Today at the great, long-standing literary blog LitKicks, independent publishing professional Dedi Felman reports on J.M.G. LeClézio's conversation with Adam Gopnik at the PEN World Voices event in New York City. Dedi writes, "Le Clezio's affinity is for an era of suspicion, not style. He never lived in Paris and was distrustful of a literature that wanted to deliver a strong message to the world. [At this point, Gopnik rather hilariously points out to the audience that the mints of which Le Clezio is partaking have a picture of members of the previous Administration and are labeled 'indict-mints.'] Trying to make sense for the American audience of Le Clezio’s apparent apolitical politicization, Gopnik asks the author if his is a humanism without a human being at the center? 'I wish I could do that but I am a human being and everything I do comes from that,' Le Clezio somewhat mystifying [sic] replies."
We had the chance to hear the Nobel Laureate speak and answer questions from the audience last night at MIT. He began by admitting that he was not a theorist and, so, "have no theory," which was quite funny I thought, and then touched upon many of the same issues that he did in New York. Most notably, he discussed the question of message and meaning in his novels. To a question of whether he felt that a novel ought to express some particular type of message — be it political, moral, humanist, etc. — Le Clézio responded that writing should always be "in praise of the language," and that if a novel has a message, whatever it might be, the message always "has value." It made me sorry that I can't read him in the original French to experience the language first hand.
Responding to another question from the audience, Le Clézio asserted that writers as human beings "are not exceptional" and have no special knowledge with which to offer the world social or political solutions, which might have a connection to the modest humanism that Dedi reports as "mystifying" — the easy, conversational style he employed while addressing a group of maybe 200 was decidedly of a man speaking out of the crowd, not down to it, and out of human experience, unabashedly. The impression one might have received from most news reports last Fall was of a writer with political and social agendas driving his novels, but that doesn't come across at all as he presents his own work.
It was an illuminating conversation, and hopefully we'll be able to provide a complete recording of the talk through our website soon, pending permission.