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The Humanities Conference 2003

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Reconceptualising the Francophone World: Bodies of Water and Minor Cultures

Bill Marshall.

France, with its traditions of republic and nation, has been the recent source of much 'top-down' and 'bottom-up' contestation of current trends in globalisation. However, this paper approaches issues in national and cultural identity initially from the position of Quebec, sometimes regarded as at the periphery of the francophone world. The Quebec nationalist or souverainiste project is assertive of cultural identity and specificity, while this is contested by Canadian federalism, which refuses it the status of (even symbolic) nationhood altogether. In reality, the politically unsettled case of Quebec provides a fascinating example of the push and pull of contemporary identities. Rather than seeking to deconstruct Quebec's nation-ness, this paper seeks to understand its location between homogenising and heterogenising forces, a nation that is constantly becoming something else, in-between vocations and references that are simultaneously American and French, continental and oceanic, majoritarian and minoritarian, historically colonising and colonised, ancestral and immigrant, settler and native, and that are spatially divided by the existence of the messy, multicultural and globalised space that is Montreal. Quebec film and television output is marked by this national-allegorical tension.

The mobile and transforming 'Frenchness' characterised by Quebec culture will then be used to explore different perspectives on France itself, and thus to subvert the centre-periphery relationship which persists. In essence, the task is to 'francophonise' France, to lay it open to the proliferation of 'minor' cultural and linguistic forms as suggested by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. One avenue is to explore that aspect of French history and identity represented by the 'French Atlantic', a decentering manoeuvre which maps out the often untold or underestimated extent of the interpenetration of French and, in the broadest sense, American cultures. The binary opposition between 'French' and 'American' so prevalent in elite discourses today in both countries is undermined. This counterhistory thus asserts 'Frenchness' as more important than ever as site of cultural meaning, but understood as diasporic and transformative rather than the bearer of a full and unified identity with the risks of mastery and domination that entails.


Bill Marshall  (United Kingdom)
Professor of Modern French Studies

University of Glasgow

Bill Marshall was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, in 1957 and studied at the Universities of London, Paris and Oxford, and at the Polytechnic of Central London. From 1984 to 2000 he taught French at the University of Southampton. He is currently Professor Modern French Studies at the University of Glasgow. He is the author of books on Victor Serge and Guy Hocquenghem, and his latest, 'Quebec National Cinema', was published by McGill-Queen's University Press in 2001. He is currently working on a monograph on André Téchiné and is editing an Encyclopedia of French-American relations.

  • France
  • Atlantic
  • Quebec
  • Francophone

(30 min Conference Paper, English)