Magic of Third Singular Person: Désert of Le Clézio

clezioThird singular person is overwhelmingly the most common type of narrative used in novels. The range of distance of author to characters and events might vary from a distant position to a close-range position. Author can play a God role having possession of the slightest details or look from only protagonist’s perspective, or simply position him/herself in-between. Indeed, third singular person might not be a simple stylistic choice, but a way of shedding light on characters’ multiple perspectives and multiplicity of events emerging from situational contexts even beyond the authors’ will, amounting to “synthesis of the intricacies of life”[1], as Eric Auerbach put it in Mimesis on Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse;  which, in a sense, could be meant dissolution of author. Despite the wide currency of this type, it also reserves many risky points. Author might not scale well his position regarding different elements in the plot and end up turning all these elements into mere caricatures of one voice (simply that of him/herself) or the narrative could be shattered off because of too much emphasis on suspensefulness of events (as in the case of the most of bestseller novels).

In Désert, a novel written in the third singular person form, Le Clézio skilfully eliminates all kind of traps that this kind of style would potentially bring up and moreover goes up to such a level that the narrative ceases to be the sum of character’s perspectives, but plural dialogues between places, hymns, myths, wars, prays, customs tending to organize an internal logic that pertains to quite different times and places.

In my eyes, Désert is a novel on senses and perceptions, and their distribution on spaces with respect to spaces’ organization. On the one hand, a space itself consists of senses and perceptions, and on the other hand they transform spaces by responding to contextual situations. Two different spaces are apparent in the novel, even though they intertwine with each other alongside the plot. One is space of desert, and the other, space of city.

Lalla, the protagonist of the novel, is literally the girl of the desert. She lost her family, has been raised by her aunt Aamma in the midst of desert and grew up with ancient lullabies and desert myths; thereby she develops an intimate relationship with sand storms, vastness, silence and music of the desert. She lives in her world, quite out of ordinary life of her village, according to her own sense of life, with her only friends dumb shepherd Hartani and old Naman. So, this is a space “filled by events”, […] “far more than by formed and perceived things”[2]. But constitution of a space is never in isolation. The perpetual flow of life produces disturbance effects as well as reinforcing encounters. In the case of Lalla, it is local wars and suddenly appearing, unwanted candidate of husband. All these reasons force her to immigrate to France and this makes a radical change on Lalla’s life.

At this time, we are in the space of city that could be characterized by “diabolical powers of organization[3]. This second space is already constructed and Lalla finds herself inside. But her habits, her ways of sensing and conceiving things are already established in the desert. She finds people’s relationships with each other and with the city odd that we could describe as a kind of blasé attitude, if we would use a Simmelian term[4]. People who live in the city don’t care each other; for instance, even if someone lies down on the street because of blackout or another reason, people recklessly pass by. While Lalla was attentive to the minor movements taking place in the desert, all her senses are non-functional in relation to speed of the city or all goings-on surrounding her remain imperceptible in her vision. But still, she makes new friends, is attuned to the city and tries to create a habitable environment.


One of the exemples given by Deleuze and Guattari for smooth space 
is a quilt. This piece is from Nebraska History Museum

In this sense, Désert demonstrates very well “complications, alternations, and superpositions” [5] of these two kind of spaces. After Lalla has gone back to her village after years, we understand better that this is not only novel of Lalla, but also that of places, situations, and imperceptible events. I think when the literature tends to penetrate into this complexity of becoming, it somehow takes a poetic form, as in the case of Désert, just as in the lyrics of an old song sang by Aamma, came to her from her mother:

“One day, the crow will be white, the sea will go dry, there will be honey in the desert flower, we will make up a bed of acacia sprays, one day, oh, one day, the snake will spit no more poison, and rifle bullets will bring no more death, for that will be the day I will leave my love…”[6].

[1] Auerbach, E. (2003), Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, trans. Willard R. Trask, Princeton University Press, p.537.

[2] Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1987), A Thousand Plateaus, trans. by Brian Massumi, University of Minnesota Press, p. 479.

[3] ATP, p. 480. Underlined in the text.

[4] Simmel, G. (1971), The Metropolis of Modern Life in Levine, Donald (ed.) “Simmel: On individuality and social forms”, Chicago University Press.

[5] ATP, p. 481.

[6] Clézio, J.M.G. (2009), Desert, Verba Mundi Book, p. 331.


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