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Prix Nobel de littérature: Attention, une polémique peut en cacher une autre (From one truth-bender to another: Can half-true stories make great literature ?)

Posté le samedi 22 octobre 2016 par jc durbant


Attention: une polémique peut en cacher une autre !

En ces temps étranges de beurre et d’argent du beurre …

Où en politique comme en littérature …

Les beaux sentiments finissent par tenir lieu de vérité ou de réalité ..

Qui se souvient du premier prix Nobel décerné l’an dernier à une journaliste …

Qui non contente de « littérariser » les témoignages qui font la valeur documentaire de ses livres …

Va jusqu’à les réécrire au fur et à mesure des nouvelles éditions ?

jc durbant @ 23:24
Catégorie(s): Mémé Bookine etUn peu d'histoire

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Une réponse à “Prix Nobel de littérature: Attention, une polémique peut en cacher une autre (From one truth-bender to another: Can half-true stories make great literature ?)”

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    jc durbant:

    Morceaux choisis:

    C’est avec les beaux sentiments qu’on fait de la mauvaise littérature.

    André Gide

    You can have your cake and eat it too.

    Bob Dylan

    When Gide notes this in his Journal on 2 September 1940, he is not implying, inversely, that “bad feelings” constitute a sufficient condition for producing “good literature”; he is pointing out that there is a danger inherent in noble sentiment when it comes to writing. As Gide explains in the same diary passage, “good intentions often make for the worst art and . . . the artist runs the risk of damaging his art by wanting it to be edifying.” Gide goes on to mention a famous poem that he personally finds mediocre—Charles Péguy’s “Eve”—and posits that the many readers admiring it “remove themselves from the realm of art and place themselves in a completely different vantage point.” Similarly, the altruistic ideas increasingly put forth in Le Clézio’s fiction—the defense of children, women, and autochthonous cultures, the necessity of establishing a dialogue with different peoples, the virtues of multiculturalism, the importance of ecology, and even the more private experience of an “extase matérielle” (the “material ecstasy” described in his important, homonymous, essay collection of 1967) that an individual can acquire by getting beyond self-consciousness and fully immersing his senses in the very matter of the natural world—tend to diminish proportionately other qualities essential to literature as an art form, notably the aesthetics of style and the exploration, not the mere naming or categorical manipulation, of emotions. Gide’s admonition looms over Le Clézio’s recent fiction, notably his latest novel, Ritournelle de la faim (2008); and this impression can only be reinforced by another comparison with Modiano, whose territory Le Clézio has entered with this new book, as it were. Le Clézio had already built a plot around a Jewish woman surviving during the Occupation. That book, Wandering Star, published in French in 1992 and initially set in Le Clézio’s hometown of Nice, also tellingly—that is, somewhat artificially—employs a Palestinian woman as the other main character. The new novel, Ritournelle de la faim, evokes the arrest of Paris Jews, among several other events concerning the intersecting lives of a few Parisians; and the story mostly takes place in the French capital, the setting of much of Modiano’s fiction as well. (…) Excepting Soliman’s affection for his niece and the love between her and Feld, most of the relationships among these characters are less moving than merely symbolic of suffering, hypocrisy, indifference, treachery, or deceit, the latter especially aimed at the young and innocent, like Ethel, or at members of a defenseless minority group, here the Jews even as, in earlier books, Palestinians, Africans, and remote Amerindian tribes (two of whom, the Emberas and the Waunanas, the author came to know during long sojourns in Panama in the early 1970s), were given this role. A sort of abstract or intellectual compassion is created: our empathy is based as much on what we already know about the period as on the feelings embodied in the plot itself. Only the best-known historical events, however tragic or gruesome, form the backdrop: the Exposition Coloniale, the rise of anti-Semitic sentiment in France in the 1930s, the specters of notorious politicians, the gloomy spectacle of fleeing civilians as the German army invades northern France at the onset of the Second World War, and, finally, the roundup of Jews at the Vél d’Hiv before their deportation to the extermination camps. In this kind of historical fiction, the novelist could have drawn on more obscure, equally revealing events that would have given his book originality. Instead, he exhibits all the standard clichés of this dismal period as his heroine, Ethel, shines forth virtuously. Le Clézio’s storytelling prowess cannot conceal an array of mostly one-dimensional characters and a schematic plot enabling predictable responses to be given to predictable, if essential, questions: in a word, the novel is edifying in the sense that Gide warned of. When I was writing (about Wandering Star) in this journal a decade ago, I observed that Le Clézio could get beyond ideological considerations and put his finger on suffering. Here the conventional narrative structure above all highlights a shifting series of negative and positive acts, each associated with a moral idea, alongside a few daydreams, some pleasantly farfetched like Soliman’s vision of an Indian pavilion in a tropical garden stuck in the middle of the then-suburbs of the City of Light, others sinister like anti-Semitism or Ethel’s father’s desperate search for money, which implies stealing from his own daughter. In contrast, Modiano’s novels about the same period emphasize human behavior as ambiguous and ungraspable: no ideas with easily definable contours emerge; a powerful sentiment of existential unease prevails.

    John Taylor

    No award, with the exception of the Nobel for Peace, excites as much a priori lobbying and speculation, and post-hoc controversy, as the Nobel Prize for Literature. While some decisions, like last year’s honoring of Alice Munro, have been embraced, certain past selections have spurred political fulmination ( e.g., Knut Hamsun, Mo Yan) and others, plain old-fashioned head-scratching. The inscrutable selection committee is famous for its surprises: who would have banked on the acerbic Austrian, Elfriede Jelinek? And there is banking involved, of a sort. According to the Wall Street Journal of October 7th (two days prior to the 2014 announcement) the British betting corporation Ladbrokes was offering odds of 12/1 on Philip Roth, 25/1 on Bob Dylan (a weird perennial favorite) and, sharing the lead around 4/1, Haruki Murakami and Kenyan poet Ngugi Wa Thiong’o. But hey, was there a leak in the famous Stockholm security system? Apparently the name of Patrick Modiano, which had been buried at 100/1, shot up in the final few days to 10/1! One thing is clear: Nobel readers have a penchant for French writers. In Literature prizes granted since 1901, France leads the inkstained pack with fifteen winners. (The US comes next with 11. Smallish Sweden has eight, understandably: home-team advantage.) The first winner, in 1901, was French poet Sully Prudhomme. Then came the likes of Gide, Mauriac, Sartre, Camus, le Clezio, etc etc… and now– I was in Massachusetts, half-listening to a French radio station through the Internet, when the proud news interrupted the music, followed by a disarming first reaction clip from the startled winner: ‘C’est bizarre!’ I smiled. My sentiments exactly. At least he’s honest. I haven’t read all of Modiano’s books, the autobiographical novels, stories, and an actual autobiography, and one reason is that, as he himself has said, they all bear considerable resemblance to one another, both in the famous Modiano l’heure bleue atmosphere, in their rudimentary narrative structure, and in their subject matter. Someone is seeking a shadowy remembered figure through the streets of Paris, through certain layers of time: the Occupation, the chaotic Sixties. A man seeks a woman. A child, his father. Or brother. Modiano himself explained in an interview that when he has finished one novel, it seems to reproach him: what that novel wanted to express was not expressed well enough, and so he must commence another, to try to get closer to the essence. He also mentioned that he never re-reads his past work. QED. There is something addictive about a Modiano! The simple sentences pull one in; the nostalgia of loss and pain of youth and the hunt for a vague, romantic Other are easy to relate to. And there’s always the hope of salvation through a chance encounter in a café. His novels sell out like hot brioche in France; they make perfect Metro reading. (That’s not a put-down. In the Metro everyone packs a good read.) They distill something quintessentially French: espresso and heartache, idealism and betrayal and Gauloise smoke, self-absorption and the mist rising from the Seine. But will these books travel, as the oenophiles ask about wines? The question seems justified by Alfred Nobel’s stipulation that the prize go to “the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.” Enigmatic as that is, surely it implies a high degree of relevance beyond one country’s history and culture. Was Milan Kundera never considered? Compared to previous years, the committee’s statement regarding the choice of Modiano sounds oddly elliptical: “for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation.” Modiano himself commented on this in an interview a few days later, saying, in his halting, cautious and also elliptical way, that his writing is in fact primarily about forgetting, about the omnipresence of forgetting. ‘Memory succeeds in piercing our forgetting–that mass of forgetting. They should have recognized (my work as) ‘the art of forgetting.’ An interesting correction. His oeuvre may or may not be finally judged as slight and repetitive but, given that interesting correction, I’ll be reading Modiano again.

    Kai Maristed

    American journalists found their own reasons to celebrate her win. She was a woman writing about the effect of world events on ordinary people; she was an outspoken advocate for peace and respect for the environment. Since the Nobel Prize goes almost exclusively to novelists and poets, writers working in the sprawling, ill-defined world of “nonfiction” welcomed Alexievich’s win as an acknowledgment that even true stories can make great literature. There was some confusion, however, about the lineaments of Alexievich’s chosen genre. The Western press described her as an “investigative journalist” and “contemporary historian,” accepting her work as accurate documentation of Soviet and post-Soviet reality. In interviews, however, Alexievich has stressed the literary nature of her intentions and methods, and she rejects the title of “reporter.” Her work opts for subjective recollection over hard evidence; she does not attempt to confirm any of her witnesses’ accounts, and she chooses her stories for their narrative power, not as representative samples. Her newly translated book Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets bears no resemblance to “investigative journalism.” There is another, less obvious layer of ambiguity to Alexievich’s work and its reception. Though she has discussed her artistic approach in interviews, her books do not include a clear explanation of her methods. The casual reader can only guess at the extent to which she has pruned her interviews. It’s no surprise that most readers have accepted Secondhand Time as historically accurate. The American marketing encourages such an interpretation: The book is labeled as “oral history.” But as I discovered from examining earlier versions of the same stories that have not been translated into English, Alexievich treats her interviews not as fixed historical documents, but as raw material for her own artistic and political project. Her extensive editing—not only for clarity or focus, but to reshape meaning—brings Secondhand Time out of the realm of strictly factual writing. And by seeking to straddle both literature and history, Alexievich ultimately succeeds at neither. (…) Noticeably absent from Secondhand Time is the cynicism of the late Soviet era. By the 1970s, many Soviet citizens talked the Soviet talk in public but traded Brezhnev jokes at home. While some political dissidents were full-blooded martyrs, others used samizdat to earn money or win Western support. Yet the simple story of dissident heroes, tragic victims, conformists, and villains remains popular in the Western press. This helps account for the almost reflexive rapture with which many critics greeted Secondhand Time. It also helps explain Alexievich’s Nobel. Read as a work of literature, however, the book feels repetitive and heavy-handed, reinforcing conventional wisdom about the Soviet and post-Soviet world while providing few new insights. (…) In Russian, Alexievich’s chosen genre is sometimes called “documentary literature”: an artistic rendering of real events, with a degree of poetic license. The idea is not new, in Russia or elsewhere. Another Nobel laureate, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, is an obvious point of comparison, as is Alexievich’s mentor, the Belarusian writer Ales Adamovich, who used historical documents as sources for his artistic depictions of World War II. But Alexievich goes unusually far in eliminating narrative trappings and relying almost exclusively on witness testimony that floats free of context. Alexievich has the unusual habit of continuing to rewrite her books after they have been published, releasing them in new editions. She says this is because she sees them as living documents, and because she goes back to re-interview her subjects over the years. But sometimes she rewrites passages in ways that are primarily aesthetic—even at the cost of creating discrepancies—or that seem to reflect her evolving political values. I was recently surprised to read an article by one of Alexievich’s French translators, Galia Ackerman, analyzing some of these revisions. Ackerman and her co-author, Frédérick Lemarchand, found phrases that had migrated from one person’s testimony to another’s, or from Alexievich’s reflections to those of an interview subject. An interview is used to support one message in one work and another in a second, either through editing or by removing context. Such changes point to the danger of understanding Alexievich’s “voices” as historical testimony, or interpreting them as evidence of a single, immutable truth. (…) As such alterations make clear, Alexievich’s apparent reliance on other people’s voices doesn’t mean that she has removed herself from her books; she has only made herself less visible. She edits, reworks, and rearranges her interview texts, cleansing them of any strangeness that doesn’t serve her purposes. In doing so, she reduces the historical value of her work, effaces the texture of individual character, and eliminates the rhythm on which drama depends. It’s hard to get through Secondhand Time, not only because the subject matter is so painful, but because the testimonies are monotonous. As I read the book, I often wished that I could hear how Alexievich’s witnesses really sounded: their regional accents, their tone of voice, the pacing of their speech. I longed for the idiosyncrasies, false notes, and digressions of an actual interview. (…) Alexievich bends her subjects into familiar literary, mythological, or historical types, with little regard for social context or specificity. Poets, playwrights, and novelists are free to pick and choose from the material provided by the real world, and embellish and invent as they please. Their work is judged on its success in conveying a deeper, more abstract kind of truth—what in Russian is called istina, as opposed to pravda, the literal truth, the facts. Literary nonfiction writers, who search for deep truths while remaining faithful to facts, have obligations to both istina and pravda. They shape chaotic reality into compelling narrative, but they aren’t supposed to invent, or to edit so heavily that their subjects become unrecognizable. In exchange for this fidelity, nonfiction writers receive the trust of the reader, who accepts the improbable or poorly written simply because it is true. Without the imprimatur of nonfiction, it is unlikely that Alexievich’s work would have won so much praise around the world. Rather than being taken as objective confirmation of the awfulness of the Soviet Union and Russia, the book might have been interpreted as an expression of the views of one particular writer. Readers would have been more skeptical about Alexievich’s shocking stories and less tolerant of her lack of nuance. Under scrutiny, Secondhand Time falls short as both fact and art.

    Sophie Pinkham

    A force de manier, on finit par remanier – seul le naïf pourra croire à un simple et inoffensif « découpage » à la lecture de la Fin de l’homme rouge. C’est bien de libre réécriture dont il s’agit, et d’une pratique qui prend le risque du révisionnisme le plus classique.(…) L’homo sovieticus dont elle veut tirer le portrait, qui la fascine tant – elle et ses lecteurs occidentaux –, n’est au départ qu’un bon mot, une blague potache – née, semble-t-il, dans l’émigration des années 1960 et faite pour railler les prétentions du régime soviétique à vouloir créer un homme nouveau. Quand l’auteur de la Fin de l’homme rouge prend l’affaire au sérieux, elle ne fait que perpétuer, de manière paradoxale, un mythe soviétique, en adoptant une terminologie qui tient littéralement de la caricature. La situation est digne des meilleurs films comiques de l’âge d’or du cinéma soviétique (d’ailleurs totalement absents du livre, alors même qu’aujourd’hui encore, en Russie, ils constituent un univers référentiel très important) !

    Yoann Barbereau

    Pour conclure, on se pose la question de savoir si des témoignages tirés de l’histoire soviétique et librement réécrits, coupés, arrangés et placés hors contexte historique et temporel peuvent être livrés et reçus comme tels. Matière première pour la fiction ou document historique ? Certes, Svetlana Alexievitch elle-même n’insiste pas sur le côté documentaire de son œuvre, en la qualifiant de « romans de voix », mais le fait même d’indiquer les noms, l’âge, la fonction de chaque personne interrogée entretient la confusion chez le lecteur par la mise en œuvre d’une esthétique du témoignage. Mais une esthétique du témoignage est-elle possible sans éthique du témoignage ? On est en droit de poser la question suivante : si les livres d’Alexievitch n’avaient pas ces mentions de noms de témoins et si elle les avait présentés comme de la fiction (en somme, la littérature de fiction est le plus souvent inspirée des histoires réelles), quelle aurait été la réception de cette œuvre ? Aurions-nous eu le même engouement que provoque chez le lecteur le sentiment de vérité ? Serions-nous bouleversés par ces histoires dont beaucoup nous seraient parues, du coup, incroyables ? Le récit prend ici son caractère d’authenticité et de vérité qui exerce un travail émotionnel sur celui qui le reçoit. C’est la fonction de la télé-réalité et de l’exposition généralisée du « vrai malheur » de « vrais gens » qui a gagné les médias depuis quelques années et qui substitue à la critique politique des problèmes sociaux un espace intime dominé par les affects et le psychisme. L’exemple de l’œuvre d’Alexievitch et de sa réception nous montrent à la fois les enjeux et les limites d’une littérature de témoignage qui ne serait pas fermement enracinée dans une perspective critique et historique ainsi que les limites d’une « dissidence » ou d’une « discordance » qui ne serait pas restituée avec précision dans son contexte historique. Le témoignage a, à coup sûr, sa place dans l’œuvre littéraire, d’autant plus que depuis la Shoah et la Seconde Guerre mondiale, le rapport entre le témoignage et l’histoire est repensé à grands frais. Mais la responsabilité du témoin face à la mémoire collective engage tout autant l’acteur que le narrateur, surtout lorsqu’il s’agit de deux personnes différentes. François Dosse insiste sur l’articulation nécessaire du témoignage, mémoire irremplaçable mais insuffisante, et du discours de la socio-histoire, travail indispensable d’analyse explicative et compréhensive. Si, pour reprendre la formule chère à Paul Ricœur, le témoignage a d’autant plus sa place dans la littérature que les générations présentes entretiennent une dette envers le passé (et envers le futur avec l’avenir contaminé de Tchernobyl), ce qui conduit à donner la parole aux « sans parole », aux vaincus de l’histoire, il implique en retour de redoubler de précaution face aux usages de la mémoire, mémoire aveugle, prisonnière d’imaginaires sociaux et historiques particuliers que le narrateur ne saurait faire passer pour des universaux. En ce sens, on devrait évaluer l’œuvre de Svetlana Alexievitch, qui appartient à un genre littéraire particulier basé sur une construction avec une très forte charge émotionnelle où les témoins sont transformés en porteurs « types » de messages idéologiques, avec des critères littéraires, plutôt que d’y chercher des vérités documentées comme l’a trop souvent fait la presse française et internationale.

    Galia Ackerman  et Frédérick Lemarchand

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