Patrick Modiano, winner of this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature, has stated that tomorrow’s novelists “will safeguard the succession of literature just as every generation has done since Homer”.
Modiano, whose prize was awarded for his evocations of the past, for “the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the Nazi occupation”, did say in his Nobel lecture that “unfortunately I do not think that the remembrance of things past can be done any longer with Marcel Proust’s power and candidness”.
“Today, I get the sense that memory is much less sure of itself, engaged as it is in a constant struggle against amnesia and oblivion. This layer, this mass of oblivion that obscures everything, means we can only pick up fragments of the past, disconnected traces, fleeting and almost ungraspable human destinies,” said Modiano. “Yet it has to be the vocation of the novelist, when faced with this large blank page of oblivion, to make a few faded words visible again, like lost icebergs adrift on the surface of the ocean.”
Modiano expressed a certain nostalgia for the world of the 19th-century novelists such as Balzac, Dickens, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, saying that “in those days, time passed more slowly than today, and this slowness suited the work of the novelist because it allowed him to marshal his energy and his attention”.
“Time has speeded up since then and moves forward in fits and starts,” he said, “explaining the difference between the towering literary edifices of the past, with their cathedral-like architectures, and the disjointed and fragmented works of today.”
Modiano feels his own generation of writers is a “transitional one”. He spoke of his curiosity about how future generations, “born with the internet, mobile phones, emails and tweets, will express through literature this world in which everyone is permanently ‘connected’ and where ‘social networks’ are eating into that part of intimacy and secrecy that was still our own domain until quite recently – the secrecy that gave depth to individuals and could become a major theme in a novel”.
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