Self-desired loneliness

Le Clezio and the myth of the reclusive artist


Self-desired loneliness
by Khodadad Rezakhani

I was reading a piece in Persian about J.M.G. Le Clezio, the winner of this year’s Nobel Literature Prize. If you allow me to go to a tangent at the beginning of an essay; it never fails to surprise, and delight me, to see how active Iranians, the ones living in Iran, are in pursuing international and global issues of art, literature, and basically what helps us continue to be human.

Considering the information blockade which prevails there, it is quite striking to read pieces in so many journals which show a deep understanding of issues beyond the borders of Iran, and even beyond the immediate concerns of Iranians. I have it from several sources, one particularly reliable, that Iran alone publishes more translated literature than its neighbouring Arab countries together. When I visit Iran each summer, I am amazed by the number of world literature tomes newly translated and published. You seldom find this even in the US.

Ok, after that long tangent, let me get back to our Nobel laureate. Yes, M. Le Clezio is dubbed, and even praised, for being a literary genius (recognised by the Nobel Committee), but even more for being reclusive, not in person, but in his art. The fact that his books have not been widely translated from French is presented as an advantage. Of course, in a society obsessed with things hidden and “exclusive”, I can understand why an Iranian would find this aspect of Le Clezio fascinating, but in general, it makes me think. Is it a good thing for an author to be reclusive, to not want people to see his work, and thus for example avoid having his work translated?

Art by nature, I would argue, is exhibitionist. Yes, some such as theatre or cinema are particularly exhibitionist, but why else would a painting have a signature? Is there an artist who does not want his work to be seen? The nature of art, the fact that it is the product of human leisure, also dictates its scope, its need to be out in the open and observed by the society. Monumental art is of course made to be seen (Eifel Tower, the Statue of Liberty), but even not so monumental art is made to be seen (Mona Lisa anyone?). So, how can one be an artist, particularly one who writes not only small, lonely novels, but pieces for newspapers, critics films, and writes about world affairs, would want not to be seen by more people?

In cases such as Sadegh Hedayat, you have the authors who destroy their remaining work before their own demise. This is then interpreted as they being so reclusive, so "alone in this wide world" that they had figured out that their pieces will not be "understood" by the rest of the world, and so they rather destroy it. Well, I am a huge Hedayat fan, and I don't think he was as dark and depressed as we like to make him, and I would guess that he was just embarrassed about his last works, knowing that they would not live to what he had put out before. This is then the height of exhibitionism, the need to be out there and seen, and to avoid being seen in the wrong light.

In the same sense, is M. Le Clezio’s lack of exposure a matter of self desired loneliness and wish to remain not so well-known, or is it a simple matter of not mattering? I am not here to criticise the Nobel Committee (which I would like to do, but this is not the place), but rather the value of the statements made in the critical pieces, praising his lack of exposure and somehow his more elite status or reach, and his availability not to the unwashed masses, but to the select few. If art was only for the select few, most of “us” would have never seen it. So, this new form of artist, the reclusive, non-exhibitionist kind, is a myth. I am sure M. Le Clezio would love to be translated into Persian!


more from Khodadad Rezakhani
Nazy Kaviani

Dear Khodadad:

by Nazy Kaviani on

I think writers write to be read. As social human beings, some writers may be shy, so they may not appreciate publicity, book-signings, and public appearances. They may even not like to be overtly praised and nominated and awarded. But I am sure of one thing--that which compells one to write, impatiently and urgently wishes those writings to be read. Therefore even if it's true that some people somehow "value" a writer's or an artist's reclusiveness about presenting his or her work as a good attribute, since the premise is not accurate the argument becomes moot. Thanks for provoking thought and I'm with you on your tangent all the way.

P.S. In which country, state, and neighborhood is your Christmas break spent? Is Jupiter on your radar?

Khodadad Rezakhani


by Khodadad Rezakhani on

Thanks to both of you for your comments. I think I have to clear somethings. First of all,the title of the article, which is a bit misleading, is not mine, but JJ's. So, I understand that some of your problems with my little note comes from this.

I was not trying to dimiss Le Clezio's nomination at all (I tend to like him) nor was I saying that he himself is trying to advocate his loneliness. My issue was more with the Iranian (and sometimes even global) fascination with the "reclusive, misunderstood" artist, an epitome of which presently seems to be Le Clezio.

So, Azarin's evidence that he is a popular and well-deserving artist is well taken and agreed upon. What I am saying that his fascinating reclusiveness is not per-choice, rather per-chance. It might speak to further issues, but I think that he, like all other artists, does desire exposure, and so our fascination with his reclusiveness and apparent absence from the wider "market" is most lilely not his desire.


Dear Mr.Rezakhani

by Jaleho on

First let me agree with you regarding your "tangent," that the Iranians inside Iran follow passionately international arts and politics these days. In fact, I think the "monthly" political and literary magazines in Iran in recent years are quite fantastic. One reason that the tradition has become so much richer is the absence of "junk" fun, which I don't think should be forecefully banned. But hey, one positive outcome is the richer engagement of people with more of what's available, which is more "science, politics, and literature," in addition to more "fun"  home-made cinema and native artist oriented stuff.

But, I am curious as where you read that the author enjoys self-desired loneliness as far as his arts is concerned? Cause I think that the author is precisely advocating the opposite! He laments that the literature is not all-inclusive, and argues for eradication of hunger and illeteracy so that not only people have the means to spend time on literature, but also be able to have the literacy to absorb it.


One thing I noticed in Iran, related to the "tangent" you were talking about, and the monthly magazines that are mushrooming inside Iran, is that they translate everything avidly. This is a good thing, but sometimes they do not have a good check on translators! I have compared many articles that are translated regularly from papers here, and sometimes because of massive amounts of translation, they are simply not refine or even miss the point completely!


I wonder if this particular author's desire to go to out of reach forests to appreciate arts in all its forms somehow got mistranslated into his desire for being reclusive or a kind of self-desired loneliness!

Azarin Sadegh

I agree and disagree!

by Azarin Sadegh on

Thank you so much for bringing up such an interesting subject!

I agree with many of your points: We (Iranians) read books. After all, Iran's rich literature and poetry cannot live and survive without the high number of people (ordinary and elite) who love and read books. Plus, I love Hedayat and I think his work is universal and he deserved the Nobel prize! (And if we had the Nobel Prize in Poetry, then Forough or Shamloo deserved it too!) 

But I disagree with you about the choice of Nobel Committee and Le Clezio: I think it has been established that he is a genius in the literary world. For his first novel, he won the Prix Renaudot and got nominated for the Prix Goncourt in 1963 when he was only 23! Since then, he has written around 30 books (fiction and non-fiction). He is a well-known author in France, and not just among a few. I've read that he was chosen by %13 of French readers (not elites) as the most important author in 1994. But I think the fact that he’s not very well known in other countries or not translated in other languages is irrelevant to the quality of his work. Having lived in France and being familiar with the French literature, I would guess that the root of the problem is the experimentalist aspect of his early works.

For example, one of my favorite writers is Maurice Blanchot. But I would never recommend his work to anyone who doesn’t read French. It is like reading a bad translation of Hafez. There are authors who write popular books, or write about popular subjects..then well, there are others who write about other subjects! For them, their passion in art is something private, and personal. ..Maybe Le Clezio is one of them! I wouldn't dismiss him just because his work is not sold like Harry Potter or translated in every language. Personally, I haven't read much of his work, only a novel, a short story and his Nobel speech, but I have loved his writing so far.... 

Voila the link to his speech: //

You might have missed this passage where he refers to Rumi as one of the greatest..:

" …But I was left with far more than nostalgia—with the certainty that literature could exist, even when it was worn away by convention and compromise, even if writers were incapable of changing the world. Something great and powerful, which surpassed them, which on occasion could enliven and transfigure them, and restore the sense of harmony with nature. Something new and very ancient at the same time, impalpable as the wind, ethereal as the clouds, infinite as the sea. It is this something which vibrates in the poetry of Jalal ad-Din Rumi, for example,…"

Or when he calls for more translation of literary works: "...Joint publication with the developing countries, the establishment of funds for lending libraries and bookmobiles, and, overall, greater attention to requests from and works in so-called minority languages—which are often clearly in the majority—would enable literature to continue to be this wonderful tool for self-knowledge,.."

Yes! I'm sure Le Clezio would love to be translated in Persian!

Thanks, Azarin

 PS: On a more personal note, the first time I heard about Le Clezio was in 1998 and through my sister and her art work based on Le clezio’s text! I guess from now on I can call my sister as one of the elitists..:-)