Quebec Alternative

Last night, I attended the vernissage for Quebec Alternative. The exhibit shows off some of the materials in Marc Raboy’s collection of alternative publications, which he dutifully stockpiled — eventually renting a storage locker until he was able to donate them to the McGill Library. For last night’s event, many key figures in Quebec’s alternative print media culture of the 1970s turned out, and a few spoke. I was struck how every local “of a certain age” I met at the event either played a role in one of the publications or said something along the lines of “I remember picking up one of these” and pointing at something in a case. One librarian told me the university archivist in the 1970s would go around campus each week and pick up all the publications he could — they are probably still somewhere in the archives.

So much of this kind of left wing history is lost, because the publications are treated as ephemera and nobody bothered collecting or curating them (except, of course, for the RCMP during the October Revolution, but they were confiscating, not collecting), and institutions like McGill have only just begun the long process of documenting this radical history. Many of these publications were tied to movements or organization that helped to define modern Quebec as a secular, progressive society.

There are other histories, I’m sure, but the home team (ie, Marc) published a book in 1983 called Movements and Messages (the English translation appeared in 1984) that documents a good deal of the history in the exhibition. It’s also an interesting example of 1980s Marxist communications scholarship.

As I stood at the event, I wondered a bit about the future history of radical online publications. On the one hand, they are considerably more available to their readerships so long as someone keeps a server active and the code is up to date enough to run with current browsers. On the other, many more of them will not outlive the infrastructure that sustains them. And blogs, well, the personal is always more ephemeral than the collective.