In 1986, J.-M.G. Le Clézio publishes Voyage to Rodrigues (Voyage à Rodrigues), at once a travel narrative, family history and rite of passage novel. In Voyage to Rodrigues, J.-M. G. Le Clézio revives the myth of Lemuria. According to the elders, and even scientists and a number of mythologists and legend lovers, Australia, India, the Mascarene islands to the East and South America to the West, espousing the form of Africa on either side, formed a single continent which then fractured; the drifting masses gave birth to the continents visible on Earth today. They imagined – or saw – a gigantic land to counterbalance the Northern Hemisphere’s landmass, now engulfed by the oceans, which they successively named terra australis nondum cognita and Mu. The end of travels, end of dreams, and end of myths: Cook and Lapérouse put an end to the idea of a southern continent, which re-emerges the following century however, thanks to the musings of a madman. In 1830, Slater resurrects this mythical land, calling it Lemuria. In the wake of his assertions, Lemuria becomes this first world from which derive all present civilizations. Whence an array of scientific and erudite writings, the masterpiece being without doubt Revelations of the Great Ocean by the Reunion Island-born Jules Hermann. According to him, Lemuria was a continent whose inhabitants all spoke the same language that the peoples of the Indian Ocean and Pacific islands continued to use after the continental break up. In rewriting the history of that continent, Hermann raised it to the rank of “cradle of humanity”, ironically reversing history to make Oceanians the ancestors of Europeans. From this volume, a number of Indoceanian writers – Robert Edward Hart, Malcolm de Chazal and J.-M.G. Le Clézio – will draw inspiration.
In fact, the Mascarene islands, of which Rodrigues is the third peak jutting out of the ocean from the supposed mythic sunken continent, serve as a backdrop to the Voyage to Rodrigues, where Lemuria becomes a palimpsest on which are superimposed several stories: that of the lost continent, that of the author’s grandfather and that of J.-M.G. Le Clézio himself. In spite of the surprising title, the book deals with a plurality of travels, and travellers, which the author relates, as would a historian. Among the dreamers, utopians and prospectors travelling to the island or around its coast, Le Clézio mentions Leguat, Misson, founder of the utopian and ephemeral Republic of Libertalia, Olivier Le Vasseur known as La Buse, Pingré who came to observe the movements of the planet Venus, Father Wolff, and his own grandfather, Léon Leclézio who, during his lifetime, combed through manuscripts, laid out plans, marked the island with reference points in his search for the fabulous Privateer’s treasure. The author shares the story of this quest in the two parallel foundation myths of the islands and of the Leclézio family: The Prospector and Voyage to Rodrigues. More than the treasure itself, it was the clues scattered by the pirate La Buse that Léon Leclézio spent most of his life trying to hunt down and decipher. For that reason, one can read Voyage to Rodrigues like a treasure hunt, or an investigation. The reader is led into deciphering the signs, in the grandfather’s then the author’s quest to find the Commander’s Peak, the dead-end ravine, the dried-up source of the river. As his eyes get used to the scenery, the author sees, and recognizes the paths followed by his grandfather, the points of reference he drew, the traces he left behind. Under various forms, allowing the writer to go back in time, these omnipresent markings transform the valley into a language the author attempts to decipher in turn: “And yet the island is telling me something else, she shares something else that I cannot yet fully understand” (VR, 78), as in a dialogue through time: “Now, following his trace, in vain I try to perceive what spoke to him here, to him alone” (VR, 81). In Jules Hermann’s footsteps, Léon Leclézio also tried to rebuild the lost continent’s original language. He spent his life on the project, inventing his own legend, and leaving to posterity a journal, a manual, a map, plans, letters, diagrams and a landscape riddled with cryptograms. These markings, signs and traces deeply move the narrator: “How can we not see in this barren landscape, shaped by wind and rain, drenched with sunshine, the expression of someone’s will? A message left by some terrestrial giant, or design for the world’s destiny […]. Signs of the wind, of rain, of the sun, traces of an incomprehensible ancient order […]” (VR, 46). Identifying the signs demands patience, time delays recognition. But the prospector, whatever the quest, is always rewarded when he perseveres. It is one of the lessons Léon Leclézio has discovered engraved in the rock face: “Seek : :”, a message he transmits to his grandson in a document thus annotated: “where […] you will find what you think” (VR, 107). In Voyage to Rodrigues as in The Prospector, the Lemurian palimpsest occurs in the recovery of the family history and heritage, on Léon Leclézio’s footsteps. While reconstituting the island’s history, it is actually the family history J.-M.G. Le Clézio concentrates on recounting, calling to mind the loss by his grand-father of the family estate, a mainstay of his novels: “It is the loss of this house, I think, that begins the whole story, just as the foundation of Euréka had been the conclusion of another story, one which had brought my ancestor François, during the Revolution, from the harbour at Lorient to the Isle of France” (VR, 121). The superimposed narratives operate as prehistories in the attempt to reconstruct the family genealogy by The Prospector’s narrator, and the Voyage to Rodrigues’s author: “Euréka’s loss touches me as well,” writes J.-M.G. Le Clézio, “since for this reason I was born far away, cut off from my roots, with this feeling of strangeness, of non-belonging” (VR, 122). As Jean-Michel Racault observes justly, “Carrying within him the memory of a double exile, that of his Mauritian family’s departure to France, and inversely his ancestor leaving Brittany long ago to settle in the Mascarene islands, [J.-M.G. Le Clézio tries, through a return to the island’s bosom, as well as through a revelation of the secret engraved in the scenery, to recover his genealogy and to solve the endless dialectic between the here and there, between Europe and the Indian Ocean. (« Avertissement », 2007, 10).
Translated by Eileen Lokha
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