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Nobel-winning Le Clezio talks about Jeju and myth

Nov. 7, 2023 - 18:00 By Hwang Dong-hee
Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio (left) speaks at a lecture at the Kyobo Building in Gwanghwamun, Seoul, Friday. (The Daesan Foundation)

French writer Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio, recipient of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Literature, talked about myth and Jeju Island in a lecture at the Kyobo Building in Gwanghwamun, Seoul, on Friday.

Titled “The Myth and the Tale,” the lecture was hosted by the Daesan Foundation. Le Clezio emphasized the significance of myths, describing them as collective fictional creations.

“Myths are collective fictional creations … and Korea has a rich source of inspiration through its history, geography, language and culture,” Le Clezio said.

Motifs derived from myths offer profound insights into both nature and human nature, he said, and they frequently find new life in literary works, paintings, films and various other artistic expressions.

“Ancient myths are transformed into modern narratives, for example, in Hwang Sok-yong’s novel ‘Princess Bari’ or Franz Kafka’s ‘The Metamorphosis,’” he explained.

“Some works are even created in the form of myths themselves, much like the epics of Homer and Hesiod. Masterpieces, such as those of Shakespeare, attain a status akin to myth, inspiring countless other stories."

Le Clezio highlighted Jeju Island as an exceptionally fertile ground for mythic inspiration.

Jeju distinguishes itself with unique folk tales that set it apart from the mainland, a female-led folklore culture and its distinctive natural environment, epitomized by Hallasan and the surrounding sea.

“When I visited Udo Island (a small island just east of Jeju Island), I was stranded on the island due to a typhoon. The entire island felt like a drifting raft in the vast sea. I wanted to write a story at that moment.”

Delving into his memories, he wrote the novella “Storm” (2014).

Born in Nice, southern France, in 1940, the 83-year-old writer has been a frequent visitor to Korea. He taught French language and literature at Ewha Womans University in Seoul during the 2007 academic year. His experiences in Korea inspired several of his works, including "Bitna: Under the Sky of Seoul."