The Biomedical Body and Everyday Life in Québec and Canada: A Literary Inquiry.

We believe that our life is one coherent story. But our body tells us otherwise. The progresses in medical visualization technologies show that we are made, physically, of different times, of diferent stories. What happens, then, to our ideas of storytelling, of biography, and of literature?

    "The Biomedical Body & Everyday Life in Québec and Canada" (SSHRC Insight Grant 2017-2021) focuses on the representations of health and the biomedical body in post-1960s Anglo-Canada and Franco-Québec literatures. It is interested in the representation of urban middle-classes and the ways in which new modes and languages of medical visualization impact and potentially transform the literary self. It possesses a resolutely interdisciplinary dimension because its planned results as well as part of its methodology will intersect with the field of health humanities.

    Middle-class Canadian culture enjoys an international image that revolves around hospitality and a liberal conception of the good life, showcasing a flexible and integrative model of citizenship. But within this context, public health and personal responsibilities for the health of one's own body stand among the country’s most important and pressing debates. Literature in both official languages, as it draws inspiration from the human body and its biomedical management, produces several emergent yet unexplored models that challenge the dominant image of Canadian citizenry. Literary stories involving the biomedical body are often strikingly different from the traditional life story-based narrative structure. This distinction entails a number of significant yet unexplored consequences regarding the development of narrative arts and community belonging across Canada.

    With the rapidly growing, yet widely different problems of public health management in Canada, the personal relation to one’s body and health in light of the often-conflicting rhythms of urban life has become crucial. The relative sobriety and calculations required by health regimens, by the physical and mental declines of old age, by the "accidents" that radically alter one's identity, or by the unequal rhythms and lifespan of organs along with the possibility of their transplant, quickly prove to be incompatible with the subjective flourishing of the good life that dominates our images of citizenship. Given the public nature of Canada's health care system, those circumstances instead become the objects of the social management of health, the impacts and implications of which we hardly understand when it comes to the construction, the transmission, and the perpetuation of literary narratives. The rapid mutation of the very fabric of communities resulting from immigration and the integration within Canada's middle-classes of individuals and families hailing from very different cultures creates untold and fascinating cohabitations of heterogeneous conceptions of health. Rhythms of treatment vary; beliefs often clash with medical science; illness itself will eventually possess a varying status depending on who defines it, who experiences it, and who treats it. What are the familial and cultural histories of organs? How do stories incorporate, preserve and communicate fatal illnesses not as objects, but rather as a set of hints or traces throughout generational time? In what ways are the time and the economy of everyday urban life organized around the time dictated by the biomedical body? If Canadian citizenship is bestowed on the individual by decree, we are unable to say the same about the individual's health. But health conditions nevertheless shape the idea that one develops of one's self and belonging. How do literary narratives integrate and express such crucial conditions of contemporary life? Ultimately, what are the implications for literature itself?

    Such a methodological orientation allows for the examination of the ways in which literature can help us better understand the relation of people to health’s flows, functions, potentialities and limitations. It also orients the comparative nature of the research by moving beyond the individuality of the literary character and focuses instead on the responsibility to go against the dominant rhythms of cities and to integrate new cultural models in order to manage everyday life. 

    "The Biomedical Body & Everyday LIfe in Québec and Canada" builds on two previous SSHRC-awarded research. "De la banlieue au sprawl. Le roman québécois et la périurbanité nord-américaine" (SSHRC Insight Grant 2011-2016) explored the literary spaces of modern Québécois middle-classes. And "Edmonton Pipelines. Narrating Digital Urbanism" (SSHRC Insight Development Grant 2011-2013) sought to devise interactive online interfaces to investigate under-represented aspects of Western Canadian cities.