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Varia

Mainmise, 1970Situating Québec within Planetary Geographies

  • Felicity Tayler

…plus d’informations

  • Felicity Tayler
    University of Toronto

Couverture de Voyager dans la modernité, Volume 10, numéro 1, automne 2018, Mémoires du livre

Corps de l’article

On the 16th of October 1970, Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act and the Canadian military descended upon the streets of Montréal. Prominent newspapers, such as Le Devoir denounced this suspension of civil liberties, declaring in bold headlines, “Le gouvernement est allé trop loin.”[1] In December 1970, following a period of widespread arrests and detainments, Mainmise, a Montréal alternative magazine (1970–1978), published its second issue. In that issue was included a picture taken in Algeria of the countercultural icon and anti-military activist Dr. Timothy Leary meeting with the Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver, author of the radical essay collection Soul on Ice (1968).[2] The photograph was used to illustrate a French-language translation of Leary’s manifesto, The Politics of Ecstasy (1968), which advocated a mix of hallucinogenic drugs and religious experience as counter-measure to government militarism. I want to take this translation and image as an opportunity to think through some ways that 1970s Québec countercultures used print technologies to attract counterpublics through cross-cultural appropriation and exchange. In order to understand the dynamics of appropriation in Mainmise, I will first consider the inclusion of a translation of Carl Wittman’s A Gay Manifesto (1970), originally published by the San Francisco “Red Butterfly” cell of the Gay Liberation Front. Both of these case studies show how Mainmise activated transpositions of identity-based political positions between English and French transnational countercultural movements.

Though the news syndication and photo-mechanical technologies discussed here are not particularly new in this period, what is different is the way that publishers conceptually framed the magazine format as a platform for the synthesis and retransmission of “information.”[3] The implicit analogy between print form (magazine) and the content of electronic communication technologies (information) foregrounds image and text in semiotic terms, as linguistic signs whose meaning shifts depending upon the cultural context of reception. Roland Barthes described this process in such popular culture genres as magazines and advertising as a “second-order semiological system” that produces the mythologies of modern societies.[4] With this in mind, this article explores the reprinting and translation of texts and images in Mainmise as a process of mediation that attracted (and continues to attract) counterpublics enabled to imagine Québec as a space within alternative/utopian planetary geographies. Within this imaginary state, ethnicity was uncoupled from national identity, just as minoritarian identity categories imposed through the liberal discourse of representational politics were destabilized.

This diffusion of identity politics as performed in the pages of Mainmise is of contemporary interest because the magazine has resurfaced as a referent in several recent art projects and exhibitions. Fanny Latreille produced a video art piece, “Maniable” (2017), consisting of an undulating psychedelic background on which the magazine’s manifesto-like editorial is reproduced. This act of appropriation makes current the earlier generation’s search for a utopian alternative. Guillaume Adjutor Provost’s room-sized installation “Un futur incertain” (2014) includes tie-dyed mattresses, the two final issues of Mainmise, and reproductions of Anne-Marie Guérineau’s photographs documenting the last meetings of the editorial collective. Adjutor Provost’s monument to the magazine’s unrealized libidinal dream of an alternative future opens up the possibility that these artefacts might be reactivated once again, re-envisioning the future. The artist-run gallery, Centre des arts actuels Skol, recently held a day-long event of workshops and presentations asking whether it is possible to imagine a Québec society both distinct and culturally hybrid: “À l’heure de la mondialisation et des grandes migrations, est-il possible d’imaginer un Québec à la fois distinct, francophone, ouvert et accueillant?[5] The event organizers looked back to the identity positions and humorous appropriation strategies explored by Ti-Pop,[6] a visual arts movement that has become associated with the countercultural message of Mainmise due to the widely-cited publication, Québec underground, 1962–1972 (1973). This heady combination of nostalgia and renewal, in a present time when news and social media are dominated by stories of anti-immigrant, far-right nationalist groups in Québec (such as La Meute),[7] makes it worthwhile to revisit an early issue of Mainmise in which strategies of translation and appropriation present identity as a mutable state of being constructed through media exposure, and in which cultural transformation is understood as reconfiguring “real” material social relations.

This essay will unfold in three sections. The first, “Mainmise and its context,” defines key terms and summarizes existing scholarship in order to outline the readerships, political complexities, and material conditions of production and distribution of Mainmise. As sustained historical accounts of Mainmise are scarce in English-language scholarship, this article positions the magazine alongside better-known English-language counterparts such as the Whole Earth Catalogue (1968–1974).[8] Furthermore, existing scholarship tends to cover the full publishing history of Mainmise, as it spans the 1970s, or to examine reoccurring themes such as feminism or lesbian and gay liberation. This article proceeds with a visual analysis of elements printed together in the second issue, in order to foreground the perceptual effects of the collage-like, aggregative form of the magazine. Further, this issue is representative of the magazine’s early utopian vision in flux, as the majority of its content was reproduced from other publications via sources such as the Underground Press Syndicate.

The second section of this essay, “The situatedness of transcultural appropriation,” addresses the intersection of ethnicity, language, race, and class as it informed the identity positions available to the readership of Mainmise. The formation of counterpublics through appropriation, translation, and image reproduction is introduced through a reading of the editorial for the second issue, and through the case study of the translation of Wittman’s A Gay Manifesto.

The third section, “Translation as mediation,” returns to the image of Cleaver and Leary to draw attention to ambiguities inherent to the process of mediation taking place within the pages of Mainmise. As translation worked to shift the cultural context of reception, the ethics of these acts of appropriation are fraught; nevertheless they enabled the magazine to call out to potential counterpublics. By such case study analysis we can conceive of Mainmise as other than a self-contained static artefact anchored in a historical context: it constituted a field of signification that continues to resonate as it is reproduced in different media and reframed in exhibitions.

Mainmise and its Context

The intermedial, participative, and performative nature of art associated with the countercultures of Québec has been noted, particularly as these works engaged mass audiences and produced new publics. As was made clear in La contre-culture : manifestes et manifestations (2012), an exhibition at the Bibliothèque et Archives nationale du Québec, the visual and material culture of Mainmise must be understood as a point of confluence between popular culture, literary, and visual art production.[9] To account for its strategies and effects, many scholars point to Québec underground, 1962–1972, a compilation of reprinted primary sources from the period (such as Mainmise and Parti-Pris).[10] However, both Mainmise and Québec underground are compiled through methods of appropriation, reproduction, and translation, and both purport to be transmitters of “information” working towards a utopian future.[11] Furthermore, sociologist and artist Guy Sioui-Durand likens the cultural importance of Québec underground to that of the alternative magazines compiled within its pages, as foundational documents for an ideological movement of autogestion or self-management in the arts in Québec.[12] Anithe de Carvalho’s work to expose and counter this myth of an artistic “underground” in 1960s Québec is a testament to the inter-generational power the utopian desire for autogestion, or self-management, has exercised in the shared imaginary of artistic counterpublics.[13] As de Carvalho understands it, the new public formed through creative practices of the 1970s was not a counterpublic; rather it was happily aligned with the national public generated by the Québec Liberal party’s official cultural policy and modernization strategies. Rather than working to dispel this myth, however, this present article instead foregrounds those mythologization processes that de Carvalho wishes to contest. Appearing together in the second issue of Mainmise, the translation of Wittman’s A Gay Manifesto, and the photograph of Eldridge Cleaver and Timothy Leary present case studies that illuminate aesthetic processes deployed by Mainmise to divert the attention of counterpublics away from identification with the national public hailed by official cultural policy.

Benedict Anderson has argued that modern nations take shape as “imagined communities” in which media circulation and the standardization of language through policy plays an important role. People who may never meet in person nonetheless identify as belonging to a nation, as an effect of coming into contact with the imaginary space of the national public sphere.[14] In Québec, the establishment of government agencies such as the Ministère des Affaires culturelles du Québec (founded in 1961) and the Musée d’art contemporain (founded in 1964), arguably played this role in consolidating a national public[15]—as did raging debates around official bilingualism that resulted in the 1974 language laws. Alongside these nation-building processes, however, certain kinds of artistic publics can cohere as counterpublics experiencing extra-national sensations of belonging. As Michael Warner has observed, “the direction of our glance can constitute our social world”[16]: that is, there is a degree of agency implied in a reader’s participation in a counterpublic and subsequent formation of identity within community. The case studies discussed here explore the formation of counterpublics through the code switching between languages, and simultaneously, in response to explicit expressions of sexuality (as it transgresses the social norms separating “private” life from the public sphere).[17] The literary scholarship of Carolyn Bayard, Yvan Lamonde, and Alain Roy opens up an understanding of the imagined community shared by the counterpublics fostered by Mainmise in terms of americanité, or a social imaginary that is global in the sense that it is both grounded in Québec and doubly oriented towards North American and European ancestry, languages, and territorial geographies.[18] In the 1960s and 1970s, this imaginary geography also emerged in relation to national liberation movements contesting the colonial boundaries of Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean.[19] This article does not attempt to demonstrate that Mainmise had a planetary impact; rather, the focus is on the aesthetic process taking place within its pages, as readers are encouraged to imaginatively situate Québec within alternative planetary geographies.

An understanding of key figures, material conditions of production, circulation, and readerships is drawn from Jean-Philippe Warren’s foundational study, “Fondation et production de la revue Mainmise (1970–1978).”[20] Warren has demonstrated that Mainmise was part of a North American network of alternative magazines whose content shared common themes including sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, communalism, free schools, ecology, feminism, lesbian and gay liberation. Although these magazines’ readerships reflected a diversity of political and identity positions, a collective goal of this network was the transformation of individual consciousness, in order to affect a wider social transformation. Within this networked utopian dream, Mainmise acted as a relay for information that readers in Québec would not have access to in the mainstream French-language newspapers; and this relay often occurred through the translation of content circulating in the English-language channels of the Underground Press Syndicate. From its beginning, Mainmise was conceived of as a medium for mass-distribution: while the first four issues were printed in a run of 5,000, that rose to 10,000, and then, at its peak, surpassed 26,000 copies. Warren also observes that the number of copies printed was greater than real distribution and sales figures, because production and labour costs exceeded revenues, these print runs clearly had an aspirational quality. Likewise, efforts to achieve international distribution were only moderately successful in Switzerland and France, and the magazine’s readership remained concentrated in Montréal. In this capacity, Mainmise can be appreciated as a significant influence upon localized counterpublics of readers who formed their identities in the wake of the 1960s Révolution Tranquille, Québec’s period of affirmation as a modern nation that also saw the rise of neo-nationalist independence movements across the political spectrum.

These readers saw themselves reflected in the counter-cultural references and reprinted content of the magazine. Although some content addressed feminist concerns,[21] an often-cited survey shows that 68% of the readership of the magazine self-identified as male, half were under 24 and the vast majority under 33, 18% self-identified as “homosexual,” and another 8% indicated they were interested in “multidimensional” sexualities.[22] Mainmise is recognized as an important catalyst for the lesbian and gay liberation movement in Québec, specifically as several founding members of the short-lived Front de libération homosexuelle (FLH) were associated with the magazine.[23] Both magazine and movement contested heteronormative social organization—through the institutions of marriage, religion, and western medicine—and both sought out an alternative to representational democracy as a form of governance through a localized practice of self-management in committees.[24] An emphasis on the “cultural” dimension of social change reflects this counterpublic of readers’ identification with sexual liberation as a means to work towards an alternative future, as expressed in the pages of Mainmise, even though for many, this process of identification was short-circuited by the knowledge that homophobia persisted in real-world countercultural milieux that continued to uphold dominant masculinity.[25] Furthermore, frictions existed at this time between different factions of countercultural and New Left political movements vying for attention in the readership’s process of self-identification. Socialists whose nationalist cause was aligned with the goal of seizing state power for the proletariat class tended to dismiss the countercultural message of Mainmise as apolitical individualism; nonetheless, readers of Mainmise participated in the imaginaries of these two political movements simultaneously, as Warren and Fortin explain: “La contre-culture participe de la nouvelle gauche et du nationalisme dont elle tire en partie sa force.”[26] Karim Larose and Frédéric Rondeau likewise observe a distinctly paradoxical trait in the countercultures of Québec: they did not constitute a homogeneous political movement, but instead, encouraged a sense of individual identity grounded both in Québec as a distinct physical territory and in a transnational community with a universalist perspective that did not align with ethnicity models of nationhood.[27] Schwartzwald further notes that within lesbian and gay liberation movements the tension between the “political” and “cultural” played out through advocacy for public education and recognition of lesbian and gay rights as a social minority, which paralleled a greater emphasis on the transformation of individual consciousness (reversing a process of internalized homophobia), and importantly, created the conditions for the self-determination of one’s “authentic” identity within the experience of community.[28]

The 1968–69 Canadian Criminal Law Amendment Act (Omnibus Bill C-150), decriminalizing same-sex sexual relations between consenting adults over the age of 21, resulted in a material change of status for many of the readers of Mainmise. However, this limited provision for individual freedom in private life ran counter to activist calls for sexual liberation in public spaces. Whereas media coverage of the Stonewall riots in New York or reprints of key texts such as Carl Wittman’s A Gay Manifesto provided an example of an overtly political demand for public recognition of a broad spectrum of sexual identities, the pages of Mainmise instead encouraged a process of grass-roots community building that would take place through the eroticization of the body and the surrounding environment in ways that exceeded the frame of national law—which, in Canada and Québec, defined sexualities in the narrow terms of private bedroom practices. The politics of sexual liberation in North American countercultures, on the other hand, was described at the time by Herbert Marcuse using psychoanalytic terms, and in keeping with revolutionary class consciousness. According to Marcuse, subconscious desire (the libidinal drives) could be disengaged from passive consumerism and reoriented towards new, eroticized social relations. This mix of Freudian psychoanalysis and Marxist theory is best understood as a “utopian concept of socialism . . . passing from Marx to Fourier . . . from realism to surrealism.”[29] At a formative moment for lesbian and gay liberation politics of the 1970s,[30] the pages of Mainmise attracted multiple counterpublics that turned their glance away from the mass media of a consumer society based in heteronormative gender roles and divisions of labour, working instead to imagine new forms of community without oppression.

Mainmise also advocated for coalitions to be formed between marginalized groups, acknowledging, for instance, that the Gay Power movement was inspired by the Black Power movement, but this call for solidarity often deployed inappropriate terms, as identifications with other marginalized groups took place primarily via mediation.[31] It is useful to think through how this process of mediation might have likewise affected the multiple counterpublics that converged through the compilation of information sources in Mainmise. The photograph of Eldridge Cleaver and Timothy Leary is a compelling case study because it raises the question of what it meant for readers in Québec to view mediated images of the Black Panther Party alongside that of the iconic American countercultural figure who did not organize his followers around issues of class and racial oppression. Black visualities scholar Leigh Reiford has extensively discussed the production and reception of iconographic photographic imagery as a deliberate political strategy enacted by the Black Panthers, and has described Cleaver in his role as minister of information as “keenly aware of the power of image and the power of personality.”[32] While the BPP produced staged images circulated as posters and self-published newsletters, the dominant media colluded with the FBI to destabilize the BPP by dismissing their community work and sensationalizing their protest action.[33] Reiford has analyzed the reception of the images circulated through dominant American newspapers and magazines to publics that were not allied (either by class or racialization) with the BPP goals. Because BPP members were conscious of how their image would be captured, even when they did not control the cameras, their style of dress and practiced media presence provoked “fascination” in viewers, who were drawn towards their “beauty” and “hypermasculine essence” tinged with a sense of “threat.”[34] Conversely, Reiford notes, these images worked through a dialectic that also radicalized some readers through a new mode of “racial seeing” that understood identity (and socio-economic privilege) to be contingent upon the negative stereotypes of Blackness circulating in mass media.[35] This dialectic of racial seeing is not what takes place in the pages of Mainmise, however. Instead, the reprinting of an image from a dominant media source in an alternative magazine published outside of the United States performs a different kind of seeing (however problematically) that identifies with the BPP use of decolonization discourse. Informed by the revolutionary writing of figures such as Franz Fanon and Mao Tse-tung, Reiford explains, the BPP conceived of a “global context in which to situate their local efforts.” They worked to redefine their relationship to the state through a structural analysis of race and class, understanding this national struggle to be part of a global revolutionary effort.[36] The following section will describe a local context for Mainmise, as the intersection of ethnicity, language, race, and class informed the identity positions available to the magazine’s readership.

The Situatedness of Transcultural Appropriation

A combination of cheap offset printing, photo-reproduction, and syndicated news content were technologies that allowed Mainmise to counter an ethnicity model of identity implied in progressive Québécois neo-nationalist movements. Leftist politics of 1960s Québec were strongly defined by the intersection of French language use and religious and ethnic ancestry. Throughout this transformative decade, the widely-read magazine Parti pris (1963–1968) advocated for a politically independent, secular, and revolutionary socialist Québec. As Jean-Philippe Warren has argued, the vision of national independence advanced by Parti pris used a combination of Freudian and Marxist theory to argue that the Catholic Church enforced codes of sexual morality and rigid gender roles, which had contributed to the historic socio-economic and cultural marginalization of the Québécois people.[37] From this point of view, the social reproduction of rural agrarian communities was assured, as women were assigned the domestic task of transmitting French Canadian culture, while men were exploited as emasculated labourers. Sexual liberation therefore furthered the revolutionary goals of Parti pris; however, as Warren has observed, their revolutionary praxis privileged male sexuality and was limited to heterosexual orientation.[38]

Parti pris ceased publication at the end of 1968, and Mainmise continued the message of sexual liberation for a readership in Québec who understood individual psychology to be influenced by society—but for whom the regulation of sexuality had changed. The federal Criminal Law Amendment Act legislated that, in Canada, sexuality was no longer a public concern, but rather an aspect of private life. Meanwhile, south of the US border, the Stonewall riots of 1969 prompted demands for public recognition of gay and lesbian civil rights. Alongside North American countercultural movements (including lesbian and gay liberation) the contributors of Mainmise drew upon firsthand experience and mediated knowledge of European student and worker movements of May ’68, and the aesthetic strategies of the Situationist International. This conflux of influences meant that Québec could be imagined, as Carolyn Bayard explains, as “an entity of its own . . . on a planetary level,” a place where “identity, political self-image, and historical expectations cannot be taken away from Québec, and yet, simultaneously they exist on a different and heretofore ignored level (by federalists and separatists alike)—that of the planet Earth.”[39] Québec and Québécois identity could be understood not in terms of the territorial limits of a nation-state, but rather, on a planetary scale.

The editorial of the second issue of Mainmise is written in the style of a mock interview in which the magazine responds to criticism sustained from the New Left. A scathing analysis of Mainmise in the pages of Chroniques summed up these criticisms of the magazine, as Jules Duschatel theorized that the countercultural position of “apoliticisme militant” ignored the politics of class struggle in favour of utopian aspirations for cultural revolution. The result, Duschatel hypothesizes, is a “void” in which the liberation of the individual does not adequately take into account structural juridical or economic inequalities—as he insists, not all individuals are equally oppressed.[40] Furthermore, Duschatel explains that as Mainmise emerged in the absence of a Québec nationalist group in political power, the editor’s ardent “anti-nationalisme au profit d’un internationalisme culturel” was a form of disguised federalism upholding the liberal state and consumer society.[41] To counter these ongoing accusations of an apolitical position with regards to neo-nationalist projects defined by territory, ancestry, or class, the editor of Mainmise took the stance that their bonds with “sisters” and “brothers” were formed in relation to millions of people on Earth.[42] These bonds arise through unconscious desire and conscious choice based on a shared concerned for the entire planet’s survival: “Nous sommes des millions sur notre Vaisseau-Terre à nous sentir impliqués dans la survie de la Planète. Nous avons, par goût et par choix, décidé de vous transmettre des recettes expérimentées par d’autres frères et d’autres soeurs de la planète.[43] In this way, Mainmise takes a position that approximates Arjun Appadurai’s description of the “production of locality,” not as a physical site, but as a structure of feeling.[44] Locality is produced as an embodiment of space and time as determined by the contradictory conditions of modern urban life, which include the nation as a form of government, mass mediation, and commodification through representation. Through their understanding that images and texts gain meaning through the context of reception (and not only through the mode of production), this magazine anticipated the transnational mediascapes that would be enabled through newly emerging electronic communications technologies.

This second issue of Mainmise appeared shortly after the federal imposition of the War Measures Act in 1970, but before the passing of the Official Languages Act (Bill 22) in 1974 by the federal Liberal government. The government had invoked the War Measures Act as a response to the perceived threat to civil peace from the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ). Military intervention was accompanied by the censorship of print and other news media, as prominent writers, artists, intellectuals, and labour activists were arrested or held for questioning without charge. This repression occurred at a moment when French had not yet been legislated to be a majority language, and therefore did not yet constitute an official majority culture within Québec. In the sixties and early seventies, the cumulative effects of severe economic inequity, Leftist class politics, and neo-nationalist movements meant that, within the context of Québec, French signified as the “language of liberation” and anti-colonial resistance.[45] At the same time, mass media coverage of competing official language legislation had the unprecedented effect of conflating other kinds of cultural difference, such as ethnicity or religion, within groupings based solely on language. These conditions led both the editors of the magazine Parti pris and the FLQ to propose a vision of independent secular socialism for Québec that would be defined through common language, territory, and French settler ancestry.

At the same time, the sixties and early seventies in Québec were a moment of widespread identification with, and appropriation of, “Blackness” as a political position of transnational anti-colonial solidarity. Pierre Vallières’ Nègres blancs d’Amérique (1968; English translation 1971) and Michèle Lalonde’s “Speak White” (1966) are the two most frequently cited examples of this trend in English-language scholarship. Using these examples, critical race scholars David Austen and Josée Maropoulos have observed that the identity category of “Frenchness” in Québec and Canada is produced at the intersection of language and race. They explain that this is because, until as late as the 1960s, racialized terminology was commonly used in official government communication, and in everyday life, to define English and French, not as cultural or linguistic groups, but as the “two founding races” of Canada.[46] Furthermore, as Maroupolous recounts, these communications produced an environment in which “Some Francophones were asked why they did not speak the ‘White people language,’ or were simply told to ‘Speak White.’”[47] Maroupolous argues that these comments reinforced English as the legitimate “voice” of whiteness in Canada, and implied that French should not be heard in public.

Although Mainmise reported the legal trials of FLQ members and supporters, they explicitly rejected nationalist causes and identity formations reliant upon ethnicity models.[48] The editorial of the first issue states, “Car un Américain utopique vaut mieux qu’un Québécois accroché à sa tuque. Pour nous, l’identité québécoise s’inscrit tout naturellement dans le grand mouvement de libération utopique qui nous conduit vers l’an 2001.[49] This rejection of the traditional habitant tuque shows that their utopian vision overrides settler ancestry, aligning Québécois identity with the nomadic countercultural movements surging across North America. As explained above, kinship bonds in this movement were formed through the conscious choice to transform unconscious desires that had been internalized, or repressed, over a lifetime. Within the movement for sexual liberation, blood and territory were replaced by the psychological drive of libido as a universalizing biological trait. In the mock-interview editorial of the second issue, Mainmise answers a series of questions regarding representation, identity, cultural belonging and political agency: “On nous dit: ‘Qui représentez-vous?’ Nous avons répondu: ‘Personne. Nous sommes des usagers. Nous faisons partie d’un peuple.’ On nous a dit: ‘À qui vous adressez-vous?’ Nous avons répondu: ‘À notre peuple.” The pages of Mainmise do not make a conscious choice to represent a political group based in ethnic or racialized identity; rather, they use the magazine form as a site where the transmission of semiotic codes engenders psychological bonds, which manifest as a sense of belonging. The readership that is attracted to the magazine shares this sense of belonging and is described as a peuple or people. The use of this word at once evokes a planetary culture, a deterritorialized community, and an identification with the working class.

Language was likewise unhinged from ethnic ancestry and deployed as coding within an imagined planetary information system. Unlike the multi-generational French Canadian publishers of Parti pris, the publishers of Mainmise included founder, Jean Bélisle Bezroudnoff, an immigrant of Russian ancestry who had arrived in Québec via Paris in 1964.[50] Although he drew upon previous experience writing for major daily newspapers in Montréal, such as Le Devoir, within the pages of Mainmise, he adopted the pseudonym “Pénélope.” Bezroudnoff used this name to renounce ego and write about the politics of the magazine in the third person. This was a reference, perhaps, to the figure in Greek mythology that outwardly conformed to her role as dutiful wife, while undermining it. Both the mythological Penelope and her 1970s counterpart artfully wove threads together, fanning the flame of unrequited desire in multiple lovers and readers, while all the while delaying the gendered confines of heteronormative marriage (and national imaginaries) fostered in dominant media. For Bezroudnoff, the fictitious identity seems to envelop the individual contributors for each issue, as he reaches out to a multidimensional, polymorphous readership of “2,703 sexes” addressed in the first editorial.[51] In the manifesto-like introduction to the second issue, Pénélope uses the ambiguously gendered pronouns “nous” and “on” to claim that Mainmise is fighting for the survival of the planet. Pénélope further claims that Mainmise is produced as a concrete example of a utopia that should be relatively simple to bring into existence.

This same issue features the “Manifeste du Front de Libération homosexuelle,” a translation of Wittman’s A Gay Manifesto, and an illustration by Bruce Reifel that works as a rallying cry for a transnational lesbian and gay liberation movement. Drawn in the graphic style of Aubrey Beardsley, two unabashed male and female nudes burst forth from a star. As critic Dylan Hicks has observed, the iconography reflects a heady combination of sexual and sensorial liberation and New Left political organizing.[52] When printed on the cover of the San Francisco newspaper, Gay Sunshine Journal (1971) or The Boulder Gay Record (1974), this image also included a slogan, “Gay brothers and sisters unite! Free Ourselves. Smash sexism.” In Mainmise, however, the slogan has been excised, shifting the connotative meaning of the image. The intersection between the political position and the sexual orientation of the figures is much more ambiguous. Both Schwartzwald and Warren have described the translation of A Gay Manifesto in the pages of Mainmise as an expurgated version in which the overtly political language used by Wittman has been significantly revised.[53] Instead, they note an emphasis upon the self-determination of identity as part of a larger process of community building. In their revised introduction to Wittman’s manifesto, the editor of Mainmise offers a clue as to how representation, appropriation, and feelings of belonging were negotiated in relation to emerging identity-based political movements: “Cette évolution radicale s’appelle aux E.U. le GAY POWER. Ce mot et l’action qui en découle ont sans doute été inspirés par les noirs et leur BLACK POWER. Quand un groupe minoritaire réapprend la dignité propre à son groupe, il guide ainsi tous les autres groupes minoritaires.”[54] Wittman’s original manifesto acknowledges his own subjectivity, or “individual consciousness,” as “determined not only by my homosexuality, but my being white, male, middle class”; in parallel, the editor of Mainmise first acknowledges that “Gay Power” is a movement originating in America, which they are now appropriating into the Québécois imaginary. Schwartzwald further acknowledges that the significant revisions that took place alongside the translation for Mainmise foregrounds the shifts taking place in national law as a distinctly local condition determining identity formation.[55] In this sense the lesbian and gay readers of Mainmise are presented with a contradictory experience that has been noted by Terry Goldie: as media imported from America encouraged overtly political articulations of public lesbian and gay identities, these messages nonetheless conflicted with freedoms newly afforded to Québécois in private life.[56] The appropriation of American media sources and re-interpretation for local readerships was one of the ways that a broad spectrum of sexualities could be sorted out in the pages of Mainmise, in relation to the shifting terrain of Québécois identity.

The translation of A Gay Manifesto into French, and the local modification to the introduction, implicitly make the lesbian and gay liberation movement accessible to a Québécois readership simultaneously seeking to reinvent its status as a minority group in Canada. Similarly, the revised version of Wittman’s manifesto acknowledges that Gay Power seeks liberation through strategies that align with the aims of the Black Power movement. Dynamics of appropriation function as a means of creating solidarity, but there are limitations to the minoritarian identity positions that can intersect across groups: present-day readers are left wondering where trans people of colour might fit into this matrix, for instance. The image of Timothy Leary and Eldridge Cleaver is a comparable example of transmission across linguistic spaces, although the process of racialization implied within Cleaver’s representation amplifies the complex resonances for a present-day viewer. These dynamics of appropriated content are vexed within the pages of Mainmise, but this ethical ambiguity is worth considering; as Leslie Howsam has observed, the problematic power dynamics of authorship and representation are intrinsic to the materiality and mutability of print technologies—as they mediate human agency.[57]

Translation as Mediation

Translation, as it took place in the pages of Mainmise, can be understood as a process of mediation, that is, in terms of the ability for the technologies of print culture to mediate human agency as people decide to put concepts into action. In its first editorial, Pénélope explicitly recognized the magazine’s power to shift the register of signification for images and texts through translation: “Si nous sommes des INFORMATEURS, nous devons être aussi des TRADUCTEURS. Le dôme géodésique de Fuller est québécois quand il est traduit par notre ciel montréalais et la mécanistique christique de Jean LeMoyne est américaine quand elle est lue à San Francisco.[58] Pénélope describes their work as translators as a deliberate act to reframe material originating elsewhere as distinctly Québécois. In this way Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome, built as the American pavilion for the Expo ’67 World Fair, can be appropriated to stand in instead as a referent for the Montréal skyline. This gesture rewrites the towering skyscrapers of an Anglo economic elite, just as it shifts the perception of the implicitly federalist landscape of Expo ’67. Pénélope also seemed to desire that the material produced in Québec be likewise appropriated elsewhere. For instance, Pénélope perceives a tone of “technocratic Catholicism” (“la mécanistique christique) in the writing of Jean LeMoyne, cultural critic and advisor to Prime Minister Trudeau, a tone that might seem recognizably American to a reader in San Francisco.[59]

The sensory experience that Mainmise produced in readers is defined by the magazine’s cheap, single-colour, poor-quality offset reproduction on newsprint. Despite these material limitations, Leary’s essay, The Politics of Ecstasy, captures the eye with a two-page psychedelic spread pulsing with high-contrast intensity. Dots and links multiply in two dimensions, creating an illusion of infinitely receding space, and ambiguous forms call out to the subconscious for projections and dream interpretations. This spatial pattern is repeated several times throughout the article: for instance, another spread interrupts the flow of the text with two shrunken rectangles centred on otherwise blank opposing pages. The first page depicts a miniaturized version of the psychedelic pattern, and the second features a tiny portrait of Timothy and Rosemary Leary, both icons for a transnational psychedelic anti-war movement. These smaller images unmistakably reference the blotter squares commonly used to administer LSD hits. In the text framed within these patterns, Leary argues for social change through a mass “religious ecstatic convulsion.” He believed that LSD aided a shift in individual consciousness, thereby acting, in his words, as an “antidote” to impending nuclear disaster.

Such inventive page layouts, and the paperback book format of early issues of Mainmise, can be likened to Marshall McLuhan’s most popular works, designed by Quentin Fiore and distributed among an international readership. McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage, for example, used juxtaposition between image and typography to produce similar sensory effects to those stimulated by Mainmise.[60] McLuhan believed that electronic media such as TV, radio and video would replace the ubiquity of print-media. As the older technology lost its dominance, collage-like patterns of composition could be used in order to produce new states of sensory perception. The political geography of the twentieth century would be replaced by a “global village” of media-enabled transnational affinity groups, within this new arrangement, print media that emulated electronic effects could produce a counter-environment to the nation-state. In this way, Mainmise not only works upon a plane of altered consciousness, but also through a mode of production that believed society could be transformed through a shift in the spatial relations of everyday life.[61] It could also be argued that the magazine was produced with volunteer labour, on a tight budget, and with slim profit margins, through a principle of “autogestion,” a strategy of revolutionary “worker’s self-management” frequently undertaken in Québec on the model of mass political movements in France at the time.[62] The theorist Henri Lefebvre redefined “autogestion” in spatial terms, arguing that it was a way for decentralized structures of grass-roots initiatives to open up a utopian gap without engaging in direct action against government policy. For instance, the pragmatic utopianinsm of Mainmise may have rejected official discourses of national identity, but the magazine nonetheless benefitted from a few grants received from the Canada Council for the Arts.[63]

Following the media theory of McLuhan, Mainmise simultaneously exists as both content and object. This means that the object can travel in space and time, but so can the content, as it is reprinted, revised and reproduced, taking multiple forms in an extended process of circulation. This material mutability is apparent in the striking image featuring Eldridge Cleaver and Timothy Leary meeting in Algeria. The image was circulated through the Associated Press Wirephoto service, and is part of a collection of images that were reproduced widely across the pages of both mainstream and alternative news sources. After fleeing a murder charge in the United States, Cleaver had been welcomed by President Houari Boumediene, because the Algerian government considered the Black Panther Party to be allies within a global movement of revolutionary liberation groups fighting to overthrow colonial rule. After he escaped imprisonment for drug-related charges, Leary also arrived in Algeria as a fugitive from US law. Leary was granted asylum on the condition that he was working with the Black Panther Party.

The psychedelic pattern repeated throughout Leary’s text swirls above Cleaver’s and Leary’s heads. Although the gaze of the two figures is directed at the crowd around them, their mouths are jointly open in speech. They stand slightly apart, but it appears that Cleaver is passing an envelope to Leary, perhaps containing the documents authorizing his stay in Algeria. This positioning suggests that they are addressing the crowd with a unified voice or are holding a common object between them. The French-language caption that has been added by Pénélope, “Tim Leary à Alger, après son évasion avec Eldridge Cleaver, ministre de l’information des Black Panthers,” implies that the two men were working together, and invokes a collaboration between Leary’s politics of ecstasy and Cleaver’s insurrectionist vision of Black Power.

It is worth considering the symbolic value that both Leary and Cleaver had had for the counterpublics fostered by Mainmise, as the choice to reprint this image takes on a culturally specific meaning. Because Mainmise reprinted articles widely circulated through the Underground Press Syndicate, the magazine’s unique contribution to this transnational imaginary was made as articles and ideas were translated into a distinctly Québécois idiom. For instance, the modified introduction to Wittman’s A Gay Manifesto acknowledges the recent reforms in Canadian law, though they are seen to fall short of social justice. Similarly, Wittman’s section on “Oppression” has been rewritten to include “les séparatistes québécois” in a list of social movements that initially drew equivalencies between gay liberation and the struggle of “blacks or Vietnamese or workers or women.”[64]

The reprint of Leary’s manifesto-like text, Politics of Ecstasy, deviates from this pattern in that it has been translated from the English original without any local references. This lack of specificity makes the magazine suitable for attracting an international Francophone readership, beyond the countercultures of Québec. Furthermore, Pénélope’s introduction to Leary’s text evokes the idea that a global geography could be redrawn, based on patterns of LSD use, and Switzerland, one of Mainmise’s international points of distribution, is highlighted as the place where LSD was first discovered: “La Suisse a inventé le LSD. Depuis sa découverte en 1943, l’acide a fait la tour du monde. Dans cet article, Timothy Leary, le grand-prêtre de psychédélisme, raconte les coulisses de ce qui a pu être un véritable complot pour tourner le monde.” The introduction echoes Leary’s utopian yearning towards the disruption of American military and economic world dominance, as psychedelic trips enabled alternate states of consciousness. This proposal to reorient one’s sense of belonging upon the planet approximates Situationist tactics of “dérives,” in which reference points that determined the body’s sense of locality could be redefined. This notion of psychogeography informed Lefebvres’ conception of the ways production through autogestion could alter geo-political space by modifying the psychological attachments formed through everyday activities.

Even if the material realities of magazine distribution thwarted their efforts to establish mass global connections, it is important to recognize that this imaginary geography arose from utopian desires, which reflected the lived experience of many of the founding contributors. Although he has not been acknowledged as such, Georges Kahl was likely the translator of the Leary text. Kahl, a Palestinian-born immigrant to Québec, had developed a strong interest in Leary during a sojourn in New York.[65] His translation of the Leary article into an international register, coupled with the desire for Mainmise to be distributed to an international Francophone readership, brings attention to an outward-looking specificity of Québécois countercultures. The utopian alternative that Mainmise envisioned in Québec arose at the interface between a linguistic geography historically defined by both the Anglo-American empire and the colonial geography of the Francophonie. Or, as Pénélope explains, “Face à l’Europe latine, face aux Etats-Unis [sic], le Québec est une ALTERNATIVE.[66]

As this utopian vision of a Québec underground emerged in the late 1960s, Montréal also became a geographic centre for the Black Power movement due to international media coverage of two events: the Congress of Black Writers (1968) and the civil disobedience of the “Sir George Williams Affair“ (1969).[67] Each of these events was widely covered in daily newspapers such as Le Devoir and La Presse—as was Leary’s visit to Montréal for Yoko Ono and John Lennon’s 1969 Bed-In for Peace. Likely due to his problematic legal status, Cleaver had declined an invitation to present at the Congress of Black Writers alongside figures such as Stokely Carmichael and C.L.R. James.[68] A third event, the Hemispheric Conference to End the War in Vietnam, also took place in 1968, bringing figures such as Bobby Seale and David Hilliard into contact with prominent members of the Left in Québec, including Léandre Bergeron.[69] Bergeron was the author of a bestselling book that called for solidarity between Black militants in America and Québécois revolutionaries. As in the work of Vallières or Lalonde, his argument works to situate the reinvention of Québécois identity and society through class-based equivalencies; as the proletariat, he believed that the Québécois in Canada faced a class oppression equivalent to that experienced by Black Americans. These transcultural appeals to solidarity were mobilized through the decolonization discourse developed by theorists from former French colonies, such as Frantz Fanon and Albert Memmi. Using these theories, it was possible to argue for a cross-cultural class-based identification between African Americans and ethnic Québécois as the psychologically affected “wretched of the earth.”[70] Bergeron’s book is remarkable for the time, as successive reprinted and translated editions recognized that there was a history of slavery in New France and discussed the contact between white settlers and Indigenous peoples in terms of “genocide.”[71]

Keeping this historical context in mind, it is possible to imagine how, on the one hand, Mainmise’s coverage of the legal battles of the FLQ attracted a readership that drew inspiration from Algeria as a successful example of independence from colonial rule. Reciprocally, followers of the FLQ would have looked to Cleaver and the Black Panther Party as proletarian allies. On the other hand, archival interview footage of the meeting shows Cleaver dryly commenting that Leary’s politics of ecstasy produced “delusional allies” for the revolutionary goals of a movement rooted in the historic experience of slavery and forced migration.[72] Cleaver’s response to Leary’s appeal to cultural shifts originating in the individual echoes the BPP’s explicit dismissal of culture as a site of revolutionary action. Reiford explains, however, that this rejection of culture usually took aim at black nationalisms that drew upon a return to past traditions at the expense of restructuring socio-economic relations. Notably, Reiford points to cultural transformation as the most lasting legacy of the BPP, as their intervention in the realm of the spectacular imagery of mass media (and of the underground press) was implicitly understood to be a “necessary component of the process of decolonization, one that aids in a community’s remaking and revisioning of itself.”[73] Scholars of cultural race politics in Québec and Canada, including David Austen and Josée Moropoulos, now argue that the identification with Black Power, and the appropriation of Blackness by Québécois activists and artists in this period, produced conditions that allowed a long-term disavowal of systemic racism in Québécois society. My intention is not to contradict this claim, but rather to point to more than one way of reading this image in the present tense.

Eldridge Cleaver is doubly quoted in translation in a 1976 editorial by Phillip Haek, signing on behalf of the collective behind Chroniques. Haek’s admonition of the counterculture for the failure to produce a real revolution opens with a quotation printed in bold: “Si vous ne faites pas partie de la solution, c’est que vous faites partie du problème.” This translation of Cleaver’s statement, “You either have to be part of the solution, or you're going to be part of the problem,” is reprinted as part of a longer excerpt of the March 1976 editorial of Mainmise. What is notable here is that Cleaver has become a shorthand signal of radicalism, a linguistic sign reproduced through print technologies, invested with different meanings depending upon the context of reception. Cleaver resonates as an iconic figure for both New Left and countercultural readerships dissatisfied with any national government bound up with ethnicity models of identity, which inevitably produce minoritarian identity categories. Likewise, both readerships were critically engaged with the cultural plane of mass media, insofar as it was defined by processes of commodification taking place through media representation.

For present-day readers, such as the artists briefly discussed in the introduction, Mainmise offers up a mythology of Québec as one of multiple localities within an imagined planetary geography that has yet to come into existence. The materiality of the cheaply produced, single-colour newsprint enabled the imagining of this space, as it was paired with the appropriation of syndicated content. Mediation through translation, as in the reprinting of Carl Wittman’s A Gay Manifesto and Timothy Leary’s Politics of Ecstasy, enabled a French-language readership to find a sense of belonging within transnational countercultural movements. The mutability of images that circulated as they were widely reproduced, such as Bruce Reifel’s “Gay Brothers and Sisters Unite” illustration, or the AP Wirephoto image of Leary and Cleaver, could be read on multiple registers, thereby attracting a readership that identified with the images according to different political predispositions and lived experiences. In this way, Mainmise shaped an imagined community through its address to multiple counterpublics attracted to media coverage of psychedelic countercultures, lesbian and gay liberation, and Black Power, among other cultural and social movements that understood local actions to take place as part of a global context.

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