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The Fiction of J. M. G. Le Clézio

A Postcolonial Reading


Bronwen Martin

Since the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to J. M. G. Le Clézio in 2008, there has been a wave of new interest in his œuvre. This book traces the evolution of the writer’s postcolonial thought from his early works to his groundbreaking autobiographical novel Révolutions, arguably his most subversive text to date. The author shows how Le Clézio’s critique of colonialism is rooted in an early denunciation of capitalism and philosophical dualism, and sheds new light on the crucial roles played by Jean-Paul Sartre, Aimé Césaire and Frantz Fanon in his development.
The author’s close reading of Révolutions reveals a complex system of interconnections between the colonial conflicts from the 1700s to the 1900s, with recurrent patterns of violence, cultural repression and racism. The issue of neocolonialism is addressed and the persistence of the colonial mindset in contemporary Europe and Westernized countries is shown to echo the findings of Paul Gilroy, Max Silverman and Étienne Balibar. The book concludes with an examination of the utopian elements underpinning Révolutions, establishing close affinities with the work of Édouard Glissant and developing the notion of permanent revolution. Themes explored include those of storytelling, cultural memory, cultural identity, language, intertextuality and interculturality.


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Part II Révolutions, 2003


Chapter 2 Colonialism, Violence and Slavery in Le Clézio’s Autobiographical Novel Révolutions C’est vrai que pour conquérir le monde, il a fallu d’abord le rêver.1 Published in 2003, Révolutions is an imaginative reconstruction of Le Clézio’s own life and that of his ancestors spanning the period from 1792 to 1969.2 There are two central narrative threads. First, there is the account of Jean Eudes Marro, loosely based on the life of Le Clézio’s Breton ancestor, François Alexis Le Clézio, who, after fighting in the Revolutionary Wars, emigrated in 1798 to the French colony of Mauritius. Secondly, there is the story of Jean Marro, a fictionalized rendering of the author’s own experi­ ences during the 1950s and 1960s. These two narratives are however inter­ woven, bringing to the fore patterns of repetition: the novel is thus both a revisiting of the past and an engagement with the present. As Le Clézio has explained in an interview in 2003, he seeks in Révolutions to ‘passer d’une époque à l’autre, comme s’il n’y avait pas de séparation et que la mort ou le passage du temps ne signifiaient particulièrement la disparition’.3 Indeed, both protagonists can be viewed as doubles or as two aspects of the same person. 1 Edouard Glissant, Introduction à une poétique du divers (Paris: Gallimard, 1996), 76. 2 J. M. G. Le Clézio, Révolutions (Paris: Gallimard, 2003). All subsequent references are to this edition and are...

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