- A History for the Future: Re-writing Memory and Identity in Québec
Originally published in several academic journals (Cahiers d'histoire du Québec au 20e siècle, Argument, Cahiers internationaux de sociologie, French Historical Studies, Canadian Historical Review), and in French in book form (Passer à l'avenir: histoire, mémoire, identité dans le Québec d'aujourd'hui, Boréal 2000), this collection of English essays is essentially the third reprinting of the same material. When the first collection of these texts appeared in French five years ago, it seemed like an interesting impressionist look at the debates about history and consciousness. But it did not age very well …
Despite the well-deserved reputation of the author, one wonders why this collection was translated into English while other truly paradigmatic texts, like recent work by Gérard Bouchard and Yvan Lamonde, are still waiting to be translated. The army of social scientists in English-speaking Canada heavily dependent on translation from French to English when it comes to dealing with Quebec-Canadian politics and history will once again have a completely distorted sense of the actual debates concerning history in Quebec. Gérard Bouchard, for example, has published four more books since the publication of Jocelyn Létourneau's French collection of essays and was engaged in fascinating debates with Jacques Beauchemin and Joseph-Yvon Thériault. Yvan Lamonde has also published several [End Page 435] books since 2000 including a monumental Histoire sociale des idées au Québec. Apart from some footnotes, none of these publications are seriously addressed in the core of these translated texts and an update would have been in order to better inform the anglophone public or simply to reposition Létourneau's thesis towards more recent elements of the debate.
This is important, since the collection is essentially prescriptive: it calls for a rewriting of Canadian history. However, the book offers only sparks of potentially good theoretical insights here and there, stemming from the reading of Paul Ricoeur or the hermeneutic tradition, but it never goes too far. Other historians, not acknowledged or barely mentioned in the book, in the last two decades have already attempted some elements of the prescription. One thinks, for example, of Gerald Friesen and his Citizens and Nation (University of Toronto Press 2000), still, in my mind, a masterpiece of the last two decades.
Nevertheless, to the anglophone public, the prescription is as follows: after proclaiming a critical stance towards pluralistic narratives, the task at hand, according to the historian, is to avoid 'unrealistic' narratives based on a single vision of the country but also to avoid fragmented narratives unaware of the whole. Thus, particularly in chapter 3, the reader has the impression that the prescription is about amalgamating J.M. Bumsted and Jack Granatstein, Himani Bannerji and Michael Bliss … hardly an achievable goal.
As for the prescription for the francophone public, it is the following: Quebec historians must look at the past not from the tunnel of resentment but from the creativity of the contradictions of Quebeckers which are a source of exasperation for authors like Serge Cantin but should be seen on the contrary as a source of reconciliation with other Canadians. The idea that recent historiography in Québec is based on resentment is astonishing, considering that the last decades have been, according to certain authors like Joseph-Yvon Thériault, dominated by social history and a commitment precisely not to reproduce the 'miserabilist' vision. Nevertheless, notably in chapter 2 on Gérard Bouchard and chapters 5 and 6, one has the strange impression of reading at the same time the social historians and their detractors in a single vision. This is where, particularly for the Québec part, the argument makes little sense.
In the revisionist approach proposed by the famous trio Linteau - Durocher-Robert, contrary to Bouchard, it is considered that there was no discrepancy between the popular classes and the elites...