[Entrevue] “Geographies of the neighboring country”: Pierre Nepveu, the near and the far

“I have an important debt towards this territory, this society, this nation, but every debt deserves to be questioned, every inheritance must be weighed”, writes Pierre Nepveu in Close to the geographies of the countries, his latest attempt. Carrier as a subtitle Poet and citizen in the plural Quebecit is the double point of view that he holds.

Through these dozens of texts in which it is above all a question of closeness and belonging – but also of literature and poetry – Pierre Nepveu felt the need to evoke, through his itinerary and that of the “modest middle class” family from which he comes , his own experience of Quebec.

The nation, for me, today, cannot be pure transcendence. The expression “unitary nation” that we find in some essayists prevents us from thinking of the reality of Quebec as it is.

“I lived in a family where the reference to Quebec was very important, in terms of responsibility”, says the poet, essayist and novelist – and biographer of Gaston Miron – born in Montreal in 1946, who recalls that his father read “religiously ” The duty Every morning. “I got used to hearing about political debates involving Quebec very early on. References such as André Laurendeau or Claude Ryan were important, sometimes in disagreement, but always with the feeling that there was an attempt to think about our political, social and even, to some extent, cultural reality. “

With his literary perspective, he navigates on sight between the Quebec of yesterday and that of today, of which he thinks “sometimes the best, sometimes the worst”. He notes stimulating intellectual and social advances, while deploring, writing, “areas of mediocrity, sterile identity tensions, persistent social inequalities, cultural and spiritual neglect”.

Essays that form a sort of “autobiography of the mind” – to use the title of a book by Élise Turcotte – in which the poet and essayist revisits his personal path, which he approaches translation, the idea of ​​nation, transcendence or geographic awareness. A book that he dedicates to the memory of François Ricard, “indispensable first reader and fellow critic”, who passed away in February of this year.

An “ecologist of reality”

“Was it possible, in such a close-knit world, to experience the slightest change of scenery? asks Pierre Nepveu. He will find him during his studies in Montpellier, France, then in Toronto, Gatineau, Vancouver and Sherbrooke, before returning to teach, from 1978 to 2009, in the French studies department of the University of Montreal. His every journey and every experience of him will feed in him “the feeling of the plurality of languages”, despite a visceral attachment to the French language. He who was one of the first, in the wake of Jean Le Moyne (1913-1996), through the tests of‘Interior of the New World (Boréal, 1998, Governor General’s Award), to think about our Americanness, to probe the complex bonds that unite us to this continent which is both “intimate and unknown”.

This reader of Rabelais, Miron and Emily Dickinson, who defines himself as a “rooted cosmopolitan”, adopts a formula of Marco Micone on his own, which according to him does not apply only to immigrants: “We are not born not Quebecers, we become one.”

Contrary to a certain nationalist discourse of Quebec which, operating in a reductive way, does not always take this dimension into account, the author of Readings of places (Boréal, 2004) to probe our relationship with the territory. “There has been a sort of evolution, and also of revolution, which is undoubtedly due to ecology, but not only that, which means that culture is now rooted in this territory too, with all its diversity. “

In this regard, the coincidence between the Amerindian philosophy of the territory and ecology seems obvious to him, if not fundamental.

We will, he believes, go from “The earth belongs to me” to “I belong to the earth”. «It completely reverses a relationship that we know well, that of the exploitation of resources with no other concern than that of profit, a relationship of possession. For me, together with feminism, it is one of the great contemporary revolutions ”, says Pierre Nepveu.

And it is literature and imagination that reinvent, according to him, the spaces we inhabit. This is what he did himself, as a poet and citizen, in Airlines (Le Noroît, 2002, Governor General’s Award), where his poems had the construction of Mirabel airport as a background.

“The nation, for me, today, cannot be pure transcendence. The expression “unitary nation” that is found in some essayists prevents us from thinking of the reality of Quebec as it is, he believes, that is, a very pluralistic reality, and not only in ethical terms, but also in terms of regions and places. This sensitivity is very important, adds Pierre Nepveu, because it is the world we live in, the world we can improve, the one on which it is possible to act. “

The poetic feeling of the world

And while the identity society can be problematic, it acknowledges, it refuses to accept the idea that specific grievances – both about racism and the treatment of the elderly – necessarily work, in ignorance and indifference, against the nation. “Do we really want an ethical society where we take care of the poorest? The idea of ​​always opposing specific claims of national cohesion, for me, is harmful ”, thinks the writer, who says in this close to the thought of Gérard Bouchard.

A desire to dispel some myths, to ignite the debate, which we have already encountered in the essays byThe ecology of reality (Boréal, 1988), where he tried to de-compartmentalize the literature of Quebec, mixing reflections on modernity and the national question. He who was also, among us, one of the first to be interested in migrant literature. In short, another way to open up to the ecology of reality, in the sense of the relationship of living beings with their environment.

On this question Pierre Nepveu says he is “strongly influenced” by the thought of Octavio Paz, which very soon leads him to consider poetry as an ethical and civil act. “Every place is the same and no place is everywhere,” wrote the Mexican writer. “The fundamental idea in Octavio Paz is that poetry presupposes otherness. Poetry takes place when our emotions are projected into something other than the poet himself, ”explains the essayist. And it can turn it into a landscape, like when Miron, inside The walk to lovesays to the beloved woman: “I wrap myself in you / all the black Saguenays waters of my life”.

As an “ecologist of the real”, advancing with the deep conviction that everything is correlated, Pierre Nepveu invites us to cultivate the “poetic feeling of the world”.

Because “despite the cries, the tears, the howls, writes Pierre Nepveu, there is a dignity of the human word, an ethic of forms which is also the hope of sociality”.

Geographies of neighboring countries Poet and citizen in the plural Quebec

Pierre Nepveu, Boréal “Glued Papers”, Montreal, 2022, 256 pages

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