Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Modern Foreign Languages

Major Professor

Karen Levy

Committee Members

John Romeiser, Stefanie Ohnesorg, Lisi Schoenbach


This dissertation delves into the complexities and nuances of the contemporary French author J.M.G. Le Clézio, one of the most respected and prolific writers of his era. Specifically, it investigates the phenomenon of a “privileged moment” or a “moment privilégié” in his works. This literary concept is most often associated with Marcel Proust. In this study, the intricacies as well as the limitations and paradoxes of three distinct types of privileged moments in Le Clézio’s writings are methodically explored. Privileged moments related to nature, musicality, and sexuality are systematically probed during the course of this investigation.

The introduction provides an operational definition for the expression “privileged moment,” and briefly outlines some of the main ideas discussed in the various chapters which follow. Although several literary scholars use this term, a precise definition of this word or even a clear explanation of what it encompasses does not seem to exist. Chapter one explores manifestations of privileged moments in the writings of earlier French writers. Specifically, it analyses intense instants of euphoria in Proust’s A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, Sartre’s La Nausée, and Camus’s Noces. Chapter two investigates the undeniable literary transformation that occurs in Le Clézio’s works beginning with the publication of Mondo in 1978. Specifically, this section examines the existentialist nature of some of Le Clézio’s early writings and explores how his powerful experiences with the Embreras and Waunanas in Panama, with the indigenous cultures in Mexico, etc. drastically altered him and his writings. Chapter three investigates the inexplicable instants of euphoria which abound when Le Clézio’s characters commune with nature in Mondo, Désert, Le Chercheur d’Or, and Pawana. Chapter four explores privileged moments related to music in the short story “La Roue d’Eau,” as well as in the novels Etoile Errante, Désert, Le Chercheur d’Or, and Le Poisson d’Or. Chapter five systematically investigates moments of sexual ecstasy shared with an Other in Désert, Le Chercheur d’Or, and La Quarantaine. Whereas the other mysterious moments of euphoria are solitary instants, these erotic encounters constitute a different type of experience, which will also obligate us to reflect upon various ethical issues.

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