Descendants of modest French Canadian families, labourers or
petit-bourgeois, from our arrival on this soil up to the present
day kept French and Catholic by resistance to the conqueror, by
an irrational attachment to the past, by self-indulgence and
sentimental pride and other compulsions.
A colony trapped and abandoned as long ago as 1760 beneath
unscalable walls of fear (familiar refuge of the vanquished) --
its leaders taking to sea or selling themselves to the
conqueror, as always when the time is ripe.
A little people, huddled to the skirts of a priesthood viewed as
sole trustee of faith, knowledge, truth and national wealth,
shielded from the broader evolution of thought as too risky and
dangerous and educated misguidedly, if without ill intent, in
distortions of the facts of history, when complete ignorance was
A little people, grown from a Jansenist colony, isolated and
cowed; and defenceless against the horde of clerics of France
and Navarre -- out to perpetuate in this fear-ridden place
(fear-as-the-beginning-of-wisdom!) the prestige and advantages
of a Catholicism despised in Europe. Heirs of a mechanical
papacy, invulnerable to redress, great masters of obscurantism,
their institutes of learning still hold sway through an
exploiting use of memory, static reason, and paralysing
A little people, that multiplied in generosity of flesh, if not
of spirit, in the north of this immense America, with its
sprightly band of golden-hearted youth and its superficial
morality; spellbound by the annihilating prestige of remembered
European masterpieces, and disdainful of the authentic creations
of its own oppressed.
Our destiny seems harshly fixed.
But, revolutions, foreign wars, disturb the most efficient
blockade of the spirit, however disarming.
Some pearls slip through, inevitably.
Political struggles become bitter. Against all prediction, the
clergy acts rashly.
Rebellions follow, executions result, and impassioned first
ruptures occur between the church and some of the faithful.
The breach widens, shrinks, then widens further.
Travel abroad increases. Soon, Paris is the rage. But, too far
in time and space, too volatile for our timorous souls, it is
often only the occasion for time off to complete a retarded
sexual education and to acquire, on the basis of a stay in
France, facile authority for improved exploitation of the crowd
upon return. For example, the conduct of our doctors, with very
few exceptions, is scandalous (after all,
those-long-years-of-study-have-to-be-paid-for, whether they have
travelled or not!).
Revolutionary works, when by chance they come t o hand, seem but
the sour grapes of a few eccentrics. The academics acquire
prestige from our lack of information.
Exceptionally, among these travels, some produce awakenings. The
normally unthinkable is found increasingly. Forbidden readings
circulate, spreading solace and hope.
Minds are enlightened by discovery of the poètes maudits: those
who, without being monsters, dared express loud and clear what
the unhappiest among us stifle quietly within, in shame and in
terror of being overwhelmed. Illumination comes from the example
of these men -- the first to acknowledge contemporary anxieties,
so painful and pathetic -- whose insights prove of greater
value, in their disturbing precision and freshness, than the
interminable litanies charmed in the land of Quebec, or in all
the seminaries of he globe together.
The limits of our dreams become no longer what they were.
We are dizzied by the fall of tawdry finery so recently
obscuring truth. The shades of hopeless bondage gives place to
pride in a freedom obtainable by vigorous struggle.
To hell with the goupillon and the tuque. They have seized back
a thousand times what once they gave.
Beyond Christianity, we attain the burning human brotherhood on
which they have closed the door.
The reign of hydra-headed fear has ended.
In the wild hope of effacing its memory, I enumerate:
- fear of facing prejudice -- fear of public opinion -- of
persecutions -- of general disapproval;
- fear of being alone, without the God and the society which
isolate you anyway;
- fear of oneself -- of one's brother -- of poverty;
- fear of the established order -- or ridiculous justice;
- fear of new relationships;
- fear of the superrational;
- fear of necessities;
- fear of floodgates opening on one's faith in man -- on the
society of the future;
- fear of forces able to release transforming love;
- blue fear -- red fear -- white fear; links in our shackles.
From the reign of debilitating fear we pass to that of anguish.
One would have to be of stone to remain indifferent to the grief
of deliberately feigned gaiety, of psychological reflexes of the
cruellest extravagance: transparent disguises of poignant,
present despair (how is it possible not to cry out on reading
the news of that horrifying collection of lampshades made of
tattoos stripped from unfortunate captives, at the whim of some
elegant woman; not to moan at endless accounts of torment in the
concentration camps; not to chill to the marrow at descriptions
of Spanish prisons, unjustifiable reprisals and cold-blooded
revenge?) How can one not quiver before the cruel lucidity of
Overwhelming anguish is replaced by nausea.
We are sickened by the apparent inability of man to correct
evils, by the uselessness of our endeavours, by the vanity of
our past hopes.
For centuries, the bountiful products of poetic activity have
been doomed on the social level; violently rejected by the upper
strata of society, or warped irrevocably by them and falsely
For centuries, splendid revolutions, their hearts high in hope,
have been brutally suppressed after a moment of delirious
optimism -- scarcely noticeable interruptions in our slighter to
- the French revolutions
- the Russian revolution
- the Spanish revolution
aborted in international confusion, despite the wishful thinking
of os many simple souls around the world.
Death triumphing over life, again.
How can one not be nauseated by the liars, by the forgers, by
the makers of the stillborn objects, by the tricksters, the
obsequious, the opportunistic, the false prophets of humanity,
the polluters of springwater, or by rewards obtained for brutal
By our own cowardice, impotence, fragility and lack of
By the disasters of our loves....
By the constant preference for cherished illusion over objective
mysteries. Where is the source of all the cursed efficiency
which man imposes on himself, but in his fury to defend a
civilization shaping the destinies of dominant nations?
The United States, Russia, England, France, Germany, Italy and
Spain: sharp-fanged inheritors of a single decalogue, and
The religion of Christ has dominated the universe. What has been
done with it when sisterhoods become exploiting little sisters?
Remove the motivation of competition for raw materials, prestige
and authority, and nations might live harmoniously. But grant
supremacy to whom you wish, give world control to whom you
please, and the same deep-rooted patterns will emerge --
although perhaps with different details.
They signify the end of Christian civilization.
The next world war will witness its collapse, by destroying any
possibility of international competition.
Its state of decadence will even strike those eyes that are
Its decomposition, begun int he XIVth century, will nauseate the
Its loathsome exploitation, effective for so many centuries at
the cost of life's most precious qualities, will be finally
revealed to all its victims, docile slaves, the more eager to
defend it as they were made more miserable.
There will be an end to putrefaction.
Christian decadence will have dragged down in succession all the
peoples, all the classes it has touched, from first to last,
from top to bottom.
It will end in shame at the inverse of its achievements of the
In the XIIIth century, when the peak of moral evolution had been
reached, intuition gave way to reason: gradually, to preserve a
supremacy which had once been spontaneous, acts of faith gave
place to calculation. Exploitation began in the very bosom of
religion through it s self-interested use of petrified
sentiments and through the rational study of glorious texts.
This exploitation of reason spread to all society's activities,
in response to demands for maximum production.
Faith, taking refuge in the heart of the crowd, became its only
hope of revenge and ultimate compensation. But there,also,
expectations were dulled.
In high places, mathematics succeeded obsolete metaphysical
speculation. The spirit of observation succeeded that of
The method hastened some impending progress in limited fields;
it encouraged the birth of our versatile machines with their
vertiginous speed, it allowed he straight-jacketing of our
tumultuous rivers -- and decadence seemed amiable and necessary,
even if inviting the destruction of the planet. Scientific
instruments brought us unanticipated means to investigating and
regulating what was too small, too quick, too vibrant, too slow,
or too huge for us. Our reason enabled us to over-run the world,
but a world in which our harmony was lost.
The rending of psychic from rational faculties is close to
Material progress, reserved for the propertied classes but
elsewhere held in check, has allowed political evolution with
the guidance of religion (later without it), yet without renewal
of our sensibility, our subconscious -- without allowing the
emotional evolution of the crown -- which alone could have
rescued us from the deep Christian rut.
Society, born in faith, will perish by the weapon of reason:
The inexorable regression of collective moral power to a
strictly individual and sentimental level has helped to weave an
amazing cloak of abstract knowledge -- behind which society
hides to devour at ease the fruit of its crimes.
Two world wars have been necessary to bring us to a recognition
of this absurd state. The terror of the third will be
conclusive. The H hour of total sacrifice is close upon us.
Europe's rats already try to build a bridge of frantic escape
over the Atlantic. But events will catch up with the greedy, the
satiated, the self-indulgent, the appeasers, the blind and the
They will be put down without mercy.
A new collective hope will be born.
Already it commands the ardour of exceptional lucidities,
anonymously bonded by a new faith in the future and the
collectivity to come.
Magic booty, magically wrested from the unknown, lies at our
feet. It has been gathered by the true poets. Its power to
transform is measured by the violence shown against it and by
its resistance in the end to exploitation. After more than two
centuries, de Sade is still not found in bookstores, and Isidore
Ducasse, dead for more than a century of revolutions and
carnage, remains too virile for flabby contemporary consciences,
in spite of the cesspool customs of today.
The items of this treasure reveal themselves, inviolable, to our
society. They remain the incorruptible, sensitive legacy for
tomorrow. They were ordained spontaneously outside of and in
opposition to civilization, and await freedom from its
restraints to become active in the social scheme.
Therefore, our duty is simple.
To break definitively with all conventions of society and its
utilitarian spirit! We refuse to live knowingly at less than our
spiritual and physical potential; refuse to close our eyes to
the vices and confidence tricks perpetuated in the guise of
learning, favour, or gratitude; refuse to be ghettoed in an
ivory tower, well-fortified but too easy to ignore; refuse to
remain silent -- do with us what you will, but you shall hear
us; refuse to make a deal with la gloire and its attendant
honours: stigmata of malice, unawareness or servility; refuse to
serve and to be used for such ends; refuse all intention, evil
weapon of reason -- down with them, to second place!
Make way for magic! Make way for objective mysteries! Make way
for love! Make way for necessities!
To this global refusal we contrast full responsibility.
The self-seeking act is fettered to its author; it is stillborn.
The passionate act breaks free, through its very dynamism.
We gladly take on full responsibility for tomorrow. Rational
effort, once in its proper place, will be available again to
disengage the present from the limbo of the past.
Passions shape the future spontaneously, unpredictably,
The past is contingency of birth, it thus cannot be sacred. We
are always quits with it.
It is naive and misleading to consider the men and things of
history through the magnifying glass of fame, which lends them
qualities beyond the reach of clever academic monkey tricks,
although such qualities come automatically when man obeys the
deep necessities of being -- when he elects to become an new man
in a new age (the definition of any man, of any time).
End the cascade of blows from the past which annihilates both
present and future.
It is enough to disengage yesterday from the needs to today. A
better tomorrow will be but the unforeseeable consequence of the
No need to concern ourselves with it before it comes.
Final Settlement of Accounts
The organized forces of society reproach us for our eagerness to
work, our inflated anxieties, our excesses; such things insult
their tolerance and gentleness, and their good taste (generous
and full of hope and love, merely from habit).
Friend of the present regime suspect us of supporting the
"Revolution". Friend of the "Revolution" call us merely rebels,
saying we "pretest against what now exists but only to transform
it not to displace it." As delicately as this is put, we think
It is a question of class.
We are credited with the naive intention of wanting to
"transform" society by exchanging the men in power with others
of the same kind -- and of ignoring the friends of the
But the only distinction between these "friends" and those
presently in power is that they belong to different classes --
as if a change of class implied a change of civilization, a
change of desire, a change of hope!
They would devote themselves at fixed salary (plus a
cost-of-living bonus) to the organizing of the proletariat. So
far, so good: the trouble is that, once in power, besides low
wages they will foist on the same proletariat always, and always
in the same manner, a renewable levy of supplementary charges,
We recognize, nevertheless, that they might still be serving
history. Salvation will come only after the most excessive
And this excess they will achieve.
They will achieve it naturally, with no need of special talents,
and the feasting will be lavish. We have refused to participate,
Therein lies our "guilty abstention".
For them, the rationally organized spoils (and everything in the
affectionate bosom of decadence); for us, the unpredictable
passion; for us, the risk of all in global refusal.
(Inevitably each social class will succeed to the government of
the people, unable to avoid the path of decadence. And, equally
for certain, as history affirms, only a full blossoming of our
faculties and a perfect renewal of their emotional sources will
extricate us -- directing us towards the civilization impatient
to be born.)
All of them, those in power, and those who want the power, would
pamper us, if we agreed to overlook their crookedness by
wilfully restricting our activities.
Integrity depends on pulling down our visors, plugging our ears,
lacing our boots and boldly clearing a way through the pack of
them, whether of left or right.
We prefer being cynical spontaneously, without malice.
Nice people smile at the meagre success of our exhibitions. They
are amused to think themselves the first to spot some bargain
If we continue to hold such shows, however, it is not in the
naive hope of making fortunes. We know the wealthy stay away
from us. They could not with impunity make contact with
In the past, misunderstanding of exactly that has generated
We believe this text will help dispel misunderstandings for the
If our activities increase, it is becuse we feel the urgent need
for union with others.
It is there that success has been gained.
Yesterday, we were alone and indecisive.
Today, a group exist with wide, courageous branches that extend
A magnificent duty falls on us: history elects us to preserve
the precious treasure it bequeaths.
Real things require relationships repeatedly renewed, or
challenged, or put to question: relationships impalpable,
exacting and dependent on the vivifying force of action.
Our treasure is poetic resource: the emotional wealth on which
the centuries to come will draw. It cannot be passed on unless
it is transformed, and lacking this it is deformed.
Let those who are inspired by this endeavour join us.
We foresee a future in which man is freed from useless chains,
to realize a plenitude of individual gifts, in necessary
unpredictability, spontaneous and resplendent anarchy.
Until then, without surrender or rest, in community of feeling
with those who thirst for better life, without fear of
set-backs, in encouragement or persecution, we shall pursue in
joy our overwhelming need for liberation.
Magdeleine Arbour, Marcel Barbeau, Bruno Cormier, Claude
Gauvreau, Pierre Gauvreau, Muriel Guilbault, Marcelle
Ferron-Hamelin, Fernand Leduc, Thérèse Leduc, Jean-Paul
Mousseau, Maurice Perron, Louise Renaud, Françoise Riopelle,
Jean-Paul Riopelle, Françoise Sullivan
Borduas, Écrits/Writings 1942-1958 trans. and eds. François-Marc
Gagnon and Dennis Young (Halifax: 1978), 45-54.
Arbres dans la nuit (1943)