Meredith Quartermain / Narrative Eyes

Meredith Quartermain

As soon as I started to write narrative, especially long ones like novels, another narrative sprang up, doubling the first – the narrative of writing itself. This has been a central concern in many of Brossard’s works; she comments in her interview, “The mystery of how we process meaning is the most exciting one because there is the excitement of the process in itself as well as the excitement of discovering new meanings, new possibilities” (6). Writing narrative, I was haunted by my own heroism in setting out to write. To imagine as real. To conjure in another mind a real imaginary world. As I walked through my novel more and more questions trailed off my arms and legs, threads and ribbons flowing out in space to the stars and gradually braiding and entangling until I pulled an immense train laced to figments in every direction.

Characters in my narratives I imagined as interiors papered in brocades or William Morris or walled with wainscoting or frescoes – coal closets, water closets, boudoirs, morning rooms, galleries, turrets – stuffed with desires, hunches, repugnances, nervous ticks, envy, greed, revenge, or even perfectly stark and empty. I, the eye, was the character in which all the other characters acted. Would I be “I” in my narrative, or would I be “she” or even “you”?

Browsing through the TCR Narrative issue I notice the various dances around the word I. In George Rammel’s text, “Crime Scene on Ice,” the I is literal, author and narrator appear as identical. In Reg Johanson’s “Mortify”, the I is a character, an actor, a repository for the gender anxiety at the heart of the piece, author and narrator are distanced from one another. Similarly, Sina Queyras’s “Of the Hollow” uses “we” (the plural of I) like a maypole to anchor a bouquet of cultural streamers counterpointing one another. Alex Leslie’s “Vancouver For Beginners #5 – Fadeout” shifts the we to the object position, “us” being the “we” turned into ghosts, which become a site of impingement from actors like seasons, nightfighters, cityscapes, police raids, crows. “I” makes no appearance in Michael Lake’s “from the Robber” which poses the imaginary suspension of a character outside his derogatory name, echoing and enhancing this suspension with a short passage of found text in which almost all the nouns, the potentially imprisoning names, are blacked out.

In Bhanu Kapil’s “Notes for a novel never written: Ban,” the I expands to contain both the narrative of a child caught up in a race riot and several narratives of a culture that produces race riots. It is both the young girl’s story and an essay about writing the girl’s story: a metanarrative. The distance between author and narrator contracts as author identifies with the girl, then expands as the author distances herself in order to write about the girl in the third person and to write about the novel “as a form that processes the part of a scene that doesn’t function as an image, but as the depleted, yet still livid mixture of materials that a race riot is made from” (27). This is a narrative of jagged edges between clashing stories, which says in effect, these clashes cannot be smoothed over into a coherent “novel.”

Brossard’s “A Noise of Universe,” an excerpt from her next novel, presents a similarly elastic narrative that encompasses lineated poetry, essay and fiction. Instead of the literalness we find in much conventional realist fiction, which assumes words work the same way in all readers’ imaginations, Brossard offers us narrative that opens up the process and form of story-making. Fascinated, as any novelist is with the power of a character’s name, in this case the sensuous and enigmatic name of Oriana Ossilk, Brossard tells us “her presence and name were enough/ to nourish in me an obsession to de/scribe . . . it was imperative that I/ grasp the process that allows me with written words to simultaneously/ dismantle and reconstitute objects, scenes, landscapes and feelings” (17). “A Noise of Universe” languorously stretches itself in the sun, curling and uncurling its textual landscapes to playfully encompass narratives of Oriana’s experiences, thoughts and actions, narratives of “de/scription” and narratives of reality where “words would soon/ bite into our everyday of flesh” (24), then folds and refolds itself as a novel by Oriana, into which the narrative I disappears as though on a journey to a hotel by the sea.


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