Silence in the works of Patrick Modiano
AuthorWeston-Evans, Phoebe Jude
AffiliationSchool of Languages and Linguistics
Document TypePhD thesis
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© 2020 Phoebe Jude Weston-Evans
The 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to the French writer Patrick Modiano (b. 1945) for work that ‘uncovered the life-world of the Occupation’. The jury recognised the author’s significant role in addressing the heavy silences surrounding this uneasy period in French history. Modiano’s novels, however, are full of silences, the unsaid, and the unsayable. While his work is an indictment of certain sociohistorical silences, it is also a literature which performs, and is permeated by, a multitude of silences. This thesis seeks to elucidate the nature of this tension through an analysis of silence across twenty-seven of Modiano’s texts, from his first novel, La place de l’etoile (1968), to Souvenirs dormants (2017). A defining aspect of silence is its fluctuating semantic value and the plurality of its applications, from language and noise, to art and ethics. Its meaning is not fixed; it is, rather, an amorphous concept and its denotation and connotations shift depending on the context in which it occurs. The way in which silence signifies also changes over time; what might be silenced in 1945 could become sayable a generation later. Given the intrinsic semantic plasticity of the concept, this thesis develops an evolutive analysis of silence, which exists in multiple guises and occupies multiple spaces in Modiano’s works, from the awkward silences to those that are more eloquent, to the salutary, recuperative and respectful silences, to the silences that condemn and denounce, and the silences that gesture to the very limits of language, thought and logic. This thesis is arranged in three parts, each one based on a particular interpretation of silence. Firstly, reading silence as a generative force which, paradoxically, can be productive of narrative, the multiform silent beginnings and origins of Modiano’s texts are investigated. Secondly, silence is considered as a place of forgetting, loss and erasure, which is opposed by Modiano’s texts. This shifts the discussion to the ethical tensions associated with biographical writing and testimony in his works. Finally, silence is interpreted as something that can be created, both through the text and through other artistic media. Here, silence is positioned as a destination in its own right and the trajectories made towards and around silence by Modiano’s characters in their various fields of expression are explored. Through these differing interpretations of silence, this thesis examines how Modiano’s writing comes from and engages with silences, resists meaning and evades conclusion, creating a kind of literary silence unique to his work.
KeywordsPatrick Modiano; French literature; French studies; Modiano studies; contemporary literature; silence; post-war France; Occupation; literary analysis; linguistics
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