52B/52W, Week 4: Fin de cycle

Post by Maxime Rousseau

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Fin de cycle - Mathieu Bock-Côté

Mathieu Bock-Coté is another author whom I had the pleasure of being able to listen to, and speak to, before reading his book. Here again, the habits in writing are very similar to his manners of speech. In a conference I had in my CEGEP days with him, one thing that struck me is the extreme attention to diction that he has, in stark contrast to the typically quebecois spoken french which usually exhibits characteristic slurring  and peculiar pronunciation of vowels. Anywhere outside of Montreal (and probably inside it too), there is a word for this way of talking: we refere to it as  un parlé radio-canadien, in reference to the almost un-naturally pure french spoken on state TV. The expression has negative connotations, implying that one who talks Radio-Canada french is a highbrow, a pompous intellectual, and maybe even a traitor, an alien to the rest of the quebecois who all use joual.

In that sense, I felt Bock-Coté's book to be very radio-canadien, which made for a very interesting contrast with the theme it discussed, namely sovereignty.  It's more or less as if a tibetan wrote an essay on freeing his country in Manadarin, but intended it for his own people.  Not that joual and standard french are mutually unintelligible, or even so radically different, politically or otherwise; besides, writing in joual has be relegated in the past century to writing poetry and text messages. It's the choice of words that made this book feel so weird, namely the quantity of -isms that can be found per page, many of them newly minted by the author. We social sciences folks love our cool-sounding words, but comes a time in this book where you start wondering if he's deliberately attempting to fill the page with neologisms just for the sake of doing so.

All this pedanticism doesn't harm the point he's trying to make. I get it, and as a self-describe conservative, he touches upon many aspects of the national question which I also don't feel comfortable with, things that in retrospect I have been criticizing for years concerning the nationalist movement. The almost leninistic method of propagating a fully-fabricated and inflexible conception of national sentiment through the institutions after the quiet revolution, the narrow association of nationalism and social-democracy, the demonizing of the rest of Canada on ideological grounds, all that definitely speaks to me.  The pedantics are but a bit of madness in a relatively well constructed method, but considering it's target audience, it might be enough to alienate a potential readers.

I'm operating on the basis of pure presumption, but if this book is an attempt to reconcile conservatism and nationalism, and to start a new Quebecois social cycle in which the pluri-ideological objective of obtaining nationality is brought back to center stage, it's doing so in a rather weird manner. As the author himself describes it, the nationalist political elite, if not the whole of our political and bureaucratic elite, are now resolutely social-progressivists which envision independent Quebec as a means of indulging in this progressivism. He blames the stalling of nationalism on this very definition that the movement has come to give itself. Through it's semantics, this book is clearly not for the masses; even if it remains accessible, it's vocabulary and length is in my opinion enough to alienate the masses. If this is so, why is Bock-Coté attempting to convince the very elite he denounces? It's no secret that what's left of conservative Quebec is mostly rural, and definitely not very present in the metropolitan intelligentsia; in that sense I fail to see how a book with such an academic tone is a useful endeavour.

I can understand how the method was more or less forced upon the author: a more populist approach to advocating things like the end of multi-culturalism, and the consideration of ethnic nationalism would have had him shot down by the other academics who pray at the altar of progressive-nationalism every morning. For such a young man, why risk that? In it's current form, the book and it's author are already controversial enough. But what is the point of controversy in an arena where the status-quo is already equipped to win anyways?

In that sense I think that this book uncovers a stale debate: the definition of official nationalism in Quebec has been written half a century ago, and there's little hope to changing any of that, especially in the context of the western world more or less reaching a consensus on the concept of cosmopolitism. The usefulness of this book is reminding us that national pride isn't necessarily what is taught to you in school, and that there are other ways of considering the question of nationality. As a practical effort, I feel that this books fails at inspiring it's the proper audience, specifically because  it's doesn't target them directly. A good read none the less, if only for it's originality... just don't expect it to be derived into a manifesto by anyone any time soon.