The Lack Of Man In Lac Léman

1982 words - 8 pages

The narrator of Hubert Aquin’s novel Next Episode cannot breathe; he’s drowning. The author presents water as a deadly force that has the ability to stifle life. Aquin employs the characteristics of water to represent the narrator’s inability to express his national identity and therefore himself. Multiple symbols are used throughout the book, such as fire and ice, but water is an overpowering and important aspect of the book because it conveys a sense of inertia in the individual. This notion of water is connected to the repression of Quebec nationality. The book discusses water in a variety of different contexts: as the primary foundation for the story (as interpreted by the translator), as a metaphor for self and as a replacement for language. Water, weaved into a nationalistic allegory, is given conflicting attributes and is both a life giver and life taker simultaneously. This double approach to the basic element of water embodies both his drive to express him nationality and his incapacity to authentically vocalize his own existence.
The tale begins below the waters of Lac Léman, as the narrator states “it’s in the area of this invisible lake that I’ll set my story” (4). The lake is central to the story, as it is this water (or water which flows from it) that he speaks of in terms of the self and language. The place names of this body of water are also significant for French-Canadian nationality. The translator Sheila Fischman has as much literary power as the narrator. This is because without having read the French edition of the text, the English edition modifies meaning concerning the image of water. Fischman does this by consistently using the French name for the lake “Lac Léman” instead of using its English name “Lake Geneva.” This place name saturates the book and is used over a dozen times (1, 4, 12, 22, 46, 49, 67, 84, 122, 128, etc.). By keeping the French place name for a body of water, she strengthens the narrator’s wish to clearly define his nationality through the application of a water emblem.
The use of “Lac Léman” effectively illustrates numerous aspects of the narrator’s being. The word is linguistically French and not English, although the French name is a mixture of French and English. This language fusion denotes his Quebecois origins; Quebec is a French place surrounded by a predominantly, albeit “multicultural,” English Canada. This reflects the French Lac Léman within the Swiss confederation. It also allows him to reject uttering the word “Geneva,” which has connotations of neutrality from an international viewpoint. Therefore the French name denotes a political agenda but also has meaning for the concept of nationality. This is inferred by the fact that “Lac Léman” cannot be literally translated from one language to another as it is a combination of two. The English word “man” is poignant – the French word for “man” is “homme” which is very close in its spelling to the English “home.” This reinforces Lac...

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