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in absentia


I grew up on a back-to-the-land farm in rural Nova Scotia. When I decided to move to Montreal I was 12 years old and no one I knew had ever been anywhere. Somehow I procured a map of the city, thumbtacked it above my bed and waited out high school. I moved to Montreal in 1990. I've lived in the Mile End since 1992. I've been online since 1993. My early adoption of the internet was due in part to my attraction to it as a place-less place. Themes of place and displacement have long pervaded my fiction writing and maps are a recurring theme in my web-based work, operating - often simultaneously - as images, interfaces and metaphors for long-ago places and pasts that could never be mine. Many of my web-based projects may be read as "sites" of longing for belonging, for home. It took me 15 years to figure out how to write about Montreal. In 2006 I was commissioned to create a new piece for the 50th anniversary of the Conseil des Arts de Montreal. The resulting work, Entre Ville, is set in the jumbled intimacy of my back alleyway. Mapping the minutia of my immediate surroundings made my notion of place less abstract and more socially engaged. Writing about my neighbours made me aware that I write from amongst them, thus engendering a "we" point of view. In recent years many long-time low-income neighbours have been forced out of Mile End by gentrification and its erasures. The neighbourhood is haunted now, with their stories. Our stories. Our building is for sale; we may be next. Faced with imminent eviction I've begun to write as if I'm no longer here, about a Mile End that is no longer here. The Mile End depicted in in absentia is a slightly fantastical world, a shared memory of the neighbourhood as it never really was but as it could have been. in absentia is a map of the sudden disappearances of characters (fictional or otherwise) from the places (real or imagined) where they once lived.
J. R. Carpenter 2008 [ ]