“What would your life be without it?” asks the Anne Carson epigraph that opens the recent translation of Brossard’s 2008 collection Ardour, translated by Angela Carr. “Ardour,” a derivative of what meant literally “to burn” (ardere) is a concept that runs alongside desire, intensity, speed, intelligence, honesty and lucidity in Brossard’s vital formula of what is significant to her in life. This collection, overflowing with tender intensity, full cries in the dark, and “nice shots of emptiness in certitude,” embodies all of these things. Ardour’s microclimate is pure passion, language’s tide lapping against the edges of the body, tracing the “familiar curve” of the ellipse and the eyebrow.
What interests me about this work is Brossard’s fascination with hope. Absence is necessarily confronted by language, but Brossard’s encounter, unlike many others’, is a “non-fall in the dark.” The solitude that “scrapes the bottom of the sea and the alphabet” nonetheless has purpose: “so that night can reach across the invisible / all the way to / our notebooks of resistance.” Despite the grief-stricken “murmur of infinitesimal goodbyes,” the speaker still “listens on language’s frontiers.” Defeat is not an option. The speaker, aware of her vastness, knows that everything transforms.
Ardour explores what can never be uttered—the bar language cannot cross, where, instead of portrait, all that’s left is “a scene / still standing in the city and the wind / a beastly melancholy that dawn / will seize from speed and intensity.” Brossard’s work reveals itself, as always, to be the site of a larger project. Language/limitation and the body/borderlessness converge through concentration, creating a mythic space for desire.
The book is divided into three sections—each a new foray into night, armed with ardour, facing questions that come with being an “us divided / among the paradoxes / of art and the illiterate density / of hands and guns.” One section is a series of “napes”—a part of the body which represents a “fragile foreignness,” a plane for the language of grief and caress, an architecture of tenderness and fear. Brossard’s style is spare, looping back; tellingly, the first section ends with “let’s start again: i’m flexible.”
At every turn, Ardour lets you inhabit the rift, to engage in Brossard’s larger project of “keeping elsewhere.” You’ll find yourself almost comfortable there, hopeful even; the shadow is soft and soif. You are at the confluence of desire and thought, leaning. Knowing closeness cannot be put down in words, knowing impossibility and desire, Brossard dispels the frantic need for language to classify everything. The reader’s gaze is turned toward the void beyond language’s frontier, but finds it full—it is the body, the lover’s hair in an urban wind. The knots of the present aren’t rhizomatic, sending out shoots, they’re inward—folding over themselves repeatedly, unneatly. The project of Ardour is not only the urgent message of “night falls slowly,” it’s a call to look: “at the edge of the abyss the business of hope / all that i’m watching for.”
Sarah Burgoyne lives and writes in Montreal.
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