Le Clézio’s Nobel Lecture

This year’s Nobel laureate Le Clézio gives an impassioned Nobel Prize lecture, in a sense taking off from where Doris Lessing had left it last year. He quotes a passage from Stig Dagerman that influenced him as a writer and touches on many themes including a call for re- claiming the word “globalization” as well as for reclaiming a place for literature in face of the audio and visual media. Among others, he dedicates his lecture to the Mauritian Hindi writer Abhimanyu Unnuth, Qurratulain Hyder (for Aag Ka Darya) and the Mexican writer, Juan Rulfo.

A few excerpts from the lecture: (link via Literary Saloon)

How is it possible on the one hand, for example, to behave as if nothing on earth were more important than literature, and on the other fail to see that wherever one looks, people are struggling against hunger and will necessarily consider that the most important thing is what they earn at the end of the month? Because this is where he (the writer) is confronted with a new paradox: while all he wanted was to write for those who are hungry, he now discovers that it is only those who have plenty to eat who have the leisure to take notice of his existence.” (from Stig Dagerman’s The Writer and Consciousness)


Why write, then? For some time now, writers have no longer been so presumptuous as to believe that they can change the world, that they will, through their stories and novels, give birth to a better example for how life should be. Simply, they would like to bear witness. See that other tree in the forest of paradoxes. The writer would like to bear witness, when in fact, most of the time, he is nothing more than a simple voyeur.

And yet there are artists who do become witnesses: Dante in the La Divina Commedia, Shakespeare in The Tempest—and Aimé Césaire in his magnificent adaptation of that play, entitled Une Tempête, in which Caliban, sitting astride a barrel of gunpowder, threatens to blow himself up and take his despised masters with him.

There is a great deal of talk about globalization these days. People forget that in fact the phenomenon began in Europe during the Renaissance, with the beginnings of the colonial era. Globalization is not a bad thing in and of itself. Communication has accelerated progress in medicine and in science. Perhaps the generalization of information will help to forestall conflicts.

It might have been something from a novel, not a myth. But one night, a young woman came. Her name was Elvira. She was known throughout the entire forest of the Emberá for her storytelling skills. She was an adventuress, and lived without a man, without children—people said that she was a bit of a drunkard, a bit of a whore, but I don’t believe it for a minute—and she would go from house to house to sing, in exchange for a meal or a bottle of alcohol or sometimes a few coins. Although I had no access to her tales other than through translation—the Emberá language has a literary variant that is far more complex than the everyday form—I quickly realized that she was a great artist, in the best sense of the term. The timbre of her voice, the rhythm of her hands tapping against her chest, against her heavy necklaces of silver coins, and above all the air of possession which illuminated her face and her gaze, a sort of measured, rhythmic trance, exerted a power over all those who were present. To the simple framework of her myths—the invention of tobacco, the first primeval twins, stories about gods and humans from the dawn of time—she added her own story, her life of wandering, her loves, the betrayals and suffering, the intense joy of carnal love, the sting of jealousy, her fear of growing old, of dying. She was poetry in action, ancient theatre, and the most contemporary of novels all at the same time.

It is to her, to Elvira, that I address this tribute—and to her that I dedicate the Prize which the Swedish Academy is awarding me. To her and to all those writers with whom—or sometimes against whom—I have lived. To the Hindi-language Mauritian novelist Abhimanyu Unnuth, for Lal passina (Sweating Blood) to the Urdu novelist Qurratulain Hyder for her epic novel Ag ka Darya (River of Fire). To the defiant Danyèl Waro of La Réunion, for his maloya songs; to the Kanak poetess Déwé Gorodey, who defied the colonial powers all the way to prison; to the rebellious Abdourahman Waberi. To Juan Rulfo and Pedro Paramo, and his short stories El llano en llamas, and the simple and tragic photographs he took of rural Mexico.

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5 thoughts on “Le Clézio’s Nobel Lecture

  1. rahul banerjee

    from early beginnings millions of years ago in africa human beings have spread all over the world through migration. the defining characteristic of the modern day globalisation as opposed to the earlier process is that now people are prevented from moving freely across the world. this is the problem not the movement of ideas and capital which has been there throughout.

    Reply
  2. rw Post author

    You hit the bull’s eye, Rahul. It is amazing how words like globalization have been hijacked to gain “common sense” acceptability for neo- liberalism.

    Reply

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