Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
From Imagery to Identity
During the course of our exploration of landscape in the literature
and painting of Quebec, a set of constants has emerged from the im-
agery, not only forming 'icons' but also suggesting themes, ideals,
and values, all of which, taken together, can perhaps contribute to an
understanding of the elusive issue of national identity. By icons (in the
broadest sense of 'representative images'), I mean objects (like the
tree), places (like the garden), or spaces (like the wilderness), which in
turn, by repetition and prominence, generate themes (like paradise
lost), then ideals (like paradise regained), the attainment of which im-
plies certain solutions or values (like retrenchment or, conversely, rein-
vention), often contradictory in nature yet entertained conjointly to form
the Quebecois identity.
Rather than list or tabulate all the recurrent images encountered in
various texts and paintings, I will simply reiterate the most significant
or ambivalent ones briefly, relying again on our two main operating
categories, nature and culture. 1
On the one hand lie images related to nature, which, on the North
American continent, takes the form of 'la grande nature,' the wilder-
ness, encompassing a cluster of overlapping phenomena like the forest,
the mountain, and the river, along with the weather, the seasons, and
the North. The vast undifferentiated space of the wilderness is gener-
ally seen as forbidding yet beautiful and alluring, dangerous yet re-
generative and revelatory. Of nature's various components the forest
is perhaps the most monolithic with its threatening encroachment
( Maria Chapdelaine ), challenging the défricheur to do 'battle' ( Jean
Rivard ) in the name of agriculture and culture (Rivard inherits his bat-
tle metaphor from a book on Napoleon). The central fixture/figure of
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