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Le Clézio’s Spiritual Quest

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Thomas Trzyna

Le Clézio’s Spiritual Quest is the first English language book to address the development of this Nobel Prize winner’s spiritual ideas and the first book in any language to focus on his abiding interest in the philosophy of Parmenides, Sufism, and Meso-American religion. Le Clézio’s Spiritual Quest explains many puzzling features of his work from this philosophical perspective, including the relative absence of dialogue in his novels and short stories, his portrayals of mystical experiences, his intensely poetic prose, his treatment of time as the repetition of history, and his struggles to develop a persuasive ethical system. Le Clézio is not merely postcolonial, he creates a new kind of spiritual understanding of the cosmos by drawing on sources that have little connection to the main religious and spiritual traditions of the Western and Eastern worlds. Le Clézio’s Spiritual Quest offers an important supplement to French studies of his work, which have explored his works in the context of his French sources. It concludes with a consideration of artistic dilemmas posed by this Nobel Prize-winning author, whose experimental fiction merges poetry, essay, fiction, and philosophy in ways that are enlightening, fresh, and yet often challenging to read. This book guides undergraduate and graduate students of French literature as well as scholars of literature and contemporary ideas to reflect on Le Clézio as a representation of a new direction in philosophical and spiritual voyaging because of his remarkable independence from many contemporary debates and his choice to seek new foundations for human thought in dead religions and what many have considered marginal philosophical and religious traditions.

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Chapter 1: Spirituality and Moral Action 7

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Chapter 1: Spirituality and Moral Action Many readers have sensed a warm and pervasive spirituality in the novels of Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2008. Critics disagree, however, as to the best way to de- scribe that spirituality and to locate it within well-known frameworks of religious experience. In addition, there is debate as to whether this spirituality is the foundation of an ethic that can lead to social or po- litical action. Finally, critics disagree as to whether citizens of nations that have violently colonized others are capable of experiencing this spiritual state or taking moral action grounded in this form of spiritu- ality. Le Clézio has made conscious efforts not to be a political novelist, though his novels contain political implications. It can be argued, however, that Étoile errante, his book about the parallel lives of a Jew- ish Holocaust survivor and a Palestinian refugee, limns a spiritual and moral path out of the ongoing crisis that is PalEstine and Israel. A study of four of Le Clézio’s novels, Ourania, the diptych Onitsha and Étoile errante, as well as Désert, the novel that marked his transition from experimentalist to spiritual and environmental writer, suggests the following answers to the questions implicit in the criticism. Le Clézio’s spirituality can be understood more effectively if it is framed in terms of Karl Jasper’s idea of “the Comprehensive” rather than in frameworks derived from Rudolf Otto, Mircea Eliade, William...

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