What is (asbestos) québécois literature? Confinement and Resource in André Langevin’s 'Poussière sur la ville' (1953) and Cassie Bérard’s 'Qu’il est bon de se noyer' (2016)

What is (asbestos) québécois literature? Confinement and Resource in André Langevin’s 'Poussière sur la ville' (1953) and Cassie Bérard’s 'Qu’il est bon de se noyer' (2016)
Date
18 February 2021, 3.00pm - 4.30pm
Type
Seminar
Venue
Online
Description


Part of Confinement in French and Francophone Literature and Film

Speaker: Arthur Rose (Bristol)

Taking Rosemary Chapman’s provocation, “what is québécois literature?”, as my starting point, I want to look at some literary responses to Quebec’s long political economic relationship with asbestos: André Langevin’s Poussière sur la ville (1953) and Cassie Bérard’s Qu’il est bon de se noyer (2016). Bérard’s tale about a series of mysterious drownings and Langevin’s existential novel about a failing doctor are both set in asbestos mining towns in South Eastern Québec. Written in the aftermath of 1949 Asbestos miner’s strike, an event that Pierre Trudeau would call “a violent announcement that a new era had begun,” Poussière sur la ville offers a rebuttal to optimistic accounts of the strike as a modernizing revolution. Set in 2012, as what was then Asbestos, Quebec (recently renamed Val-des-Sources) awaited a $58 million loan to restart asbestos mining, Qu’il est bon de se noyer shows how nostalgia for industrial security comes hand in hand with trepidations about the diseases it causes. In each, the town, understood as a container, presents a case study for how economic entrapment acts, unsurprisingly, as the cause of apparent disregard for bodily consequences. And, although they straddle the period where knowledge about asbestos refigured the once magic mineral into a widely recognized source of disease, both can be read as accounts that fold together asbestos, illness and political economy. Read together, the two novels encapsulate the rise and decline of the asbestos industry, its affective push and pull, which, like many situations of single resource extractivism, can often feel as confining as it is liberating.


Arthur Rose is a Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow at the University of Bristol and a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Exeter. He is currently completing Asbestos: The Last Modernist Object for Edinburgh University Press.

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Contact

Jenny Stubbs
jenny.stubbs@sas.ac.uk
020 7862 8832