The Nobel Prize in Literature 2008
Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio
"Literally, writing for me is like travelling. It's getting out of myself and living another life; maybe a better life."
Telephone interview with Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio immediately following the announcement of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Literature, 9 October 2008. The interviewer is Adam Smith, Editor-in-Chief of Nobelprize.org.
[Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio] Yes, Le Clézio speaking.
[Adam Smith] Oh hello, my name is Adam Smith and I'm calling from the Nobel Foundation web site in Stockholm.
[AS] And, would you mind if we spoke just for five minutes on the telephone?
[J-MGLC] No, not at all. I am ready for that.
[AS] Thank you so much. You're an inhabitant of many countries but we catch you in France now, is that correct?
[J-MGLC] Yes, yes. I am in France presently. Normally I am going to Canada in a few days, but I'm still in France now.
[AS] And given that you were brought up in many countries and you've lived around the world, is there anywhere that you consider to be home?
[J-MGLC] Yes, in fact, I would say that Mauritius, which is the place of my ancestors, is really the place I consider my small homeland. So, this would be Mauritius definitely.
[AS] And, you were brought up bilingual, but you always write in French. Is there a particular reason?
[J-MGLC] Well, yes. In fact, when I was a child I grew up speaking French, I mean, in a French public school. So my first contact with literature was in French, and that's the reason why I write in French.
[AS] And, you started writing as a young child, and are very prolific. You've written over 30 books alone. Does writing come very easily? Do you enjoy putting pen to paper?
[J-MGLC] Yes, definitely. This is one of my greatest pleasures in life is to sit at a table, wherever it is. I don't have any office, I can write everywhere. So, I put a piece of paper on the table and then I travel. Literally, writing for me is like travelling. It's getting out of myself and living another life; maybe a better life.
[AS] That's nice. People often say that reading is like travelling, but writing, also, that's nice.
[J-MGLC] Yes, both go together for me. I enjoy very much being in a foreign country, in a new country, new place. And I enjoy also beginning a new book. It's like being someone else.
[AS] You write about other places, other cultures, other possibilities a great deal, and in particular you've written a book about the Amerindians. What is particularly appealing about their culture?
[J-MGLC] Well, it's probably because it's a culture so different from the European culture, and on the other hand it didn't have the chance of expressing itself. It's a culture which has been in some ways broken by the modern world, and especially by the conquests from Europe. So I feel there is a strong message here for the Europeans … I am European essentially. So, I feel there is a strong message here for the Europeans to encounter this culture which is so different from the European culture. They have a lot to learn from this culture; the Amerindian cultures.
[AS] You also write about the colonial experience a lot. Do you feel it's important for modern European culture to examine its past in this way?
[J-MGLC] Yes, because I feel, it's my feeling that the, Europe, and I would say also the American society are – it owes a lot to the people that submitted during the colonial times. I mean the wealth of Europe comes from sugar, cotton, from the colonies. And from this wealth they began the industrial world. So they really owe a lot to the colonized people. And they have to pay their debts to them.
[AS] The wide range of your writing is unclassifiable, but is there some unifying purpose in why you write?
[J-MGLC] Mainly would be to be true to myself, to express myself in the most accurate way. I feel that the writer is just a kind of witness of what is happening. A writer is not a prophet, is not a philosopher, he's just someone who is witness to what is around him. And so writing is a way to … it's the best way to testify, to be a witness.
[AS] And for those who are unfamiliar with your work, would you suggest any particular starting points?
[J-MGLC] Uh, no. I would not dare to do that. I mean reading is a free practice. You have to, you have to be led by not haphazard, but to be led by your own feelings. I think the readers are free to begin by the books where they want to. They don't have to be led in their, in their reading.
[AS] That's a very appealing answer, thank you. Ah, last question. The Prize will bring some further notoriety. Is there a particular message you think you might use that notoriety to spread?
[J-MGLC] Well, let me think about that! It's a … in a way it's a very intimidating situation, because I'm not familiar … it's not my habit to give messages, and to express thoughts. I would say, rather, I would prefer to be read, and to, that my writings might inspire some people. I, anyway, there is of course the speech I have to deliver to the Nobel Academy, so maybe I will find some, some messages to express at that time.
[AS] So we will wait for December.
[AS] Okay. Well, we will look forward to seeing you in Stockholm in due course, but thank you very much indeed.
[J-MGLC] Thank you very much indeed.
[AS] And congratulations.
[J-MGLC] Bye bye.
[AS] Bye bye.
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