Producing Visibility for Lesbians: Nicole Brossard's Quantum Poetics

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Author: Barbara Godard
Editors: Jeffrey W. Hunter and Deborah A. Schmitt
Date: 1999
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 5,629 words

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[(review date June 1995) In the following essay, Godard discusses Brossard's use of quantum theory in her discussion of visualization and lesbian politics in Picture Theory.]

Vision, passion, reading, a mathematics of the imaginary--these key terms from the opening stanzas of "The Vision" section in Nicole Brossard's long poem Lovhers interweave the formal and thematic concerns more fully developed in her 1982 fiction, Picture Theory. The epigraph to the hologram version of the text, written in the future anterior of 2002 and presented as the final section of Picture Theory, includes in the list of titles produced by the same author "Faire exister ce qui existe, essai, Éditions de l'Hexagone 1992." This frames Brossard's concern with the affective as well as the cognitive and sensory networks of meaning production as a question of making visible, producing visibility, or outing. I use the term "outing" deliberately here to underline the fact that Brossard's concern with visualization in reading is connected to a lesbian politics. The poetics developed in Picture Theory is explicitly a theory of reading as research and aims to effect (and theorize--which literally means to be-hold or visualize--) a shift in perspective or parallax, a reframing, that would put in what is usually left out and expose out as the very heart of within--lesbians as desiring subjects. This project is advanced also by shifting the boundaries in reading to make the reader aware of manipulating a concrete textual object, not effacing it in the quest for meaning. In this, the text expands on what is always already (t)here, though visible only to some. To this end, Picture Theory deploys a number of different strategies of ostension, some verbal, some visual.

The critical gesture that initiates the parallax--a quantum leap--is a woman desiring to read another woman's book, a narrative thread that turns on the polysemy of the French term "delire," which means contradictorily both "delirious" and "about reading" or "to unread." This production of meaning is figured in Picture Theory as the "white scene" of May 16 between the narrator and Claire Dérive (light adrift/derivative), the "love scene" that works its way through the section "The Perspective" and is distinguished by its unspeakability, as silence, whiteness, and transparency. The visuality of this drift of pure light is subsequently materialized as the "white page" in the section "Skin Screen" where Michelle Vallée, the character of the fiction within the fiction, is the focalizer for a meditation on the "screen of selection" through which language and a rhythm are instantiated to produce a simulation of sensation (pain) and, subsequently, of emotion. These are concretized as the white page on which the reader projects images to make sense:

C'était donc cela qu'elle cherchait au coeur de la lettre aerienne, cela cette phosphorescence dans la nuit comme une permanence féminine prenant relief dans la pierre. L'image est floue. Les mots lapidaires. Le sense trouble. Toute la réalité se condense en abstraction. Se dédouble, floue encore, une succession d'images visiblement de femmes...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100004194