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June 18, 2012
I am writing to you today, to you, to your government, knowing in advance that the words of a writer don’t interest you, that you won’t read them since they have never and will never have any impact on the economic life of your country (pays). Your province, I should say. Which you are running in a rather strange way nowadays.
I am writing to you all the same, because I cannot do otherwise: the confusion, the anger, the disbelief that that I have been filled with for months is in the process of spoiling the language living in me, and because I can no longer pass this language off on fiction, or poetry (that will come back, don’t worry), I must empty my reservoir a little so that it doesn’t catch fire and burn me on the spot.
Language is the first material of my profession. I write, I teach, I see and understand the world by analyzing, questioning, and reinventing language. And truly, among all of the things that are in the process of being destroyed, there is the respect for this language that makes us that human beings that we are. Because for months you and your ministers have been hijacking the meaning of words, which hurts. Hurts more than everything that the police’s truncheons can do to a young person who stands up. I say a young person, but I am not talking about age; I am talking about engagement, profound lucidity, hope for the future of those who will replace us. This future vouches for our present.
Your language is similar to that of a manipulator who tirelessly repeats the same words, the same formulas, in your case these are numbers, to baffle its prey. It is similar to that of a narcissist who doesn’t recognize the existence of other ways of life than its own.
But I must confess that I am not really surprised by what’s happening today. All of this is perhaps a reflection of a transformation that has been transforming our way of living in this world for quite some time. These changes in direction have taken place slowly. For example, a long time ago the cultural good became the cultural product. At the same time, the word “artist” was also in the process of losing its particular value in contact with the word “star”. It’s also, through the loss of the precise meaning of words, through a sort of addiction to this insidious trafficking of vocabulary, that confusion can come to rein. Along these lines, I have also seen this change taking place in my profession as professor for a few years; slowly, but certainly, students (I don’t accuse them – I am stating a fact) have started to address me, possibly without being aware of it, as consumers asking for their due, their note being often, of course, a minimum passing grade I pay, you pass me. I pay, you don’t take me to the museum if it won’t be on the exam. In spite of this, this spring, I was astonished all the same that the fact that a student can ask to receive his or her class by injunction wasn’t found more indecent. And this happened, students received their classes, yes, but in conditions that in one movement erased a ritual of communication of knowledge based on dialogue, collegiality, respect of others in testing of your own thoughts. This bomb, activated a long time ago, has just exploded in our faces and the resulting absurdity demonstrates on more than one level that the students’ claims are key, that they surpass the discourse of numbers that you have been hammering into us for months.
Since the beginning of the protests, we have been witnessing a perversion of language that makes me ashamed and afraid. From strike to boycott, from moratorium to break, from spoiled child (enfant roi) to violent child, passing through the notion of minority, of silent majority, and other threats, intimidation and extremists, the areas of meaning have been undermined in order to brandish a defense against complex thought and the understanding of events. When I hear Minister Bachand delight in the arrests of the guilty parties – here he is talking, among others, about the daughter of his colleague – I have goose bumps. When I hear you react biased to the same question posed by the journalist while talking about threats made to the Grand Prix, I am afraid that I am now living in a science-fiction novel in which no one speaks the same language anymore. All the way up to the Minister of Culture who just demonstrated to what extent she too ignores the weight of the words violence and intimidation.
But fear will not win. Because, if every morning I feel my anger while reading the papers, every night while I listen to the music in the street, energy comes back to me. I also see that many of my writer friends are currently making a sort of freeze frame in order to understand properly, to not miss a single word of what is happening here. I have recently acquired the certainty that, despite the denial brought about by many, our society will be profoundly marked by this crisis. And that gives me hope. Like all those brilliant texts written by experts, by professors, philosophers, sociologists, journalists, in the end by all those who have spoken in defense of a just and highly significant cause.
Let me tell you in conclusion that I am politically, poetically, radically opposed to the contempt that you have shown in your language, your laws, your attitude toward your interlocutors. After all, I can allow myself to because you won’t read me. But deep down its not so bad, because the most beautiful part of this whole story is that I am not alone.
Elise Turcotte, writer.
Translated from the original French byTranslating the printemps érable.
*Translating the printemps érable is a volunteer collective attempting to balance the English media’s extremely poor coverage of the student conflict in Québec by translating media that has been published in French into English. These are amateur translations; we have done our best to translate these pieces fairly and coherently, but the final texts may still leave something to be desired. If you find any important errors in any of these texts, we would be very grateful if you would share them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please read and distribute these texts in the spirit in which they were intended; that of solidarity and the sharing of information.