The Nobel has landed in the French lap. Writer Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio has won the 2008 Prize for Literature.
The citation lauds him as the
- “author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization.”
Huh? Are not all departures new, unless you wish to reclaim the old in a contemporary setting? Isn’t all ecstasy sensual in that it appeals to the senses? I can understand humanity beyond, but what does humanity “below the reigning civilization” mean?
This contradicts what Antoine Compagnon, a professor of French and comparative literature at Columbia University, said about the author’s work:
- “The latter part has a very contemporary feel. It has an openness to others, to other cultures, to the South, to minorities. This is a very current sensibility.”
The good thing about such awards is that the author’s works get translated and become accessible. I do like what has been said about Désert, “the story of a young nomad woman from the Sahara and her clashes with modern European civilization”.
One of his works has been compared with Albert Camus. The French, and we might include Sartre, Andre Gide, Jean Genet, Guy de Maupassant, Marcel Proust, and Beckett (who also wrote in the language) have had a history of standing at the edge of existentialism. The writers were essentially exploring the idea of rebellion. France had been the hub of literary angst that invited outsiders, whereas the insiders were seeking to metaphorically escape.
Therefore, there is a bit of irony that the ruling class has often tried to co-opt them.
The NYT report states:
- In a reminder that politics and culture are closely intertwined in France, the prime minister, François Fillon, said in a statement that the award “consecrates French literature” and “refutes with éclat the theory of a so-called decline of French culture.”
Consecrating anything spells its death, or rather celebrates it. And is culture relegated to literature? Literature is the product of culture; it isn’t the creator. As I have said before, it is a recorder. Culture could be cuisine. It could be a way of living.
Mr. Le Clézio once described himself in an interview as “a poor Rousseauist who hasn’t really figured it out.”
Just for that he stands tall. The moment you have figured it out and the questions stop, you will never find answers. And the Nobel Prize winner thinks so too when he says, “The novelist, he’s not a philosopher, not a technician of spoken language. He’s someone who writes, above all, and through the novel asks questions.”