A question for author David Clerson from translator Katia Grubisic
I’d like to ask you about the link between Brothers and the “Maple Spring” student protests in 2012. I seem to recall you mentioning at one point a formative but kind of loose connection between the two…
David: Although the research and experimental work for Brothers stretched over several years (the novel arose from another, aborted, project), the images I needed to write the book started to come to me during the 2012 student strike—occasionally after being chased by police or blasted by tear gas. On June 6, back home after a night demonstration against the Grand Prix, I jotted down, “I’ve found what I’m missing for Frères : la Grande Mare [the Great Tide], an octopus caught in cattails, a stray dog of a father who’s come from the sea.” Although these images came to me at the time in an intuitive, irrational way, the fact remains that Brothers is perhaps above all a book about needing someone else in the face of the world’s hostility. This need was at the heart of that protest movement, which, unlike what’s been said about it, was anything but individualistic, and was part of a wider global critique of neo-liberalism. Violence—not only physical, and more than anything intellectual or moral violence—was central to the novel. We experienced violence daily and it was deeply affecting, even for those who weren’t in the streets.
If I hadn’t so intimately experienced brutality, and if I hadn’t felt the affection of friends, a group or community spirit, I don’t know if I could have written Brothers as quickly: the first version of the book, in June 2012, was drafted almost in one go.
The echo between the writing of the novel and what Brothers is about, however, is clearest in the vision of the world the novel puts forth. The book depicts a world that is often opaque, an untameable reality that can’t be leashed, and in so doing contrasts with certain aspects of utilitarian or neo-liberalist thinking that presupposes human domination over nature and the human ability to control the world we live in. The characters in Brothers are overwhelmed by reality: the ocean and the sky are hostile and cold, the boundaries between dreams and waking are unclear, human and animal nature merge, the future is perpetually in twilight.
Similarly, the characters in all my books are somehow crippled or wounded, a state of disability that is positive at times—as a recognition of human weakness, and, perhaps, like the characters in Brothers, to rebuild human identity from debris, from waste, from what’s tied to the end or to failure, or even rethink the boundaries between humanity and the vegetable or animal worlds; a new form of thinking, of dehumanized humanity.
This rethinking of the relationship between humanity and nature, staging of an elusive world, with moving borders, is at the heart of my creative process, and it’s present also in my other two books [En rampant, 2016, and Dormir sans tête, 2019], where I grapple, with poetic tools, with the possibility or impossibility of a future humanity.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Clerson was born in Sherbrooke, Quebec, in 1978 and lives in Montreal. He was a finalist in Radio-Canada’s 2012 short story competition. Brothers is his first novel.
ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR
Katia Grubisic has been working as a writer, translator and editor for fifteen years, and has published poetry, fiction, translations, and criticism in Canada and internationally. She translates primarily from French into English, as well as from Croatian and occasionally from Spanish. She has been on the editorial boards of a number of literary magazines, of the Icehouse Poetry imprint at Goose Lane Editions, and she is currently Associate Editor at Linda Leith Publishing. Her work has been shortlisted for the CBC Literary Awards and the AM Klein award, and her 2008 collection, What if red ran out, won the Gerald Lampert prize.