Smiling all the way to Thierry

I can’t believe I’m here today with you to talk about Thierry rather than to sit beside him and enjoy his company. Because working with Thierry was a pleasure. He was conscientious but relaxed, professional but always sensitive to the situations of students and colleagues.

He always made it a point to attend the meetings he was meant to attend, even those he wasn’t overly eager to attend. And he always made his contribution. Often it would be a few careful words that would take us all back to the more important issues at hand. Sometimes, when he was enjoying the meeting, he would even talk more often and at slightly greater length. You could see from the smile on his face, sometimes even a certain intensity, that he would be fully engaged. 

I have to say, as others have said, that he was a master of irony. Not sarcasm or cynicism, but irony. An often gentle, even playful kind of irony. You could probably write a paper about the irony of Thierry Tremblay. Not dramatic or tragic irony; not cosmic irony. It was the kind of linguistic irony that allowed you to take the matter seriously but not too seriously. Because sometimes taking something too seriously is the perfect way of undermining it. Thierry’s irony reminded us of where we were, where we were coming from; what the matter in front of us was all about. It was also his way of showing us that he appreciated our work, our presence, our willingness to work together, that he was glad to be there and to contribute to the cause.

I worked with Thierry for a number of years in the Students’ Affairs Committee and in our interdepartmental MA in Literary Tradition and Popular Culture. In that programme he taught a course on “20th Century Art & Literature – The Avant-Garde,” and another course on “Decadence, Disenchantment, Destruction: The Aesthetics of Decline.” I wish I had attended at least a few of the lectures he gave because I know from his students that they were well-worth listening in to. He also gave an introductory lecture on “the methodology of research.” That must have been fascinating because he wasn’t one to slip neatly into established formulae.

When the chair of our committee was not available to attend ameeting of the Faculty Board to present our recommendations, Thierry and I would look at each other across the table to see who was willing to take the chairperson’s place. We were never too willing to do it, but we both willingly did it, if that makes sense. I was glad for Thierry to speak on behalf of the committee, and Thierry was happy for me to do it. In the end, one of us would speak and the other would add a comment. All for the sake of solidarity friendship. He was that kind of person. 

In late September 2015, he wrote to us as members of the boards of examiners of the MA in Literary Tradition and Popular Culture: “Unfortunately I have already something on Monday night, but I will have the pleasure to see you all during the vivas. I wish you all a good rentrée (a good start of the academic year)!” In mid-September 2017 he wrote to us about his availability for a meeting of the Faculty’s Students’ Requests Committee but ended his email with a heartfelt “I wish you a nice weekend, Thierry.” 

Remembering, mourning and above all celebrating Thierry Tremblay. Thanks to Marilyn for your words and for making this happen; to Valentino for coming all the way from Italy to share your very special Thierry with us; and to Ivan and James for your amazing insights on a lovely human being and intellectual.

Prof. Thierry Tremblay passed away on Saturday 5 November 2022 and seven months later the pain hasn’t gone away. But when I think of Thierry, I can’t help smiling.

Adrian Grima 

10 May 2023

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s