Le Refus global, or Total Refusal, was an anti-establishment and anti-religious manifesto released on August 9, 1948 in Montreal by a group of sixteen young Québécois artists and intellectuals that included Paul-Émile Borduas and Jean-Paul Riopelle.
Le Refus Global originated from a group called Les Automatistes, led by Paul-Émile Borduas. This group created abstract paintings inspired by French surrealists of the time and scorned all academic teaching available at the time in Quebec. The signatories were also highly influenced by French poet André Breton's stream-of-consciousness style and extolled the creative force of the subconscious.
Le Refus Global was a manifesto that completely rejected the social, artistic and psychological norms and values of Québécois society at the time. Calling for "an untamed need for liberation," the manifesto cried out for "resplendent anarchy" and criticized the "cassocks that have remained the sole repositories of faith, knowledge, truth, and national wealth." Pierre Gauvreau, one of the signatories, said that the main message of the manifesto is that "God does not exist." Of the 400 published copies of Le Refus Global, selling for a dollar apiece, only about half of them were sold. Notwithstanding, this manifesto caused an uproar, and as a result of this manifesto, Borduas lost his job at the École du meuble de Montréal. Later, the manifesto was translated into different languages and was read in America and Europe.
It has been said by commentators that from the publication of this manifesto, "modern French Canada began", while CBC calls it "one of the most important and controversial artistic and social documents in modern Quebec society". Along with the publication of Les insolences du Frère Untel (the Insolences of Brother So-and-so), the Asbestos miners' strike of 1949, and the Maurice Richard Riot of 1955, Le Refus Global is widely seen to have been one of the precursors to the Quiet Revolution.
- English translation excerpt of Refus Global: Total Refusal
- Video: A Part of Our Heritage – Paul Émile Borduas
- Total Refusal (Refus Global): the manifesto of the Montréal Automatists, translated by Ray Ellenwood. Holstein, Ont: Exile Editions, 2009.
- Ellenwood, Ray. Egregore : a history of the Montréal automatist movement. Toronto: Exile Editions, 1992.
- Nasgaard, Roald. The Automatiste revolution : Montreal, 1941–1960. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2009.