French author Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio wins Nobel Prize in Literature


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French-born author Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature today in Sweden. The Nobel Prize committee described the 68-year-old as an ‘author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization.’

Le Clézio moved with his family to Nigeria as a boy for two years before returning to Nice. He has lived all over the world, including France, Mexico, Panama, England and Albuquerque, N.M. ‘Western culture has become too monolithic,’ he told news magazine Label France in 2001. ‘It places the greatest possible emphasis on its urban and technical side thus preventing the development of other forms of expression: religiosity and feelings, for example. The entire unknowable part of the human being is obscured in the name of rationalism. It is my awareness of this that has pushed me towards other civilisations.’


The Nobel Prize biography describes some of his work:

His definitive breakthrough as a novelist came with ‘Désert’ (1980), for which he received a prize from the French Academy. This work contains magnificent images of a lost culture in the North African desert, contrasted with a depiction of Europe seen through the eyes of unwanted immigrants. The main character, the Algerian guest worker Lalla, is a utopian antithesis to the ugliness and brutality of European society. During the same period, Le Clézio published the meditative essay collections ‘L’extase matérielle’ (1967), ‘Mydriase’ (1973) and ‘Haï’ (1971), the last of which shows influences from Indian culture. Long stays in Mexico and Central America in the period 1970 to 1974 were of decisive significance for his work, and he left the big cites in search of a new spiritual reality in the contact with the Indians.... ‘Le cercheur d’or’ (1985; ‘The Prospector,’ 1993) treats material from the islands of the Indian Ocean in the spirit of the adventure story. In later years the author’s attraction to the dream of earthly paradise is apparent in books such as ‘Ourania’ (2005) and ‘Raga: approche du continent invisible’ (2006).... The emphasis in Le Clézio’s work has increasingly moved in the direction of an exploration of the world of childhood and of his own family history. This development began with ‘Onitsha’ (1991; ‘Onitsha,’ 1997), continued more explicitly with ‘La quarantaine’ (1995) and has culminated in ‘Révolutions’ (2003) and ‘L’Africain’ (2004).

Some of these books may be tough to find in the U.S. in English, although ‘The Mexican Dream: Or, The Interrupted Thought of Amerindian Civilizations,’ which imagines Mexico without European settlers, was published by the University of Chicago Press in 1993.

Chances just got a lot better that English-language versions of the work of Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio will be readily available in the future.

--Carolyn Kellogg

Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio with his wife, Marina, in 1963. Credit: Associated Press