Nicole Brossard: The Frame Work of Desire


Motivation is defined as “the action of (conscious and unconscious) forces that determine behavior.” We ought therefore to ask ourselves what is the source of our motivation, so as to identify the reasons and motives [les motifs et les mobiles] that generate and nourish feminist consciousness, and at the same time to understand how these two factors affect and control the evolution and the relevance of our thoughts.


Philosophy teaches us that, as opposed to motives, reasons are easy to objectivize and thus identify. To comprehend them, one only has to look around and gather information. If one grants that motivation increases in proportion to the number of reasons for acting, one would also have to agree that a feminist must constantly keep her eyes open and update her knowledge. The past and the present basically provide us with a certain quantity of raw data about what the condition of women is and was. Statistics, legal texts, television news programs, advertising, various facts, pornography constitute reasons for intensifying our anger and our revolt on a daily basis, thus reaffirming both our will to act and the urgency of the need to take action. Other reasons for acting can be found buried in history and literature: it is the task of feminist consciousness to identify and analyze them. These reasons add up to an immense iceberg of injustice and violence: most women are only able to see the tip; feminists have the ability to take its whole measure.

There is also another source for reasons, one which has the power to orient our desire and inspire us. These are the words, writings, actions and gestures of liberation produced by women throughout history. And closer to our own time, one can say that every book written by a radical feminist, a lesbian feminist or a radical lesbian is motivating material, blowing fresh wind into our sails.


Motives differ from reasons in that they are unrecognized or unconscious, and deeply private. As the name indicates, motives are constantly in motion and travel through us like something undetectable. Correspondingly, it is more difficult for us to isolate them from among the mass of emotions and sensations which we experience and which have the power to strengthen but also to diminish our motivation. Thus motives can influence our energy levels, our feelings, and our subjectivity all at once without our even being conscious of it: a fact that is obviously not without consequence for how we invest and/or disinvest in feminism. To the extent that they are unconscious, however, it seems easy to define motives (the emotive) as personal factors and thus to give up on evaluating the real impact they have on our collective motivation.

However, one can also consider the fact that the solidarity of women, the pleasure we experience in being together, our identification with other women, the state of mind in which lesbian love can immerse us all equally constitute substantial motives for acting. In another sense, we can also say that the sorrow, suffering, and anger that come to us out of the accumulated violence and contempt against the female sex and thus against that which we are, also evoke in us the energy that arises from the “sense of honor.”

While reasons have to do with facts and circumstances, motives are inextricably linked to faces3 and to forms4 whose relative emotional proximity has the power to multiply attraction or threat, well-being and discomfort — private expressions and figureheads are never neutral; their nearness has the effect of eliciting complicity or rejection, drawing us closer or pushing us away. In this way, reasons (in the public sphere) and motives (in the private one) organize, so to speak, our caution and our daring, our self-censure and our taking of liberties, our reserve and our exaltation.[1]

translated by Erica Weitzman

This excerpt from Nicole Brossard’s “The Frame Work of Desire” in Theory, A Sunday is posted with permission from *belladonna. Watch for excerpts from Theory, A Sunday to come over the next six weeks and save the date, October 16th, for a celebration of Quebec Women’s Writing at Concordia University. More to come, and please, we welcome comments, discussions, elaborations and entanglements below.

[1] One can observe a woman’s motivation grow or diminish respective to the arc of events in her life (childhood, romantic relationships, life as a couple, motherhood, friendship, work). Among other things, this explains the moments of withdrawal or recommitment that are part of the fluctuations of the feminist movement. This also explains the diversity of approaches and definitions feminism has been given.