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The Renaissance of Impasse

From the Age of Carlyle, Emerson, and Melville to the Quiet Revolution in Quebec


Jean-Francois Leroux

In his 1963 debut essay for the militant Quebec journal, Parti pris, André Brochu invoked the figure of the sixteenth-century skeptic Michel de Montaigne in the name of what Ralph Waldo Emerson, responding to the same over a century earlier, had called, «an original relation to the universe». «Écrire», wrote Brochu, «c’est redéfinir la relation originelle de l’homme à l’univers, c’est, comme écrit magnifiquement Montaigne, ‘faire l’homme’…» By tracing the idealism of nineteenth-century American and twentieth-century Quebec writers back to Montaigne and his rejection of Aristotelian and Scholastic reason, The Renaissance of Impasse offers an alternate history to that found in much (post)Romantic criticism, wherein modern skepticism tends to be identified with, and so in a sense confined to, the project of Enlightenment reason. Key works from Thomas Carlyle, Emerson and Herman Melville to Hubert Aquin, Réjean Ducharme and Victory-Lévy Beaulieu serve to define and to refine the sense of an impasse – personal, social, spiritual, historical, and political – that accompanies the «modern» drive to renaissance.