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!
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