Beyond Two Solitudes
Jeffrey J. Cormier is a Ph.D. candidate specializing in Canadian society
at McGill University.
Beyond Two Solitudes is a unabashedly personal autobiographical essay
about one English Canadian’s spiritual and emotional integration into
Quebec culture. Originally published in French under the title D’Une
nation а l’autre: des deux solitudes а la cohabitation (1997), the
book is a strange brew of personal reminiscences, anecdotes, and
face-to-face interviews with English-speaking artists who have decided
to either work in French and/or make their home in Quebec (novelists
Neil Bissoondath and Nancy Huston, artist Jim Corcoran, horticulturist
Larry Hodgson, and singer Nanette Workman all make an appearance).
Smith, a professor of French literature at Carleton University, wrote
the original essay in order to prove to French Quebecers that
English-Canadian journalists like Diane Francis and William Johnson
represent only a minority view in their “Quebec bashing.” One of the
apparent goals of this English translation is to prove to
English-speaking Canadians that Canada is not the “cultural
no-man’s-land” that it is sometimes asserted to be. Smith’s
ultimate hope is to demonstrate to both sides that if they only abandon
certain misconceived stereotypes, they will eventually arrive at a state
of mutual respect, understanding, and tolerance.
While carelessly setting aside all manner of political analysis, Smith
nevertheless puts forward a political project: one country (Canada),
three equal nations (the English nation, the French nation, and the
First Peoples nation). Unfortunately, the only evidence he offers that
such a solution to Canada’s constitutional woes is at all workable is
his deep-seated personal conviction and the fact that a small handful of
intellectuals and academics happen to agree with him. Smith appears
desperate to participate in the national discussion about Canada’s
future; unfortunately, the only thing he has to contribute is his rather
marginal personal history.