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Nobel Prize 2014
Topic Started: Sep 3 2014, 11:26 PM (7,365 Views)
Heteronym
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Nobel prize winner Patrick Modiano hailed as modern Marcel Proust

Wait, I thought the modern Proust was that Scandinavian guy who wrote about his own life-world?
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Cleanthes
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One more quote, this time from Modiano's Dora Bruder:

Among the women that [14 years old] Dora could have met in Tourelles, there were those who the Germans called "the friends of the Jews": a dozen French women of "Aryan" blood who had found the courage, in June, during the first day in which Jews had to wear the yellow star on their clothes, to also wear it in solidarity, but in a fanciful and insolent manner, according to the occupation authorities. One of them hung the yellow star from the neck of her dog. Another one had embroidered on it: PAPOD. Another, JENNY. Another had pinned seven stars to her belt, each containing a letter of the word VICTORY. All were arrested on the street and taken to the nearest police station. Then sent to a preventive prison. Then to Tourelles. Then, on August 13, to the Drancy camp. The "friends of the Jews" belonged to the following professions: typists. Shop assistant at a stationery store. Newsgirl. Housewife. Post Office Employee. Students.

I'll never know how Dora spent her days at the time, where she was hiding, who accompanied her during the first months of her first flight and during the weeks of spring when she escaped again. It's her secret. A modest and precious secret which executioners, Nazi ordinances, the so called occupation authorities, sordid prisons, History itself, Time -all the things that soil, debase and destroy us- haven't been able to snatch away from her.
Edited by Cleanthes, Oct 9 2014, 08:55 PM.
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Heteronym
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Cleanthes, your efforts are to be praised for trying to turn the tide of contempt here, but tell me something: when are you going to post a quote that has anything that identifies it as an actual literary text? You know, a quote with interesting metaphors and similes, extraordinary vocabulary, unpredictable combination of words, strange turn of phrases, a perceptible skewed way of looking at the world? All those pesky things that have marvelled me in the Nabokov, Saramago, Gass, Theroux, Barth, Lobo Antunes I've read this year. Is Modiano really the bland writer you're making him look to be? Is he really just another one of those worthless modern writers who's sneaked straightforward journalistic prose into Literature and turned it into newspaper columns, the way teachers of Creative Writing like it?
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Cleanthes
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Heteronym, I completely see your point. I've felt the same way about some former content-rich but prose-average winners like Coetzee. Most of us here and at the WWLF have many common favorite writers that we'd like to see receive the Nobel. As a matter of fact, Modiano was not among my preferred novelists to win the prize. My choices (as posted at our sister site) have some overlap with yours:
Salman Rushdie, Milan Kundera, Antonio Lobo Antunes, Amin Maalouf, Olga Tokarczuk, Pascal Quignard, Robert Coover and Cynthia Ozick.

That much being said, I was just trying to address some claims about Modiano being an obscure writer outside of France or an uninteresting one. I haven't read that much of his work, about half a dozen short novels, and, based on that limited knowledge, I attempted to provide some clues about what makes him an interesting writer, how to crack the mysteries of a couple of his books, and some little samples of what his writing is like (mediocrely translated by yours truly). At the risk of being too bold, let me say that brilliant prose is not everything: Kafka's style is pretty sober, and yet, some consider him the greatest writer of the 20th. Century.

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oneofmurphysbiscuits
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Kafka is both comedy and lack of affect in the comedy (Gregor) and all but inexplicable exigency. home and inwardness, for these last you only need look to Josephine The Singer,or the Mousefolk, which is one of the strangest and most heart rending stories that i've ever read. I don't read Kafka's prose as sober, rather for me it is reeling, bruising, thoroughly situated; both within and without my reach as a human being. In comparison, what Hetero points to is well crafted reportage, Therein lies the trouble with persuasion by means of illustration when it doesn't persuade. It's all de gustibus
Edited by oneofmurphysbiscuits, Oct 10 2014, 12:48 PM.
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Cleanthes
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OOMB, insightful and accurate as usual. Interestingly enough, the very first comment on the French literary forum Babelio about Dora Bruder (the book from which that little excerpt of 'well crafted reportage' came from) ends this way:

One can be closed to this style, have the feeling that Modiano repeats himself, rewrites over and over the same story, his story. Of course. But, as far as I'm concerned, it crushes me every time, or almost every time. Oh well, de gustibus....

On peut-etre hermetique a ce style, avoir le sentiment que Modiano se repete, reecrit sans cesse la meme histoire, son histoire. Certainement. Mais pourtant moi, il me chavire a chaque fois ou presque. Ha, les gouts et les couleurs …
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Heteronym
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Cleanthes
Oct 10 2014, 11:22 AM
At the risk of being too bold, let me say that brilliant prose is not everything: Kafka's style is pretty sober, and yet, some consider him the greatest writer of the 20th. Century.

One of those people is me :)

But I was exactly thinking of Kafka when I added "skewed way of looking at the world." That for me is Kafka: he commands such a vision that his quite elementary prose transforms the ordinary into something mysterious, bizarre, scary and awe-inspiring. Kundera in one of his non-fics even chastises translators for "improving" his ordinary verbs.
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nnyhav
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some find the prize insufficiently political: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/10/literature-is-liberalism/

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Tudwell
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Heteronym
Oct 10 2014, 04:00 AM
Cleanthes, your efforts are to be praised for trying to turn the tide of contempt here, but tell me something: when are you going to post a quote that has anything that identifies it as an actual literary text? You know, a quote with interesting metaphors and similes, extraordinary vocabulary, unpredictable combination of words, strange turn of phrases, a perceptible skewed way of looking at the world? All those pesky things that have marvelled me in the Nabokov, Saramago, Gass, Theroux, Barth, Lobo Antunes I've read this year. Is Modiano really the bland writer you're making him look to be? Is he really just another one of those worthless modern writers who's sneaked straightforward journalistic prose into Literature and turned it into newspaper columns, the way teachers of Creative Writing like it?
As I'm currently reading Modiano's Dora Bruder and find it simply stunning so far, I feel compelled to respond that literature is written for many different purposes, with many different styles. Not everything's gonna be a big post-modern showboat, nor should everything be.

I will say, however, that in isolation the quotes from Cleanthes aren't terribly impressive. But that's because they lack context. So far, in the one work of Modiano's that I've encountered, what might seem to be bland, uninteresting prose has a cumulative effect that dominates the atmosphere of the novel (or whatever Dora Bruder is) and informs every detail in an absolutely masterful way that only the most precise of minimalist writers can do. If Hemingway, for example, is not an egregious choice for the Nobel, then neither should Modiano be. (And so far I'm enjoying DB far more than anything from ol' Papa.)
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Cleanthes
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Very good points, Tudwell. In my defense, I read Modiano many years ago, and the bits I quoted were the ones that stuck in my memory, and memories are capricious things. For example, all I remember of Quo Vadis are the Petronius Arbiter parts.

In any case, this year's Nobel prize has done something good: it brought to the attention of many readers a very interesting writer. At our sister site (the World Wrestling Literature Forum) most of the regulars who gave Modiano a chance have been pleasantly surprised. And one of the good things about Modiano is that even if all his books resemble each other a little bit, they're different enough to reward an extensive exploration of his oeuvre.
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Tudwell
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Cleanthes
Oct 30 2014, 11:07 AM
Very good points, Tudwell. In my defense, I read Modiano many years ago, and the bits I quoted were the ones that stuck in my memory, and memories are capricious things. For example, all I remember of Quo Vadis are the Petronius Arbiter parts.

In any case, this year's Nobel prize has done something good: it brought to the attention of many readers a very interesting writer. At our sister site (the World Wrestling Literature Forum) most of the regulars who gave Modiano a chance have been pleasantly surprised. And one of the good things about Modiano is that even if all his books resemble each other a little bit, they're different enough to reward an extensive exploration of his oeuvre.
No need to defend yourself. I'm glad you posted some stuff to try to show others the quality of Modiano's work. I just know from personal experience that most quotes, lacking context, don't leave much of an impact on me, which might explain why some people can't see the beauty in those words that you or I see. (Or we simply have different tastes.)
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