Le Clézio, le backlash


Is it considered bad manners to question the choice of a Nobel laureate from one’s own country? If so, the French writer Frédéric-Yves Jeannet could be accused of a flagrant display of rudeness. In a diatribe in Le Monde’s “Débats” section recently, under the heading “Jean-Marie Le Clézio ou le Nobel immérité”, Jeannet, who is also a professor of literature at the University of Wellington in New Zealand, states that “it is not politically correct . . . to criticize Le Clézio, who is such an upholder, in these times of great confusion, of fine sentiments and noble causes” (see NB, October 17, for the announcement of the prize). He goes on to say that fine sentiments and noble causes don’t necessarily make for good literature. As if to bolster his position, Jeannet points out that, in 1985, someone he holds in high regard, but doesn’t name, wrote a piece stating that the award of the Nobel Prize that year to Claude Simon was a mark of shame for French literature (until Le Clézio, Simon had been the most recent French recipient of the award – if one excludes the Chinese writer in exile Gao Xingjian, who has French nationality and was Nobelled in 2000; Le Clézio, incidentally, has hailed Simon as “a marvellous writer”). Jeannet goes so far as to suggest that Hélène Cixous, or even Amélie Nothomb, might have been a more worthy French laureate. One could add Michel Tournier’s name to the mix, although his output, unlike Le Clézio’s, has slowed up considerably in recent years. Jeannet contends that only Le Clézio’s early fiction (which he admires) fits the Nobel committee’s assessment of his work as representing “rupture”. But the committee, in its curiously worded citation, also commended him as an “author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, an explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilisation” – allusions to the writer’s passionate interest in non-European cultures and to novels chronicling lives of the downtrodden and dispossessed.

more from the TLS here.