Does literature tell the world?

Dr. Karim LIMAM is a building physicist and HDR / Karim Limam lecturer

News facts

CITIES AND DEVELOPMENT. is a section proposed and moderated by Beaugrain Doumongue, civil engineer and Karim Limam, building physicist and lecturer.

The purpose of this section is to “question the human trajectory of the age of climate change and to report / document / question the challenges of African cities in pursuit of sustainability and quality of life”.

In the civilizational context of the 21st century, the digital age is proud of a triumphant capitalism that seems to have conquered the world. Literature is clearing a difficult path here, sometimes with a throbbing drum, but which always defines itself as a sounding board for the social world. What does she tell us often?

In the last century, Camus proclaimed in 1957 in Stockholm: ” At the same time, the role of the author cannot be separated from difficult duties. By definition, today he can not put himself at the service of those who write history: he is at the service of those who suffer from it. (…) The author can rediscover the feeling of a living community that will justify him, on the only condition that he accepts, as much as he can, the two duties that make the greatness of his profession: to serve the truth and to earn freedom “.

For us

What would be the role and responsibilities of the author in the service of those reviewing history? As a man, but beyond that, culturally, socially and politically? What good would it do to tell the world? And is not the authorship he gives us, first and foremost, knowledge and an inexhaustible source of reflection for our society?
According to Sartre, to write is to reveal. To reveal is to ensure that no one can ignore the world, and last step, if you know the world, you can not say that you are innocent in it – it is exactly the same situation that we have with the law that everyone should know to then account for their actions “.

Also read: Duel, Sea towards City

The development of literature as knowledge of the social world has been able to highlight the role of the author, more or less involved in society depending on the times. Thus certain writers of the Enlightenment, from Beaumarchais to D’Alembert via Diderot and Voltaire, whose ideas and values ​​traveled around the world and conveyed a certain spirit of French literature. Actually French-speaking, Anglo-Saxon, German-speaking literature,… and so on; raised and allowed the enrichment of people, until sometimes even, their flowering.


The first writer from sub-Saharan Africa, Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, who was recently awarded the Goncourt Prize (2021), had the first reaction: ” I wanted to know a little more about what I was doing as a writer. (…) I really wanted to experience what literature meant in contact with life and history “. We see there that for the author through literature the doors open to a deeper level of thought and understanding of all the things that are captured by our senses during life’s experiences. For Mohamed Mbougar Sarr” A book changes us, transforms us and sometimes even upsets us deeply.t “and therefore” literature can be a point of view to go through history “.

Sometimes a real “shift” takes place! To use Mahmud Nasimi’s expression here (2021). When he arrived in Paris as a refugee, he was distressed and homeless. ” Before I discovered French literature, life was gloomy for me “.

It was at the Père Lachaise Cemetery that he found solace with the dead. As he stood near Balzac’s grave, he felt an incredible motivation that made him pick up the pen and write. ” An Afghan in Paris “.” I had fewer friends in Paris, in the world of the living, than I had in this ghost garden; and French literature changed my life “.

Tell the world: the migrants are there!

Gérard Depardieu, recently invited to France TV’s La Grande Librairie program (2022), commented on the question: “Migrants are there to tell us about the world and what they see about our country”. He adds, “French literature is Balzac, it’s Proust, but it’s also Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, Mahmud Nasimi, it’s extraordinary. Some time ago we would have called them migrants and we could have thrown them out, that’s awful. ‘.

According to Charles Danzig, “A world literature is a literature that is not foreign. I think there is no stranger when it comes to literature (…) Language is, contrary to what many people think, a small thing ”. In fact, he believes that Fénelon was right to write in a famous letter written to the French Academy: “It would be very stupid to argue about something that is just a click of the tongue on the palate”. For Charles Dantzig, language is random.

The author of the scientific work “Selfish Dictionary of World Literature” (2019) postulates that nothing is foreign to literature. For him, “literature enlightens life” and whatever the language, it is ultimately not “Foreigners, there are others who are not so different and who embody world literature”.

He shares the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa’s idea that literature allows us to reach out to others by getting rid of ourselves, which, contrary to what we all too often think, does not matter. above all. ! It does not tell us about the world, but vaccinates us and protects us from ourselves in the world.

Karim Limam

Leave a Comment