With the recent Nobel announcements I decided to check out last year’s lecture from the winner of the literature prize. Here are some notes as I proceed and I might later compile them into something larger and more formal.
The opening of the essay is about why writers write. Obviously there is reduction as Le Clezio attributes the same impulses to writers. Writers see injustice in the world and decide to take a different approach to resistance, a form that is “another way to react, another way to communicate, a certain distance, a time for reflection.” It almost sounds like cowardice Le Clezio is describing, but I will hold off on that since Le Clezio will surely attempt to rehabilitate the role of the writer. I will spare us from the usual refutation that has been put to rest since Of Grammatology, however one thing needs to be noted. I have never before seen the spoken resisatcne that is neither meditated nor mediated. Le Clezio’s initial premsise seems overly Socratic.
Le Clezio then takes us to the next reason writers are not resistant: their works are consumed almost exclusively by the wealthy. The hungry woman does not purchase books when instead she is worried about feeding her children. Again I am not sure this is true. So much so that it smells like a set up. Le Clezio is constructing the straw man so he can later pummel it. I am cynical of his motivations (the straw man construction makes me suspect he wants to appear radical is more improtant than being radical) even if I may agree with his ultimate conclusion. This is Le Clezio’s founding paradox: the writer is a radical dressed in chic clothing.
The remainder of the lecture is a series of rembrances, which are interesting, that do nothing for what I guessed to be his argument. In the end Le Clezio’s argument is less ambitious than it should be. He argues that hunger and illiteracy are the same problem and need to combated together. The once hungry is not much improved if she remains illiterate and the once illiterate is still a captive if hungry. I am not sure this is at all controversial. This conclusion is so brief and unexplored that it seems pithy. I wonder if this speech was extemporaneous even though he had had months to prepare.
The blandness of the conclusion also makes me think Le Clezio’s writer is a bourgeoisie dressed in radical clothing. Expanding literacy as a goal to combat hunger is insufficient in our politics. If the goal is to sell more books then it is a great message. Feeding people does little to combat hunger as the problem is more about distribution mechanisms than it is about the desire to resist.