Le Clezio Sez: "Boo Hitler, Yay Books"
J.M.G. Le Clezio delivered his Nobel Prize Lecture yesterday, and you can read it online here. You can also watch the video here, if you are French or have been colonized by people who speak French.

In the course of the lecture, Le Clezio speculated that the internet might have prevented the criminal activities of Hitler and calls on rich people to donate more books to poor people.

Here is Le Clezio autographing a chair for some reason:

The most interesting part of his lecture, however, is the complication: the idea that writers create literature because they want to give solace to hungry people and the beat-down, but that hungry people and the beat-down don't do much reading.

"The paradox of revolution, like the epic cavalcade of the sad-faced knight, lives within the writer's consciousness. If there is one virtue which the writer's pen must always have, it is that it must never be used to praise the powerful, even with the faintest of scribblings. And yet just because an artist observes this virtuous behaviour does not mean that he may feel purged of all suspicion. His rebellion, denial, and imprecations definitely remain to one side of the barrier, the side of the language of power."

In other words, you may write something good and true, but instead of giving solace to the hungry and beaten, your writing gets un-knotted, re-tied, and re-interpreted. You may write a paragraph like:

"Frank stared at the bright, blinking bags of chips in the convenience store window and fondled the bread knife he had taken from the passed-out drunk in the alley behind the factory. As he breathed, he could feel the skin of his stomach brush against the bones of his back. All he would have to do is leap over the counter, stab the stoned clerk in the neck, and then he could fill sacks and sacks with chips and candy and cake and medicine: all those glorious, healing pills. Those blinking, bright bags of chips were a neon sign that said: "YES, GET ME." But the knife in Frank's hand was so cold; as cold as the bags were hot."

But a guy like Frank is never going to read that paragraph. Instead, somebody studying to be an English teacher or lawyer will read it while sipping flavored coffee, and a tear will come to their eye, and they will think:

"I guess it is not so bad that my pretty puppy pooped on the pretty shag carpet."

Le Clezio says keep writing anyway. Even though we are lost in a dark societal hell with no chance of survival or authentic communication, we are keeping language alive for the chance -- someday -- that we might live in a human world that reflects the (imminent-yet-out-of-reach) reality of justice.

"The writer, better than anyone, knows how to cultivate the vital, poisonous plant, the one that grows only in the soil of his own powerlessness. The writer wanted to speak for everyone, and for every era: there he is, there she is, each alone in a room, facing the too-white mirror of the blank page, beneath the lampshade distilling its secret light. Or sitting at the too-bright screen of the computer, listening to the sound of one's fingers clicking over the keys. This, then, is the writer's forest. And each writer knows every path in that forest all too well. If, now and again, something escapes, like a bird flushed by a dog at dawn, then the writer looks on, amazed -- this happened merely by chance, in spite of oneself."

Posted by miracle on Wed, 10 Dec 2008 06:06:38 -0500 -- permanent link

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