HOME HEARTSTRING 32: CARTESIANISM

Quebecers love to draw up plans. With reason being the principle that lies behind any certainty, Joe Tremblay tells us about some amateur architectural problems he ran into in the past.


“Fernande wanted to buy furniture before the house was even built. So I told her not to put the cart before the horse and to wait until she’d at least seen the blueprints. And then she saw lots, including semi-detached, California style, English bungalow and Swiss chalet homes. After looking at all those options I decided to create my own design with Élie, a carpenter I know. We must’ve drawn up four or five different plans. We were up to something like eight bedrooms and three bathrooms in anticipation of our future children and potential visitors. We got carried away and it just stopped making sense. So we tore everything up and bought this house, which was built in 1934.”


Cartesianism is to the French what pragmatism is to the English.

In Léo Dorais’ book L’autogestion universitaire (University Self-Management), the former dean of the Université du Québec à Montréal dissects a popular myth. “The entire Université du Québec network, which was set to perform like clockwork on paper, became a bureaucratic labyrinth. Self-management of these institutions (paradoxically) gave way to a plethora of legal and administrative writings that affected the comings and goings of the centralization and decentralization ideology.”

It’s a good thing our province produces a lot of paper because it usually takes us several tries to come up with the right plan. Since 1608, Quebec’s master plan has been designed, reviewed and revised hundreds of times. Our old diamond-point chests of drawers are filled with manuscripts of plays, novels, drafts, inventions, building blueprints and layouts of entire towns.

The November 9, 1972 edition of La Presse titles an article with its typical level of gravity: “Government to draw up master plan for master planning of municipalities.” Not wanting to let their archrival on Saint-Jacques Street have all the fun, Le Devoir publishes an article in their August 3, 1975 edition entitled “Second study entrusted to R. Parenteau to find out if third study would be appropriate.”

Napoléon Bourassa, a 19th century artist and writer of genius (the Quebec Leonardo da Vinci), spent his entire life failing to fulfill official orders because the technical reports needed to justify them took too long to write.

Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis was appealing to his Cartesian audience when he said things like “Why is this true? Because I say so!”

We owe the masochistic pleasure of always doubting ourselves to our Cartesian Heartstring. The tabula rasa of the Quebec population applying to all generations, we’re compelled to ask ourselves a million questions. When reflecting on who we are, there are just too many possibilities…Are we a people? A nation? A nationality? A race? A tribe? A consumer market? A society? An ethnic group? A caste? A social class? A minority?

If all Quebecers are patriots through Heartstring 18, they don’t always agree on what type of nationalism to exercise. Political scientist Léon Dion says that, “There’s a constant tension in Quebec between particularism and universalism, conservatism and progressivism, as well as reformism and radicalism.”

We like to discuss the gender of angels, for crying out loud! We crave ideological stimulation because it comforts us…and lulls us to sleep. So don’t be surprised when you overhear conversations on Greek astronomer Meton’s enneakaidekateris theory and other obscure topics while you’re out and about strolling through town.

Whether they’re a flaw or a good quality, our ideological collusions and battles of the isms as maintained by our great minds give Quebecers a spiritual vitality that can’t be found anywhere else in Canada. And with our population’s Cartesian honour upheld, communicators can go on sending out their messages.

I’m not pointing fingers since this whole Heartstrings grid is obviously a product of Heartstring 32. So let’s move on to Heartstring 33, shall we?

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© 2014 – English translation and website by Lawrence Creaghan. Published online with the permission of Guérin Éditeur Ltée and the Fondation Jacques-Bouchard.