Excerpt of The Cultural Fatigue of French Canada by Hubert Aquin

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This is an unofficial translation of a few excerpts of La fatigue culturelle du Canada français by Hubert Aquin which appeared in Le Devoir during a symposium entitled Hubert Aquin : cinq questions aux nationalistes d'aujourd'hui.


Is the Nation-State an odious trap in which the best elements of the left foolishly fall because they are emotive; does this concept imply a kind of malefic and intrinsically negative ipseity that we should agree to ban from our minds forever as a "transitory phase" of humanity, like others had to sublimate cannibalism? Here is the question to which Pierre Elliott Trudeau gives a brilliant and rethorically convincing answer (1) which, nevertheless, seems to me like a charade-question or, better, a dialectical trap.

Let me explain. By posing as a premise that separatism postulates a Nation-State, it is relatively easy if not agreable to refute this aspiration of the French-Canadian nation to transmute into a Nation-State. Now, precisely, the Nation-State is a concept that is truly expired and which does not correspond neither to the reality nor to the latest data of science.

The nation is not, as Trudeau let us hear, an ethnic reality. There no longer are ethnies, or so little. Population displacements, immigration, assimilation (which Jacques Henripin rightly refers to as "linguistic transfers") produced an interpenetration of ethnies for which one incontestable, in French Canada for example, is the grouping no longer according to the principle of the ethnic origin (the race, as we were still saying only twenty-five years ago) but according to a homogeneous cultural group whose only verifiable specificity is to be found at the linguistic level.

It only suffice to look around oneself, among the people that we know, to quickly count the number of pure wool French Canadians: they are no longer the "true" French Canadians! The Mackays, the Johnsons, the Elliotts, the Aquins, the Molinaris, the O'Harleys, the Spénarts, les Espositos, les Globenskis, etc., say a lot about the French-Canadian ethnie-nation. The "linguistic transfers", of which speak Henripin, have occurred to our benefit as well as to our expense, so much that the kernel of immigrated colonists which accomplished the survivance is today mixed, at the ethnic level, to all the contributions which immigration or the coincidences of love have added to our national ethnic purity.

In fact, there no longer is a French-Canadian nation but a cultural-linguistic group homogeneous by its language. So will it be for the Wolofs, the Sérères and the Peuls of Senegal who will, if nothing intervenes to stop the schooling process whose upcoming result will be to give birth to a cultural-linguistic group of multiple ethnic origins, become one day the Senegalese people.

Cultural Homogeneity and Pluralism

French Canada is polyethnic. And it would be pure folly, I convene, for the French-Canadian to dream of a Nation-State when precisely the French-Canadian nation has made way to a global, coherent culture, whose basis is a linguistic difference. That we call this new agglomerate a nation, I do not mind, but then it can no longer be question of the nation as a ferment of racism and all its abominable derivatives.

What distinguishes Canada from French Canada, is not that the bigger one is polyethnic while the second is monoethnic, but that the first is bicultural while the second is culturally homogeneous (which does not exclude, thank God, pluralism in all its forms).

The Nation-State couple which Pierre Elliott Trudeau denounces does not correspond to reality and could constitute a sincere ambition but for a minority who, because of this fact, will never realize its dream. It would be more accurate to speak of a Monocultural State. If a few backwards people still dream of a pure French-Canadian blood, let us simply consider them as intellectual delinquents!


(1) In « La nouvelle trahison des clercs », Cité libre, April 1962