Nobel lecture by Patrick Modiano
December 13, 2014 3:32 PM   Subscribe

Writing is a strange and solitary activity. There are dispiriting times when you start working on the first few pages of a novel. Every day, you have the feeling you are on the wrong track. This creates a strong urge to go back and follow a different path. It is important not to give in to this urge, but to keep going. It is a little like driving a car at night, in winter, on ice, with zero visibility. You have no choice, you cannot go into reverse, you must keep going forward while telling yourself that all will be well when the road becomes more stable and the fog lifts.
—From Patrick Modiano's lecture when receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature [Original French, Swedish and video] which is about cities, old telephone directories but mostly about writing, how to do it and what it's like.
posted by Kattullus (27 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for the transcript. I thought the bit linking his childhood to his novels was good, thinking about the inspiration for his favorite moods and themes.

I'm not sure about the ending sentiment: "Today, I get the sense that memory is much less sure of itself, engaged as it is in a constant struggle against amnesia and oblivion. This layer, this mass of oblivion that obscures everything, means we can only pick up fragments of the past, disconnected traces, fleeting and almost ungraspable human destinies."

I would say, considering the scrutiny and interconnectedness of the internet etc., it's actually much harder to forget tiny details, and much easier and accessible to dig into a past narrative. (museum or grad school work, taking pictures of your lunch...)
posted by ana scoot at 8:44 PM on December 13, 2014

I believe he wrote "less sure" which does not negate forgetfulness as an element to unsurity. I believe the author in this instance is referring to the conflicion of memory and history.
This is an amazing read, a thesis alone couldn't touch it's honesty and depth. The most compelling question he relates is 1945. His birth year but a year of horror in that part of the world.
The bomb for staters. New mods of warfare etc. he seems not to answer it completly. Perhaps it is up to us.
Amazing read. Amazing subject.
posted by clavdivs at 10:07 PM on December 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

And. The Internet is an amazing chronological tool, for temporal reasons, to study history. It does help personal memory. But he refers to a point in which history qua memory itself has changed, shifted. Not because of a lack of Internet but the destruction of so much that comprised that history to say the least of the state of historiography in France at that time. (Ex. Vichy vs. FF historical references and their validity considering which side they were on on a subject of say Danton and the CoM of public safety)
posted by clavdivs at 10:20 PM on December 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

That was beautiful, thanks.
posted by ersatz at 10:40 AM on December 14, 2014

I would say, considering the scrutiny and interconnectedness of the internet etc., it's actually much harder to forget tiny details, and much easier and accessible to dig into a past narrative. (museum or grad school work, taking pictures of your lunch...)

I agree with you in general; but I'm currently reading The End of Absence by Michael Harris, and he made a very interesting point about the difference between memory and reminiscence. He uses an example from Plato's Phaedrus, in which an Egyptian king talks with the god Theuth about the alphabet:
"'The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing.'

Was there ever a finer description of Google? "An aid not to memory, but to reminiscence." Real memory and the magic trick of reminiscence, of course, are not the same thing at all. We reminisce when something external recalls the memory for us."
It's a subtle distinction, but an important one I think - our technology is recalling for us; our own memory is a different thing - fallible, prone to error, and hazy/partial/blurred and blended things. With technology, recall is either complete or incomplete - and oblivion is still a very real possibility, as anyone who has been through a hard drive crash can attest. So I'm thinking on this Sunday afternoon about the differences between memory and reminiscence, and what of value we might be losing as we increasing rely on technology to hold our memory for us. I have no conclusions to offer, just the thought.

Great post, thanks.
posted by nubs at 11:09 AM on December 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have been re-reading Maurois' "Illusions"
Here is the crux. Though he acknowledged Petain, he also helped the war effort by being sent to England as a liaison. It illustrates the complexity of love of country and ones duty to fight it at the same time. One can argue that the complexities of FF vs. Vichey but it underpins the the real question.
How did he reconcile occupation and those who collaborated with it. A very tough question.

Maurois said:
"Memory is a great artist. For every man and for every woman it makes the recollection of his or her life a work of art and an unfaithful record."

How does this plug into the speech?
First, context. When did he make the comment. Second. Is memory the sole criteria for his assertion concerning art.
In "Illusions" he coins "art demands great sacrifices"
How does this cohere when memory is becomes mere recollection for the sole purposes of art? He states further: "At times we feel so exhausted by the struggle that we dream of an intelligible universe, of a world in which men and women, things and symbols would no longer be unanswerable enigmas. But does a world exist?"
It does exist. He posits " it carries within it grief, laments and joy"

In my own poetry, memory is the only critria we have to formulate the complex world we live. Memory is the gift of life.
The gift is our differenstia between recollection and reminiscence. Our ability to convey what the world means outside our memories fault and to reconcile this with what the world has recorded.
Not really the thesis I had in mind nor am I sure it is cohesive or even a thesis in the proper sence.
posted by clavdivs at 2:21 AM on December 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

(Walking down the halls of the digital, he opens the door, sits by the lectern, looks around; "this is good place for poetry-oetry-etry-try-ry-y."
Upon the lectern with an apple he says: "and now?" He paused Chronolsterical!")

Chex mix.
Tonight, mrs. Clav made the rather odd combination of Battle Creek and salty. ( my great grandfather ran for mayor of Battle creek in the 1920s- he lost, he was a republican who remembered his parents who voted for Lincoln.)
The recipe. We have some written but recollect my father making it when I was young. Watch rudolf and frosty,wrap stuff, etc. but he put in something else and after like 20 minutes, my memory failed as to how he baked the rye chips because they were luvly. Boiled the question down to a slight hot pepper hint with fresh butter and something else but the senses fails. My recollection is acurate but the reminesence seems the most vivid. Place and temporality
seem at odds with emotion using a positive model.

Ohh remember the 1951 version. Nyby. I love the scene with the burly general bellowing to close the door and captain walks out saying " I'll close the door"
General snaps back: "...just tell me what you find!"
posted by clavdivs at 12:47 AM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Essays are like chex mix.
Chex mix.
MFK Fisher would have said:
" Great, Battle Creek and salt."
Mental masterialawayshatedthstphrase.
Can't finnish it.
A thesis I have but essay is what became.
Funny, concerning Internet and Periodization. Not in reference but.
Fisher: Dijon years.
Periodization is a problem.
posted by clavdivs at 10:34 PM on December 21, 2014

I picked three books to form a point which is of course obvious. Subject matter: Time, text, literature.

Time varies. The individuals perception of time varies.
The three books I picked, two I consider bias but my library has shrunk.
A. Graham Greene: collected essays.(another example of Periodization of the writers work if you ask me)
posted by clavdivs at 10:42 PM on December 21, 2014

B. I, Claudius. Robert Graves.
Yup, that's the Bias major.

C. Garbage, AR Ammons.
Yup, bias but poetry and hooza is need for comportment and sanity.

I pick a forth....
posted by clavdivs at 10:47 PM on December 21, 2014

D. The Christian's Instructer, containing a summary explanation and Defence of the Doctorines and Duties of the Christian Religion.
By Joshiah Hopkins, A.M. Pastor of the congressional church in New Haven, Vt., 1825.
The Internet would make it is easier for me to just take a picture and cld it. Internet-1 zip.
posted by clavdivs at 10:54 PM on December 21, 2014

All bias sources really.
The Greene edt. Has "The Lost Childhood" page 13 so let's roll that text: "but in childhood all books of divination, telling us about a future, and like a fortune-teller who sees a journey in the cards or death by water they influence the future"

Temporality paragraph two.
Text turn ritual turn imagination turn mystic turn future.
"I suppose that is why books excited us so much"
The phrase "key turned into a lock" when he had read his first book.
Remember that?
posted by clavdivs at 11:08 PM on December 21, 2014

Even a beagle can tell time.

32*F mild, moon to the back , the weatherball is blue/cold weather is due. True
Rhyme,time, and place.

The churchbells.
Took our beagle out and the churchbells chimed 8. The weatherball tells me the weather by mere color. So mnemonic markers are pervasive.
It's what takes place after the churchbells. Picasso. Time. Put dishes away, put the grinch on dvdand the 1000 other flashes until I too hit a mnemonic marker.
posted by clavdivs at 5:16 PM on December 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

After edit and 23 minutes
posted by clavdivs at 5:19 PM on December 25, 2014

Looking this over my minds a mess. But a chalk board it is. Well, rusty at best. I'm at a point were mere historical referents do not suffice in and of it self for thesis matter. Historiography only points to a method and I'm a fan of L. Stone and the French annalists. I have to re read the text for it has been many days since I have. so the markers of memory come back to temporality and culture ie. Literature.
The essay brings into all the aspects. So working that. Aspects of the psychology and memory is needed. The whowho in the room is Internet/computation, a subject I am in serious lack. But linear chronology I get.
Ok texts...the graves is interesting in how graves narrator delves into historiography, being a historian, etc.
1900 years clau-clau...
posted by clavdivs at 10:16 PM on December 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

His generation is sensitive to the theme of memory and oblivion.

See, bringing Proust into is like a perfect de-rail. Few ever had that clarity but then again, so does a mirror. HA.
My uncle was sensitive, yet open about his war experience. He exercised his demons by writing.
None the less, having thumbnailed his bio and work, I get a better take on his narrative and perspective....
posted by clavdivs at 10:55 PM on December 27, 2014

but not much. A mise-en-scene, sorry out of little dashes, comes to mind. It's is akin to the writers muse I guess. I don't like muse in that context but it works.
The telling of the tale. ( David Suchet accent:€)
What tale? His bio, the era, the literature? As far as I can gather, his work has characters that suffer from amnesia which I need to read.
It's an absence of the memory yet everything about a story exists. It's not at the looking glass nor through but the absence of.
The only thing i have come up with is a chronological narrative with supporting documention that supports his claim of generational sensitivities and the inundation of information overload ie. Oblivion, concerning war, pre/post.
posted by clavdivs at 11:22 PM on December 27, 2014

In an article entitled "Age of Reason" published in the Spectator on 26 April 1930, Carr attacked what he regarded as the prevailing culture of pessimism within the West, which he blamed on the French writer Marcel Proust.[23] Carr wrote:

I love the gingerbread man example.
Ok, now to the point.
posted by clavdivs at 11:04 AM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

1955, a major scandal that damaged Carr's reputation as a historian of the Soviet Union occurred when he wrote the introduction to Notes for a Journal, the supposed memoir of the former Soviet Foreign Commissar Maxim Litvinov that was shortly thereafter exposed as a forgery.[152] Notes for a Journal was a KGB forgery written in the early-1950s by a...
See the problem ? About objective methodology?
posted by clavdivs at 11:18 AM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ya, like I'll use George Novak!

Like light that has timbre. Well it should be known that this is some figure of speech to look smoking in hospital.

Timbre of light.

I'll stick with Carr as model, subject matter...need to whittle that down.
But I'm not sure he is saying anything new and that surprise even me now...I know, exclude the literature aspect and well shit, your an annalist in the room.
I refuse to let literature drag history into its side, as if it had a last word. I understand why, but it is more then that.
How do you convey
Timbre of light from rare light.
posted by clavdivs at 6:49 PM on December 28, 2014

Memory studies
Memory studies is a new field, focused on how nations and groups (and historians) construct and select their memories of the past in order to celebrate (or denounce) key features, thus making a statement of their current values and beliefs. Historians have played a central role in shaping the memories of the past as their work is diffused through popular history books and school textbooks.[111] French sociologist Maurice Halbwachs, opened the field with La mémoire collective (Paris: 1950).[112]

I never would think to apply this methodology. The 2nd best teacher I had was of the social history. France. Woman's studies and migration patterns. Film as part of history. That is one aspect to the parallel I came up with.
I do not think the literature can be separated from his distillation of one generations memory to his. As much as you or I can place our selfs in 1930s Europe. As he did not live in those times (19th C.) He does have literature/ history/memory and all that is implied culturally on his side for mnemonic purposes concerning the art of literature but not its air, it's light, etc. this does not presuppose a mis e scene, a mental objective/subject imagery to form a narrative.
So we're in Norway, it's 1939 news years eve. I have a buddy back in the states, he is 12 th in line for the throne, the Germans are up to something. 2 are down by the store heading towards... a wharf.
Is it easier to split up and for me to (the character) phone embassy/American influence and you take the colt 45. And follow? No. My German is terrible. And phoning ole j. Xxxx won't solve the problem. You probably know Norwegian and can wield a blade if need be. I'll keep the big oily automatic....
posted by clavdivs at 11:24 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I lite up a camel and amble towards them you head around that shedand out flank them. The signal to regroup is the phrase "fugging nazzis" for the two Germans have shark codes and we want those.

This simple illustration shows what is possible with just the skeleton of a situation. With knowledge of the war, it is to our advantage even without hindsight. Bias of hindsight is another matter.

Like saying payarus is not studied say that to the Dead Sea scroll crowd
The narrative of place is essential for example the side of river I live on used to be Native American land, a lay over spot, a camp ground of sorts. A natural ford is of course the course. But part or the land was deeded as a sort of Rez in the 18thc. Now it is grided with asphalt and clapboard circa 1890. A house was razed a few years back and some remains were found, the area fenced off. If you take away the white people stuff, it's quite a vista, one can see why it would make a good resting ground. But the natives did not know for sure if such grounds existed then, in the 18th. If they did, it would have been noted. The remains were thought to be from 900-1000ce. Which jives with other digs in the area. I go by that fence everyday, today I saw one of those paper targets on the now bending fence, satchets tied to it. Mowed grass.

These are fragments. We all have them. And as Kirk said:
"I need my fragments...the keep me whole, Spock "
posted by clavdivs at 11:48 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Begriffe konnen einien Unfug erleichtern oder erschweren; begunstigen oder hemmen.

-Wittgenstein, 1946.

Wtf he know.
Ya, cannot really separate the two aspects of lit and hist. But histories narrative with fact/ memory within historical aspects of mnemonic response?
That's why a parallel narrative in essay form works for what I think he means.
posted by clavdivs at 10:24 PM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

What I
Think, he means.
An aspect to the Saussaurian model, that "language is a social contract/loaded with meaning inherent in conceptual patterns of speakers culture: more/less unquote.
So is the translation accurate? F>E
I think so, though I have to trust that. "Peculiar kind" for example. And the Lanque seems good on tableau vivant because when your talking about art, tableau vivant is just cool.
But I found an answer or as close

"Whatever modernism's historical and social ideals at its inception, by the end of the Second World War it's innovatory promises had become symbols-and causes-of alienation and dehumanizations.
The "architecture" of modernists/ (post modernists for that matter) had begun as a "heroic attempt after the Great War and the Russian revolution to rebuild a war-ravaged Europe in the image of the new, and to make building a vital part of the envisioned renewal of society"
-Huyssen. Cite provided upon inquiry. HA!
Really, you don't want me paraphrasing other peoples take on other peoples work.
So there it is to a degree.
The only word I'm not sure of is oblivion. A friend and I are of opinion this is basic information accessable on a wide scale and data over load. Like this article about Pound I'm reading concerning hugh selwyan time and who's voice was really speaking....but time is a factor or in the thesis...
Ok, done with that part. A historical comparison, textually. Und so vader
Oh, thanks you. I have...let me go get it.
posted by clavdivs at 8:25 PM on January 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I checked out a book 3 months ago and this is^ Picture was in it. I jotted a fragment but this is an example of rare light.
posted by clavdivs at 8:36 PM on January 3, 2015

Is interesting.
posted by clavdivs at 1:58 PM on January 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Postmodern self-consciously art "within the archive"

That just darn damning to any seperation of romuhistorius and remuliteraii.
posted by clavdivs at 2:04 PM on January 4, 2015

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