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“Who in the heck is Patrick Modiano?” Who Do We Think We Are?

Posted on | October 17, 2014 | No Comments


“Why You Haven’t Heard of Patrick Modiano, Winner of the Nobel in Literature”(Time)

“The Nobel goes to Whom? We investigate an obscure author” (Chicago Tribune)

“Why nobody knows what to think about    Patrick Modiano winning the Nobel Prize for Literature”(NewStatesmen)

Guest Blogger: Frankie Rubio

With article titles like this (in the American media, that is), it’s clear to see that Modiano’s win came as a shock. Surprised reactions, however, do not mean that Modiano’s work is unimpressive, uninteresting, or undeserving, but simply that Modiano is relatively unknown to American audiences

Articles pouring in from the UK were more flattering. They introduced Modiano as an accomplished laureate who writes about compelling themes such as memory, time, and identity. Funny how these themes run through American attitudes toward his win: no one remembers his name because they never knew it, too much time has passed since he got that award in his thirties (1978), and he is a Frenchman no one has ever heard of.

Few of his works have been translated into English, so we can be forgiven a little but the tone of the article is reminiscent a high school phrase: he can’t sit at the cool kids’ table. Nowhere in the articles overseas does one find the “you can’t sit with us” attitude. Even the provocative nature of the American headlines reflects our arrogant attitude…as a reader it’s reassuring that not even Time Magazine knew who this Patrick guy was. (Who is he again?)

The bottom line is this: American egocentrism doesn’t just show how upset we get when we don’t win Miss Universe, but also exposes our ignorance of the world, literary and otherwise. The question is not “who in the world is this French guy, and what is he doing with our crown?” but “who do we think we are?” to be so elitist about perceiving Modiano, well, as a nobody. It seems that American journalists feel we need to know who he is for his accomplishments to count.


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