Linguistic and Cultural Nomadism: Nancy Huston and the Case
of the Bilingual Subject
Katharine Harrington
Brown University

During her 20 years of writing, Nancy Huston has continually proved to be difficult to categorize on a national or cultural level. Born and raised in Anglophone North America (Canada and the U.S.), Huston claims that it was not until she experienced the feeling of “étrangéité” living in France, immersed in the French language that she discovered her literary voice. Huston’s collection of essays, Nord perdu, reflects the conflictual mind of the expatriate caught between two or more countries, languages and cultures. In Nord perdu, she challenges such notions as the idea of being “perfectly bilingual,” and by describing what she calls the brain of a “faux bilingue” she opens up the debate on nomad thought and identity politics. Her discussion of language from everyday conversation fluctuating between French and English or the task of translating her own fiction, exposes the gap between any given linguistic and/or cultural system as well as the difference between monolingual, sedentary individuals and those who have several places to call home. For Huston, nomadism is not defined by a state of perpetual deterritorialization, but is more accurately a state of mind, a nomadic esprit which fluctuates from one cultural, linguistic model to another and more often is an expression of several at once produced by a process of negotiation. In this paper, I will discuss Huston’s idea of what it means to be a speaking and writing subject of several languages at once, and also how Nord perdu addresses the debate in identifying what Abdelkebir Khatibi calls “la patrie de l’écrivain.”