09 October 2008

Nobel Thoughts

Congratulations to the newest Nobel Laureate in Literature, novelist Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio. I don't know his work, but am very happy for him (...although, to be honest, my first reactions upon hearing he'd won were; 1)"Jean-Marie Who?" and; 2)isn't Michel Tournier still alive?)

Much was made of recent comments by Horace Engdahl, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, attacking US writers for being "too isolated, too insular...Europe is still the center of the literary world..."

Uh, yeah, right....This is so wrong on so many levels it's hard to know where to start. Help me out here John....

Also, seems to me as a reader, that, depending on what you mean, there is either NO "Center of the Literary World" (shades of The Death of the Author!), or that The Center 'floats', and the location where the most vital and interesting work comes from changes. During "El Boom" (and after) it was Central and South America; writers from the Indian subcontinent have been 'must reads' in recent years (a few here -- although I don't count politically proto-European grandee Nobelist VS Naipaul -- and here).

Personally I wasn't entirely sure that any of the US writers who are on my shortlist (Philip Roth, for example, or Joyce "Stop Me Before I Write Another Novel Before Breakfast" Carol Oates -- Just kidding, JCO, us Mike Tyson Fans have to stick together...) had a ghost of a chance this year. What has been obvious to many of us for quite some time is that American writers should put the Nobel completly out of their minds as long as George W Bush occupies the White House. The anti-Bush/anti-US occupation of Iraq feeling is so strong in European literary circles now that we scribblers are being punished so that there could be zero chance of The Academy being seen as 'rewarding' the United States in any way.

Yet another reason to Vote Obama!

Finally on this year's award: No offense to fiction, but -- What's up with Poetry? In 1995 and '96 when the Swedish Academy went wild and voted in two poets back to back ( "Famous Seamus" Heaney and the luminous Wislawa Szymborska). Since then, novelists and playwrites. I was thinking that this might be the year for Tomas Tranströmer, although the Swedes are sensitive of giving The Big One to one of their own, Bei Dao -- or, say, Adonis (or Mahmoud Darwish if he'd lived) both for the quality of their work and as yet another way to needle the Bush Administration. Again this year, Stockholm sent regrets to John Ashbery, Claribel Alegria, Jay Wright (whose Polynomials and Pollen: Parables, Proverbs, Paradigms, and Praise for Lois is making me cry right now), and on and on and on ......

Come on Academy: What did us versifyers ever do to Sweden?

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