- Lire Patrick Modiano, and: Lectures de Modiano
Patrick Modiano's novels, appreciated for over forty years by a vast and loyal readership, are currently inspiring a marked increase in critical activity. Since 2008, critical work and conferences on Modiano have rapidly multiplied, most notably in a French academic context that increasingly acknowledges the critical, historical, and literary interest of this long-popular body of work. In an October 2009 Magazine littéraire dossier devoted to Modiano, Maryline Heck, the dossier's editor, announced the author's "entry into the pantheon of French academia" while adding that "it seems the time has come to sum up these last four decades of creation."1 It was, in fact, question of a privileged moment in time, one that separated the publication of two novels: Dans le café de la jeunesse perdue (2007) and L'Horizon (2010).
By focusing intently on the example of Modiano, academics are clearly engaging thorny questions that exceed the analysis of a single body of work and go to the heart of how we evaluate a body of literature whose initial impact coincides with the moment of our own writing. How, for example, do we evaluate a contemporary, prolific author who consistently publishes his novels "à petite musique" with the regularity of a metronome? How do we locate such an author within literary history when his body of work is still in production? How do we adopt an appropriate critical distance when dealing with an author whose writing cuts to the very quick of concerns involving French memory, history, and society as they are lived today? Finally, how do we maintain sufficient flexibility within our analysis to accommodate future works? Is it the critic's fate to find his or her analyses immediately contradicted by the "next Modiano?" Such questions recur explicitly or implicitly in Bruno Blanckeman's Lire Patrick Modiano, and Roger-Yves Roche's edited volume, Lectures de Modiano. These two recent works offer one possible response: placing this literature on a continuum (historical, literary, or other) first involves locating it in relation to ourselves. This act of situated, self-conscious criticism gives the Blanckeman and Roche volumes their structure and force.
Lire Patrick Modiano solidifies Modiano's position within a canon of contemporary writers. The format of the "Lire et comprendre" series confirms the literary and pedagogical importance of his works. As Karine [End Page 137] Gros explains, the series "responds [...] with pertinence and precision to a demand (and a need) of instructors, students, and researchers, but also of every lover of contemporary literature."2 Modiano's inclusion in this series thus recognizes his body of work as one that is currently studied, taught, analyzed, and above all read--passionately, even obsessively. Bruno Blanckeman's contribution to the "Lire et comprendre" series must account for the rising status of Modiano's work within academia and its now decades-long bestseller status. His study must then serve as a synthesis, even as it remains open to the future evolution of Modiano's novels and responds to the expectations and needs of a diverse readership. At times, Blanckeman's efforts to reconcile these competing interests result in a certain tension that is expressed in his self-conscious use of the term "devoir de mémoire," a reference to the moral duty of remembering the atrocities of the Occupation and the Shoah, which he wishes to invoke "before [it] becomes, itself, a cliché" (12). Although many members of Blanckeman's broad target audience may not think twice about this comment, those who are familiar with the longstanding debates surrounding the "devoir de mémoire" (including readers versed in the work of French historian Henry Rousso) might wonder at any suggestion of the term's novelty. The demands of this diverse audience (including teachers, students, professional critics, and even those who read for pleasure) oblige Blanckeman to perform different types of analyses with varying degrees of complexity, all the while maintaining a certain measure of cohesion.
To Blanckeman's credit...