The middle of the river marks new beginnings in Le Clézio’s fiction

Fredrik Westerlund will defend his doctoral dissertation at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Helsinki on 1 October. The theme of his thesis is the role of the river in the fictional works by Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio.

Fredrik Westerlund will defend his doctoral dissertation at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Helsinki on 1 October. The theme of his thesis is the role of the river in the fictional works by Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio.

Written within the subject of French Philology, the title of his thesis is "Les fleuves dans l'œuvre romanesque de Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio". The theme is studied through the perspectives of phenomenology and symbolism.

– At the core of my analysis, I show that the middle of the river symbolises a new beginning in Le Clézio’s writing, says Fredrik Westerlund, Lic.Phil.

As a sacred space, the river transposes the characters outside of time as they watch it from the river banks or drift downstream.

– The various symbolic functions of the river are combined in the rare points when the characters bathe in the river. Bathing constitutes a new beginning outside the axis of time, Westerlund explains.

What awakened your interest in the river?

– I’ve been reading Le Clézio since the early 1990s and even then I realised that there was something special about the various bodies of water and springs. As the river is the water given the most space in the texts after the sea, I chose it as my focal point.

In urban settings, Le Clézio employs the river in a metaphorical function as a symbol for both the traffic and the streets.

– The traffic is described as a rapid, while the street is likened to a river of solidified asphalt. These metaphors are used as parallels but never simultaneously, which was something quite new to me, says Westerlund.

Another surprise for Westerlund was that when people bathe in the river, it is called something else: a creek, a brook or a rapid.

– When people bathe in the river, it is no longer called a river, Westerlund explains. – After the bath, the river regains its name. Bathing and the river is a very rare combination.

Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio was awarded the 2008 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Fredrik Westerlund will defend his doctoral dissertation at the Auditorium XII, Main Building, Fabianinkatu 33, on 1 October 2011, at 10:15 a.m.

The dissertation has been published in electronic format and is available via the E-thesis service.

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Text: Nadine Aschan
Photo: Peter Ahlroos
29.9.2011
Translation: AAC Global
University of Helsinki, digital communications


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