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In Three Dimensions
by Eileen Manion

IN THIS RELENTLESSLY postmodern text, Nicole Brossard takes two modernist classics, James Joyce`s Finnegans Wake and Djuna Barnes`s Nightwood, as her point of departure. But her central motif is light, not dark; and her controlling metaphor is the hologram, which she uses to develop a new way of seeing, in order to explore a new way of being for women, who, silenced by patriarchal culture, are confined within "the ordinary": "a circular bas-relief filled with unspeakable motifs." Readers familiar with Brossard`s fiction will not expect a conventional story-line in Picture Theory. "I will never be able to narrate," says her narrator. Instead she presents us with fragmentary scenes, impressions, sensations, and memories retold a number of times and re-viewed from several angles. Most of these concern a group of women, friends and lovers, who, whether they meet or miss one another, argue or drink coffee, always interact intensely, exuberantly, ecstatically. In the section most resembling a narrative, the characters, Florence and Claire Derive, Daniele Judith, Oriana, and Michele Vallee, go to Maine for a seaside vacation. While she is never mentioned explicitly, the reader cannot help but hear echoes of Virginia Woolf, especially The Waves and To the Lighthouse. But where Woolf draws her fragmented narratives together to create a vision of hope, Brossard leaves us with shards suggesting the dangers women face: Won`t you wear my ring around your neck screamed the strategically positioned loud speakers. There is a little metal fence in front of the grass one foot high and two feet away from the cliff ...The tourist leaflet said a woman had fallen there one day apparently by accident. It said the woman was an astronomer. Star-gazing, aspiration, can be fatal for a woman. But the commercial romance suggested by the song is equally deadly. Offsetting these potential traps, Brossard provides hints "with a taste of salt in the mouth!` of utopian possibilities: "beginning with the word woman ...a Utopian testimony on our part could stimulate in us a quality of emotion favourable for our insertion into history." The alternative is a "city of opaque stone;" the destruction of life toward which masculinist culture is tending. To avert this, Brossard wants to develop a language that "could be constituted in three dimensions beginning with the part so-called pleasure where the lesbian body, language and energy fuse." Since such a language inevitably is difficult to translate, we should be grateful to Barbara Godard for her careful rendering of this text into English, and for her helpful explanatory preface.

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