Hearing the silence a legacy of postmodernism
Although there would seem to be a paradox involved, the practice of examining silence through literature actually has a long and varied history. There are examples to be found in the work of Malarmé and the other symbolists of the 19th century. Views of silence change from one society to another and one age to the next. Where Canadian and Québécois postmodernism are concerned there is a difference in the treatment of silence in early postmodern novels and its treatment in later postmodern novels by the same authors. Early novels treat silence as a fascinating albeit frightening alternative to language which has been disappointing. In later novels language and its effects are still under scrutiny but silence is viewed as more of a companion to language than an alternative. Along with the shift in the view of silence, there is a change in narrative style from early to late postmodern novels. Early novels were marked by fragmentation and discontinuity. Later novels show a distinct return to a more coherent storyline. Michael Ondaatje's Coming Through Slaughter (1976) and The English Patient (1993) provide the clearest example of these changes. Jacques Poulin's Volkswagen Blues provides a clear illustration postmodern styles and concerns. Although the difference between his early and later work is not as extreme as some, his novels, nonetheless, demonstrate the same sort of evolution of postmodernism. Nicole Brossard brings a decidedly feminist perspective to the mix. The transition from Le Désert mauve (1987) to Baroque d'aube (1995) shows the previously mentioned changes but her feminist agenda places greater emphasis on the effect language and silence have on our experience of"reality." The view of silence and language offered by Obasan (1981) is coloured by Joy Kogawa's Asian heritage. The Rain Ascends , on the other hand, reinforces the view that enforced silence can only be seen as negative. In all of these novels, the return to a more coherent storyline is accompanied by a heightened awareness of the act of writing and its consequences.