I first read La Théorie, un dimanche in Montréal twelve years ago. I was in graduate school. I had just moved back to Canada after living in the United States for a decade and a half. I was twenty-two. I did not think I needed feminism. I had never heard of Louise Cotnoir, of Gail Scott, of Louise Dupré, France Théoret, or Louky Bersianik. I had never read Nicole Brossard. I had a vague memory from childhood of reading about the massacre of fourteen women in 1989, of feeling afraid, of wondering how far away Québec was from Ottawa. In 2002 when I first read Brossard asking “what is indispensible to feminism?,” I did not think I needed feminism. What I realize now is that I had not yet developed a feminist consciousness. I didn’t have the texts or tools for articulating my gendered experience of the world.
Developing a feminist consciousness takes time. Reading La Théorie, un dimanche in Montréal in a small café I felt both wholly alone and, strangely, as though I had been invited to listen to a conversation. I was reading Kristeva’s “Women’s Time,” Cixous’s “Laugh,” Derrida’s The Ear of the Other at the same time. I was learning about the real and the symbolic. I was in classrooms filled with other ravenous minds. I was experiencing patriarchal structure with a growing language to name what I was seeing, feeling, hearing, and moving through. I was living in a new city, speaking (imperfectly) a language that was not my mother tongue, yet which felt more alive than the English I grew up speaking with ease. My consciousness was cracking open, shaking itself out. Everything was happening between the pages of my texts and the synapses in my brain.
Discovering the language for the quotidian misogyny you experience is uncanny in the proper sense of the term. Language allows you to name injustice, and it puts into focus the peripheral hum, the spaces into which you have shoved the small and large violences in order to continue onward in your life. Brossard puts it this way:
Whether taught about feminism or not, it’s easy to suppose that every woman has been brought up receiving, in her flesh and her subjectivity, in the form of many disdainful words and humiliating gestures, all the information she needs to initiate her revolt. On the other hand, it should be kept in mind that every woman simultaneously received all the information necessary to maintaining her inferiorization and all the misinformation required for her subordination. No woman really gets used to violence; few women accustom themselves to contempt and insult; most women accustom themselves to dependence and thereby validate the patriarchal tradition. (“The Frame Work of Desire”)
However awakening this discovery may be, it is also jarring and profoundly disorienting. It is lonely. Reading women writing together taught me how to speak my ideas aloud. I needed to talk to someone about this vertiginous feeling I was having reading feminist writing. I wanted to ask, do you see this too? The systematic violences that are obscured by the myths of equality? I needed mentorship; I craved a critical community that crossed generations. I sought it out and, often, was fortunate enough to find it.
In the twelve years since I first encountered La Théorie, un dimanche I have developed or been welcomed into feminist networks of mentorship that span time zones, generations, and the bounds of genre. Because of a book. Because on Sundays in Montréal in the 1980s six women gathered together to talk, to theorize, to think, and to listen. Merci. Thank you. Wela’lin. Thank you in the languages I have learned and in the language of the lands I am living on now.
Erin Wunker teaches and researches Canadian literature and culture with special focus on contemporary poetry and poetics and feminist theory. She is Chair of the Board of CWILA: Canadian Women in the Literary Arts and co-founder and weekly blogger at Hook & Eye: Fast Feminism, Slow Academe. She is currently working on a manuscript about the poetics of collapse.
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