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10/29/2008

Comments

Richard

Do you not find most, if not all literary prizes idiotic exercises full stop? When the Nobel committe have famously neglected Joyce, Proust and Nabokov, as well as the American authors you mention, is the importance attached to the prize questionable?

Dan Green

Yes and yes.

Frances Madeson

There are some wonderful speeches though. Doris Lessing's was indelible.

M. O'Nail

I find it slightly amusing that the Nobel Committee should always have to resort to a bunch of (in my view) extra-literary explanations to justify their choices. Authors -that's what the Committee always says- get the Nobel Prize because of their contribution to the knowledge of such and such, or because of the insight they give us into so and so. They (the Nobel Committee) are always giving the impresion that they award the Prize on the basis of the issues a writer deals with, or of the ideas that appear in his/her work, or of the culture/s he or she belongs to, rather than on his or her intrinsic literary merit. Can they never say We've decided to give the prize to this author because he/she's an extremely good writer?

The truth is most authors who have won the Nobel Prize are very good writers. What else is necessary for a writer to be praised and prized?

As far as this year's choice is concerned, there's another question that worries me. It seems that one of the reasons -or the main reason- for Le Clézio being awarded the prize is the fact that he has lived in several different countries and written about different countries and cultures. Is cosmopolitanism a pre-requisite for worldwide recognition? Can a writer who has always lived in the same country and has set all his/her novels in that country no longer aspire to the Nobel Prize? Wouldn't then William Faulkner stand a chance today? I think it would be a serious error to mistake cosmopolitanism for universalism. The literary canon is full of writers who were very local and the content of whose work is universal.

In any case the important thing about Le Clézio is not where his parents came from or what nationality he is. The question is Is he a good writer? All the rest is not literature.

D G Myers

A thorough and thought-provoking post, worth disagreeing with. I have replied at dgmyers.blogspot.com.

James

I'm a bit naive here, but could the Nobel choices be a reflection of, I don't know, American Lit as an elitist art? Perhaps our obsession with "our own mass culture" seems too trivial and insignificant to matter. Maybe if we had "real" problems and "real" social unrest to write about,the outcome would be different. Here's my question: if a prominent American author goes off to Somalia, lives and suffers there, then comes back to write about it with as much style and complexity as possible, would he or she be a contender? Or would the committee simply say," That spoiled American, what does he or she really know about suffering?" Perhaps when other writers from other countries progress (I hate my arrogant stance here) to a level where mass culture is the major significant problem, or if America goes below "super power status", the playing field will be even... Just a thought.

Jake

"Insofar as Engdahl has read much contemporary fiction, it would seem he hasn't read it very well."

Indeed: that's an excellent point, and one which I wish I'd considered when I wrote about Engdahl's comments in the context of Milan Kundera, which are here: http://jseliger.wordpress.com/2008/10/04/kundera-horace-engdahl-and-the-nobel-prize . The hypocrisy implicit in Engdahl's comments irritates all the more given the content of the comments themselves.

Nigel Beale

Apropos of the ridiculousness of the Nobel prize, and others, Tim Parks had some amusing things to say in an interview I conducted with him several years ago. Have a listen if you'd like here:
http://nigelbeale.com/?p=378

Finn Harvor

"To this extent, one might grant Engdahl some forebearance, since his attitude probably reflects a momentary unhappiness with the United States that will surely abate with the passing of the Bush administration."

Anyone on this thread holding his/her breath?

Mattias L

As a Swede I'm utterly ashamed by his comments. They were ofcourse moronic and largely uncalled for. The position he's in makes it doubly worse.

The tendency to call him stupid or question his literacy is a little uncalled for though, imho (eventhough I fully understand how you could deduce such a thing from his statements). I recently read his doctoral thesis "Den romantiska texten" (the romantic text) and I must say he comes across as quite a sharp-eyed reader. He has also been important for the introduction of post-structuralist thinking in swedish theory. He's no simpleton. I think it's pretty safe to say he has read the "greats" of american litterature and that he's read them well. To what degree hes read american lit from a broader spectrum is more dubious though.

I don't see his statements as an attack on the top-tier american writers as many seem to do. I recently heard a radio interview with him where he mentioned what he considered exceptions including writers who are frequently mentioned. I think he rather meant the culture at large, which still is a very broadly generalizing statement that like most such comments about the United States are both true and false at the same time. Anyway, it doesn't strike me as a very constructive view for the guy who is the secretary of the academy handing out the prize.

This kind of comment is typicly Engdahl however. In Sweden he's generally perceived of as an extreme elitist, he's certainly not afraid to speak his mind (or atleast make controversial statements).

I certainly think there is merit to the critique of the ethnocentrism of the price. I doubt it strikes the hardest against Americans though (which the academy (almost or entirely) after all can read untranslated).

Chris

It seems I'm coming to this party rather late, but it does occur to me that the United States, to the degree that its most prominent arbiters of domestic literary worth speak monolithically and for the rest of us, forfeits the Nobel "race" by valorizing writers who can't, I think, "compete" (by these scare quotes I intend only to indicate my personal distaste for literary prizes and the process by which they're bestowed) at the international level. However ruffled I may be -- as one whose interest, like Dan, is predominantly in American fiction -- by the seeming insult of Engdahl's comments, I am very well aware that in Europe and in much of the post-colonial world there has not been as assiduous an effort to tame the modernist legacy and efface the postmodernist legacy as that put forth by the American publishing and book reviewing establishment. I have no idea if, say, Richard Ford's bloated American reputation translates overseas, or if the hysterical praise for Joseph O'Neill's revanchist NEVERLAND was mirrored on the other side of the Atlantic (or in the Carribean, for that matter), but I wonder if what Engdahl calls the "sensitivity to mass culture" refers not to the censure or examination to which a DeLillo or a Wallace might subject such culture but to the self-satisfied reinscription of class prerogatives and received knowledge that we find in the neo-realist work of (say) Richard Ford or Joseph O'Neill. Certainly there is no room in such work for narrative experimentation -- and no demands to supply it made upon its authors by the organs of literary opinion.

Americans seem to outsource cultural innovation in the same way that they outsource so much nowadays, and value it when it washes up on these shores but not when it originates here. I'm reading Bolano's 2666 right now and anticipating the tidal wave of (mostly deserved) praise it will receive. As I usually do when reading a well-praised, adventurous book from even so unexotic a foreign place as the UK, I can't help but imagine the patronizing, damned-by-faint-praise reception it might have received -- if it were to receive any at all -- had it been written by an American. There are dozens of innovative American writers who remain internationally obscure precisely because they are little valued here. Maybe we shouldn't be looking to the Swedes to bolster the world reputation of our literature.

S. Thomas Summers (Scott)

"On the one hand, it seems likely that Engdahl's remarks were motivated by a non-literary (and entirely justified) dissatisfaction with American political and military actions over the last eight years, a dissatisfaction widely shared across all of Europe these days. Engdahl assumes, wrongly, that American writers, American "culture" more generally, are somehow complicit with these actions or at least haven't done enough to express their solidarity with European critics of American hubris as embodied by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. To this extent, one might grant Engdahl some forebearance, since his attitude probably reflects a momentary unhappiness with the United States that will surely abate with the passing of the Bush administration."

Do you have support for the opinion stressed above? If so, I'd like to see it. It's a big assumption.

I believe Endahl makes a strong argument. European writers, I would assume, have a broader world view. Their worlds are just that - broader. They have a better opportunity to experiene and emmerse themselves in multiple cultures, philosophies, and modes of thought. European readers do as well. Most Americans lack that opportunity.

Just my two cents.

Hal

Two you missed......Joseph McElroy his writing can change you way of thinking and of course Don DeLillo always ahead of this time.

J.

"European writers, I would assume, have a broader world view. Their worlds are just that - broader.They have a better opportunity to experiene and emmerse themselves in multiple cultures, philosophies, and modes of thought."

American writers do not have the ability to do this? If you are suggesting that America is not a multicultural place with people who possess different "philosophies and modes of thought," I would have to question your knowledge of America. I would also have to question your knowledge of Europe, since, it seems to me, Europeans are light years behind the U.S. in building genuinely multicultural societies. Do Parisians, for example, "immerse" themselves in Algerian culture? Do people in London "immerse" themselves in the cultures of the Middle East and the Caribbean. Southern Europe has already shown how "broad" it is, what with its politicians calling black folks "tanned" and its sports fans calling them darkies. Real broad, that Europe. Real broad.

mitch Hampton

Stanley Elkin for a Nobel Prize! That would be a literary world with real justice. Great idea.

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