Exiguity: Reflections on the Margins of Literature


183 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-88920-265-6
DDC 809'.89203




Translated by Lin Burman
Reviewed by Lawrence Mathews

Lawrence Mathews is an associate professor of English at Memorial
University of Newfoundland and the author of Norman Levine and His


It is an irony that the original French version of this book won a
Governor General’s Award in 1993—an irony because any discussion of
Franзois Paré’s topic is in itself a gesture of resistance against
the institutionalization that the granting of a major award implies.

A “reflection on small cultures and their own literary space,”
Exiguity comprises a series of about 120 short Barthesian meditations by
an academic who is uneasy at the tendency of the academy to propagate a
falsely universal vision of literature “structured by large historical
movements” but “produced by barely 5 percent of the human race.”
What interests Paré is the ability of what he calls “exiguous”
literatures to survive despite overwhelming odds. He offers dozens of
examples of such literatures (Catalan, Frisian, Walloon, Seychellois,
and Togolese, to name a few) but draws on Franco-Ontarian writing for a
disproportionate number of examples—perhaps because of his
acknowledged personal role in its promotion.

Paré presents a clear-sighted (though not systematic) analysis of the
practical difficulties attending the development of exiguous writing,
while simultaneously making credible his enthusiasm for it as being
“very often at the cutting edge of world writing.” Standard academic
generalizations about the indestructibility of “the dominant cultural
discourse” are juxtaposed with down-to-earth observations about the
roles of such phenomena as writers’ groups, anthologies, and prizes in
the world of marginal literatures.

One prophetic utterance from Exiguity’s opening pages gives the
reader pause, as Paré, unaware that his book is destined to win a major
award, confidently predicts that “[t]his book will itself be
marginalized, as though it were marked by contagion.” Perhaps Paré
would now argue that the bestowing of an award is an attempt by an arm
of the mainstream literary scene to kill with kindness, robbing him of
the cachet of the outlaw stance he adopts in the book. In any event, if
the quoted sentence is to be understood in terms of self-conscious
overmodesty, it is surely disingenuously so. Paré knows very well that
he is breaking new ground and issuing challenges that, if taken
seriously, could cause us to rethink what is important about the study
of literature.


Paré, François., “Exiguity: Reflections on the Margins of Literature,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 24, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/3093.