quinta-feira, 19 de agosto de 2010
JMG Le Clézio in Paris.
JMG Le Clézio, who in 2008 became the first French-language author in 23 years to win the Nobel prize in literature, had hoped to launch his career with English detective stories. After reading English at Bristol University in the late 1950s, he wrote mysteries while teaching at a school in Bath, and shifting furniture in a junk shop in Shepherd's Bush in London. But his stories were rejected by UK publishers. "So I decided to write in French," he says.
Back in his birthplace of Nice, "I was writing in the backrooms of cafés, waiting tables, in the months just before I was due to be drafted to Algeria," he recalls. "It was a rough, tough time in the story of France." His novel The Interrogation (1963), which he now calls "close to a joke", was about a dropout squatting in a holiday home on the French riviera, unsure whether he has deserted from the army or escaped from a lunatic asylum. Its menacing descriptions of the mundane verge on the hallucinatory. Published by Gallimard when Le Clézio was 23, it won the Prix Renaudot, and was hailed as a debut to match Camus's The Outsider. Its tall, diffident author, with his blond sweep and angular jaw, was dubbed French literature's Steve McQueen, and photographed by Henri Cartier-Bresson as the new icon of the Left Bank.
Yet Le Clézio, born in the south of France with a Breton surname, Mauritian grandparents, a French mother and a British father working as a doctor in Nigeria, spurned the nouveau roman label and has never identified with Paris. Now a dual Franco-Mauritian citizen, he says: "I've always felt very much from a mixed culture – mainly English and French, but also Nigerian, Thai, Mexican. Everything's had its influence on me."
For the Nobel committee, his work is a "critique of civilisations". He has written more than 40 books of fiction, memoir, children's literature and essays – from The Mexican Dream (1988) on the rupture of pre-Columbian cultures, to Ballaciner (2007) on his love of cinema. When the prize was announced, his books were already in 36 languages, though only a dozen had made it into English. His early fiction, from Fever (1965) to The Giants (1973), was formally experimental, plumbing states of fear, crisis and madness amid mechanised urban dystopias and ecological disaster. War (1970), sparked by Vietnam, was skewered by Martin Amis as a "torment to read". Yet his style grew more lyrical as he reflected on his wide travels. His mature fiction often draws on his childhood memories and family tree to trace Europe's encounters with other cultures. For one admirer, Adam Gopnik, while his lesser work can "sound like the narration of a Unicef documentary", his greatest conveys with a "classical poise" the "empathetic description of entire worlds".
We meet in Paris's Latin Quarter, where he and his wife Jémia have a rooftop apartment near his publishers. Le Clézio, who will be 70 this month, gives few interviews. He professes a dislike of "mundane things; you won't find me at festivals or jet-set parties". He spends time in Nice and on the west coast of Brittany, but feels most at home on the Indian ocean island of Mauritius, where a Breton ancestor settled after the French revolution en route to India. He lived in Mexico but, "when things got dangerous, especially for my children", moved across the border in 1998, and until recently taught French at a university in Albuquerque. He has three daughters: two with Jémia, his wife since 1975, and one with Marina, his Polish-French first wife whom he married in London in 1960.
His English is fluent. His ease in settling is, for him, a legacy of being Mauritian: "They all had to leave because there was no work. I don't feel limited to France." Settling in a new place, "you have to get rid of old habits, change your points of view, adapt. It gives you a kind of youth, which is good for writing."
The first English translation of his breakthrough novel Desert, by C Dickson, was published by Atlantic in February. First out 30 years ago, it won the French Academy's Grand Prix Paul-Morand and sold more than a million copies. Set in Western Sahara, Morocco and Marseilles, it depicts the defeat, in the early 20th century, of the nomadic Tuareg, the indigo-robed Blue Men, by the French. Yet in twin narratives implicitly linking colonial invasion with later emigration, a boy on an epic caravan journey across the Sahara in 1909 is counterpointed by a girl descendant in a Tangier shantytown who becomes a model in France. For the novelist Tahar Ben Jelloun, Desert is a "novel of the south", and Le Clézio a "humanist whose concern is with men and women treated badly by fate and by others. He never puts himself to the fore."
Desert was partly inspired by tales told him by Jémia, who was born in Morocco. "They spoke to me about the resistance of people to colonial power, and against Moroccan conquest and the modern world," he says. "That's why there are two epochs: the French and Spanish in northern Morocco; and what's survived of the spirit of resistance in a young girl, an immigrant in France." He also reused a story about resisting colonial rule, "The White Sheik", which he wrote aged 15 after a trip to French Morocco with his father. In Desert, the Tuareg wage a holy war against Christian invaders whose true religion is money. "They linked religion and rebellion, while on the other side, it was more about being rational, believing in firepower," he says. "When France sent machine guns and ships against people armed only with shotguns, they were preparing the situation today, when people want to get free of old rulers, and use religion to feed their anger. But it's not the same; there's been a misuse of anger by people who organise terrorism."
When he visited southern Morocco with his wife 10 years ago, he found bitterness. "There were landmines everywhere; they couldn't move as they used to. Being under Spain or Morocco has no importance . . . People survive without medicine, and enlighten their lives with poetry, music, feasts. When you come from a place where you can inherit such great values, it's impossible not to feel the need to return."
Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio was born in 1940, two months before France fell to Nazi Germany. Thinking the Germans would occupy Provence, his mother, Simone, drove with her two sons to Brittany. "As soon as we arrived, the Germans arrived, and sent us back." The south was occupied by fascist Italy in 1942, then by Germany. "I was very hungry at the end of the war, begging for food from the Americans, who were giving away white bread and chocolate. That's written in my memory."
War remains an obsession: "The cold and poverty, and a pessimistic feeling that everything's going to end. What interests me is the way young children and the very old, like my grandparents, live these moments." He has kept a German document "describing my family as a 'bunch of refugees'. Having been part of those people myself, I understand what it means to flee drama to find shelter." He depicted wartime Nice in his novel Wandering Star (1992), with its twin narratives of two girls – one a French-Jewish refugee to Israel, and the other a Palestinian in Nour Shams refugee camp. He had played with Jewish refugee children in Provence before the Nazi deportations. "You can't tell one side of the story; you have to tell everything: the killings by Germans in the south of France; and people dying in the Palestinian camp of hunger and disease."
Because of the war, Le Clézio did not meet his father, Raoul, till he was eight. Born in Mauritius, Raoul was British, thanks to the island turning pink on the map during the Napoleonic wars, though French planters kept their land and language. It was on the boat to Nigeria to meet him in 1948 that Le Clézio began to write – novels that, till recently, he had thought lost. "My mother kept them in a suitcase, and she died not long ago. I found everything."
His father practised near Onitsha, a Niger river port in Igboland. Le Clézio recalls it as "paradise so beautiful and full of freedom. At the same time, the authoritative Godfather was there, trying to bring up his unruly children." The brothers spent two years out of school, "playing with Igbo children, speaking some Igbo and pidgin English, and forgetting our French". Yet the boy in his novel Onitsha (1991) also witnesses a chain gang digging a swimming pool for the district officer as the Europeans eat lunch. "I was shocked by cruel scenes I saw of British rule in Nigeria," he says, "but at that age you don't feel the political meaning. If I'd grown up there, I'd have felt shame." The novel culminates in the Biafra war of 1967-70, when Igbo secession was crushed. For Le Clézio, who had returned to Nice with his family in 1950, it was a "sad moment. The war was organised by Europeans. I was shocked by the French presenting it as a war between Christians and Muslims. People were dying not for political antagonism, but oil." In L'Africain (2004), his haunting memoir which is as yet untranslated, he records his father's despair at the war, and strives to understand the man he had thought a stranger, "almost an enemy", but who may have passed on to his son his moral repulsion about colonialism.
Back in Nice aged 10, Le Clézio "knew nothing about school rules or shoes". His parents were first cousins, and "very closed in on themselves. I grew up in a Mauritian bubble in France . . . I had the feeling of not belonging, but still living with French culture. That gave me this awkwardness that's not solved till now." While his father loved English literature, "my grandmother hated the English, a tradition with the old French Mauritians. I couldn't choose sides." His forebears belonged to the sugar plantocracy, but lost their estate in a family feud and scattered, becoming judges or doctors. The Prospector (1985), which Atlantic will publish in the UK next year, depicts such a family loss in 1890s Mauritius as an expulsion from Eden, yet incorporates myths of the colonial encounter, from Robinson Crusoe to Shaka Zulu. Its tale of a dispossessed son, who finds his idyll with a woman descended from maroons (runaway slaves), links the quest for gold, and the crushing of canecutters' revolts, to the Somme and the war engulfing Europe. Le Clézio's descent from slave-holders shaped his scepticism towards the Enlightenment. "I can understand better than most the contradiction between the idealistic civilisation and religious morals of Europe and what they did with the slaves, because the root of the evil is only two generations away from me," he says. "Maybe this has fed my need to fight against the abuses of modern civilisation. Maybe it's inspired my novels – it's present in my mind."
He was spared the draft to Algeria by gaining entrance to university in Nice. "A good friend failed the exam I passed, and a few weeks later he was dead." The Algerian war over, he did four years' national service in Thailand and Mexico. He was expelled from Thailand, possibly for showing Mao's "little red book" to students at the Buddhist university ("I was very interested in Buddhism, and not at all in Mao's thoughts"), or for denouncing the sexual trafficking of children in a French newspaper interview.
In the early 1970s he spent three crucial years with Emberá and Waunana Indians in the forests of the Darien Gap. Chancing upon people in Panama City, "with their faces painted blue-black, but compelled to wear European dress", he asked to visit them. "I bought a dugout canoe with an outboard engine and followed. Panama was an interrogation of myself. I was close to where the west met the Indians in the 16th century. People retained their culture as a defence against the modern world; they kept their own truth. I wanted to understand this gentle, peaceful people. I'm not idealising them, but the society is so much better balanced than the one I came from. Being European, I'm not sure of the value of my culture, because I know what it's done." All that kept him from staying, growing his own plantain and rice, was malaria, he says. "I had no resistance to disease; I needed medicine." He left having to "relearn everything", and translated Mayan chronicles, convinced of the need for "inter-culturalism as well as a healthier approach to ecology. As he wrote in The Mexican Dream: "In destroying Amerindian cultures, the conqueror also destroyed a part of himself, a part he will undoubtedly never find again."
He used what he learned of Europe's encounter with the Amerindians to revisit his own origins. In the major, untranslated novel Révolutions (2003), a student's life in Nice, London and Mexico in the 1950s and 60s is interwoven with that of a Breton ancestor and an enslaved woman in 19th-century Mauritius. His latest novel, Ritournelle de la faim (2008), which he wrote while teaching in South Korea, looks back to his mother's generation of Mauritians in Paris between the wars. As he said on French TV: "To understand the hidden secret of the modern industrial world in which I find myself, I have to return to another world. That world is at once wartime Nice and the plantation – the sugar isles on which Europe's prosperity was built." In tracing such connections he has likened himself to a spider, "touching threads to see where the vibrations come from".
President Nicolas Sarkozy claimed the Nobel laureate embodied the "influence of France . . . in a globalised world". Yet in 2007 Le Clézio was among 44 authors who signed a manifesto in Le Monde calling for a "world literature in French", in which France was no longer the centre. He dedicated his Nobel to writers in many languages. Though he does not believe all cultures have an equal voice, "it's still better than it was when I was a child". Le Clézio once said he wrote "to try to know who I am". He views himself as a "product of western civilisation, which invented extraordinarily beautiful things, and at the same time behaved terribly. Maybe I'm blinded by those obsessions." He is at work on a novel, Alma Mater, about his family, "on the one hand, slave-buyers, and on the other, highly cultivated and good people". He looks bemused. "It's a contradiction I haven't solved."
Publicada por humano à(s) 01:21