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the girl with violets in her lap [userpic]

October 6th, 2008 (07:57 am)

My goodness, but this article bristling at America's (apparent) exclusion from the Nobel Prize for Literature is one of the zanier things I've read for awhile!

The premise of the article, which is actually interesting, was sparked by this quotation:

Horace Engdahl, the academy's permanent secretary, made that clear this week when he told the Associated Press that American writers are simply not up to Nobel standards. "The U.S. is too isolated, too insular," Engdahl decreed. "They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining."


So I'd certainly think that that would be debatable. And the Slate article does debate it. The problem is that I can't quite see how much of anything they say makes any, uh, sense.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • "America should respond not by imploring the committee for a fairer hearing but by seceding, once and for all, from the sham that the Nobel Prize for literature has become." They want us to secede from the Nobel Prize? Really? Will we have to fight a war? Is Slate going to go over to petitionsonline.com and craft a petition to try to get the American government to tell the Nobel committee we don't want no education Nobel Prizes? What?
  • "Though, while Engdahl decries American provincialism today, for most of the Nobel's history, it was exactly its "backwardness" that the Nobel committee most valued in American literature... Pearl Buck, who won the prize in 1938, and John Steinbeck, who won in 1962, are almost folk writers, using a naively realist style to dramatize the struggles of the common man. Their most famous books, The Good Earth and The Grapes of Wrath, fit all too comfortably on junior-high-school reading lists. Sinclair Lewis, the first American to win the Prize, in 1930, wrote broad satires on American provincialism with nothing formally adventurous about them." Oh, dude, I know you didn't just call John Steinbeck and Pearl S. Buck "anti-intellectual". And who in the hell ever said that a novel that isn't "formally adventurous" (I'm guessing that this means breaking traditional boundaries in terms of form and style, although dude still needs to learn to make some sense) is automatically "backward" and, it is implied, cowardly? He just ripped on Buck, Steinbeck, and fucking Sinclair Lewis. This is his defense of U.S. lit?
  • Oh, but bright side! "No one on either side of the Atlantic would quarrel with the awards to William Faulkner in 1949 or Ernest Hemingway in 1954." This is a stretch. Especially since if you caught me on an oppositional day I might quarrel with the award to Hemingway myself. I'd probably be wrong, but I'd have plenty of fodder for the argument nevertheless, I think.
  • "But in the 32 years since Bellow won the Nobel, there has been exactly one American laureate, Toni Morrison, whose critical reputation in America is by no means secure." ...WHAT

    NO, SERIOUSLY, WHAT

  • "To judge by the Nobel roster, you would think that the last three decades have been a time of American cultural drought rather than the era when American culture and language conquered the globe." We did what now? Is the worldwide profusion of McDonald's somehow supposed to affect our Nobel Prize in Lit standings? Because otherwise I'm not really all that clear on what he's talking about.
  • "Even Austrians and Italians didn't think Elfriede Jelinek and Dario Fo deserved their prizes." Man, if I were Elfriede Jelinek or Dario Fo I'd be itching to bitch-slap this guy. As it is, I'm itching to bitch-slap this guy. I didn't know much about the Fo pick (when was that, anyway?), but of the circle of my friends who are into this kind of thing and who had read Jelinek, all of them thought she was a great pick. I've been meaning to read something by her forever because her books look fascinating. And this guy is going on about how everyone knows she didn't "deserve" her prize? Who is this douche?
  • "But to prove the bad faith of Engdahl's recent criticisms of American literature, all you have to do is mention a single name: Philip Roth." Oh boy, here we go. I'll spare you all the guy's natterings about how Roth is super-super-cosmopolitan because he did interviews with lots of Europeans who won the Nobel themselves; clearly the roster of people he has interviewed should be the yardstick by which his Nobel potential should be measured. (Personally, I sort of think it more relevant that in writing about him I can't use the word "yardstick" without feeling extremely extremely dirty, although what relevance I think that should have, I can't really say.)
  • "Unless and until Roth gets the Nobel Prize, there's no reason for Americans to pay attention to any insults from the Swedes."

    OH

    I GET IT NOW

    YOU WANT PHILIP ROTH TO BE YOUR BOYFRIEND

    OKAY WELL I THINK JUST GOING RIGHT IN AND STICKING YOUR HEAD UP HIS ASS IS MOVING A LITTLE FAST, BUT I HOPE IT WORKS OUT FOR YOU

    YOU COULD MAYBE HAVE SKIPPED OVER THE PART WHERE YOU INSULT DORIS LESSING AND JOSE SARAMAGO, THOUGH, I DON'T REALLY KNOW THAT THAT WILL GET YOU ANY FARTHER WITH PHIL

    IT CERTAINLY AIN'T GETTING YOU FAR WITH ME

    BUT GOOD LUCK

    PLEASE SHUT UP NOW


Seriously, Slate. Why do you make no sense?

Comments

Posted by: active_apathy (active_apathy)
Posted at: October 6th, 2008 12:49 pm (UTC)
BtVS - vague that up

America should respond not by imploring the committee for a fairer hearing but by seceding, once and for all, from the sham that the Nobel Prize for literature has become.


Wait, what? I can't help but read that as:

The big foreign meaniehead said we're isolated and insular and don't participate in dialogue. Clearly they don't know what they're talking about. We must show them that we're not isolated or insular by NEVER TALKING TO THEM AGAIN.


(This possibly makes sense in the same way as writing an article is somehow "paying no attention to ... the Swedes".)

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: October 6th, 2008 03:48 pm (UTC)

Yeah, I think that's pretty much what that says. "WE DON'T NEED YOUR NOBEL PRIZE ANYWAY! WE'LL MAKE A BETTER PRIZE, AND IT WILL BE CALLED, UM, THE U.S. YANKEE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AMERICAN PRIZE OF BETTER THAN YOU!! AND YOU CAN'T COME IN OUR CLUBHOUSE"

Posted by: Greetings Fellow Comstoks! (fengi)
Posted at: October 6th, 2008 01:04 pm (UTC)

I refuse to believe this person can read novels, since he doesn't realize the quote was about participation and translations. In short, if you can't be bothered to get the rest of the world to read your books, it's hard for you to get nominated for an international prize.

Posted by: Greetings Fellow Comstoks! (fengi)
Posted at: October 6th, 2008 01:08 pm (UTC)

Honestly, this almost as bad as a publisher who has a high mark up for small lot orders and books author tours in Borders only getting mad when they're not nominated for an independent booksellers award.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: October 6th, 2008 03:49 pm (UTC)

That's actually a really good point -- I sort of skimmed over that part because my eye was drawn to, like, the assertion that Toni Morrison might not be any good. And also because I don't know anything about international translations of American lit, not having any immediate access to such things. But you're right, the article was a response to an argument that was never made in the first place.

Posted by: Greetings Fellow Comstoks! (fengi)
Posted at: October 6th, 2008 04:19 pm (UTC)

And it's not just the issue of translation, but networking, marketing and playing the game at the academic level. This is a bit different than if the Pulitzer prize refused to consider any book from Texas - that would be something striking.

Lit isn't like science where the work itself can travel around because it's part of the process of research. You've got to have a strong presence in the community and yes, if your nation is pissing everyone off you've got to kiss ass a little bit. It's art, thus subjective. And as someone else said, if the judges are saying "America has been too isolationalist to invite awards" it seems to me more isolationalism is doing it wrong.

Posted by: Spencer Irving (archaica)
Posted at: October 6th, 2008 06:01 pm (UTC)

Basically, this dude is saying, "The Grammy Award totally should have gone to this hobo on the corner who plays spoons."

Posted by: Spencer Irving (archaica)
Posted at: October 6th, 2008 01:08 pm (UTC)

Hahahahaha. Philip Roth is the deal-breaker?

Posted by: Susan Jane Bigelow (shashalnikya)
Posted at: October 6th, 2008 01:26 pm (UTC)

He wrote a novel about Lucky Lindy being president. IT MUST BE GOOD

Posted by: Spencer Irving (archaica)
Posted at: October 6th, 2008 01:30 pm (UTC)

Roth's last novel: "Zuckerman's Charleston."

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: October 6th, 2008 03:51 pm (UTC)

People are always insisting he NEEDS to win the next Nobel, and my brain's inevitable response is "...huh. Really?" I mean, not saying he'd be the worst choice in the world (whenever people suggest Joyce Carol Oates ought to get the next one, I criiiiiiiiinge), but I just... yeah, I'm with you on the "*he's* the dealbreaker?" thing.

Posted by: Spencer Irving (archaica)
Posted at: October 6th, 2008 03:54 pm (UTC)

.....Joyce Carol Oates?

Ehhh.

I am so not a book-head like probably 99% of the people commenting on this post (and I have no animus against it, I'm just not), but MAN COME ON PEOPLE.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: October 6th, 2008 04:17 pm (UTC)

Joyce Carol Oates has written maybe three or four books in her career that are amazing and several others that are very good; but she publishes a book like every four months and so many of them are so very, very flawed. If we'd been able to stick with the JCO of Blonde, Black Water, and some of her notable short stories a Nobel for her might not be a crazy idea, but anyone who is turning out books like that YA thing about After the Wreck I Picked Myself Up and Spread My Wings and Preened My Feathers for a Little Bit and Pecked at a Breadcrumb Then Flew Away To Perch on a Telephone Line or whatever the crap it was called just needs not to ever win a Nobel. Ever.

Posted by: Susan Jane Bigelow (shashalnikya)
Posted at: October 6th, 2008 01:25 pm (UTC)
Gally

Slate, it is the dumb.

America may never win the Nobel Prize in literature, but by God we'll win the category for fanfic. The Europeans can't possibly catch up with us there!

...As for the substance, I'll completely ignore the bizarre Slate response and concentrate on the original quote. Why in heaven's name is it important to participate in "the big dialogue of literature," whatever that is? What sort of holier-than-thou, I've-got-a-PhD-in-Postcolonialist-Theory-of-the-Other-in-Icelandic-Beatnik-Poetry nonsense is this? Great literature doesn't have to follow silly international trends, whatever those may happen to be, nor do great authors have to talk with Europeans or read Alas for the Clown of Sorrow: The Ennui of Living and So Forth, hot off the presses from Belgium, to be great.

Bah! Why can't great authors be misanthropic shut-ins, like in the old days?

Posted by: Spencer Irving (archaica)
Posted at: October 6th, 2008 01:30 pm (UTC)

Great literature doesn't have to follow silly international trends, whatever those may happen to be, nor do great authors have to talk with Europeans or read Alas for the Clown of Sorrow: The Ennui of Living and So Forth, hot off the presses from Belgium, to be great

Yes! I agree wholeheartedly.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: October 6th, 2008 03:51 pm (UTC)

What sort of holier-than-thou, I've-got-a-PhD-in-Postcolonialist-Theory-of-the-Other-in-Icelandic-Beatnik-Poetry nonsense is this? Great literature doesn't have to follow silly international trends, whatever those may happen to be, nor do great authors have to talk with Europeans or read Alas for the Clown of Sorrow: The Ennui of Living and So Forth, hot off the presses from Belgium, to be great.

I need you to know that this is basically the funniest comment that has been left on my journal in the history of ever.

Posted by: roseyviolet (roseyv)
Posted at: October 6th, 2008 04:25 pm (UTC)

Someone makes a debateable, but probably pretty fair assessment of one of America’s weaknesses. America should respond by saying it doesn’t want the poopy thing they haven’t been offered anyway. America (at least in the mind of the writers at Slate) = Andy Bernard:

“I don’t lose contests. I win contests. Or else I drop out of them because they are unfair.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: October 6th, 2008 04:30 pm (UTC)

Haha, most salient quotation ever. Andy is hilarious.

Posted by: Brandoch Daha (ticktockman)
Posted at: October 6th, 2008 05:56 pm (UTC)

I think that Gene Wolfe should have won the Nobel for The Book of the New Sun quartet. Just sayin'.

*daha*

Posted by: Underwear Ninja (chavvah)
Posted at: October 6th, 2008 11:06 pm (UTC)

...WHAT

That was pretty much my response too, man.

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