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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: 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."

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