For Le Clezio, writing is an ‘essential pleasure’

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For Le Clezio, writing is an ‘essential pleasure’


Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio

The perception that good writers do not make good speakers is false - at least when it comes to French writer Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio, the 2008 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. In response to every question he fielded at a recent press conference, he drew from his past to provide background and examples to help people understand where he’s coming from.

Le Clezio came to Korea for the 2011 Seoul International Forum for Literature. He was invited to give a keynote speech on the opening day of the three day forum last Tuesday.

Le Clezio first came to Korea in 2001. He said he has visited so many times that he can’t count them all and taught for two semesters at Ewha Womans University in 2007 and 2008.

Le Clezio met the press on May 23 at Kyobo Bookstore and again with the Korea JoongAng Daily last Wednesday to share his thoughts on literature in a broader context and his experience writing.


Q. Tell me what you think about the main theme of the forum.

A. The subject the forum is going to talk about - the globalizing world and the human community - has been talked about frequently at many other forums as well worldwide. However, it is still important it is discussed over and over again, since literature is something that travels across national borders. Of course, there is a limit, since the original words of literature are written in a (native) language. But as long as they deal with factors and ideas that all human beings can sympathize with, they will carry their power.

I heard this story, if you take a picture of all the human races and show 20 pictures every second, people cannot tell who’s Asian and who’s African and who’s European. Eventually, all the faces appearing look the same. This shows that there is something universally inherent in humans. What literature needs to do is find that inherent universal thing in humankind and let more people know about it.

Is that what you pursue in your literary works? As you mentioned, literature is written in a native language, meaning it contains a writer’s point of view.

Of course, the writer’s own experience will be shown in the works. People might question how the events happening in one country and how one person thinks of that event can become universal.

I think, no matter where it happens and what happens, if the feeling one person has in that country can be felt (by someone) else from a different country, there the feeling itself becomes universal. You don’t need to know well about whom the writer is and what experiences the writer has had personally. Take a look at works by William Shakespeare. Not that many people know when he was alive, or where he lived, but people still read his pieces and sympathize with them. They even create many adaptations to find their own universal value within his literary works.

At the same time, some writers incorporate local sentiments within their pieces to promote their culture to larger audiences. Other writers incorporate the cultural sentiments they have been living with and are exposed to.

Of course, writers would use the places, time period or any background set that suits them in their creative works. And that’s what makes the characteristic of each writer. However, there is no answer to how to make that character. Would a novel heavily based on the local culture always fail to induce sympathy from the global audience? No.

But what if one just tries to include the local cultural element within the novel just because (a previous book set in the same culture) was a hit before? In this case, the chance of failure is much higher, since it is not really what naturally came from the writer. I’ll say that writing genuinely is the answer to this question. There’s no recipe for good writing. You just write from your heart.

How would you describe yourself as a writer?

I write because I like it. It’s an egocentric pleasure. I like to write because it’s like living (the same life) twice. I like very much to relive what I did in the day again at night as I write it down. The pleasure is essential to me. I also find pleasure in reading. It gives me knowledge and it gives me explanations on who I am. I particularly enjoy reading poetry, because the genre almost has no rules. It’s something like a cloud. If you don’t understand the wording in the poetry sometimes, then you just reflect your experience onto it, and it becomes understandable

So it sounds like you always enjoyed writing.

For a long time I thought my life would have been better if I was a mariner. But that’s just imagination because I will always live as a writer. When I was around 15-years-old, writing novels was considered fashionable in my school. I draw cartoons and caricatures and some of the characters were of my teachers. People liked them very much. Then when I was in high school, I thought “I have to be more serious,” so I wrote poetry.

Thinking that it was a lonely job to write poetry, I wrote (poems) with several different voices and asked fellow students at school to read them together, like an orchestra performance. But the result was poor because it was impossible to understand all these different words at the same time. Then I tired writing detective novels, which were never published, and then I wrote my first novel that was published and I kept going. (His first book, “The Interrogation,” was published in 1963.)

You are known as a Korea-friendly writer. How does it feel to be back in Korea again?

It’s been two years since the last time I was here. The first thing I can acknowledge is that Korea seems to have recovered from the recent financial crisis. I, of course, can see that commodity prices have gone up tremendously compared to the time when I was here last, but I think the situation is better than in the United States. I currently live in New Mexico, and I see many people try not to spend to run a tighter household economy. However, in Korea I was surprised to see that many would willingly open their wallets to buy things. It seems that the younger generation sees this crisis very positively, and that is reflected in the Korean literary landscape as well.

Until recently, writers in Korean society played the role of intellectuals. But lately, their status has diminished with the rise of many other media platforms. What’s your opinion on that?

The same thing is happening in France as well. It’s called Telecracy. TV rules everything. The image and sound sent out by media is influencing human culture. The human is actually controlled by those images. Writers are no longer intellectuals. Writers need to proceed in a different direction now to show what’s right and what’s wrong (in society).

Social networking services (SNS) now connect the world. What impact will this have on humankind?

Thanks to SNS, people all over the world can communicate more often. As we’ve witnessed in the recent democratization movements in countries in the Middle East and North Africa, it (SNS) is waking up everyone who is eager to acknowledge what’s happening around the world. They get angry at injustice, dictatorship, and crimes against humanity. Everyone becomes a watchdog and the internet and SNS help make it possible. Koreans talk to Argentineans, and Africans talk to Japanese directly. Since the world is becoming united as they communicate with each other by language, I think I’m very positive about this new trend we’ve seen lately.

You are very much into Korean literature. Tell us about your favorites.

I like books from Hwang Sok-yong. And recently I read short stories of a young female writer. One of them, Kim Ae-ran; she knows how to write humorously, in her story “Run, Dad!” I think the new generation of writers seems to be very good at it. Also, Han Gang is a very good writer. She is very close to European writing, I believe, (because) she deals with her inner self, and the difficulties of communicating with others. Her works are very sensible, written with small hints.

You wrote a poem in 2001 on Unju Temple in South Jeolla, titled “Unju Temple, and an Autumn Rain.”

Yes, it was written in French and someone translated it. I wish I could write in Korean, but my Korean is not that good. I was struck by the place when I was there, (it was) so beautiful and peaceful. So I wanted to write that poem. That’s all. There’s just an intention of memorizing a good day in Unju temple.

Do you have any plans to collaborate with Korean writers?

Up to now, no. I wanted very much to do a film, especially on Jeju. I think it is a nice place to shoot a film. I look forward to writing, maybe with a Korean writer, a (script), and we’ll see if anyone can make a film out of it.

Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio

* Education: Institut d’etudes litteraires in Nice, France

* Works
“The Interrogation” (1963)
“The Book of Flights: An Adventure Story” (1969)
“The Prospector” (1985)
“Poisson d’or” (1997)

* Awards
- Prix Theophraste-Renaudot for “The Interrogation” (1963)
- Nobel Prize in Literature (2008)

By Lee Sun-min []

한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]

“한강·김애란, 새로운 목소리 … 한국문학 젊다”

노벨문학상 받은 대표적 친한파 작가 프랑스 르 클레지오

2008년 노벨문학상을 받은 프랑스의 소설가 르 클레지오(71·사진)는 대표적인 친한파(親韓派)다. 2007∼2008년 이화여대 통·번역대학원에서 학생들을 가르쳤고, 기회가 있을 때마다 한국문학을 칭찬해왔다. 그는 지금도 이화여대 석좌교수다.

그가 대산문화재단(이사장 신창재) 주관으로 26일까지 열리는 서울국제문학포럼(에 참석했다. 2년 만의 방한이다. 24일 만난 그는 소설가 한강·김애란 등을 거론하며 “한국문학은 젊다”고 했다. “건강해 보인다”고 하자 한국말로 “감사합니다”라고 답했다.

- 한국문학이 젊다고 했는데.

“과거 정치적인 경향에서 벗어나 다양한 소재의 작품이 쓰여지는 것 같다. 한국전쟁을 겪은 세대 작가와 달리 젊은 작가들은 한국인의 정체성을 알려야 한다는 사명감으로부터 자유로운 것 같다. 세대 격차, 가족 갈등 같은 보다 보편적인 얘기를 다룬다. 한국문학의 새로운 목소리다. 이런 작품들은 프랑스는 물론 미국에서도 큰 성공을 거둘 수 있다고 본다.”

- 한국작품의 프랑스어 번역에 문제는 없나.

“어려운 질문이다. 내가 한국어를 단어 몇 개 아는 수준이기 때문에 번역이 잘 됐는지 판단하기 어렵다. 이승우의 장편 『식물들의 사생활』을 보면 번역이 잘 된 것 같다. 쉽게 읽혔다.”

- 경험자로서, 노벨문학상 수상의 조건이 있다면.

“잘 모르겠다. 다만 영어는 물론 스웨덴어로도 여러 작품이 번역돼야 한다. 특히 심사위원들이 스웨덴어 번역을 선호하는 것 같다.”

- 늘 한국문학에 대해 좋은 얘기를 한다. 한국문학의 한계는 없나.

“(특정할 순 없지만)극단적인 국가주의나 민족주의를 담은 작품이 있는 것 같다. 영미권 국가나 그들의 문화가 지배적인 현상에 대한 거부감을 표출한다. 문학은 만남의 공간이지 정치적 도구로 쓰여서는 안 된다. 한데 국가주의와 애국심은 구별되어야 한다.”

- 어떻게 다른가.

“국가주의는 지역 당국과 주민간에 벌어지는 현상과 비슷하다. 주민들이 지역 축구팀을 응원하거나 당국의 정책을 지지할 때 자칫 국가주의로 흐를 소지가 있다. 반면 애국심은 부모와 자식간의 사랑 같은 절대적인 감정이다. 한국어의 ‘보람’이라는 단어는 한국어 어휘의 풍성함을 드러내는 사례다. 프랑스어나 영어에는 없는 단어다. 제주도에 갔다가 해녀를 만나 왜 이렇게 힘든 일을 하느냐고 물었더니 ‘자식들 고생시키지 않고, 해녀 같은 일을 시키지 않기 위해서’라고 답하더라. 나는 이런 어머니의 희생이 애국심 비슷한 감정이라고 생각한다.”

- 그런 애국심이 표출된 한국작품이 있나.

“황석영의 작품을 좋아하는데, 전쟁을 다룬 그의 작품 중 정치적이지 않으면서 애국심이 표현된 작품이 있다.”

- 친한파라는 평가에 대한 생각은.

“내 목표는 인류에 대해 더 잘 아는 것이다. 그 과정에서 한국에 대해 공부하고 있는 것이다.”

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