Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio Receives Nobel Prize in Literature
October 9, 2008 4:21 AM   Subscribe

The Nobel Prize in Literature goes to French novelist Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio. Here's an old interview, a short video interview (in French) and a short story (in English).
posted by Kattullus (34 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Oops, seems like the short story I linked to is in fact an excerpt from a larger work.
posted by Kattullus at 4:29 AM on October 9, 2008

He was on French Public Radio this morning, before the Prize was given to him. Here's the interview with some links.
posted by nicolin at 5:15 AM on October 9, 2008

*Horace Engdahl high-fives members of Swedish Academy*
posted by lukemeister at 5:23 AM on October 9, 2008

That old interview points out that he divides his time between New Mexico, Mauritius and Nice, and devotes a lot of attention to Amerindian culture. Interesting. I haven't been following the "American writers are out of touch with the world's conversation" controversy very closely, but this puts a new spin on it.
posted by mediareport at 5:40 AM on October 9, 2008

Man, the Academy must really want to rub it in the US's eye. This guy isn't just a European—he's a European with the most European name ever (excluding post-Renaissance nobility, of course).
posted by No-sword at 6:10 AM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

This Worldmapper map of Books Published does seem to support the US is on the periphery and Europe the center of gravity.
posted by stbalbach at 6:21 AM on October 9, 2008

So I waited by the phone all day again for nothing?
posted by Abiezer at 6:23 AM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Cool picture of Le Clézio and wife in 1963. And here's something else interesting in light of last week's spat: a 2007 NYT article about French authors - including Le Clézio - signing a manifesto encouraging France to stop being so condescending, self-centered and navel-gazing about foreign-born writers:

...the 44 signatories of a manifesto published in Le Monde this month are in a rebellious mood. They assert that it is time for the French to stop looking down on francophone authors, as foreigners writing in French are known, because these very novelists — many from former French colonies — hold the key to energizing French literature.

For this, they say, French must be freed from “its exclusive pact” with France...

Still, the timing of this new campaign in not accidental. Last fall, to the astonishment of France’s literary establishment, foreign-born writers won five of the country’s seven major book awards...

[I]t was no less significant that several prominent French writers, among them Jean Rouaud, Erik Orsenna and J. M. G. Le Clézio, also signed the manifesto. Their endorsement of francophone fiction implied recognition that, since the postwar Nouveau Roman, or New Novel, French literature has cut itself off from the world with its navel-gazing obsession with text over narrative.

posted by mediareport at 6:26 AM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Here's a rough list of his works in English translation with ISBN's - you'll have to do a little work to figure it out, hopefully someone can make a better list.
posted by stbalbach at 6:32 AM on October 9, 2008

posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:37 AM on October 9, 2008

Le Clezio was on French Public Radio yesterday too, to promote his latest novel "Ritournelle de la faim". Webpage here, select "ecoutez", Le Clezio is in at 40'.
posted by nicolin at 6:43 AM on October 9, 2008

a conjurer who tried to lift words above the degenerate state of everyday speech and to restore to them the power to invoke an essential reality

Using that standard, the mods should have shared the prize for their efforts on MetaTalk.
posted by lukemeister at 6:50 AM on October 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

I haven't read much Le Clézio unfortunately, only three books, (Gens des nuages that I loved, Désert I liked, the Diego Rivera/Frieda Kahlo book was pretty cool also) but it's one of the least provincial choices they could make -- and much better than many realistic alternatives. and, he's a Henry Roth fan, so God bless him.

what's sad is that the last time France had gotten the Nobel was in the mid 1980s (Simon); unless my man Yves Bonnefoy can manage to live until he's 116 or something, this is looking very very bad. it sucks for poor Yves. again, we all have our favorites we wish had won -- for me, after Bonnefoy, it's Yehoshua, Munro, Magris -- but Le Clézio is a good, interesting choice. if anything, more people will be aware of his work, and that's a good thing.
posted by matteo at 6:50 AM on October 9, 2008

This guy isn't just a European—he's a European with the most European name ever (excluding post-Renaissance nobility, of course).

Actually, he isn't quite that European: although born in France, he's from old Franco-Mauritian stock (although there's also a good argument that the Franco-Mauritians are the most stubbornly European community anywhere, Indian Ocean be damned).
posted by Skeptic at 7:17 AM on October 9, 2008

I feel like every Clevelander at the beginning of "Major League" looking at the new team: "Who da fuck are these guys?"
posted by mattbucher at 7:43 AM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Explanation: That's what someone always shouts when the winner of the Nobel prize in literature is announced. It's the Swedish word for "finally". I've forgotten what the anme was of the guy who started it, but he did it as criticism toward the academy for picking writers which were (in his opinion) too obscure. I love how there's always someone still around to shout it when Horace has announced the winner.
posted by bjrn at 8:19 AM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

mediareport, great pic!
posted by ersatz at 8:35 AM on October 9, 2008

unless my man Yves Bonnefoy can manage to live until he's 116 or something, this is looking very very bad. it sucks for poor Yves.

I share your pain (and your hopes for Yehoshua and Munro). And I offer a wry smile at your "I haven't read much Le Clézio unfortunately, only three books"—that's probably three more than any other MeFites! Is Gens des nuages good enough that I should take a break from my obsession with Russian literature to read it (if I can find a copy)?
posted by languagehat at 8:51 AM on October 9, 2008

And I offer a wry smile at your "I haven't read much Le Clézio unfortunately, only three books"—that's probably three more than any other MeFites!

Hehe. Speak for yourself. Le Clézio is actually familiar to me when I was more heavily doing research into colonial Michoacan. He loves the state. He was the editor of Fray Jeronimo's La Relacion de Michoacan and wrote La Conquista Divina de Michoacan about Guzman and Tangazoan, the last Purepecha emperor. As far as I know, these are not available in English. Awesome to see a name you know from another context get the Nobel for Literature. I'll have to pick up some his mainstream works. ;)
posted by vacapinta at 9:02 AM on October 9, 2008

Whoa!! That 'Conquista Divina' page just got updated in the past 15 minutes (did a 'reload' and it changed!). It only had 3 paragraphs. Now it mentions his Nobel and provides a bibliography. Looks like booksellers are busy updating their catalogs!
posted by vacapinta at 9:05 AM on October 9, 2008

Good enough? I don't know, I probably wouldn't interrupt a Goncharov marathon, but it's a very beautifully written, very human journal de voyage. I'm going to be banal as shit, because I can't judge on the basis of so little, but from what I've seen I really think he has this beautiful Cartesian clarity, in that -- for all his humanism and love of travel and of different cultures and his transcending his national literature -- to me he is stylistically in that French tradition. I personally find it elegant as fuck, that style.

re: finding a copy, if you have trouble locally I'm sure the Canadian libraries must be lousy with his stuff in the original.
posted by matteo at 9:12 AM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

(I was ansvwering languagehat)
posted by matteo at 9:13 AM on October 9, 2008

I had sex with a girl who was a big fan of his in college. (I had sex with her in college as far as I know she is still a big fan of his). She would climax amazingly quickly. I have never had less humiliating sex than I had with her.
posted by I Foody at 9:13 AM on October 9, 2008

Foody this is like a good premise for a Bukowski short story, too bad he's gone (without his Nobel)
posted by matteo at 9:31 AM on October 9, 2008

They better give the Peace Prize to "the right person" tomorrow or China will be pissed.
posted by homunculus at 9:39 AM on October 9, 2008

quickly! what's the best book for someone to read who only just heard of him right now and only speaks english?! time is of the essence!
posted by shmegegge at 9:43 AM on October 9, 2008

Personally I'm just going to see what books my local library has and pick the one that seems most appealing. I've done that before when authors I'm not familiar with win the Nobel and it's always worked like a charm.
posted by Kattullus at 10:05 AM on October 9, 2008

I really think he has this beautiful Cartesian clarity, in that -- for all his humanism and love of travel and of different cultures and his transcending his national literature -- to me he is stylistically in that French tradition.

Thanks, that's good enough for me—I'm a sucker for the classical French tradition (having had Descartes, Racine, et al stuffed into me by a very traditional alsacienne).
posted by languagehat at 10:45 AM on October 9, 2008

You can read m'colleague's thesis on Le Clézio here, if such is your desire.
posted by Wolof at 2:15 PM on October 9, 2008

Crap! Title page, summary and TOC only.
posted by Wolof at 2:19 PM on October 9, 2008

Apparently, the 1997 movie Mondo - by the same director who did the MeFi fave gypsy music doc Latcho Drom - is a "gorgeously photographed tear-jerker" based on a Le Clézio short story.

great pic!

The microphone alone is worth a look, but their hair! And her dress! Awesome.
posted by mediareport at 3:56 PM on October 9, 2008

The Times Literary Supplement has put up a great section on Le Clézio. It's made up of 8 reviews of his books that have appeared in TLS from 1964 to 2007.

Also, this, from the Wikipedia page about him (which, oh my, has expanded since this morning) reflects extremely well on Le Clézio: "He was assigned to Thailand in 1967 for his military service, but was quickly expelled for protesting against child prostitution and sent to Mexico to finish his military obligation."
posted by Kattullus at 8:16 PM on October 9, 2008

He's cool.
posted by nicolin at 1:24 AM on October 10, 2008

Here's a few articles about Le Clézio that I found interesting.

Guy from Albuquerque Wins Nobel Prize in Literature. Excerpt:
I had not heard of Le Clézio, and as a bookish person who also happens to be married to a French guy, I suppose I should be ashamed of that, and take it as a sign of the ignorance in which I’m currently marinating along with my countrymen. Nah.

Besides living part time in Albuquerque, Le Clézio has another connection to our region: the University of Nebraska Press, one of my very favorite small presses, published English translations of two of his books. The press specializes in the literature of the American West, baseball, and French stuff, so you can see why I am so fond of it.
I belong to the Breton nation. Excerpt:
Jean-Marie Le Clézio was born April 13th, 1940 in Nice, from a Breton family that had migrated to Maurice Island in the 18th century. His dad was an African bush doctor, British citizen. Both mother and dad had Breton roots and had in fact the same family name. He is bilingual french-english citizen of France but also of Mauritius.

« I belong to this nation » This is how Jean-Marie Le Clézio had declared candidly his guts ties to Brittany, while interviewed at the Saint-Malo Étonnants Voyageurs Festival in 2002. « A clear statement for an universalistic writer and spokesperson for multicultural societies and negated people » wrote Hubert Chémereau , a Breton militant who had proposed Le Clézio for the Collier de l'Hermine 2009 brand. (A Breton chivalry order and one of the oldest in Europe).
Le Clezio, Portrait Of A Gentle Writer from NPR. Excerpt:
"He's a gentle writer," says his biographer, Jennifer Waelti-Walters. "He never became one of those trendy French writers that the French all read, but [he was] always present in the literary mileau."
Interview with Le Clézio from the Nobel website. Excerpt:
[AS] You write about other places, other cultures, other possibilities a great deal, and in particular you've written a book about the Amerindians. What is particularly appealing about their culture?

[J-MGLC] Well, it's probably because it's a culture so different from the European culture, and on the other hand it didn't have the chance of expressing itself. It's a culture which has been in some ways broken by the modern world, and especially by the conquests from Europe. So I feel there is a strong message here for the Europeans … I am European essentially. So, I feel there is a strong message here for the Europeans to encounter this culture which is so different from the European culture. They have a lot to learn from this culture; the Amerindian cultures.

[AS] You also write about the colonial experience a lot. Do you feel it's important for modern European culture to examine its past in this way?

[J-MGLC] Yes, because I feel, it's my feeling that the, Europe, and I would say also the American society are – it owes a lot to the people that submitted during the colonial times. I mean the wealth of Europe comes from sugar, cotton, from the colonies. And from this wealth they began the industrial world. So they really owe a lot to the colonized people. And they have to pay their debts to them.
I'm currently reading his non-fiction book, The Mexican Dream. Here's a quote by the translator of the book, Teresa Lavender Fagan, reacting to the news of Le Clézio receiving the Nobel Prize:
I am delighted—but not at all surprised!—that Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio has won the Nobel Prize in Literature. When I read Le rêve mexicain—The Mexican Dream—for the first time, I was transported by Le Clézio’s language and message. The author imagined how the thought of early Indian civilizations might have evolved if not for the interruption of European conquest. And how our own civilization might have been different had we had the continued input of such advanced, now vanished, peoples. Those questions, and Le Clézio’s recounting of the Conquest in his beautiful, lyrical prose, truly transformed my view of Western civilization. It is an honor to have translated the book and to have worked with the author, a most deserving Nobel Prize winner.
And finally, Nobel Goes Global With Literary Prize. Excerpt:
There was little joy among New York publishers at this year's Nobel news. With recent winners such as Britain's Doris Lessing and Turkey's Orhan Pamuk, the Nobel laureates' American publishers could count on cleaning up with increased sales of backlist titles. But no major publisher in this country since Atheneum, more than 30 years ago, has bothered with translations of Le Clézio's work.

This left the celebrating to small publishers such as David Godine.

"It's Yom Kippur, so it's a nice, bittersweet day," said the proprietor of the Boston-based independent David R. Godine Inc., which puts out between 20 and 30 titles a year and which printed 6,000 copies of Le Clézio's "The Prospector" in 1993.

The Washington Post's reviewer called the book "a wonderful one-volume compendium of all the grand myths rooted in the European c olonial experience, combining elements from 'Paul et Virginie,' 'Robinson Crusoe' and 'Indiana Jones.' " As of yesterday morning, ho wever, Godine still had some 500 copies kicking around.

They were gone by mid-afternoon.

"We'll be back-ordered probably a thousand copies by the end of the afternoon," Godine said, and a paperback edition is in the wo rks as well. His company also owns American rights to "Desert," currently unavailable in English, which the Swedish Academy singled out as Le Clézio's breakthrough novel. Godine had someone working on a translation well before the news from Sweden broke.

Among the other winners in the Le Clézio sweepstakes are the University of Nebraska Press (publisher of the novels "Onitsha" and "The Round & Other Cold Hard Facts") and Curbstone Press, a tiny Connecticut nonprofit that put out "Wandering Star" in 2004.

"It's beautifully written and beautifully translated," said Curbstone publisher Judith Ayer Doyle of this novel built around an e ncounter between a Jewish refugee from Europe and a young Palestinian around the time of the founding of Israel.

And how has it sold?

"Not all that well. Translations, unless they're by a very well-known writer, don't sell all that well in this country."

Amid all the kerfuffle created by Engdahl's "too isolated, too insular" remarks, this is a fact that no one seriously disputes.
I'm finding The Mexican Dream a pleasure to read and I can't wait to move on to some of his fiction.
posted by Kattullus at 9:18 AM on October 18, 2008

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