard’s texts, however, does not stop at their form and genre; rather, it extends into the various concepts and visions that Brossard textually inscribes.
Brossard’s literary career consists of two fairly distinct periods: her earlier years, primarily distinguished by a formalist presence, and her later/contemporary years, which are characterized by a strong lesbian-feminist identity. Although several critics have noted that the works that Brossard produced during these two periods are markedly different, there is an unmistakable continuity between the two periods, which, for a comprehensive reader of Brossard’s work, reveals a consistent development in ideology (Gould 53-56, Parker 113, Santoro 153-155). What Brossard acquires through many of her initial works (Le Centre Blanc, A Book, Surfaces of Sense) is a very critical eye toward the construction of reality via language or discourse. In her later works (Lovhers, Mauve Desert, These Our Mothers) Brossard applies this critical stance to the questions of sexual difference, écriture au feminin, the radical, urban lesbian, three-dimensional space in writing, and numerous other issues. So, when she writes, “They [the words] represent the main characters, mask reality… and little by little the mask becomes the reality” (A Book, 59), Brossard is initially revealing the transformative power that language, in conjunction with a fictional literary form (in this case, the novel), bears upon individual and shared realities. Still present in Brossard’s later and overtly lesbian-feminist works, the critique of this transformative power becomes more or less a critique leveled at dominant phallo(go)centric discourse and reality. As such, Brossard’s project over the past four and a half decades has been to uncover the linguistic and literary intricacies of this self-proclaimed singular reality—that is, to understand how it operates, to understand how it assumes precedence over a multitude of other realities, and in doing so, to expose its flaws, its lapses, and the marginal yet promising spaces that it has not claimed as its own.
In approaching Brossard’s work with a critical aim, I take many risks. Some I cannot avoid acknowledging, and others I can afford to dismiss. There is the risk of appropriating what is presumably not mine to appropriate: a language, a sexuality, an identity, a reality, an existence. There is the risk of affixing a gaze in my reading and criticism, not recognizing the way in which my assumed privilege ultimately prevents me from occupying the very spaces about which I write. Indeed, as Winfried Siemerling, himself a male critic of Brossard’s work, prefaces his own reading of Brossard, “this somewhat self-evident caveat of textual study acquires additional urgency in the case of a male subjectivity discussing (lesbian) feminist texts” (173). Nevertheless, these risks do not outweigh the magnetic affect that Brossard’s work has had and continues to have on me.
When I consider the various components of my own identity—sex, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, social and economic class,…—it seems that I am doomed to a very limited application of Brossard’s work in my own work and life. Highly centered on her identity as a lesbian-feminist woman, Brossard’s work at times seems exceedingly specific to a certain group of readers. To succumb to this logic of its particularity outweighing the benefits of its potential universality, however, is ultimately contrary to the goals of Brossard’s writing. Somewhat in passing, Huffer, a lesbian-feminist woman herself, effortlessly affirms the dual nature of Brossard’s work:
I would like to think of her work as another kind of lesbian writing that is not just by a lesbian or about lesbians, but explores the very processes through which people and their stories are made invisible. Such a writing would think about Hochelagans as well as lesbians; and it would tell a story, as in French Kiss, not just of woman-loving tongues swirling in mouths but also of the genocidal “kiss” of death that is the legacy of the mapmakers, furtrappers, conquerors, and colonizers of this planet. (131)
The potential that Huffer finds within Brossard’s work is one of discovery and renewal. Through her use of language, Brossard both exposes the ways language has been used to afford a very real power—the power to grant presence and absence to human lives—to those who have traditionally been granted its use and reworks that very language to give new voice to layers and spaces of existence that have been previously denied a voice. Of course, her personal circumstances impel this process; however, they only give shape to a perspective that applies to any who are willing to explore it.
Brossard herself claims that “the act of writing allows me to exist within and beyond my biological and geographical constraints” (The Aerial Letter 139). This dual existence is in many ways the crux of Brossard’s work. As previously mentioned, Brossard’s identity as a lesbian-feminist lies at the foundation of much of her work; however, her hyperawareness of the various forms language takes through its use enables her work to extend its immediacy to domains that do not necessarily have any relation to lesbian-feminism. Using a language that phallogocentric history has generated over time and passed down to her, Brossard’s work acknowledges many of the risks I myself have enunciated as a preliminary note to this chapter. How can a lesbian-feminist use language that indeed has such a misogynist underpinning? Brossard’s answer comes in the form of the various transformative figures that continually guide her writing and its intended effect on her readers and language itself. These figures, some of which I will discuss later in detail, suggest an often problematic relation between the spaces of the particular and the universal. Thus, it is pertinent to engage in a general discussion of what these spaces mean for an author who asserts a traditionally marginal reality, like that of Brossard, and how the relation between and appropriation of these spaces ultimately works toward their current and future rewriting.
Though the problem of particularity versus universality does not make many significant or explicit appearances in Brossard’s work, its presence is undoubtedly implied in the way that Brossard writes, with both her particular identity in mind and an assumed commonality at least among all women, if not the entire human species. Today, the concept of this commonality, a basis for Universalist arguments, has been extremely complicated by issues of post-colonialism, globalization, and the inclusion of “gender studies” into a discipline that began as “feminist” or “women’s studies.” At the academic forefront of exploring this complication are philosophers, theorists, and critics who have put into question the very meaning of the term “woman” and its application in social, political, and cultural discourse. At a point when Brossard had markedly established her career as a writer and her presence in feminist circles, Judith Butler’s groundbreaking Gender Trouble brought into question the possibility of a feminist discourse centered around the shared identity of “woman.” In the opening paragraph of her first chapter, Butler grants that “the development of a language that fully or adequately represents women has seemed necessary to foster the political visibility of women,” especially, “considering the pervasive cultural condition in which women’s lives were either misinterpreted or not represented at all.” However, she claims that the development of feminist work, in both its growth in the theoretical realm of the academy and its worldwide application, and the work of other fields has produced “a great deal of material that not only questions the viability of ‘the subject’ as the ultimate candidate for representation or, indeed, liberation,” and resulted in “very little agreement after all on what it is that constitutes, or ought to constitute, the category of women” (2). The situation that Butler describes is not at all foreign to Brossard; one therefore gains a considerable amount in terms of approaching Brossard’s work by first engaging her perspective on the question of woman and women’s identity.
Traditionally, women and femininity have been linked to notions of materiality—a problematic term that may indicate the form an idea takes as it passes through language or invoke an alleged physical space that exists outside of language. In either case, Butler informs us that this “classical association of femininity with materiality can be traced to a set of etymologies which link matter with mater and matrix (or the womb) and, hence, with a problematic of reproduction.” She further qualifies the import of this association, stating, “The classical configuration of matter as a site of generation or origination becomes especially significant when the account of what an object is and means requires recourse to its originating principle” (31). If one takes text as the primary object of Brossard’s work, it seems important, in light of Butler’s assertion, to identify and evaluate Brossard’s understanding of the origin(s) of textual production and how these origins engender and influence the existence, meaning, and effects of text. Alice A. Parker, author of the extensive Liminal Visions of Nicole Brossard (the most comprehensive volume of criticism solely on the work of Brossard to date), identifies the crucial role that desire—specifically female desire—plays in Brossard’s work as the origin of women’s writing: “In the beginning is desire. Desire in the Brossardian oeuvre has a woman’s body… In the beginning are a kind of contemplation and concentration which enable the woman writer to move beyond silence and inhibition” (17). At the risk of igniting an ontological debate that is irrelevant to the aims of this paper, it appears that this “woman’s body” is actually what is “in the beginning.” Further simplified, the claim reads, “In the beginning is woman.”
Indeed, Brossard both affirms this claim when she writes, “The origin is not the mother, but the sense I make of words, and originally I am a woman” (The Aerial Letter 111). The rejection of the mother or the maternal as possible spaces of origin—a topic to which I will return later—is vital to Brossard’s definition of “woman,” largely due to the problematic etymologies that Butler mentions. Linking the origin of women’s writing to a definition of woman that is intrinsically founded upon the form of the mother effectively relegates such writing to the patriarchal confines of a space that it has often occupied in the past—that is, a space limited by biological circumstances. This narrow definition is inadequate and unthinkable for Brossard’s understanding of women’s writing, for it not only hinders but also inherently denies the emergence of Brossard’s “radical integral woman” (The Aerial Letter 81, 109, 111, 114), a figure that Parker equates with the “generic woman,” the “synchronous aerial” woman, the “essential woman,” the “radical urban” woman, and the existence of all these women as “studious daughters” [filles studieuses] (98-99). With the radical integral woman, we literally arrive at the root of women’s writing as expressed through Brossard’s work. Yet, in order to grasp the significance of this experiential and textual origin, one must first consider the arguments underlying Brossard’s answer to the imperative question with which Simone de Beauvoir and nearly every feminist following her have struggled: “what is a woman?” (xv).
Fortunately, Brossard directly confronts this question when she presents three theoretical definitions of the term “woman”: “A Woman is a Man,” “A Woman is What I am,” and “A Woman is a Woman.” As a preface, Brossard explains the direct and immediate impact that adopting these definitions has on an individual: “…whatever expression we choose in order to define ourselves, and by the very fact of defining the word woman, each one of us is radically convinced that the expression she uses makes sense of her life and consequently of life in general” (The Aerial Letter 108). Again, there is the implication that a particular identification with a certain version of “woman” will inevitably have an effect on that individual’s association with the universal concept of “women.” For Brossard, all three definitions of “woman” that she presents carry the risk of confining a woman to “a fiction she did not originate,” and, once again, it is through a sort of negotiation among the three definitions that she comes to a conclusion that will prove satisfactory to her aims. “A Woman is a Man” potentially erases female subjectivity altogether “in the name of Man—justice, freedom, fraternity, equality.” Its only benefit seems to be its promise to afford women the “chance to participate in the social ritual (i.e. discourse, knowledge, politics, etc.)” (109). Obviously, this is the very illusion against which Brossard is working through changing the core reality of the “social ritual.” For similar reasons, Brossard views the formulation of “A Woman is What I am” as unsatisfactory and problematic because it “implies that it is in the name of humanity (that is, in the name of the Man lying dormant in us) that we can lay claim to autonomy, subjectivity, individualism, and creativity” (108). Thus, a woman who adheres to this definition still abides by some general notion of human cohesion. Be that as it may, the universal concept of the human is rooted in the existence and subjectivity of the White heterosexual male, therefore rendering it unsuitable as a definition for woman as a discrete subject.
In Brossard’s final definition of “woman,” she reaches a conclusion concerning this problematic term that promises to account for a particular female subjectivity and the differences that exist within the reality that results from such subjectivity. For Brossard, “A Woman is a Woman” still has the potential to at least obscure veritable female subjectivity because the very idea of Woman has been engendered by a violent history at the hands of men. Woman (in this sense, denoted by a capital “W” just as “Man” is denoted by a capital “M” in the previous definition) potentially acts as what Luce Irigaray calls “more or less an obliging prop for the enactment of man’s fantasies” (This Sex Which Is Not One 25). Invoking spaces of sense and non-sense (spaces that will remain important throughout the remainder this paper), Brossard claims that woman faces the challenge of, on the one hand, “not figur[ing] into sense,” and on the other hand, “appear[ing] as non-sense” (The Aerial Letter 109). The result of this situation positions woman, in each of Brossard’s definitions, at odds with a system centered around a definition of human that stems from the discourse of Man—indeed, a discourse of logic/sense and non-sense, presence and absence, subject and object/Other, and other constructed binary oppositions.
Up to this point, it seems that Brossard is suggesting that “woman” is a term that has no relation to its supposed referent that the male-centered concept of humanity has not tarnished, corrupted, or invented to further its dominance. Still, she places hope in the rereading and regeneration of the term woman and its meaning, rejecting the impossibility of woman’s recognition within humanity. In reference to the idea that “whoever aspires to humanity could not know how to identify with women, much less take up their common cause,” Brossard writes: “Now it happens that some women have set about claiming the opposite. We call them radical feminists and their humanity is found precisely there, in the conquest they make, word by word, body to body, of the being, woman” (The Aerial Letter 109). In the end, it is the very act of conquering or reclaiming the term “woman,” particularly through the medium of language and its application in writing, that makes one a woman. In Brossard’s mind, this does not render the previous definitions void; rather it imbues women with the power to distinguish the potential pitfalls that each definition contains and to avoid them or rework them as necessary. Woman begins to exist as human rather than man, as a unique subject with particular aims rather than a generic subject with the general aims of a patriarchal system, and as a woman rather than Woman. Brossard labels this power “radical feminist consciousness,” and concludes that “were it not for a radical feminist consciousness intersecting the word woman, each of the three expressions would result in a reinforcement of patriarchal one-way sense” (109).
And so, this is the beginning. It must be, for prior to writing there must exist a writer—in this case an “auther” (translated from Brossard’s linguistic construction auteure, which plays upon the silent feminine e of the French language). Upon a particular radical feminist consciousness that forms the basis of what Brossard and many of her Québécoise and French contemporaries have termed écriture au féminin (writing in the feminine), Brossard begins to write, and through her experimentation with language and literary form, as well as her invention of an extensive personal lexicon with which she constructs three-dimensional images, forms, and figures that bestow her work with a certain physicality, she claims a space of her own and ventures from that space into the unwritten, the untold, and the unknown (Parker 71-72). Yet, as particular as this project may be, its discoveries and revelations seem to penetrate continually the seemingly solidified space of dominant discourse; in other words, as particular as Brossard’s perspective may seem, it circulates through so-called universal reality and even stakes a certain claim within that reality.
I would like to imagine that, despite no explicit indication, Monique Wittig, in her short essay “The Point of View: Universal or Particular,” published in 1980, read and took as inspiration Brossard’s work. This imagined scenario does not seem entirely implausible, as Wittig writes, “The minority subject is not self-centered as is the straight subject. Its extension into space could be described as being like Pascal’s circle, whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere” (The Straight Mind 62). As I will eventually discuss, this visualized “extension into space,” is quite reminiscent of Brossard’s figure of the spiral. As the woman writer, no doubt equipped with a radical feminist consciousness, ventures into the infinite spaces awaiting her, always intent on conquering the very terms which define her, she is still anchored in a reality, a society, a civilization, beyond her choosing. Thus, she ultimately returns from her quests, and with her hand alone, she inscribes a particular experience into the universal or general reality. Again, the difficulty lies, especially in Brossard’s work, in negotiating a dual existence—being both born into and at the same time inherently excluded from a patriarchal system of language. To effectively alter this system, Wittig argues, “one must work to reach the general, even while starting from an individual or from a specific point of view” (67). Again, a radical feminist consciousness enables the negotiation between the general or universal space dictated by patriarchal discourse and the marginal spaces of silenced realities that await their inscription and recognition. For Brossard, the existence of the former fuels the ultimate emergence of the latter, as she herself writes, “My woman’s being uses men’s knowledge to better resist and annihilate the violence and oppression on which this knowledge of men (of humanity) is built” (The Aerial Letter 37). In the end, Brossard relies on the knowledge she is given to disrupt that very knowledge, to force the particular into the space of the general or universal, thereby effecting breaches in which new types of knowledge, experience, and reality might establish a visible presence.
we define imagination as the understanding we have of ellipses, spirals, and arms, cyclical arcs, when the appetite for the Island and the desire to fight in the City together act as a stimulant on our saliva.
—Nicole Brossard, Surfaces of Sense
They say that there is no reality before it has been given shape by words rules regulations. They say that in what concerns them everything has to be remade starting from basic principles. They say that in the first place the vocabulary of every language is to be examined, modified, turned upside down, that every word must be screened.
—Monique Wittig, Les Guérillères
Brossard has produced, over the course of her career, a personal visionary language that employs an enigmatic, ambiguous, and sometimes volatile vocabulary in order to inscribe both an individual and collective female experience of reality. In this respect, individual words or concepts are not fixed; instead, their ability to reveal different angles, forge various avenues of signification, or admit certain limits in regard to the spaces within her writing lends them a certain physical essence. Not only do they illuminate some of her most important and complex ideas, but they also spatially map the terrain of thought, emotion, and experience that she has developed across the various texts that constitute the landscape of her intellectual project. The search for and creation of this vocabulary has been a vital process of writing for Brossard from the outset of her career, as she affirms, “It is in finding the words – and nowhere as in writing does one look so hard for one’s words – that a woman initiates herself into that positive image which makes her exist as subject” (The Aerial Letter 142). As we have seen, the radical integral feminist can no longer rely on the given definition of her existence derived from the historical meaning of “woman”; thus, to a great extent, her project must consist of speaking and writing a new existence through the renewal of language and the spaces it permits.
The language Brossard speaks is a language that most will not at least initially understand. Conventional grammar, syntax, structure, form, and even spelling are not concerns of hers; in fact, she purposefully and diligently works against linguistic convention, propriety, and logic, exposing, sometimes inadvertently, the core fabric of what we call language and how the manipulation of this fabric produces the text(ure) of our realities. Indeed, language forms the foundation of Brossard’s endeavor—clearly, because she is a writer, but also because she consistently pushes for the recognition of historically excluded, hidden, oppressed, denied, and prohibited existences, particularly her own as a lesbian woman. Born into a society that favors the masculine and posits a phallocentric reality founded upon patriarchal language, the language of the Father, as a universal reality, Brossard views her existence as a writer as at best precarious and at worst invisible within this system. Hence, her work must negotiate between that which she has been given—a language with a violent and exclusionary history—and that which she has destined herself to create: a language capable of relating her experiences, her presence, her identity, and her visions for the many futures into which she writes.
As a poet first and foremost, Brossard’s vocabulary is vast. She employs unusual words in unexpected places, she chooses to leave many foreign words in their original language, and she more than dabbles in neologisms. There is a palpable confidence in each word she chooses to inscribe on the pages of her work; it seems as though she touches the multiple surfaces of each word, studying its significance from various angles, before selecting it. For Brossard, this is a linguistic practice that is necessary for the articulation of female experience by women, for “women exchange their views by means of words which are foreign to their perception, to their experience, and in this itself have difficulty agreeing on the meaning to give to words and, consequently, to their lives and their projects.” As a result, some of the words that Brossard writes “become devoid of meaning, some take form, others produce unexpected effects, while still others are used with extreme precision,” producing “a revolution around its axis,” in which “we examine the root from all angles, from every point of view” (The Aerial Letter 110). Ultimately, this process challenges readers to alter their readings and, consequently, their relations to language and reality.
Paired with this sensitivity to the numerous meanings that individual words impart, one of Brossard’s most valuable strategies in dealing with the inescapability of masculine-centered language is the creation of a lexicon of figures that exceed traditional logic and definitive understanding or knowledge. So, like her extremely calculated use of the simplest to the most complex terms, Brossard’s development and repetitive employment of a very personal lexicon in her work has the potential to modify her readers’ perspectives. Yet, whereas her ability to manipulate and transform individual words displays its effectiveness at very precise and calculated textual moments—for instance, the use of the term “mâ,” which both denotes “space” in Japanese and, without the accented “a,” stands for the feminine possessive pronoun in French (Lovhers 89)—Brossard’s repetition of “key figures” creates a resonance both within and throughout her texts that gradually takes shape as a vision of future possibilities—sometimes utopian, sometimes uncertain, always essential to the continuation of her work and “a future she hopes to help create” (Parker 7).
In the following section, I present five of Brossard’s figures—the spiral, vertigo and delirium, the horizon, the hologram and three-dimensional writing/reading, and rapprochement and the two-way passage—that I have chosen based on the frequency with which they appear in her work, the urgency that they carry in regards to her work and her aims as a lesbian-feminist writer, and their usefulness for readers who critically engage Brossard’s texts. My goal is not to define these figures; to do so would not only undermine their presence as figures, schemas, images, and visions rather than words, terms, or names, but it would also limit their potential applications beyond the scope of this paper. Instead, I hope to elucidate the reasons for Brossard’s adoption of such figures by citing their formulation in Brossard’s own words and examining key moments during which they appear in and have a visible effect on her various works.
One of the most fascinating and powerful aspects of Brossard’s figures resides in their deep interconnectedness—to be sure, one might even call it an interdependency. Even as I separate them into distinct sections, it becomes clear that these figures are not at all discrete. Instead these figures nourish a multitude of shared meanings among one another, encouraging the reader to continually alter the angle of her perspective, degree by degree, so that she might discover revelatory spaces—spaces that fuel the desire to explore fiction, reality, and language through the interminable practices of reading, writing, and translating. Brossard’s ability to engender this multiplicity of meaning and space through her figures creates what Parker calls a “textual universe” in which “there are multiple worlds, the orbits of which are not fixed, so that sometimes they are juxtaposed…and at others superimposed”; therefore, Parker continues, “Whether she is interrogating the patronymic fiction we call ‘reality,’ or marveling at the splendid beauty of an autumn day, she avoids the compulsive linearity/chronology of narration, which the lesbian subject experiences as alien, or in Derrida’s term phallogocentric” (20). Be it an interwoven web, a patchwork fabric, a complex matrix, a city wall layered with graffiti, or a map of overlapping roads, landscapes, departures, and arrivals, the space that Brossard reveals through the development of her figures provides readers with certain tools that might aid in discovering (re)new(ed) modalities of being, (re)new(ed) patterns of thought and existence, and, indeed, a (re)new(ed) sense of language and reality.
The spiral pattern opens out onto the unwritten. And the unwritten circulates, round and round, producing emanations like those at the door to an initiatory pathway.
— Nicole Brossard, Surfaces of Sense
Up to infinity: the center of these “movements” corresponding to zero supposes in them an infinite speed, which is physically unacceptable.
— Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One
Rejecting the two most ubiquitous models of time, space, and thought in the Western tradition, those of linearity and circularity, Brossard envisions a spiral representation of experience that begins at an uncertain point and expands into an unknown future. She believes that modernity has taken the traditional linear view of the text—the belief in a logical and sequential beginning, middle, and end—and turned this view upon itself, resulting in a circular view of text—a continual awareness of text as text, which fails to move in any direction save infinitely back upon itself. In brief, her critique and solution:
I hold that this exciting experience of text which turns about itself, bearing and being borne by its own weight, simultaneously suggests excess, the circle, and the void. I say the circle, for it seems to me that in wanting to break the linearity, it is as if we have been forced into its opposite, to turn full circle, as if the text in this had come to its own end in itself, even were this to explode.
From excess, from the circle (as the sum of fragments accumulated from having been repeatedly shattered), and from the void, I would then translate the results into the feminine by a shift in meaning going from excess to ecstasy, from circle to spiral, and from void to opening, as a solution for continuity. (The Aerial Letter 71)
Of all Brossard’s figures, the spiral seems to be all-encompassing: both desire and intensity figure in the move from excess to ecstasy, both a vision of the horizon and a feeling of delirium or vertigo figure in the move from the limited tracings of the circle to the unlimited movement of the spiral, and spaces for new meanings and futures figure in the movement from void to opening.
The concept of the spiral certainly provides readers with a relatively tangible starting point when approaching Brossard’s work. As it should: from her own conceptual drawing of the spiral (Images I, II), it appears that Brossard clearly understands the paradox of existing within a reality shaped and dominated by a language of sense, logic, men, Fathers. Undeniably, Brossard writes with the intention of disrupting this reality, aware that in doing so, she must disrupt an already well-established language and compel her readers to reorient their most basic understandings of reality and language. Beginning within “sense”—a domain ruled by the Father—the spiral moves outward into “non-sense”—a domain occupied by marginal realities not recognizable within sense. Parker describes this movement in reference to Brossard’s goals as a lesbian writer: “From her positionality on the margins of a ‘turning platform’ … she analyzes the ideological fictions of ‘ordinary’ reality, an ‘evidence’ in which she has no place as a woman and especially as a lesbian” (7). Thus, the spiral must begin within sense in order to enable this analysis of “the ideological fictions of ‘ordinary’ reality,” and from that point within sense, it must spiral outward into non-sense, where the radical feminist discovers new modalities of language and existence.
As such, the realm of non-sense is, for Brossard, a realm of pure discovery. She often tries to convey this experience atop what she calls the “turning-platform,” fiercely spiraling outward and seeming to gain new perspective with each pivot. In these moments her presence becomes ecstatic, vibrant, one of absolute intensity, as she explains the objective of these movements:
For the rest of my days I’ll be a spinning top, a relentless spiral, stuck fast in the spew of those last words the phallocracy will address to the new values settling in. I am thus in history until the end of my days; and whatever the unformulated certitudes or affirmed theoretics I manage to maintain about the procedures for transformation and mutation of the species, I’ll have to be in the fray. (The Aerial Letter 37).
Brossard accepts that there is no escaping history, only existing within it to effect change. She also, however, recognizes that “[w]oman’s desire would not be expected to speak the same language as man’s; woman’s desire has doubtless been submerged by the logic that has dominated the West since the time of the Greeks” (Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One 25). For this reason, the spiral functions as a suitable figuration of Brossard’s writing process. It begins, as it must, within a realm dictated by a language not chosen by its recipient and user, it moves outward into a realm not recognized by dominant patriarchal discourse in search of what Brossard terms “questing sense,” and finally makes a return to effect what Brossard terms “sense renewed” (Image II).
The concept of “sense renewed” is perhaps the most important element of the spiral, for the moment of sense renewed is a moment of disruption, producing for the individual who experiences it a breach within what was thought to be the enclosed and static realm of sense. As Brossard puts it, “Whether it is a matter of skin or a problem for linguistics, it seems to me that any meaning shift occasions a breach of reality, if only in the way we perceive this reality” (The Aerial Letter 81). However, the success of this breach in creating ripples throughout reality, especially ripples of permanent change, is dependent upon whether or not it is sufficiently engraved onto the surface of that reality. In this case, Brossard argues that writing provides the ultimate means of recording and sustaining this breach in reality:
When by contrast and contrariety a meaning shift produces a breach, and everything about it gives the impression that it has come to stay, the urban radical slips in the writing hand to take account of how sense breaks through to her sense. Then she slips her entire being in, concentrated on/in the opening, turns round on herself, until she discovers the curve which gives her to understand she has entered a spiral. (81)
So the process begins anew. It is infinite, sustained by an intense desire and recorded by “the writing hand.” It is, to say the least, an empowering image of the woman writer. It focuses on the woman writer as a subject whose projected reality becomes something that threatens dominant patriarchal discourse. In These Our Mothers, the narrator poetically expresses this empowerment as she experiences “the other side, the difference: energy my own: A true fantasy which makes history outrageous and demented, which can only be generated by an unambiguous code. And also at the same time carries me away. Brings me back to myself as the sole entity that can make sense” (43). Put another way, Brossard describes the woman writer’s capacity to “make sense” as a means of “exploding sense”—that is, disrupting given linear or circular sense with her newfound perception of the plurality of spaces and realities. Brossard claims that the radical integral woman chooses her role as such at the stage of exploding sense:
This is where one becomes or does not become a radical feminist; this is where we move back into patriarchal parameters…or where we abandon them for unknown and unlimited spaces; this is where we leave behind our fragmented women’s garb so that we can become integral women; this is where we quit the circle in order to enter into the spiral, that is, where the power of our energy takes form, is cultivated, is transmitted, is renewed. (The Aerial Letter 111)
This moment of agency is crucial to the subsistence and proliferation of women’s subjectivity; it must be written with disruption in mind, always pushing against the edges of Sense so that it might discover “unknown and unlimited spaces” from which it is to return with a sense renewed, a sense of its own.
Principally, the spiral is a figure of negotiation. It takes as one of its foundational premises the impossibility of existence outside of certain established institutions: systems of language, logic, and politics, to name only a few. Its primary function, then, enables an oscillation between the reality generated by these institutions and the realities that have been excluded in this process. The narrator of Brossard’s novel Picture Theory describes this process in regards to the intimate relationship she shares with her lover, Claire Dérive—a relationship I will later discuss in depth—and the urgency it bears for the future that humanity will inhabit: “Claire Dérive retraces precisely the circumference / of conditioned spaces ours / and the free zones all spiralled around / these are the musics without them / there’ll be neither Utopia, nor abstraction / nor any lip for bliss” (68). These “free zones” lie within the space of non-sense, holding the promise of Utopia and new forms of abstraction or fiction for those who allow the spiral to take hold. The discoveries made in the arms of the spiral will always gyrate back to sense, altering one’s thoughts and perceptions so as “to make them slant reality toward the light” (Mauve Desert 13). Paradoxically, it seems that if the future is to look different than the present—if we are to alter the institutions of modernity to include realities other than those of a longstanding patriarchal discourse—we must explore the possibilities of non-sense so that we no longer exist as such. As the speaker of Lovhers writes, the creation of such a future begins with language, “from metaphor to rising tide / the versions / a form of perception my form / that founds the sounds / round us like letters / experimental / the tide amorous spiral / I run the risk of conquest / so as not to be non-sense” (34). This is the conquest of Brossard’s work, as she urges us to embark on an aerial journey in the spiral, reconsidering sense from the perspective of non-sense, in order that we might find lapses and spaces that incite our desire to reread and rewrite the future of what makes sense.
I DON’T STOP READING / DELIRING
— Nicole Brossard, Lovhers
Acknowledge then that even in the middle of the desert vertigo can, threatening our verticality, force us to correct our equilibrium or to submit to an erratic fever on the ground gold-plated with reflections.
— Nicole Brossard, Mauve Desert
With the transgression of edges or limits, there comes a certain pleasure; perhaps it is the pleasure of achieving the very desire to transgress. In Brossard’s spiral, the aerial motion that arrives as a result of entering the spiral becomes a motion of pleasure: a delirious vertigo that the author translates into experimental forms of writing and new modalities of being. Certainly, vertigo and delirium are not words that one would immediately associate with pleasure; while vertigo denotes an overwhelming dizziness or sensory confusion, delirium often stems from an excited or ecstatic mental state of madness. However, it is because both terms involve an altered state of perception that they appeal to Brossard and the scope of her work. If the spiral serves as a figure for Brossard’s process of writing—a continual oscillation between sense and non-sense to have the latter bear down on the former’s insufficiencies—then the figures of vertigo and delirium are sensations that instigate and endure throughout this process, sometimes eluding language itself.
Desire, as it pulls bodies toward one another to initiate the processes of reading, writing, and translating, underlies the sensations of vertigo and delirium that arise from the arms of the spiral as they extend into new spaces. In Brossard’s work, these sensations are the effects of a particularly lesbian desire, which “is both transgressive and provocative, setting in motion a vertiginous movement of signifiers and structures about a white center [‘centre blanc’] that is not empty but rather ecstatic (ex-stasis), full of energy like the eye of a storm” (Parker 25). The energy that emanates from this core of desire works to transform an established system of “signifiers and structures” by illuminating for the writer “what is inadmissible in her project: transformation of the self, and the collectivity”—that is, what dominant discourse has spurned as unacceptable or incompatible with prevailing systems of sense, logic, and reality (The Aerial Letter 67). If, however, the “[i]nadmissible will to change life, to change her life” persists, “the border between what’s tolerable and what’s intolerable disintegrates or…it no longer holds up,” causing words “to turn round on themselves, inciting reflection, inciting thought toward new approaches to reality” (68). Vertigo and delirium, then, become conditions of desire that prompt one’s entry into the spiral, a moment of desire in which visions of new languages, realities, and futures materialize and eventually admit themselves as tears in the fabric of patriarchal discourse from which sense renewed may arise.
Thus, the pleasure of vertigo along with that of delirium and ecstasy in both reading and writing begins at the borders between sense and non-sense, between one reality and another, between the space of so-called “truth” and the exploratory space of the yet unknown, the yet unspoken, and the yet unwritten. Albeit indirectly and for a somewhat different purpose, Barthes’ reading of the Marquis de Sade explains the pleasure arising when one approaches such borders in language:
Two edges are created: an obedient, conformist, plagiarizing edge (the language is to be copied in its canonical state, as it has been established by schooling, good usage, literature, culture), and another edge, mobile, blank (ready to assume any contours), which is never anything but the site of its effect: the place where the death of language is glimpsed. These two edges, the compromise they bring about, are necessary. Neither culture nor its destruction is erotic; it is the seam between them, the fault, the flaw, which becomes so. (405-406)
In the space of the city, the bastion of culture and civilization, the narrator of Lovhers feels the presence of these “two edges” in a very physical manner and becomes captivated by the promise of vertigo as a pleasure emerging from the space between edges. She “often stretches out her arms to touch the guard/rails though she knows they are always there she grapples then with the question of vertigo” (79), a gesture which acknowledges both the presence of a boundary that seems to indicate a forbidden zone and a desire within herself to transgress that very boundary through the initiation of vertigo. More specifically, the narrator inquires “about vertigo and its form, what relates to the confines of conflicts,” and “caught in a whirlwind,” she “presumes then that the universe is cycle and rotation, but contrary to her expectations, the world files off/before her in a completely straight line according to the law of patriarchal heritage.” Having discovered that this “law of patriarchal heritage” imposes itself through the fantasy of its “truth” and the boundaries it creates to keep alternate truths or realities from disrupting this fantasy, Brossard’s narrator is “caught then in inconceivable vertigo,” which carries her into a space driven by new sensations, perceptions, and visions. Indeed, she occupies a “space full of reflections: unprecedented vertigo, dizzy/tempted/and/enraptured [espace plein de miroitements: vertige inédit. éblouie/tentée/et/ravie],” in which “all her senses are working for her to give her pleasure and to make her think up a version of existence which takes a displacement of the horizon for granted [tous ses sens travaillent pour elle à lui faire plaisir et lui donnent à penser une version de l’existence qui suppose un déplacement de l’horizon]” (80/Amantes 91). She experiences the pleasure of Barthes’ “two edges” and “the seam between them, the fault, the flaw” as she at once spirals about the city and feels it spiraling about her. Launching herself into this newfound space, however, is only the mere opening of the pleasure that the engaged woman writer will experience in all her vertigo, delirium, and ecstasy.
As Brossard indicates in the mantra of Lovhers, “I DON’T STOP READING / DELIRING” (16), the delirious mental state induced by a vertiginous, spiraling movement endures far beyond its initial inception. Translated from the French “DE LIRE” of the original text—a pun on the word délire that plays with the noun’s literal meaning of “delirium” and Brossard’s suggestion of its compounding of the preposition de (of, from) and the verb lire (to read)—“deliring” expresses “the momentous stimulation, excitation, and creative response a woman experiences when reading the text of another woman” (Holbrook 176). Throughout both Lovhers and Surfaces of Sense, Brossard claims that “the pure chance of [her] encounters” with other women writers (Monique Wittig, Djuana Barnes, Adrienne Rich, Yolande Villemaire, Gertude Stein, and others)—often envisioned as an imaginary rendezvous that materializes from the words these women have written—has “incited [her] to bring about metamorphoses” (Surfaces of Sense 8). This mental response, which, as we will see later, also results from an intimate physical encounter with another woman, produces “a deliberate drift of meaning, a rejection of traditional boundaries and literature,” which takes hold once the spiral form has induced such a state of delirium (Parker 13).
It is in “thinking of the other dimension to the spiral when it turns back on itself, causing delirium, completely fluid,” that “the woman writing in the spiral hears the waves generated by her own energy – waves which are inaudible under normal circumstances of reality…assuming forms which are different to those which you would imagine” (Surfaces of Sense 15). The experience of delirium is one of transformation, of bringing to light a particular energy of language that has been ignored by the reality of patriarchal discourse. As I will discuss later, delirium entails a vision that enables the woman writer to record that which has before seemed unrecordable, unwritable, or even unthinkable. It is a vision that begins at the border between sense and non-sense and seeks to transgress this border and “[imagine] the confrontation, in time, of those two imaginary worlds.” In the end, it is by “the wear and tear of delirium” that this confrontation reveals a new space of spiraling sense, “a luminous cavity,” which, through “the brilliance of the spectrum, the exuberance of the metaphors, the release, the drifting,” opens our eyes to new possibilities as we are caught in a vertiginous whirl of vivid intensity, infinite ecstasy (23).
It [language] is not so much a stock of materials as a horizon, which implies both a boundary and a perspective; in short, it is the comforting area of an ordered space. The writer literally takes nothing from it; a language is for him rather a frontier, to overstep which alone might lead to the linguistically supernatural; it is a field of action, the definition of, and hope for, a possibility.
— Roland Barthes, Writing Degree Zero
Our horizon will never stop expanding; we are always open. Stretching out, never ceasing to unfold ourselves, we have so many voices to invent in order to express all of us everywhere, even in our gaps, that all the time there is will not be enough. We can never complete the circuit, explore our periphery: we have so many dimensions.
— Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One
Like the spiral, the horizon evokes a desire for the infinite, for the yet unknown, and for the excitement, the ecstasy, of uncharted space. Forever receding, the horizon escapes the constraint of definitive knowledge, that misguided goal of millennia past, which erects barriers around itself to create fictitious binaries between truth and falsity, existence and nonexistence, real and imaginary, central and marginal, and woman and man. In Brossard’s work, the horizon and one’s relationship to the horizon often figure as a very personal means of self-discovery. It provides one with an encounter with the infinite, and during that encounter it fortifies the agency, the individual reality, the existence of the ‘I’:
I me it: I can’t deprive myself of it. The equilibrium needed in order to survive this non-renunciation is found in the solitary intimate act of writing – the personal of our political (‘social’ would be too nice) condition – an endless wanting to understand, which spreads out, seeking for itself, for its reading vision, the voluptuous practice of seeing further and further away forever. (The Aerial Letter 40)
Most importantly, a face-to-face encounter with the horizon occurs as a result of writing or, in fact, helps to initiate writing by providing “a field of action,” at once devoid of language and eagerly aware of and awaiting it.
The horizon’s most prominent and obvious physical appearance occurs in Brossard’s metanovel Mauve Desert, which is arguably her most accessible and well known work. Here the horizon is not only figurative in capturing the potential space that writing can reveal—futures that infinitely unfold as sentences materialize—but it also provides a very physical space of intensity for the novel’s main character Mélanie. Mélanie’s narrative develops within the expanse of the Southwestern United States desert landscapes of Arizona and New Mexico. It is within this setting that the adolescent chaotically surrenders herself to a desire for self-discovery, a desire that pushes her closer and closer to the limits of experience, language, and knowledge—indeed, toward the horizon. In the opening page of the novel, she expresses this desire, accompanied by a certain perplexing fear:
I was wide awake in the questioning but inside me was a desire which free of obstacles frightened me like a certitude. Then would come the pink, the rust and the grey among the stones, the mauve and the light of dawn. In the distance, the flashing wings of a tourist helicopter. (11)
In this formulation of the horizon, it seems that Mélanie experiences a fear of extremities: on the one hand, she fears the absolute openness and expanse of her desire, as if, “free of obstacles,” it might not guide her toward the answers she seeks in the unfettered experience of “the questioning”; on the other hand, the fear of a “certitude” seems to correlate with her “fear of words” (13). The latter fear figures as an anxiety toward language, which is particularly poignant for Mélanie as an adolescent girl whose mother, Kathy, is a lesbian. Marginalized as such, Mélanie seems to recognize that her perspective of reality is not necessarily compatible with established notions of meaning within dominant discourse; she expresses her concern, stating, “Reality had a meaning, but which one?” (25). Her journey on the horizon, then, is one that will bring her into language, as she must abandon her isolated reality, “concrete and unreal like a character confined to the steering wheel of an old Meteor,” for a reality based upon the abstraction of language, “a desire spaced throughout memory” (18, 40).
Although this process seems rather specific to Mélanie’s adolescent circumstances, it illustrates a particular experience of the space on the horizon that applies to its more general use throughout Brossard’s other works. Noting “the connection between the desert, silence and space” in Mauve Desert, Campbell points to an important aspect of the horizon, which she elucidates in terms of Mélanie’s discovery of language: “Darkness, silence and their physical counterpart, the desert, all represent pre-linguistic space. Melanie, despite her frequent returns to the desert, is in the process of coming out of the desert, the darkness and the silence in order to assume a place inside language” (142). With her perspective directed toward the endlessness of the desert landscape, the horizon becomes a guiding force, an image of Brossardian luminosity that urges her to write in order to propel experience beyond the isolated space of darkness and silence and into the space of discourse, inevitably the space of the subject. Mélanie describes the horizon as “a mirage that orients the thirsting body,” drawing this body’s desire into writing (28). For Brossard, this body is always necessary, and, as Mélanie writes, it “was required to face the unthinkable” (33). In fact, in line with Brossard’s claim that women must reclaim their bodies through writing (The Aerial Letter 99), Mélanie vows to “filter this body of ignorance, of knowledge and of the unthinkable burdening it,” so that it might “be a life equation tapping impossible reality itself” (Mauve Desert 33).
Thus, reoriented to a space free of the ignorance of the past, the constraints of patriarchal “knowledge,” and the exclusionary concept of the unthinkable, the body on the horizon sees the present as an unfolding reality via written experience and envisions the future as a multiplicity of possible realities with no limit to their potential energy. In the end, it is a mysterious woman at the bar, Angela Parkins, who expresses this promise to Mélanie:
[S]he says things are exploding in her head and that everything must be attempted again like a backhand, a lob in mindspace…she says one must not give up, that nothing is impossible if in the realm of the improbable memory realizes the certitude which in us keeps an eye out for beauty on the horizon, she talks about our attachment to certain words, that they are like small slow deaths in concise reality. (45)
Surely, the deaths of which Angela Parkins speaks are literal in a dual sense: the attachment to “certain words” and their emerging realities has resulted in the deaths of both marginal voices or languages and physical bodies (as evidenced by Parkins’s ultimate death). Perhaps, by way of the horizon, a space that one can never fully see or know, this attachment might cease to exist, and the words we write might nourish reality as its possibilities grow infinitely toward the radiance of the future.
In fact, the space that the horizon provides for reading, writing, and translating is what gives it such great and precious value for Brossard and those who she touches through her writing. As the structure of Mauve Desert suggests—Parker describes it as resembling “a triptych in which the two side panels—the narrative and its translation—are folded in toward a large center piece figuring the enigma of translation, viewed as an epistemological and textual activity” (127-128)—the space between the words we read on the page and the meaning we afford them as we process (translate) them in our minds is vast and often ignored. As Karen McPherson notes, “The text reverberates with women’s voices and women’s desires, and ends with Angela Parkin’s murder witnessed by the young narrator Mélanie” (Incriminations 158). It seems as though it is on the horizon, literally in the blazing deserts of Arizona or figuratively as a space of meeting and discovery for readers, writers, and translators, that these voices and desires come together to impact the way (hi)stories and futures unfold, perhaps to the point of counteracting past, present, and future violence. Facilitating this process, the figure of the horizon exists to allow for potential and possibility via language, to open up breaches in reality where meaning begins to shift and previously held “truth” no longer seems viable, and to effect that initial spark of the Brossardian spiral.
One often perceives the physical space of the page as two-dimensional. It is a flat surface, and the text that fills it does not seem to extend beyond its edges. The text may even appear lifeless, destined to remain static in the exact form in which it was originally written. This understanding of the page and its text, however, has a dangerous tendency to reach beyond the perimeter of the page and percolate into perceptions of (hi)stories, realities, and the foundations of language itself. One may begin to view text and all it imparts as finished or finite—a permanent and “authentic” reality with no viable alternatives. Obviously, Brossard maintains a different view of text, one that stresses the vivacity of the text, a living body that projects itself into space, compelling us to consider its many (infinite) angles and the reality it permits and/or imposes.
For Brossard, the text literally embodies the realities of its makers, and as the (hi)stories of humanity move through time, some realities inevitably assume greater importance and articulation while others are ignored or silenced, sometimes to the point of complete eradication. More often than not, the dominant discourse of the time enacts this process; Man, the Father, literally writes his story. As a woman and a lesbian, Brossard works to reveal this layering of discourse through her writing, practicing what she labels as “three-dimensional writing.” From this method of writing, she develops the recurring figure of the hologram, a technological projection of light into a three-dimensional image. Her fascination with this figure seems to stem from its ability to capture both abstraction and reality in a single form, pointing to her concern with “the border between what’s real and what’s fictive, between what it seems possible to say, to write, but which often proves to be, at the moment of writing, unthinkable, and that which seems obvious but appears, at the last second, inexpressible” (The Aerial Letter 76). The hologram and its manifestation through three-dimensional writing allow the space of this “border,” the space of the “unthinkable,” to materialize by way of the writer, along the way both uncovering and adding new layers of reality to the narrative of human existence.
As is often the case with many of her approaches to issues of language, writing, and narrative, Brossard’s figuration of the hologram is as much concerned with the emanation of three-dimensional writing itself as with the very process of this writing or the production of the hologram. For Brossard, writing has its source in the body and all of its feelings, emotions, sensations, perceptions. Citing Barthes’s concept of “the certain body” (le corps certain) in The Pleasure of the Text, she envisions a continual rapport between the textual body and the physical body from which it emanates:
Bathing in the atmosphere of the senses and giving form to enigmas we imagine out of the white, while the certain body refers us back to an implacable geometry: our feverish excitement, a fluidity of text seeking its source. Taking on reality in order that an aerial vision of all realities arises from the body and emotion of thought. Realities which, crossing over each other, form the matrix material of my writing. (The Aerial Letter 68)
Once again, the white, that blank space of the “senses,” appears as a space of creation from which writing emerges. Writing—the manipulation of language—draws the author back to her body, initiating a visceral reunion with her “feverish excitement” and a spiraling to reveal “an aerial vision of all realities.” Already, the “crossing over” of these realities begins to form a multilayered fabric of experience from which the writer draws to inscribe the realities she has witnessed in her vision. From the body of the writer comes the body of the text, and this textual body has the ability not only to embody and convey but also to proliferate and regenerate meaning and reality through the language it employs: “The textual site has become the repository for the body, sex, the city, and rupture, as well as the theory that it generates, which in turn regenerates text. Text has systematically proliferated…” (68, 69). It is this proliferation of text, imagined as a three-dimensional layering of textual production, which manifests in the form of a holographic landscape rather than a flat linear surface, that holds promise for the discovery and creation of new (hi)stories, existing in dialogue with one another rather than competing for dominance.
The power of the hologram and the three-dimensional form of writing that it entails seems to lie in this opposition to linearity or the conception of history and narrative as two-dimensional—a conception in which there always seems to be a drive toward a singular “truth” or “factual” recording of experience. For Brossard’s particularly feminist aims, this opposition is key, as she states, “Personally, I don’t think female culture will be either viable over the long term in a linear/binary thought system…or able to overcome the atrocities of a dialectic knowledge founded on patriarchal reason.” Instead, she continues, “the vitality of female culture seems to me related to a system of thought and perceptions which would bring together simultaneously, in three-dimensional forms, the objects of our thought” (The Aerial Letter 114). Indeed, the hologram proves to be a promising figure through its incorporation of this multiplicity of thoughts, perceptions, memories, sensations, and experiences, which take form in such a way that we might read, write, and translate them from infinite angles of vision.
Kiss me. Two lips kissing two lips: openness is ours again. Our “world.” And the passage from the inside out, from the outside in, the passage between us, is limitless. Without end. No knot or loop, no mouth ever stops our exchanges. Between us the house has no wall, the clearing no enclosure, language no circularity.
—Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One
One never writes alone. A novelist has her characters, a poet her speaker, a theorist her object(s), and, whether acknowledged or not, every writer her audience. Desire draws these entities together, close enough that they just might eventually embrace one another. Surely, this is impossible; for, were the physical meeting of entities to take place, writing would no longer be necessary, fiction would cease to exist, and language would lose all meaning. And yet, writing, fiction, and language, so intricately intertwined, all work to fulfill an insatiable desire to come as close to the other as possible, to both recognize and be recognized, not only to hear a voice but also to touch a body. In this space of desired closeness emerges Brossard’s figuration of rapprochement and the two-way passage. Her figuration of both concepts is highly specific to a lesbian sexuality, which ultimately relates to her primary aims of écriture au féminine.
In the French, rapprochement indicates a certain connection between two entities; its reflexive verbal form, se rapprocher, means “to move closer or nearer to one another.” For Brossard, the entities of a rapprochement are either certain “figures of thought” or bodies, and what moves them closer to one another is the process of writing. Indeed, she imagines writing itself as a rapprochement, or “the concrete will to attract toward oneself the essential figures of thought/ or even/ to see one’s desire come as far as possible, that is, closer: to the very edge, right to the limits – where it might very well falter.” In this notion of rapprochement, as is often the case elsewhere in Brossard’s work, desire plays an initiatory role: it is to draw one’s attention to the moment “when the ‘exact expression’ illustrates the thought of emotion,” and eventually “breaks through to an opening” (The Aerial Letter 70). Both the “essential figures of thought” and “thought of emotion” are so tied to Brossard’s identity as a lesbian-feminist woman, however, that their power of rapprochement will ultimately lie in the presence of an other body.
As I have tried to emphasize, the importance of the female body to Brossard’s work is immeasurable. It is from this body that writing emanates in an attempt to reclaim and rewrite its meaning, and therefore, the role that it plays on both ends of a rapprochement remains central to Brossard’s own concept of writing. Through rapprochement, Brossard discerns the means for reclaiming the female body and the reality of its connection to female subjectivity:
The female body, long frozen (besieged) in the ice of the interpretation system and in fantasies relentlessly repeated by patriarchal sex, today travels through, in its rapprochement to other women’s bodies, previously unknown dimensions, which bring it back to its reality. (The Aerial Letter 83).
At the risk of asserting an essentialist view of female experience, Brossard argues for the connection of women through their biological circumstances as a basis for a collective struggle against oppressive patriarchal constructions of femininity. However, because this “rapprochement to other women’s bodies” takes form in writing, Brossard is able to “[skirt] the essentialist/anti-essentialist debate by insisting that she is a woman in writing” (Parker 226). She must integrate her presence as a woman into her writing insofar as she must “confront the phallocratic, homophobic and sexist world in which we find ourselves,” for when it comes to the language of clichés, binaries, and norms, “it is hard to get the words off our skin” (28).
Thus, Brossard regards sexual/textual desire between women as the prompt for the linguistic embodiment rapprochement. When she asks, “How do I write?” her answer is “with a woman’s gaze resting on me. Or with the body inclined toward her” (The Aerial Letter 43). However, this gaze, unlike the male gaze to which all women, knowingly or not, are subjected, “is less inclined to take possession of itself than to restore continuity to colour and form in space and from this…fiction” (45). The gaze does not force an image through its coercive stare; rather, it works to “read on the body of the other who is similar,” causing “[t]he word…to well up, to gush forth” (43). This is not a gaze that demands compliance to a reality forged by centuries of violence, via the systematic exchange and rape of bodies on the basis of religious, philosophical, and biological “truths”; for, as Brossard affirms, “I do not submit to a woman’s gaze, I reroute it to where it must go in, where it makes me cover all distances, reread at breakneck speed all the fragments of me silenced, pieced together or torn apart” (44). It is here, through this process of the gaze—the intellectual connection of desire between women: “the beginning of writing” (43)—that rapprochement finds the manifestation of its bridge or its intersubjective vessel through the two-way passage, which exists in a mutual, triangular form among writer, reader, and translator.
Through her mystifying practice of coalescing genres of poetry, fiction, theory, historical writing, and autobiography, Brossard furnishes a sketch of the trajectory of Québécoise literature in the latter half of the 20th century and its implication in the formulation of the concept of écriture au feminin in her poetic novella She Would Be the First Sentence of My Next Novel (Elle serait la première phrase de mon prochain roman). Because many feminist writers (Hélène Cixous and Luce Irigaray, to name the two most prominent) have articulated this concept of écriture au feminin in several different ways, affording it many different meanings in the process, it is helpful to focus specifically on Brossard’s interpretation of the concept. In particular, she claims, “Writing in the feminine also changed the addressor-addressee relationship, for women were now choosing to speak to other women” (89). This forms the foundation of the two-way passage: a space in which women’s reading, writing, and translating are of, for, by, and with the figurative or physical presence of other women. The two-way passage is a space of exchange which “emerges out of a complex back-and-forth traffic of sounds, signs, nodes of associative potential” (Holbrook 71). It almost seems redundant to include “translation” as one of the exchanges that takes place within the two-way passage, for the very reason that every exchange within the two-way passage involves the practice of translation. As a continual process of decoding, interpretation, and textual renewal, translation points to “the transformative effects of the ‘two-way passage’” (Mauve Desert 57 qtd. in Holbrook 83)—effects that not only occur through the traditional notion of translation but also the interminable translation involved in reading and writing an experience of reality accompanied by an acute awareness of language and its signs.
Due to the organization of its form, Mauve Desert also serves as a very accessible site for extracting a better understanding of the textual application of Brossard’s figure of rapprochement. Brossard divides the single text contained within the physical book Mauve Desert into three distinct “fictional” works. The first, titled Mauve Desert, is attributed to the fictional American author Laure Angstelle. The third, titled Mauve the Horizon, figures as a translation of the first work by a fictional Canadian translator named Maude Laures. The section that separates these two contains an abundance of translator’s notes taken by Laures after she finds Angstelle’s work in a “second-hand bookstore” (Mauve Desert 114). Thus, rapprochement appears as a space—physical, temporal, imaginative—between the two fictional women, in which possibilities are discovered and inscribed. Laures’s desire—a desire, previously discussed in terms of a reinvented female gaze, to read, translate, and write the (textual/sexual) reality of the other woman—drives her to the imaginative promise of rapprochement: “In the space between the two sites of writing, the translator imagines the possibilities of the text she has read, creating a fluid dimension of desire…” (Curran 204). Laures eventually describes this connection between herself and the untranslated text, which, in this instance, embodies the physicality of Angstelle as another woman. In translation, for Laures, “Everything is still just intention to carry over. Repeated perspective of the two-way passage. Resorting to the original, nevertheless the intervening process, the drift like a cultural shock, a grave emotion sown with mirrors and images” (57).
Thus, the intervening process—a critical practice of translation shaped by a developed feminist consciousness—is the transformative act that transpires between two bodies, two languages, two texts, and two realities when, “multiple and different,” they recognize one another through desire, provoking a rapprochement. Brossard describes the process as the “unfurling of polyvalent and multidirectional words,” which has as its aim, “1. Exploding one-way sense” and “2. Producing a void, a mental space which, little by little, will become invested with our subjectivities, thus constituting an imaginary territory, where our energies will begin to be able to take form” (The Aerial Letter 111). In Brossard’s model, rapprochement will provide the landscape upon which this “imaginary territory” will form, ultimately revealing new spaces of experience and meaning for women to both “[shatter] the concept of man as universal” and “[interrupt] the circle of femininity,” as they rediscover their bodies through hands that touch/write and tongues that taste/speak.
But how can I put “I love you” differently? I love you, my indifferent one? That still means yielding to their language. They’ve left us only lacks, deficiencies, to designate ourselves. They’ve left us their negative(s). We ought to be—that’s already going too far—indifferent.
— Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One
If phallocentric reality functions through language—if its presence, its immediacy, its contours indeed take shape at the moment of the spoken or written word—then surely there exist alternate realities that take shape through what is unspoken in the dominant discourse, or what Brossard labels the inédit, the un-written/spoken/recorded (Parker 145). Brossard works with this ostensible absence in several ways. Here, I have chosen to read two very distinct instances of the inédit in Brossard’s work, one of which highlights a figurative use of space and the other of which considers space as a physical, formal element of writing. The former, a symbolic space in which Brossard imagines an encounter between women as the basis for a writing that will reshape reality, takes as its central text the first section of Brossard’s experimental novel Picture Theory. The latter will focus on her poetical texts Lovhers and Surfaces of Sense, both of which provide key instances of textual lapse, absence, emptiness, ellipses, and silence that will serve as the basis for a critical reading of the page’s existence as a spatial surface prior to its existence as a landscape or background filled with text.
I love you—and where I love you, what do I care about the lineage of our fathers, or their desire for reproductions of men? … I love you, your body, here and now, I/you touch you/me, that’s quite enough for us to feel alive.
— Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One
More often than not, blank space as a figurative manifestation in Brossard’s texts indicates something other than the silence that it originates as. Obviously lacking the substance of language, one cannot easily argue that this blank space in fact inscribes something; rather, it is easier to argue that it communicates or speaks something through its very existence and presence as space. This is certainly the case in Picture Theory, throughout which the postmodern narrator-character hybrid M.V. indicates her desire to write la scène blanche (the blank/white scene). For M.V., la scène blanche, which makes a recurrent appearance in the first section of Picture Theory titled “The Ordinary,” initiates the delirious act of writing, primarily through its embodiment of an intimate encounter that she has with another woman, Claire Dérive, who eventually becomes the central object of the remainder of her narrative.
Despite the fact that, or perhaps because, la scène blanche figures as a space of unwritten or unrecorded experience (l’inédit), it also serves as a point of commencement for M.V.’s narrative in Picture Theory. In la scène blanche, a physical desire for another woman translates into a creative desire for writing, both of which will (re)shape and renew reality in terms of the experiences that follow the initial scene of engagement. The lesbian plays an especially crucial role in this (re)vitalizing, for it is through her presence, awareness—her highly attuned feminist consciousness—and desire that a knowledge of female experience and reality which escapes the oppressive confines of phallocentric representation materializes. The lesbian is, in fact, reborn, as Brossard indicates, through her intellectual and physical contact with this knowledge of space and skin:
The lesbian is a woman ablaze who is reborn from the essential of what she knows (she) is. The lesbian knows the fire and the ashes of desire, of being, and of fragment; once she is reborn, anything can happen with her as gyneric centre. The ideal lesbian is ideal like the vital utopia of what makes sense and non-sense. The lesbian is an initiator, an instigator. (The Aerial Letter 121)
Again, desire is what drives the lesbian woman to engage an other woman in the space of la scène blanche and initiates an extraordinary transformation of her relation to and understanding of sense and non-sense, reality and fiction, and most importantly, her own physical existence.
As is often the case throughout her work, Brossard presents the relationship between the presence of the physical body and the act of writing as one characterized by a certain interdependence. For Brossard, both are necessary in order to recognize and comprehend the existence of women outside of patriarchal representation: “Yes it really must be said that by taking back their body through writing, women confront writing, that is they bring it face to face with what has never before come to mind: the ontological existence of women” (Aerial Letter 99). To this effect, argues Parker, la scène blanche provides an origin of writing for the women of Picture Theory, which “unites two women in a lesbian embrace, which they will then proceed to write,” eventually “illuminating the sense the women will make of existence” (84-85). The moment of this embrace and the light it sheds on the existence of two particular lives—the realities of which are at once shared and unique between these two women and presumably among others—immediately recalls Brossard’s figure of the spiral and will ultimately invoke and reinforce that of of the hologram.
Intense, passionate, and ultimately inducing a state of Brossardian vertigo, M.V.’s experience of la scène blanche incorporates various sounds, movements, and relationships that, anything but silent, assert a presence that escapes the bounds of language. The opening line of the novel indicates M.V.’s desire to inscribe these elements, which either seem to exist within a certain void prior to language or to remain forever in a space untouched by language—the untouched page: “I exercize my faculty of synthesis here because again I must proceed with precision among sounds, bodies and institutions” (16). M.V.—or perhaps, N.B. (Parker 96)—recognizes these many components of the reality which surrounds her, all of which bear upon her existence and her ability to write that existence. Like Florence Dérive, the sister of Claire Dérive and “a studious girl,” M.V. is “reborn each time between the deadly streets of the city,” always mindful of the risk she takes in choosing to engage this space of modernity: “The father is a dangerous path. The city via its history” (Picture Theory 27). Regardless of the risk, however, she chooses to engage modernity through writing, and she finds the potential of the city captivating as a space of difference and synthesis, rather than a linear patriarchal model of historical progress:
The city distracts me from thought provoking writings. The city is this excess which takes hold of me like a vital exuberance and makes me juxtapose the sea to the buildings at the moment when I am trying in the allusion to the wee hours of the morning, rue de Buci, to write: j’avance, j’avance, she says to herself, toward repetition. (33)
Although the city initially distracts the narrator, it produces an energy that excites her, extending her vision beyond the limited space of the city to the vast expanse of the sea.
In the moment that M.V. experiences this “vital exuberance,” a sensation that perhaps parallels the previously cited “vital utopia of what makes sense and non-sense,” the sea figures as what Parker calls “a sign of renewal,” as “the city begins to turn on itself” for the narrator (70). However, to read the sea merely as a superficial image traditionally associated with women and femininity is to meet one of the many “’dead ends’ for her [Brossard] in the search to revise her place and future in society” (Santoro 196). Turning again to Parker, it is clear in this instance that “Brossard locates the scene of writing in the city,” for “[c]ities record the pulse of intellectual, political and cultural action” (70). Thus, the narrator’s precise location within the city (rue de Buci, Paris), something which Brossard stresses in much of her work (Lovhers, Surfaces of Sense, Mauve Desert, Baroque at Dawn), anchors her presence in the space of her surroundings, which allows her vision of the sea to alter her perspective of the city and its reality and compel her to move forward (avancer), and, indeed, “making headway, she thinks very feverishly so as not to stop in front of a store window and see the mannequins chained there” (Picture Theory 33).
In order to understand the full import of this space, one cannot underestimate the effect of its constitutive nature—that is, the way in which it compels the subject into a certain modality of being (Butler)—on the process of writing. M.V.’s capacity to navigate her surroundings—the very practice of her “faculty of synthesis”—will ultimately determine the outcome of her writing and its effectiveness. Noting the importance of “synthesis,” as opposed to “thesis” or “hypothesis,” in the trajectory of the writer’s actions, Parker writes: “Synthesis, rather than hypothesis, will be the key to the writer’s calculations, and to the model she is constructing. She bears in mind, pregnant with memory, the epistemological and ontological consequences of her search” (77). As previously noted, the physical experience of la scène blanche and the act of writing it provokes work together to produce a new understanding of origin, being, and knowledge for women. As we will see, M.V.’s experience of and attempt at writing la scène blanche will have this effect of shifting her angles of perspective through the figure of the spiral as she extends her orbit from within the spaces of sense (civilization, the modern city, patriarchal language) to the spaces of non-sense (darkness, silence, experimental tongues), revealing to her the renewed promise of light both on the horizon and in the hologram.
The “precision” with which M.V. feels urged to record and inscribe her experiences among “sounds, bodies and institutions” proves difficult in the intense moments that constitute the essence of what she labels la scène blanche. Gould provides an explanation of this difficulty:
M.V. wants to write a book about la scène blanche and its effects on her, but repeatedly finds that le blanc de la scène (the white of the scene) is unnarratable, at least in any known grammar. Existentially as well as sexually speaking, the profoundly revelatory nature of this prior encounter has made it impossible to transpose it into any ordinary language. (88)
Unsurprisingly, lesbian subjectivity—the desire it evokes and the physical materialization of this desire—does not translate into “any known language,” nor does it follow the structure of “any known grammar.” It falls outside the realm of dominant phallocentric and heteronormative discourses, thereby rendering it ostensibly silent to those existing within that discourse; as Wittig notes, “These discourses of heterosexuality oppress us in the sense that they prevent us from speaking unless we speak in their terms” (The Straight Mind 25). For M.V., this power of “ordinary language” to prescribe the space of sense and its limits, as well as impose a certain dominant reality that occupies this space, constitutes a “Patriarchal machine for making the blues.” In a lecture on the issue of women and torture, Florence Dérive elucidates this power: “in summary, it is easy to understand that, determined by writing, men knew then how to imagine that each woman must be placed in service to a man, no matter what his rank, no matter what her sex” (Picture Theory 21). Surely, then, “ordinary language,” a discursive system that inscribes and perpetuates a reality based upon phallocentric imagination, will prove insufficient for, if not detrimental to, M.V.’s desire in writing.
Though made in passing, Gould’s mention of grammar is crucial, for it is one of the “institutions” among which M.V. must proceed to write, and it is unmistakably one of the institutions she finds most obstructive to her desire to record the yet unrecorded experience. To this effect, M.V. must abandon the “known grammar” of “ordinary language” for a new grammar that is capable of capturing her experience of la scène blanche, a grammar she describes as “incendiary.” In her first attempt at recounting la scène blanche, she indicates the imperative for this new grammar: “Still, there we were, the horizon, I will never know how to narrate. Here on the carpet, intertwined women. Visible. This is how I tried to understand the effect of the scene. And then without ever later having to nuance it. Imperative grammar incendiary” (23). The appearance of the horizon points to a vast space of possibility and discovery, a space that seems to extend beyond the reaches of an ordinary language that is restricted by the dictates of known grammar. In this sense, M.V. “will never know how to narrate,” for conventional narration requires the aid of this grammar, syntax, and order—elements which hinder the intensity of experience, attempting to organize events in chronological and categorical ways. It is only through “grammar incendiary” that she can “understand the effect of the scene…without ever later having to nuance it.” There is a sense of integrity and intensity in the scene that M.V. wishes to preserve in its original form, or at least in a translated form that communicates the effect of the scene and its intensity. Because the core of this intensity lies within and emanates from the “intertwined women,” we must again return to Brossard’s privileging of the “orgasmic body” as the original site of writing (The Aerial Letter 37).
Because the body of the lesbian and the body of the text exist in a perpetual relationship of reciprocity in Brossard’s work, bodily contact between women will always produce an effect in language. Prior to its abstraction into language, la scène blanche exists as a space of “the unrepresentable extase of a lesbian love scene” (Gould 86). M.V. herself implies that writing the scene is difficult, due to the way in which “words become rare” when her desire draws her toward Claire Dérive. Yet, for M.V. and Brossard, this “unrepresentability” does not equate to “unwritability.” In fact, within the ecstasy (extase) of the lesbian love scene lies the possibility for the emergence linguistic structures—incendiary grammars—that will enable the woman writer to inscribe this scene. Since “[a]bstraction urges the future like reality,” M.V. feels that she must find a way to abstract her experience of la scène blanche into language, so that this experience may work its way into (her) reality (Picture Theory 25).
Even as language perpetually threatens to impinge upon the space of physical experience, M.V. discovers new modes of writing through the space of her lover’s body: “Each time I lack space on the her/i/zon, my mouth opens, the tongue finds the opening [Chaque fois que l’espace me manque à l’horizon, la bouche s’entrouvre, la langue trouve l’ouverture]” (Picture Theory 25/42). Simultaneously suggesting the play of the narrator’s tongue in the opening of her lover’s mouth and/or sex and its discovery of an opening or breach in language, M.V.’s desire for both Claire Dérive and a writing that will suit the telling of such intimacy and desire results in a breakdown of language. The physical enactment of these desires “provokes a movement in language away from what we might term the ‘propositional’ logic of everyday speech,” disrupting spelling, punctuation, verb tense, and the relation between pronouns and their referents: “I merges with you and/or with she” (Parker 86). The two loves meet not only physically but also textually on the “her/i/zon,” where M.V., limited by the space of her current reality, must explore to find the opening of new space. In both cases—physically and textually—the opening figures as jouissance (a pleasure in orgasm/reading), which “leads to a revised epistemology,” as it “exceeds all boundaries, locates itself beyond the control of authorizing discourses and representations, installing new relationships to language” (87). Gould further illuminates the power of jouissance to produce new angles of experience as opposed to representing or reconstructing experience through linear narrative:
Yet if a realistic reconstruction is incapable of transmitting the intensity of excitement, pleasure, and ecstasy experienced in real life during her matinal encounter with Claire Dérive, the narrator’s obsessive return to this site of amour/clair or clear/love nevertheless suggests the generative (fiction-producing) power of the ardent white light associated with this scene. (88)
This explains the appearance of light in the last instance of The White Scene, which M.V. describes as “Daylight. Such an abundance of light wea(i)thers the gaze [La lumière du jour. Une telle abondance de lumière effrite le regard]” (36/52). Light, essential to the formation of the holographic image, persists through the gaze of desire and ultimately seems, in accordance with Gould’s claim, to equip M.V. with the very “renewed epistemology” she needs in order to accomplish her original aim.
And so, M.V. writes. In fact, she attempts to write la scène blanche four times, each time capturing a new angle, a new perspective, with each new pivot of the spiral that begins at the moment she touches Claire Dérive. With the third instance of The White Scene, there seems to be an implication of “sense renewed” in M.V.’s journey aboard the turning-platform. The physical presence of the two women is more vivid during this scene than any of the three others, and the pleasure they take in one another is described as a “pleasure in audacity.” To drive into the light of the horizon, to spiral into the margins non-sense, in order to achieve such closeness to an other, such an ecstasy in rapprochement, seems to require, for Brossard, such audacity. And, as expected, such audacity results in a transcendent experience within the space of such closeness: “Conjugated with the lighting, the pleasure of audacity dangerously clothes the body of the other with an existenshe’ll film from which arises, condenses in an image, the harmony that makes sense [Conjugué à l’éclairage, le palisir d’audace revêt dangereusement le corps de l’autre d’une pellicule existentielle de laquelle surgit, condensée en une image, l’harmonie qui fait sens]” (Picture Theory 31/47). For M.V., Claire Dérive (the other woman transformed by desire) both initiates the spiral and achieves its end of “sense renewed.” Though it still seems impossible to fully write this experience of la scène blanche in any existing language, it is possible to record the potential breach it effects in the fabric of phallocentric discourse. Not only is la scène blanche itself, from the beginning, a space of discovery, but it effectively creates a new space within sense from which new realities, histories, and futures may emerge. And as M.V. ends her final recollection of this space, “we have barely moved” (36).
Space, for us, is a sign of resistance: to keep our distance.
we have never had enough space.
The space between us: allowing our eyes to open slowly in an exercise of precision
— Nicole Brossard, The Aerial Letter
Insofar as the physicality of blank space appears as a gap void of text, one might read this space as one of many “unsaid” realities, which often points to the possibility of these alternate realities. As Campbell writes in her critique of Mauve Desert and Baroque at Dawn, “Since reality has been created by patriarchal language, all of female experience has been left in silence—the impossible dimension,” which “is why reality is perceived as chaotic by all those who have been excluded from the process” (147). Thus, one often sees the embodiment of this discursive exclusion through the literal exclusion of language on the pages of Brossard’s works. Missing words, phrases, paragraphs, and entire pages of text urge the reader both to consider the ways in which language and text fail to capture experience and to envision the future(s) of this blank space, if one were to find a language that could capture these previously untold experiences. Indeed, this is how la scène blanche figured in Picture Theory. The inadequateness of conventional narration drove M.V. to explore alternate forms of language and modes of writing in order to record her experience of another woman, the effect this experience produced within her, and its emanations beyond the personal intimacy of sexual encounter.
Yet, whereas la scène blanche figures as a (con)figuration of the experience of lesbian desire for an other woman—indeed, a figurative “blank” awaiting inscription—there are numerous moments when Brossard literally invokes a form of “blankness” or “whiteness” in writing. To this effect, Brossard actively and skillfully employs the physical space of the page to influence, alter, or spark the signification of the content she inscribes upon the page. Even within individual sentences, she creates empty spaces between words to indicate absences of language, lapses of reality, and/or futures yet to materialize. In both Lovhers and Surfaces of Sense, the reader confronts page after page of half text and half space, occasional pages of complete, or near complete, blankness, and other instances of phrases interrupted by blank lines void of any text. Entitled “Traces of the Manifesto,” a section of Surfaces of Sense presents readers with sporadic pages that each contain a single outlined box where the text should presumably lie. Instead of the anticipated text, blank space occupies the vast majority of the page with single words or letters—“O,” “the process,” or “fiction”—positioned either within or as a header to each box (47, 51, 65). These literal blank spaces remind the reader “of the space that still exists between signifier and signified, between language and lived experience in her [Brossard’s] texts,” thus compelling a reading of the effect they have on the text and its impact on reality (Gould 88).
Throughout Lovhers, Brossard presents the reader with several “incomplete” phrases, which indicate missing words through the use of blank lines. For instance, at the beginning of the section entitled “July the Sea,” she writes:
pretext origin of the kiss: taste
mobile in the full flood of memory _______________ breath
and biographical shoulders emerging
like a process
the tides (at this level):
a reflex of rising tides (31)
In this excerpt, one must carefully consider words that carry a certain weight in regards to the context of both Brossard’s work and other feminist writings. The first line points to a “pretext[ual] origin” of physical reality, embodied by the action of “the kiss” and the “sense” of taste. For Brossard, this physical reality, the body, and the associations ascribed to it become “mobile in the full flood of memory,” particularly as the woman writer approaches writing as a means of reclaiming the memory of her body. At this point, we reach the blank space: indeed, the moment that directly precedes writing, a sudden view of the vast horizon or a sensation of vertigo at the border between recorded and unrecorded memory or experience. A figurative moment of birth seems to follow this moment, as we see “breath / and biographical shoulders emerging” from what once existed as a space void of meaning, awaiting the process of writing. As Lovhers is a poetic exploration of desire between women in writing, it seems that this instance of birth seeks to bring the other woman into the space of language, so as to bring her presence into a language from which her reality might effect “a reflex of rising tides.”
Brossard introduces a more blatant and startling blank in Surfaces of Sense, which she renders thus:
Clearly, the significance of this space is very ambiguous. As a female writer, Brossard might be referring to a lack of female-originated knowledge, the inability for women to exist within male epistemological settings, or a number of other things. Siemerling helps to identify and elucidate one particular possibility:
In Brossard’s typical association of the (female) body with the text this mediation and alteration of the form of one woman through the form of an other woman generates meaning outside given images and forms … Brossard signifies women, at one point in Le Sens apparent [Surfaces of Sense], literally with the help of a half-page blank … (181)
This interpretation leads one to rethink the close reading of blank space as lack or negation, and instead to re-conceptualize the space as revealing the limits of “given images and forms” in the visualization or signification of the other woman. To further push this idea of space as constructive and revealing, Julia Kristeva argues that poetic language, such as that which Brossard employs in Surfaces of Sense, “persists also because the semiotic processes themselves, far from being set adrift … set up a new formal construct: a so-called new formal or ideological ‘writer’s universe,’ the never-finished, undefined production of a new space of signification” (135). Oddly enough, there exists a strong connection between Kristeva and Siemerling in relation to the reading of this space; that is, we have “the never-finished, undefined production” as the “other of this other [woman]” and “a new space of signification” as the “half-page blank.”
For Brossard, this space of “never-finished, undefined production” is as critical to the future of discourse and reality as are the words that inhabit it. In a fashion similar to her use of blank or white space in Surfaces of Sense, Brossard employs a significant portion of blank space in one of the many essays of The Aerial Letter, this time presented as such:
In this instance, however, she provides more of a contextual explanation of this apparently combative space. Prior to its introduction, she writes, “then there is this obsession held by the overwhelming reality…the last hunt, a final assault on our bodies as women-loving-women, lesbians, suddenly forced to react face to face with reality. The confrontation must take place.” Having recognized this open space of confrontation, perhaps participating in it as we read, Brossard claims that “then, this other reality, from where we begin to exist, and in which girls again find themselves full of intensity, in the process of project, like an essential force circulating among the spaces” (59). It is no surprise that this blank space—now formulated as a space in which women must claim existence—is associated with an intensity that seems to initiate Brossard’s vision of the spiral. Sticking to the issue of linguistic and literary form, it is intensity that, for Brossard, holds the most promise for “semantic divergence,” as “it is like a strength with which we exceed the norm, the ordinary” (106).
Thus, I would argue that the extremity of Brossard’s formal experimentation with the page is not a frivolous or indulgent artistic gesture. It can, of course, prove disorienting to readers at first, or even second and third, glance; yet, as I have discussed in many different ways, this very linguistic or intellectual disorientation is essential to the aims of Brossard’s work. In the words of Lynette Hunter, Brossard’s writing “gives off energy at random, makes us vulnerable in the intimacy of conceptual sensation it promises, leaves me light-headed or feeling the unbearable intensity of insistent but elusive significance.” For this reason, she states, “I have to learn to work with the texts,” and asks, “but what makes me persist as I am flung from white space to white space?” (210). Her answer, like mine, involves the experience of reading, of text, of language, and the many forms these elements take in Brossard’s work. Brossard’s awareness not only of the words she inscribes but also of the medium through and upon which she inscribes them encourages us to reorient our relation to the very physicality of the book and its pages. Ultimately, the beauty lies in potential and possibility—what will figuratively and literally come to fill the blank(s) of the page, of language, of experience, and of reality as we eagerly journey from white space to white space.
But first we must ask: what is a woman? “Tota mulier in utero,” says one, “woman is a womb.” But in speaking of certain women, connoisseurs declare that they are not women, although they are equipped with a uterus like the rest.
— Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex
In this journey through various spaces—the space of the page, the space of narrative, the space of memory, the space of silence, and others—there is one more space I would like to touch through writing. I take the risk of completely misinterpreting this space more than any of the others about which I have written up to this point. Unlike the others, this space is not only symbolically associated with women’s writing, but it is also biologically connected to female experience. It is the space of the uterus or the womb. I approach this subject with its historical applications and the violence to which these applications have subjected women in mind, fearing that I will undertake nothing but a rewriting of that very violence through a misappropriation of Brossard’s work. Nevertheless, the figure of the womb appears throughout Brossard’s work, sometimes as the principal figure, especially surrounding the issues of maternity, femininity, reproduction, and Brossard’s identity as a lesbian. I therefore feel compelled to account for this space as one that Brossard illuminates through her (re)writing of its significance to her as a woman writer.
As a part of Brossard’s social, political, and linguistic undertaking to inscribe, and thereby bring into existence, a particularly lesbian-feminist subjectivity, it is necessary that she approach the issue of motherhood from a novel, unconventional, and especially critical standpoint. Within traditional, patriarchal discourses, the mother does not speak; rather, she imparts her presence through feeling, through her touch. Most often, the fondest memories of one’s mother do not take the form of words (initiation into language is reserved for the Father) but of comfort—the comfort of her embrace, her kiss, the warm meals she prepares, and the gentle caresses she provides. This is the essence of myth, that with which patriarchal discourse imbues the mother and consequently relegates her to a realm of silence. Codified as such, the mother occupies many roles that are crucial to the perpetuation of the very discourse that forces her into such roles.
At the core of motherhood lies the role of reproduction, more specifically the ability and imperative to bear children. It is unsurprising, then, that the uterus or womb factors greatly into the patriarchal myth of woman as mother. Psychoanalysis alone could supply pages upon pages of instances in which patriarchal discourse appropriates the symbol of the womb in order to achieve the silencing of all female subjectivity and experience; however, for the purposes of reading Brossard’s reappropriation of the womb, a select few will suffice. First, the womb as a means of sustaining male desire:
…[T]he desire to force entry, to penetrate, to appropriate for himself the mystery of the womb where he has been conceived, the secret of his begetting, of his “origin.” Desire/need, also to make blood flow again in order to revive a very old relationship—intrauterine, to be sure, but also prehistoric—to the maternal. (Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One 25)
Albeit a forbidden desire, here and elsewhere throughout her work, Irigaray conceptualizes the womb as a space preceding knowledge, in turn preceding language. Thus, conceived as a space without meaning, prior to signification, the womb becomes “the receptacle, the place of becoming,” and the bearer of that womb, the mother, “happily, seems to have no memory…submits in all (new) projects, blind to all (new) projections…helping them to multiply” (Speculum of the Other Woman 310). The womb as a receptacle of meaning, as the space through which meaning passes in order to materialize, dates back to the concept of the chora in Plato’s Timaeus, a concept to which Irigaray, Kristeva, and Butler apply alternate readings. Brossard, however, pushes for a reinvention of the womb, a complete rejection of its conceptualization as receptacle or chora. She envisions the womb as a tool for her use as a woman writer, and if she is to carry a tool so valuable to the very propagation of humankind, she refuses to relinquish its power to the abuses of a system to which she does not consent and a future that she is working to transform drastically.
On the issue of motherhood and the womb, there is no other text in Brossard’s oeuvre that is so illuminating and critical as These Our Mothers Or: the Disintegrating Chapter (L’amèr ou le chapitre effrité). The French title immediately expresses the cross-genre text’s relation to this issue, in terms of “a complex, even vexed relationship with motherhood and the writing of a text” (Santoro 162-163). Phonetically, l’amèr signifies the words la mère (mother), la mer (the sea), and l’amer (bitter or sour). Thus, from the outset, Brossard invokes a traditional association of the mother with the sea, only to complicate this typically agreeable association with one that stains the mother with a bitterness or sourness. This ambiguous relation to the mother will remain central to These Our Mothers as Brossard attempts to rewrite the mother and the womb as figures that are not permanently tied to patriarchal nostalgia and myth, as well as to the societal and cultural aim of reproduction.
Brossard’s ambiguous stance on the biological, historical, and literary roles of motherhood and the womb recalls Barthes’s notion of the “two edges” of text or language mentioned previously in the discussion of the figures of vertigo and delirium. The narrator of These Our Mothers, and consequently Brossard, seems to be operating at the convergence of these two edges, perhaps within a space that exists between them. Marie Carrière suggests that the text itself exhibits “its two edges: in its condemnation (through reproduction) of regulated and suffocating relations between mothers and daughters, and in its struggle to redefine them” (63). Carrière also expresses, at least initially, a tinge of skepticism toward Brossard’s seemingly harsh and unnerving violent attitude that manifests via her desire to redefine these spaces of motherhood and the womb. The first sentence of the novel, “I killed the womb” (13), indicates this attitude, which Carrière describes as “a reproduction of the very violence that she deplores in patriarchal control” (63). Indeed, “killing the womb” entails violence; yet, it is a violence that is similar to that found in Wittig’s Les Guérillères, which Butler claims, “has the identity and coherence of the category of sex as its target, a lifeless construct, a construct out to deaden the body.” Like the category of sex, the concepts of motherhood and the womb aim to “deaden the bodies” of women through the way in which they “[make] the institution of normative heterosexuality seem inevitable” and their “compulsoriness” (Gender Trouble 172). Thus, this is a violence against “a more universal womb, raised to a symbolic level by the definite article,” which aims to refute the “designation of women’s place by their function in what Lévi-Strauss termed the ‘elementary structures of kinship’” (Santoro 165-166). Ultimately, when the narrator clarifies her original statement by claiming, “I have murdered the womb and I am writing it” (21), it becomes clear that this violence will arrive through “its formulation in language and, more specifically, in writing” (Santoro 169), a formulation that undoubtedly shapes the reality and future of motherhood and the womb for Brossard.
To write the womb is to bring it into existence and, consequently, into a reality from which it may be manipulated. It can become a space designated for creation instead of procreation, no longer determined by patriarchal myths and meanings violently heaped upon and forced into it. Again citing the absolute necessity of the body’s role in the creation and assertion of women’s reality through writing, Brossard views the uterus as the primary instrument of women’s oppression within their bodies, as well as the primary instrument of combatting this oppression. As woman “remains in the story, his-tory, she can earn her living only by disturbing the symbolic field,” which she accomplishes through “[m]odifying the first clause, the instrument of reproduction, her only tool.” The potential to reproduce is a biological circumstance that, through a continual association or identification of woman with the biological properties of her body, patriarchal discourse transforms into a compulsory necessity or imperative to reproduce. In this scenario, woman does not possess the space of her own uterus; instead, she and her uterus are subjected to the dictates of a phallocentric society and culture (in the U.S., one need not look further than the issue of abortion to find evidence of the womb’s appropriation at the hands of various religious, political, and legal institutions). As a tool rather than a receptacle, then, the narrator’s symbolic removal of the uterus in These Our Mothers—“Her uterus set beside her like a backpack…a reorganization of her whole body…”—enables the woman writer to “[reorganize] her material: private and political life” (27).
Thus, Brossard does not seek to render the spaces of motherhood and the uterus as irrelevant to the future(s) of feminism; instead, she attempts to find a way in which these spaces might be rediscovered, reinvented, reimagined, and finally rewritten to further feminist aims. Her conceptualization of motherhood and the uterus refuses to conform to past patriarchal myths and nostalgic structures, choosing instead to expel the patriarchal womb from her body and ascribe it new meaning. Her work “uncovers and subverts the nostalgic structures through which a concept of origins is produced,” thereby “demystifying nostalgia rather than celebrating it” (Huffer 125). As a lesbian, it seems especially consequential that Brossard frames motherhood and the womb in such a way that they appear neither as biologically essential to women nor completely immaterial. For Brossard, it is necessary that “the maintaining of the reproductive function of the body” be separated from the “ideological reproduction and production,” for it is the latter that reinforces the compulsory nature of the former (These Our Mothers 45). Ultimately, Brossard “want[s] to see in fact the form of women organizing in the trajectory of the species”—indeed, a “form” that is not intrinsically tied to reproductive imperative, a “trajectory” which leads to the discovery of new meaning for concepts like motherhood and the womb, and a “species” that begins more and more to recognize the vastness and multiplicity of spaces that it occupies (101).
As I imagine Brossard infinitely spiraling about her turning platform, pivoting endlessly in such a state of delirium, vertigo, and ecstasy, I am certain of her ability to evoke through her work new meanings within a vastness of space that we have only begun to explore in the Twenty-first century. I continue to stress the power of space through the element of potential; for, it seems to me that the future is inevitably based on measures of potential—what can or cannot be done, given certain circumstances. It is through our (con)figuration of such space, then, that we come to understand how these circumstances—biological, historical, social, cultural, sexual,…—shape perceptions and experiences of reality.
As we have seen, Brossard takes language as the primary circumstance of human existence and envisions her relationship to language as one of contradiction, manipulation, creation, discovery, and renewal. She uses (con)figurations of space to conceptualize her positionality as a woman in regards to language, which involves the negotiation of a given tongue with its own history and meaning and an experimental tongue of alterity that stems from her identity as a lesbian-feminist. The image of the spiral serves as the primary embodiment of this negotiation as it begins within what is taken as “Sense” and perpetually spins into “free zones” of discovery, in which reside marginal, sometimes voiceless realities. The spiral, along with her figures of vertigo and delirium, the horizon, the hologram, and the two-way passage, give Brossard the tools to manipulate language and space in such a way that new structures of meaning, modes of existence, and even ways of writing (genres) emerge from her texts. In the past half-century, she has managed to create a language of her own that, far from being inaccessibly particular, has been able to permeate social, cultural, political, academic, and literary spaces of discourse and assert a presence that is likely to grow along with her popularity in classrooms and coffee shops.
In the end, there is no conclusion to space. Brossard’s le blanc de la scène, la scène blanche, le centre blanc will forever remain blank, forcing the reader to make of them what she will. The blank spaces of luminous whiteness, both literal and figurative, found throughout her work translate into lived experience as that which is yet unrecorded or unwritten. For Brossard, the only way to come closer to understanding these experiences and affording them some sort of meaning is to begin writing them, letter by letter, word by word, phrase by phrase, until they begin to take shape as a new perception of reality emerging from dominant patriarchal culture. To be sure, we cannot escape the space(s) into which we have been born, but surely we can continue to discover new ones with every new mark we make in language and every new breach we effect in the nebulous web of existence.
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