- Fitful Colloquy:une occupation difficile des lieux
There is nothing self-evident about Anglo-Quebec literature: the term itself is contentious; writers hesitate to claim the affiliation; and, at the limit, scholars might be charged with inventing a field that is otherwise accommodated by Canadian literature. This, however, is precisely the interest of Anglo-Quebec literature: read sometimes as Canadian and sometimes as Québécois literature, it unsettles the critical assumptions of both and provokes all the discomfort of a body of writing with no clear place and several places at once.1 Since the late 1990s, a number of special issues of journals have been devoted to Anglo-Quebec literature and especially to its interface with Quebec letters.2 If scholars have worked to generate a further theme issue, this time in the Revue d'études canadiennes / Journal of Canadian Studies, the gesture has to do with a collective desire to focus attention on Anglo-Quebec literary works—too often sidelined by literary institutional debates—and to bring the works and the debates to the attention of scholars of Canadian letters. What is the relevance of Anglo-Quebec literature for Canadian literature? What are the implications of the dislocation of English-language writing in Quebec from English-language writing across Canada? What effects do Quebec letters have on the production and reception of Anglo-Quebec literary texts? On what terms are scholars of Quebec letters engaging with English-language literature?
Anglo-Quebec literature is a relatively new field of study. The category was not widely used in anglophone literary circles until the late 1980s (Scott 1989, 51) or in francophone circles until the late 1990s (Marcotte 1998-99, 6; Bordeleau 1999). Although there has been writing in English in Quebec for over two centuries, this writing was associated with Canadian rather than with Quebec literature (Gustafson, MacDonald, and Whiteman 1997).3 Among scholars in the field, the election of the Parti Québécois in 1976 is generally taken to be the moment in which the category of Anglo-Quebec literature became a literary institutional necessity (Moyes 1998, 151; Camlot 2007, 14-15; Reid 2009, 63). Linda Leith traces the decline in interest in (Anglo-) Quebec writing among English Canadians to 1980, the year of the first referendum (1990, 14).4 By that point, Quebec was no longer a site from which writers and critics could speak unproblematically about producing "Canadian literature," and English-language writers who came to Quebec, [End Page 5] or who stayed, made a choice to live and write in a predominantly francophone cultural space. A number established English-language writers' unions, literary awards, small magazines, small presses, and literary anthologies and, in this way, played a substantial role in constructing and conceptualizing the field of Anglo-Quebec literature (Leith 2010). Institutional recognition, especially from Quebec letters, has come in the 2000s in the form of scholarship, translations, and several major Quebec literary prizes.5
One of the arguments for entertaining a category of Anglo-Quebec literature is the intensity of relations, both collaborative and conflictual, between English-language and French-language letters since the late 1970s. Whether these relations speak of antagonism and scandal or intellectual curiosity and desire for exchange— or even "l'ignorance mutuellement consentie" (Harel 2007-2008, 46)6—they are constitutive of the culture of Quebec and especially that of Montreal. They attest to the proximity of languages, as well as to the uneven relations produced by local histories of colonialism, anti-colonial resistance, and the position of English in a global context. The editorial decision to focus this theme issue on the period since 1976 resides in this set of relations. At the same time, there is no reason to isolate the period: writers such as Mavis Gallant, Hugh MacLennan, Mordecai Richler, Leonard Cohen, and D.G. Jones, for example, whose careers straddle the period of change—or A.M. Klein and F.R. Scott who anticipate it—remain entirely pertinent to the field.
There are continuities between the field of Anglo-Quebec writing and those of translation studies, feminist literary studies, comparative literary studies, Jewish studies, and city writing. In Quebec and Canada, these...