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Nicole Brossard

Intimate Journal or Here’s a Manuscript

English translation, 2004, by Barbara Godard

The Mercury Press


“The journal is the very bottom drawer of existence,” Nicole Brossard writes, and Intimate Journal is one of those drawers one opens with anticipation as well as a certain ruefulness. Written more than twenty years ago, but only now available in English, this is a book that embodies many of the thorny issues that beset feminist writing at a moment when post-structuralist theory, as well as charges of elitism, blasted away at the premises of its project of re-defining woman with a capital W. 

But having opened the drawer, it is undoubtedly pleasurable to re-encounter the erotically-charged, full-speed-ahead “let’s invent a new language for a new subjectivity” expansiveness of Brossard’s urban, lesbian, québécois, radical, positively Whitmanesque muse: 

“Poetry. . . It’s my genre completely. In poetry I contemplate myself exuberantly. It’s my unique strength. Force of gravity, electric, and magnetic energy. . . To make consciousness as, it is said, to make love.”

Much of the “journal,” however, is written in a fairly straightforward, even journalistic prose, evidence of its origins as a piece commissioned for radio.  Brossard has written compellingly about her resistance to established categories of writing, and her most beguiling work seems to take place in a “boundary between.”  In Intimate Journal, she exercises her subversive tendencies by adding to each of the journal’s five segments a “poetic” coda — as if the more ordinary language needed to be poured through a two-step filtration system: the first allowing only selected words and phrases to settle into a paragraph-like cistern, and the second further purifying and arranging them into a short concluding lyric.

But the best parts of Intimate Journal are neither the more narrative nor the more explicitly “poetic” ones. Instead, the real poetry lies in what Lyn Hejinian calls “the language of inquiry” — in this case, a dispersed collection of syntactically-malleable, investigatory sentences through which Brossard attempts to will into existence a new imaginaire, often through reflection on the writing process. Reading these passages, we have the sensation of walking one step behind the writer on her chosen tight-rope, bobbing perilously, while she rather deliriously puts one foot in front of the next:

 

“Slowing down between each word I learned to identify a certain number of the technics of thought. I also learned to see the gaps coming, to hear them without ever being able to make myself quite their echo. The blanks . . . are in fact so full of thoughts, words, sensations, hesitations, and audacities that it can all be translated only by a tautology, that is to say, by another blank, a visual one.”

 

“I have always imagined myself as an equation in motion in the night of time, undulating equation that approaches, that distances me, consigning me to vertigo and equilibrium . . . “

 

“Lyricism is perhaps when something sprawls so that it is no longer recognizable, and yet on its own is going to catch us unaware further on . . .”

This approach to writing as a kind of “cognitive-improv” is perhaps at the root of Brossard’s insistence on being a writer “of the present.” Unlike others engaged in such experiments, who go away into their laboratories and re-emerge with strange new results for our inspection, Brossard prefers to work out in the courtyard, talking aloud to us as she manipulates her variables. Thus her work can be messier and less “finished” than that of others, but the unconcealed struggle can be heartening to some of us toiling in the more obscure corners of the research facility.

In the years since Intimate Journal was written, the very notion of subjectivity (feminine, queer, among others) has become more and more richly problematic. Looking back, however, it can sometimes seem that the project of inventing a new feminine subjectivity (what Brossard called lécriture au féminin) “dis-integrated” too quickly, without having accomplished all that was possible, even as it was transformed, necessarily, in the wake of anti-essentialist critiques.

Now in the wake of the wake, many are returning to some of this earlier feminist work to see what was perhaps undervalued in the sweeping enthusiasm of reform. In doing so one could do worse than to be inspired by what Brossard, in The Aerial Letter called “the necessary willingness to start over,” and by her determination to “enunciate everything, articulate an inexpressible attitude . . . to remake reality endlessly.”

  

 

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