Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Monday, December 8, 2008

Le Clézio on books

The new Nobel laureate in literature, Jean-Marie Le Clézio, gave his official laureate’s lecture to the Swedish Academy on Sunday, and one of his main points of emphasis was “information poverty” in much of the world. Le Clézio has spent a good deal of his life in developing nations — as a boy he lived for a time in Nigeria, and as an adult lived in Mexico and, for a time, with the semi-nomadic Embera-Wounaan people of Panama — and has done a good deal of teaching, so he’s speaking from experience here. It turns out that he’s an advocate of the technology of the book.

“To provide nearly everyone on the planet with a liquid crystal display is utopian. . . . Are we not, therefore, in the process of creating a new elite, of drawing a new line to divide the world between those who have access to communication and knowledge, and those who are left out?” In such a situation, it’s important to remember that the book “is practical, easy to handle, economical. It does not require any particular technological prowess, and keeps well in any climate.”
Le Clézio’s primary recommendations: “Joint publication with developing countries, the establishment of funds for lending libraries and mobile libraries, and, overall, greater attention to requests from and works in so-called minority languages – which are often clearly in the majority – would enable literature to continue to be this wonderful tool for self-knowledge, for the discovery of others, and for listening to the concert of humankind, in all the rich variety of its themes and modulations.”
These are important points, especially since “information poverty” is typically at its greatest in communities without reliable electrical power and where, therefore, the use of computers is problematic.