Since the 1970s, French Canadian author Gaëtan Brulotte has intrigued readers and critics with his clever, subtle novels and short stories dealing with themes of identity, surveillance, changing mores, and social cohesion. Although he sometimes uses surrealism, to brilliant effect, I have made a point of not labeling him or his work “Kafkaesque.” (One of the topics of the interview is the overuse or misuse of that term to describe anything a little weird.) Besides his fiction, Brulotte is a respected scholar with works on Quebec literature and painting to his credit. He serves on the editorial board of the French-language journal, XYZ, which promotes the work of gifted writers in and outside of Canada. He is also a highly charming and witty man. In my interview with him below, Brulotte has a good deal to say about the evolution of contemporary Quebec, its literature, its mores and customs, and its relationship with the world.
Michael Washburn: Let’s talk about your relationship to Quebec. Gerard Bessette, in his novel Le Libraire, presents a society in transformation. The protagonist works in a bookstore where customers are asking more and more for banned books. I think of some of your edgier stories in this regard. Are they the products of a cultural evolution in Quebec society?
Gaëtan Brulotte: Le Libraire, a novel that I adore, is like a novella, a kind of long short story that shows the triumph of an individual over a repressive system. This was a time (1960) when the censorship of the Catholic Church still prohibited the circulation and reading of a large number of books listed on its “Index,” including the works of Voltaire. Yes, indeed, this story by Bessette announces, in a way, the intellectual surge and curiosity that would mark Quebec during its Quiet Revolution (1960-1966). I lived through my teens at the very heart of it.
Today the witnesses to this fascinating period of history are disappearing quickly, so we should hurry to gather their testimony. It was a very exciting time. The education system was then radically transformed, becoming secularized and democratized. My generation, more than any previous ones, suddenly had easier access to superior education, and in the course of my study of literature, I read all I could of “forbidden” books, including Gide, Sartre, etc., since the Revolution allowed such books to freely circulate at last in bookshops in the late 1960s. It was a true cultural revolution that brought about unprecedented liberation at all levels, including sexuality (since it coincided with the introduction of the pill in the early 1960s), social mores, art, film, and literature.
It was a time of unprecedented intellectual curiosity, which of course was accompanied with a critical spirit and skepticism about all traditional values. My work fits into this revolt against the repressive environment and in favor of the creative exploration.
Washburn: Do you have happy memories of Quebec during the late 1940s?
Brulotte: During that time, we were still in a sense emerging from the Second World War, the worst of which my father avoided, since having been conscripted into the army he had arranged to be in the orchestra and therefore was considered part of a support team devoted to diverting soldiers and cheering them up. He got married in 1944, and I was the first child. And the most memorable, even traumatic, memories that I have of the late 1940s and early 1950s are mostly related to the reports on the war broadcast widely on the newly emerging medium of television in Quebec. We had discovered this then new means of communication with neighbors across the street, who had a rare TV set, and we gathered there in groups to watch TV at night, but soon we had our own set—and I cannot emphasize enough the importance of television for the ideological diversification of Quebec at that time.
Washburn: What kinds of things did you watch?
Brulotte: In my childhood, I mainly remember watching only traumatic reports of the destruction of cities by the Nazis as much as by Allies with their defensive counter-attacks, and massacres on the battlefields and in concentration camps, etc. I remember seeing the major (but very graphic) documentary film Night and Fog (1956) by Resnais, its open graveyards and dead naked skinny bodies piled up in camps. This was a horror story and an image of incredible violence in the mind of a child. I had nightmares. I did not understand such relentless efforts to dehumanize, kill, and destroy, while I was only dreaming of building, and developing myself within a loving and safe family surrounding. The war left the world in a state of shock and anguish that shook our whole system of belief in a benevolent God (which we could no longer accept).
Washburn: Is this the source of your denunciation and rejection of violence in your work?
Brulotte: From this experience, doubtless, dates at least my anxiety about the fragility of everything, an anxiety that constantly comes back when having to face the numerous catastrophes of the world we currently live in. Since then, my rejection of war and any kind of violence (whether verbal or physical) has become quite radical indeed. I challenge violence wherever I meet it and it is obvious that I avoid it as much as possible in the conduct of my life and in my writings. But I don’t wear pink glasses either and I also face violence when I have to and confront it, and as a writer, I conceive that we may have to represent it when necessary. And nowadays, if we want to fight against hatred, we have choices, because hatred surrounds us on a daily basis all the time, in social networks and the media, at work, in the current war between the sexes, the rise of obscurantism which promotes violence and even war, and especially within religious extremism.
Washburn: Some of your memories sound rather dire.
Brulotte: Of course, I do not only have traumatic memories of my childhood. I experienced joy on a daily basis just going to school to learn. Also, all childhood is marked by archetypal odors and scents, and for me it was the smell of the bakery on the way home from school: what a pleasure to relive this scent today with every visit to a bakery, whether in France, Israel, the Maghreb, Canada, or the United States. Another strong smell, which I no longer feel at all since my childhood since it has disappeared from my urban surroundings, is related to my frequent visits to the last blacksmith in my small town, also on my way back from school: it’s the heady smell of the horn burned by red hot irons that was printed on horses’ hooves. I ended up loving this smell, because I was reassured of the perfectly painless nature of the operation for the animal. I bombarded the adults who were present there with questions and I was answered patiently, often with a smile at my naïveté. I observed with curious-kitty interest all the skillful moves of the blacksmith around a paw between his legs, which he subjected to a smoking iron to make the impression, an iron horse shoe that he cooled in the water in a hissing and bubbling of steam before coming to nail it to the hoof with the nails he held in his mouth. In this small workshop where the heat was constantly prevalent, in all seasons, massive beasts, which could have killed everyone with a kick of the paws, quietly and unflinchingly bowed to this ritual, almost medical, with a kind of serenity, as when one gives in to the caring treatment of an attentive nurse.
And my childhood also gave me the opportunity to discover the visual and popular world of wrestlers, because my father, in his spare time, was promoter of wrestling. I accompanied him on weekends to a remote village on the countryside in the car of one of the wrestlers (because we did not have a car) to where the fighting was to take place. It was a world of men, but there were also women wrestlers. I had trouble seeing my father as a manager of violence. But he constantly reassured me about the level of controlled violence, more controlled than in other sports, as it was a false theatrical violence and only for show; it was a game where nobody was hurting anyone, where wrestlers pretended to suffer staged brutality for the pleasure of the audience. The wrestlers were hyper-trained to fake, they were highly skilled at feigning blows and pain, dramatically exaggerating effects, perfectly honed as they were at this game, and we knew in advance, on the sly, who should win, since everything was pre-arranged.
Washburn: As we all know, it can be difficult for writers of serious literature to gain wide public recognition. A critical study by Margareta Gyurcsik, Gaëtan Brulotte or Shared Lucidity, pays tribute to your writing, but this is just the most recent among many distinctions. At what point in your literary career did you feel that you were at a turning point, and that your work was beginning to gain recognition in academic circles and beyond?
Brulotte: My entry on the literary scene took place through the front door, indeed. My first novel, L’Emprise (Double Exposure), received this award for a first novel and was highly publicized. I was very surprised. I was not expecting it for my first book. I was asked to give a large number of interviews on television, radio, and in print media. I was accompanied by a press attaché and was the star of the International Book Fair of Quebec in 1979. There were giant posters of my photo from floor to ceiling in a vast exhibition hall; and I was sent to the Nice Book Fair a month later to represent Canada. I could not believe it! L’Emprise was only a first novel after all. And for so early in a literary career, it was startling. The critics also welcomed the work, which, as a result, also sparked the interest of screenwriters in television and cinema. However, some established authors have criticized this excessive attention given to a beginner, and understandably so, even if there were obvious signs of professional jealousy on their part. The academic world was also wary of this frenzied media coverage, which was a little overheated, and the profile of a serious literary writer that I wanted to project suffered somewhat from the overexposure.
It was not until my second book, Le Surveillant (The Secret Voice), a collection of stories, that this mistrust subsided, but not for long. The book received two literary awards, one awarded on a blind submission for the best short story collection in Quebec and the other in France. It also ended up on the list of finalists for the Governor General’s Award of Canada, the highest literary award in the country, and received wide critical coverage more than the previous one and like none of my books afterwards. The collection was adopted by teachers and had great success on the book market, to the point of being quickly reprinted in paperback for mass consumption. Furthermore, anthologies that have excerpted the work have been translated into other languages. All this was very unusual for a first collection of stories published in Quebec. As the critics have noted, this work has become emblematic of a revival of this literary genre, and has set the tone for other generations of short story writers in the 1980s and 1990s.
However, the fact that I had to pursue a university career in parallel, and for that matter a highly visible one with multiple distinctions, has damaged my literary recognition in Quebec. Strangely enough, writers who are also academics are generally very poorly regarded in the French-speaking world. This is less the case in the United States where many writers are also (or have been) professors at universities (think of Nabokov, for example, or Toni Morrison). It is absurd, I know, but I am obliged to face the damage to my recognition in Quebec as well as France. It is as if official critics feel intimidated by the culture a writer can acquire as a teacher. He becomes like a kind of rival to them, I guess, because in addition to his fiction, he allows himself to step into literary criticism by publishing articles and scholarly works. Writers who do not know much about the world of letters are much more likely to be recognized in the long term and adopted by the academic world: there are famous examples in Quebec that confirm this sad diagnosis.
I became aware of this problem at a very young age, which is why I have long hesitated to publish critical essays. My fiction publisher explicitly warned me that it would tarnish my image as a writer. But I had to make choices, because the essay genre interested me as much as fiction and I had to make my way in the university environment. One that welcomed me and that has its own requirements. I did not want fiction writing to become my livelihood anyway. On the one hand, because it is very rare for a writer to live by his pen in Quebec. The writers who do, write screenplays or even graphic comics. I have always refused to do commercial writing, because I am essentially a literary person and I want to keep my total freedom for my creative activities, so that if my books don’t sell well in the short term it would not be a dramatic loss for me. I also prefer to publish less, and take my time to produce good work. Quality, not quantity.
Washburn: L’Emprise raises questions about the heterogeneous and complementary nature of human personalities, but also about national identity. As this story was published in 1979, a year before the referendum on Quebec sovereignty, do you think that readers have considered it a parable about the coexistence of English and French populations in one and the same nation, and the difficulties of such an arrangement?
Brulotte: Not that I know of, but it’s an interesting interpretation and quite possible considering the context. A book, after it is published, belongs to the readers, and one can certainly imagine the characters of L’Emprise, who are in constant interaction, as each representing an ethnic group, where one seems to dominate the other taking his place in the end. The insane Barnes obviously seeks to be noticed by others through his exhibitionism. This correlates to the ways Quebecers seek recognition (most often artistic, fortunately) from the English-speaking community and the rest of the world, even if this is not always subtle or successful.
This novel, however, also denounces the barbarism of a certain medical approach that has always been complicit with the dominant morality throughout history. There is a deep compassion in Block, who is a conscious witness of the bad treatment of Barnes, whom he observes and treats a little like a brother or an alter ego. This compassion ultimately triumphs when he becomes the victim of excessive empathy and begins to identify completely with the other. It results for him in a kind of existential degradation, a change that is more common than we think, since many people understandably grow depressed under all the worldly misfortune they shoulder. Empathy is a form of knowledge, but it is necessary to keep a distance from the misery of the world to make rational use of this form of intelligence of the human condition. Otherwise, we cannot really analyze it, we just feel it emotionally. So, one must know how to sporadically switch off empathy at the right times. How many writers are like permanent sponges and end up falling into madness by shutting themselves up in the imaginary, or by committing suicide. In that case, of course, they are no longer socially useful. It is all about inner balance. Is there such a process of reciprocal understanding through empathy between the two groups in Canada that we called the two solitudes? I am not sure, but it would be worth a closer look. In any case, your reading intrigues me and seems to me rich with implications.
Washburn: Can these characters also represent different personalities of a society in transformation, one conservative and the other radical?
Brulotte: Yes, Barnes represents the irrational part of the human condition while the rational Block is confronted with this other reality that he seems to discover, not only in Barnes, whom he observes from a distance in public, but also in the world of psychiatric asylums. This novel is really a product of its time, where we see the end of existentialism (Sartre died in 1980), and is a parallel to the soaring structuralism of the 1970s, the wild emergence of the American counterculture (Ginsberg and Burroughs, whom I met and knew personally). The context was also that of Surrealism, which ended in 1969, but which was brought back into fashion because of its defense of madness and ideas of total liberation, and the antipsychiatry movement that I felt very close to (I was a fervent reader of R. D. Laing and David Cooper), and Foucault’s History of Madness, among other texts. This trend was well represented in the famous movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Forman’s cult film adapted from Ken Kesey’s novel).
So, in this context, Barnes can certainly represent the anti-hero crushed by a society that does not understand him and whom Block tries to seize hold of. The latter even uses empathy to achieve his end while risking his own mental balance in the process. Block may sound conservative at first but he is not completely siding with society as he criticizes its excessive power. He draws himself back, enough to have distance and an independent view. He is aware of his environment but is also conscious enough to observe his own reactions and prejudices. This is precisely the position of most writers in my view. In the end, these two characters can represent the incessant combat within the human being between passion and reason, between the passion of living without constraints (the Principle of Pleasure, so dear to Freud) and the spirit of examination (the Principle of Reality). This second principle examines the control of civilization over all passions, a duality that Freud tried to illuminate all his life in his various studies.
Washburn: Let us talk about the 1979 Prix Robert-Cliche. Why did the judges require you to publish it at a specific Quebec publishing house?
Brulotte: It was a sine qua non for the awarding of the prize in question, which was conferred on an anonymous manuscript submission. I tried to negotiate with the Montreal publisher with the help of a copyright lawyer, because in the meantime the manuscript of this novel was accepted by Robert Laffont in Paris. I spoke with both parties, I met Laffont himself twice, once in Montreal and another time in New York, to convince him to agree with his Quebec counterpart to do a co-edition, which was common practice and still is. The possibility was very interesting, because Laffont had suggested a film adaptation by Bertrand Blier, the director of Les Valseuses. Such a co-edition could have benefited everyone, but the deal did not go through, unfortunately, since the two parties were demanding exclusivity. Nevertheless, the novel did well in Quebec, with some success on the local market and reprints in book clubs and in mass paperback, plus a television adaptation at the CBC and a translation into English, but its impact beyond the country’s borders was nil, as expected.
Washburn: Nowadays, the term “Kafkaesque” is used to an excessive degree. Today it often seems that anything a little strange or unusual is called “Kafkaesque.” It is important to be careful when using adjectives that indicate literary antecedents. Admittedly, Le Surveillant portrays obscure systems and bureaucracies, particularly in the story “Workshop 96 on Generalities” (also translated as “Discussion Group #96 on General Points”). I think the collection addresses eminently contemporary themes concerning privacy, the role of the state in maintaining order, and of course, the use of surveillance, but does Le Surveillant really fit into the Kafka tradition?
Brulotte: It is critics who, in fact, have used this reference a lot to situate my work in a vague way. I suppose we like to be able to put literary works in categories when they seem disconcerting or out of the ordinary. And of course, when we discuss the absurd dimensions of the contemporary world, we immediately have a reflex to affiliate the author with a tradition that starts with Kafka and runs through Beckett, Ionesco, and up to Calvino. I completely agree that my writings deal with ultra-contemporary themes, such as those you mention, as well as alienation, the rise of stupidity, social control, censorship, insubordination, falsehood, appearances, inauthenticity, identity, narcissism, cultural gaps, marginality, and freedom. I wrote a lot against collective repression, against coercive administrative systems. Literature is for me a kind of advocacy for lucidity and increased awareness in the civic life of our time, at a point in history where certain trends may be irreversible, where science finds a significant global decline in IQ. Writers are undoubtedly among the last lighthouses of humanity that can still shine a little in the dark.
Washburn: Despite the recognition you enjoy, are there any aspects of your short stories, novels, and plays that you think have been misunderstood?
Brulotte: Some critics, the most insightful, have focused on the innovative dimension of my texts at the literary level, but they remain a minority and it is probably the same ones who have conferred literary prizes on my texts over the years.
When looking for new ways to tell stories, there is a real risk of misunderstanding, at least initially. The same goes for art: Picasso was at first rejected by his contemporaries before being really recognized as the master of Cubism and one of the greatest painters of the twentieth century, because he broke the “horizon of expectation” of his time (as sociologists of literature say) to the point that one did not grasp his message at the beginning. In their own way, my narrative inventions have certainly confounded some readers, including a few cultural journalists at some newspapers who did not seem to understand them. I expected it and took that risk. To me any literary innovation is intended to wake up the established cultural drowsiness that softens people and prevents exploring new territories. I aim to shake up reading routines, to dismantle formats, to disturb the old categories and conventions of belles lettres.
At the same time, I do not want to do elitist work at all. I reject art for art’s sake, or pure formalism, although the search for beauty is a constant obsession in my work. I do not reject the playfulness that is often part of literature, but there is always for me a civic engagement to writing. Even the humor and irony that I use has a reflective dimension, at least I hope people see it so, because it’s never just entertainment. Literature is my way of constantly fighting against stereotypes, and against the massive poisoning caused by what we now call the “grand narratives” that led periodic times in history (such as the Bible, the Koran, Das Kapital, Mein Kampf, Mao’s little red books, etc.), who thought they represented the Truth and who, each in their own time, instituted a school-of-fish mentality whose legacy still marks our time. In my opinion, writers are neither demolishers nor anarchists, but dialecticians, who even though they often are problematic for society, know how to deal with the given, with their time period and with tradition, and how to renew perceptions by opening new horizons of sensitivity and thought, if only by showing the relativity of things.
Washburn: Can we talk about the influence of Roland Barthes? Did his ideas influence just your academic work or your novels and short stories too?
Brulotte: Barthes had an influence on my critical work, as he has had for several generations. He leaves an imprint on literary theory today. But since I had the chance to work in Paris with him for three years just before his accidental death, his influence took on a more personal character for me than for others, obviously. I participated with passion in his seminars at the School of Higher Studies in Social Sciences, followed him to the Collège de France and saw him regularly in connection with my Ph.D. dissertation, since we were working on topics eminently close, him on “love speech” and me on erotic discourse. That is to say, our exchanges were fruitful: prior to meeting with him they had taken place through correspondence during our preliminary discussions before I arrived in Paris, then continued after the defense of my dissertation in 1978 (which was chaired by Julia Kristeva).
In 1979, Barthes read my novel L’Emprise, for example, but unfortunately, he died the year after, and I lost a friend, as well as a spiritual father, and I experienced some form of depression. For him, I was probably only a footnote, although he felt the need to cite me in what will become his book on the Neutral. Perhaps he also decided to tackle amorous discourse after I asked him through our correspondence to direct my dissertation on pornography and erotic literature. We corresponded for a year on the subject, to discuss it and refine it, before I decided to leave Canada to study with him in France, with the support of several scholarships from the Canadian and French governments. It was only then, in autumn 1974, when I met him for the first time, that I learned that he wanted to do his next seminar on amorous speech in reaction to the explosion of erotic discourse and porn that then was dominating the literary landscape. I found that it was daring on his part, indeed, because the sentimental side of love discourse was then somewhat discredited among intellectuals and in the culture in general.
Was it a coincidence or an influence game then between him and me, in view of my interests and his own? I don’t know, but this convergence pleased me and was stimulating. It must be said that Barthes was very attentive to anything “youth” of the time, of which I was a part (I was then in my twenties). So it is possible, and reasonable, to think that I may unknowingly have inspired him with the idea of being interested in the love discourse for his new seminar of 1974-75, but he did not need me to observe and pick up social trends of the time.
However, this close working experience with Barthes did not really have any influence on my creative writing, except perhaps to have helped to make me more aware of writing techniques. But it is not only him, it is the entire structuralist movement that has transformed our perception of literature and made writers more sensitive to form and narrative structures by giving us theoretical tools to think differently. For a while, on the other hand, Barthes advocated “the death of the author,” whereas I wanted to become one! It was rather embarrassing for me. Having said that, I understood what he meant by that statement: in order to establish a science of literature, it was necessary to abandon the subjectivity that presides over this artistic practice as well as the insistence on the author’s biography that was prevalent in traditional literary studies since Sainte-Beuve, to concentrate on the text itself. Structuralism has proposed an “immanent” critique of the text: we do not leave it, the critical observation does not venture outside of it. It was clearly excessive, but this position was necessary in the context as a starting point for a science of literature to blossom. That is to say, I had to forget Barthes as a master who tried to deny the author in order for me to be able to assert myself as author, a little against him.
If a critic could be said to have a considerable influence on my literary mind it would have to be Jean-Pierre Richard, who died recently in Paris. He was very well appreciated by a sharp literary elite. His way of penetrating works by projecting himself in the author’s mind profoundly marked me, since he understood creative writing from the inside while exercising an impressive deciphering capacity. He taught me a kind of creative understanding that I would worship all my life. And Richard’s writing is pure poetry on the move all the time. It is perfect beauty, a true happiness on every page, because here is a literary writer, a real one who does literary criticism as if he were writing fiction and who also says “I” to identify completely with the author that he comments on. Dazzling! This is a critic who really impressed me as a writer early on.
Washburn: Which Quebec writers do you admire the most?
Brulotte: The list would be too long to share here as this literature, although extremely vibrant, is virtually ignored in the world beyond Canadian or even Quebec borders. I would have to give a list of intergalactic entities with strange names that would say nothing to your readers. But there have been a few rare literary cases in history that interested the American elite, such as Gabrielle Roy’s in the 1940s. But it was a short-lived interest. On the other end, many Quebec writers have used American culture in their books by setting their plots in the U. S. or sending some of their characters south of the border, and those writers have given their Francophone point of view on this culture.
Curiously, the United States was considered rather negatively by them in the nineteenth and early twentieth century as a country of moral perdition where everyone was corrupt. The French-Canadian characters who dared to venture there all ended up badly, or they were criminals who were fleeing the virtuous province to take refuge in a Southern hell. Of course, this vision changed 180 degrees in the late twentieth century, when Quebec writers claimed their own North American identity by becoming more and more what a society of writers in Montreal calls “French-speaking writers of America.” I guess I am one of them, even more so as I live and work in the U. S. But to answer your question, the Quebecois writers I value the most are the short story writers because they are extremely talented and inventive, and no one seems to consider their work and the full scope of their contribution to literary history.
Washburn: In your opinion, is the short story really neglected as a literary form in Quebec literature?
Brulotte: Yes, absolutely, but that genre, though quite popular elsewhere in the English or the Japanese literary world, for example, is underestimated not only in Quebec but in the entire French-speaking world, unfortunately. Apart from a few laudable critics, Quebec academia has never been seriously interested in what has always been considered a minor genre. In fact, it is to fill that gap that I have published the first historical and critical overview of Quebec short story from its origins to the present day (La nouvelle québécoise, HMH, 2010), and in researching that work I made a number of surprising discoveries of authors that are today ignored or forgotten and in whom I find a lot of qualities and courage. This should lead historians of literature to reconsider their point of view.
It must be emphasized that the relationship of short stories as a genre to society is very strong, perhaps more so than in the case of the novel, because stories originally were mostly published in popular newspapers, which had a potentially greater impact on people’s consciousness, and secondly because they evaded censorship more than the novel, which was submitted before publication to the Nihil obstat of the Church. Short stories had all the more influence as the Church representatives who tried to censor them after publication ended up creating a scandal effect that unintentionally increased publicity for that literary form. In any case, it was often too late for them to react since the text they tried to ban was widely distributed throughout the country. The purpose of my book on La Nouvelle québécoise was precisely to highlight the innovative and rebellious nature of the short story all along its evolution through ultra-conservative contexts.
Washburn: On that note, did the success of Le Surveillant encourage a revival of short stories in the 1980s and 1990s? What writers do you specifically speak about?
Brulotte: Yes, and it is of course not myself who found this to be true, it is the critics who considered that my first collection, Le Surveillant, has inaugurated a revival of the genre in the early 1980s.
Since this collection won two awards and was short-listed for the most prestigious literary award in Canada, the judgment of these various committees of experts carried weight and encouraged a flow of reviews, articles, theses, etc. This collection has broken all my personal records in terms of the number of critics commenting it. Which is interesting, because usually novels attract much more critical attention than collections of short stories. In this case, it was the opposite.
In my essay on La Nouvelle québécoise, I named a few authors from the 1980s and 1990s who contributed to the recent rise of the genre in Quebec. Several hundred collections have appeared during these years, and this profusion allows us to talk about a golden age of contemporary short fiction in Quebec. At that time, we were dealing with a different class of short story writers than in the age that preceded them. They are educated, refined, inventive and rigorous writers. Some of the short story writers I have commented on are Esther Croft, Normand de Bellefeuille, Bertrand Bergeron, Jean-Paul Beaumier, Jean-Pierre Girard, Aude, Hélène Rioux, and Danièle Dussault.
Washburn: What are your thoughts on Quebec nationalism?
Brulotte: The nationalist issue has been declining in Quebec since 1980, especially with the progressive diversification of the culture, which was ironically favored by successive separatist governments who all encouraged Francophone immigration without paying much attention to their ethnic origins and capacity to integrate to the French speaking society that those policies wanted to strengthen. For my part, it is a theme that never challenged me in my writings, except in my essays and theoretical reflections. As interest in the issue of nationalism has diminished, Quebec’s identity has now become very fragile, as we can see nowadays, especially with large-scale immigration that does not really seek to integrate and is making its own claims.
Quebecers now feel threatened in their own territory by a sort of Trojan horse which has been brought inside the gates for political and demographic reasons without thinking about all the consequences. As I have lived much of the last forty years abroad, I can afford to look at things from afar with a bit of a philosophical eye, but also with sadness. Sadness to see the social fabric painfully built since the Quiet Revolution torn apart as a result of social and religious tensions that are back at the forefront and that do not bode well for the future. I am very worried.
Michael Washburn is a Brooklyn-based writer and journalist. He is the author of Scenes from the Catastrophe and The Uprooted and Other Stories,. Michael's story "Confessions of a Spook" won Causeway Lit's 2018 fiction contest.