Ourania (2006) bears an inscription taken from a sermon by J. Owen, Ouranon Ourania (1649) announcing the evanescence of all things and the necessity of detachment. The name Ourania is inspired to the narrator by the story of Ouranos, the starry sky of Greek mythology that the narrator heard in his childhood. His name, Daniel Sillitoe, and that of his father, Alain, reminds us of the Alan Sillitoe of the British "angry young men" of the 50s, whose novels defied social conventions. The person who speaks to Daniel about Campos is called Raphael, the rejuvenated avatar of Thomas More's Raphael, who describes the island of Utopia. The scholarly references are inexhaustible. Although the question of an utopia occupies a major place in the novel, it belongs to a much wider field, that of the drive for an Ouranos, for the landscape of the Mexican south-east that Le Clézio knows so well. Campos and Lili's life hold a privileged place there.

In order to highlight the inconstancy of human achievements and their interpenetration, some chapters, influenced by popular art, only complete their last sentence "chance brought me together with" (22), in the title of the next chapter "the strangest young man I ever met" (23). In this way, Raphael can increase Mario's momentum. The other technique is the embedding of stories. Daniel's story intersects with Raphael's story of Campos and accounts for that of Campos's founder, Jadi. There are other evocations of the same place: for Don Thomas, director of university research at the Emporio, Campos is merely a group of enlightened people; Daniel himself sees in them only miserable wretches (209-211). In the region, the people of Campos are called "hippies,” they are despised and feared, they represent the counterculture. The mise en abyme thus allows Le Clézio to underline the relativity of points of view, even if one is tempted to consider the young Raphael as his spokesman since Campos is defined by the author himself as "the ideal republic" on the back cover.

Finally, the alternation of themes draws attention to the coexistence of diverse worlds: Campos, the Zone, the Emporio.

The movements of struggle against the dominant mode of thought follow one another in time and space. Campos is superimposed on the utopia of a Jesuit mission of which only ruins remain (32-33). Don Thomas says to Daniel: "We are here in the land dreamed of for utopias. ...] Moreover, it is the only place in the world where a man, ... has realized to the letter Thomas More’s Utopia..." (65).

The Emporio, which Daniel has joined as a geographer, initially claims to be another ideal world. The head of the center, Menendez, "had the idea of a kind of 'thebaid' at this place: a hexagonal building [...] divided into cells for meditation and work [...]" (38) which resembles the Abbey of Thelemus. However, this Emporio turns out to be nothing more than a pretentious tower where Menendez "flits about."

The weakness of the Emporio was that it was financed by unscrupulous notables and animated by intellectuals consumed by ambition. Garci Lazaro is "the very type of cynical researcher ... ambitious and cavorting" (47). There are utopias that are aborted like corrupted impulses. One could imagine Daniel showing some indulgence for the Salvadoran revolution. However, mentioning Hector to his friend Dalhia, he becomes enraged: "I could not tell her all the bad things I thought of her ex-husband and of these so-called revolutionaries [...] who were remaking the world in the shelter of their golden asylum [...]" (100).


The failure of the Emporio, the end of Campos can be attributed to multiple causes. They were, in fact, by definition, perishable. However, as the most accomplished achievements go to the ground, Menendez donates his hexagonal tower to the philosophers. Dalhia creates an organization that takes care of children and women with AIDS. Other impulses, other frail utopias are born.

The "Ideal Republic of Campos" symbolically occupies an unstable country, the ground trembles. The creolization of people and languages — Campos has its own language, Elmen — is a factor of dynamism and unpredictability.

Campos's limited laws are rewritten at the end of the book, in an appendix, as a summary not to be forgotten.

Campos overturns the ties of kinship and the conception of childhood. The notion of parent does not exist. Preeminence is given to youth. "It is the children who choose the house where they sleep" (95) and the one who has to initiate them. Any decision implies consulting them as well. They are not locked up in a classroom. Their school is life (95-96). The conception of education links culture, nature and truth, and rejects coercion. This is reminiscent of Francois Rabelais' Abbey of Theleme's "do what vouldras."

They are vegetarians, so they spare animals, have a good knowledge of plants, especially the so-called "nurhite," which is comforting.

In Campos, unlike other utopias, there is no restriction of movement: you can go out and come back as you please.

The conception of reality and time is overturned there. It is impossible to predict: "We know neither the day nor the hour" (36). Only the present exists, uncertain. Religion is not part of Campos's truths, "what is most true in the sky is the blackness, the emptiness" (159). This impulse is Ourania, a Zen distance from the illusions of everyday life. However, contact with the earth remains primordial.

According to Raphael, Campos would not exist without Jadi, but he is nothing like the providential man of the Social Contract. Jadi is an ordinary man. His vocation as "advisor" was unpredictable.

Elsewhere, violence is everywhere: in the exploitation of children, prostitution, drug trafficking, and the agony of Indian cultures. ​​ 

The opposite side of Campos is the Orandino Lagoon, a place where the squalor of the "Paratroopers' neighborhood" where Lili lives coexists with the residential neighborhood of the notables, separated only by a narrow irrigation canal.

Every morning trucks come to pick up their contingent of workers, including children, to take them to the strawberry fields treated with chemicals that eat their fingers.

As Raphael is to Campos, Lili is to the Zone, where she was sold to the Terrible Man by the old Dona Tilla with whom she lives.

After announcing that he has experienced "the feeling [...] of the very great emptiness of [his] existence," Daniel adds: "I met Lili" (104). ​​ Her presence inexplicably overwhelms him: "I wondered why I wanted so much to meet this Lili [...] I was inventing something secret, something dark [...]" "I imagined that she was waiting for me [...]." "I recognized her immediately [...] because I dreamed of her" (107). Lili is also caught up in a network of references.

The "Lagoon of Orandino," like that of Gracq’s The Opposing Shore, produces the sacred emergence from the mire and becomes part of this vision and of its predestination.

Lili also relates to the myth of the prostitute in the Gospels, the anonymous sinner of Luke, whom the man absolves and sanctifies.

Lili's repetition becomes incantatory (107). The shift from "she" to "you," out of any direct address to Lili, seems to be an invocation of a being escaping this world and the judgment of men. The metaphors which exalt Lili: "Indian flower [...] May flower [...]" (110) recall "this characterized shift from metaphor to metamorphosis" that Le Clézio attributes to Lautréamont: Lili is transfigured on this "you are immortal" (111) into an icon.

However, Lili is above all the symbol of her decimated people: through the stain at the bottom of her back (178), considered the exclusive mark of the American Indians, she exceeds the status of a romantic character.

Driven out of Thailand for having denounced child prostitution, Le Clézio entrusts Sillitoe with the task of castigating her, becoming, through him, one of these "angry young men." The fervor displayed by Mario, Jadi, Dahlia and Daniel for Ourania, the starry sky, are a response to fatuity, to the cruelty of some and to the exploitation of the weak. We must not allow ourselves to be "shaken by the vacillation of things" says the inscription at the front of the book. It is an appeal for dynamism, somewhere between anger and aspiration, to strive once again for the best of all possible worlds.

Michelle Labbé

Translated by Thierry Léger



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