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American Literature Isolated, Insular, Unqualified -

 
 
Reply Thu 9 Oct, 2008 05:03 am

Controversy Embroils Nobel Literature Prize
by Neda Ulaby


Morning Edition, October 9, 2008 · The 2008 Nobel Prize in Literature will be announced Thursday morning, and it's already drawing attention " for the wrong reasons. An official of the Swedish Academy " which awards the Nobel Prizes " caused a furor last week when he described American literature as isolated and insular, and therefore unqualified for literature's most prestigious award.

Playwright Edward Albee, whose credits include Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe and Zoo Story, has gained a sort of cranky perspective when it comes to awards. "All prizes are peculiar," he says. "There's politics in everything, and some judges just don't know what they're doing."

Albee points to a long list of great 20th century writers who were passed over by the Nobel judges: Leo Tolstoy, Marcel Proust, Jorge Luis Borges, James Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov and W.H. Auden.

Novelist Richard Russo says you could create a pretty good award out of just that list. Russo won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for his novel, Empire Falls. He was baffled when the Swedish Academy's permanent secretary, Horace Engdahl, told the Associated Press last month that "Europe still is the center of the literary world … not the United States."

Russo called the statement "more curious than anything else. This idea of suggesting that literature is in a physical place " that doesn't make sense to me at all." Nor did it make sense to Russo when Engdahl charged that the United States does not participate in the "big dialogue" of literature.

"I think the book itself is the dialogue," says Russo. "If I or any other writer writes a great book, then that book is our contribution to the dialogue."

Some American Writers Were Furious

At least one writer responded to Engdahl's statement with language unprintable here. An essayist for the online magazine Slate proposed that the U.S. secede from what he called "the sham the Nobel Prize for literature has become."

That makes author Francine Prose chuckle. "Actually, I'd prefer to retain our ties with the international community, as attenuated as it might be," she says.

Prose is president of the Pen American Center, which champions writers' rights around the world. Because three of the past four Nobel literature winners have been outspoken critics of the U.S. and its foreign policy, some people have accused the Swedish Academy of favoring anti-American writers. Prose is not so sure.

"Any prize goes through phases," she says, "and it seems as if, for a certain number of years, they're rewarding certain kinds of books, but the range is " and always has been " really quite enormous."

Still, Prose says that Engdahl had a point when he criticized U.S. publishers for not promoting more literature in translation. Novelist Junot Diaz " who won this year's Pulitzer Prize in literature " says something good could actually come out of this controversy.

"If this encourages the average American to read one more book in translation " if only to spite the kind of sneering Eurocentric elitism of this one individual " that's not a bad thing," he says.

Nor would it be so bad, Diaz says, if it incited U.S. publishers to translate more work from other parts of the world. He has a tip for them: the young Mexican writer Martin Solares. His work, says Diaz, is brilliant, but mostly unavailable in English "
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Type: Discussion • Score: 11 • Views: 6,823 • Replies: 42
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Cliff Hanger
 
  1  
Reply Thu 9 Oct, 2008 05:21 am
@edgarblythe,
True, all prizes are political so it doesn't surprise me America would be looked down upon by the Nobel people, especially lately-- George Bush's eight years have done a lot to erode America's standing in the world (ah, but you already know this).

I also agree the U.S,'s literary world is insular. In the U.S. it's about selling books, not necessarily the quality of the books written or expanding our horizons-- we're a myopic, jingoistic nation when it comes to commerce.

The Nobel for literature ought to be awarded to the writer who grapples with a theme which expands beyonds it's borders. The one writer who comes to mind is Nadine Gordimer.

I'm a little baffled as to why they'd interview Richard Russo. What makes him the qualified expert on this topic? He's written some good books, but certainly not anything so sweeping as to make him an expert to comment. Perhaps he's just the darling of NPR?
0 Replies
 
Merry Andrew
 
  1  
Reply Thu 9 Oct, 2008 06:40 am
@edgarblythe,
edgar, since you apparently got this off the NPR website, you might be able to access the monologue Garrison Keilor did on his Prairie Home Companion show last Saturday on this subject. Funny and incisive at the same time. Being of Scandinavian descent, Keilor gets away with saying some nasty things about the gall of the Swedes to be talking about "isolated" and "insular" when it comes to literature. I'm too lazy and non-techie to go looking for a hard copy of that stand-up bit, but it was good to listen to.
Cliff Hanger
 
  1  
Reply Thu 9 Oct, 2008 07:32 am
@Merry Andrew,
Garrison Keillor, an entertainer, epitomizes the insularity. His "sincere and folksy" charm is unbearble as he touts the virtues of poetry and literature.
Letty
 
  1  
Reply Thu 9 Oct, 2008 08:02 am
@edgarblythe,
Couldn't locate that specific Garrison Keilor video, edgar, but I notice that a Frenchman won the Nobel price for literature.

France's Le Clezio wins Nobel literature prize
By MATT MOORE and KARL RITTER, Associated Press Writers 8 minutes ago
STOCKHOLM, Sweden - France's Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio won the 2008 Nobel Prize in literature on Thursday for works characterized by "poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy" and focused on the environment, especially the desert.


Le Clezio, 68, is the first French writer to win the prestigious award since Chinese-born Frenchman Gao Xingjian was honored in 2000.
The decision was in line with the Swedish Academy's recent picks of European authors. Last year's prize went to Doris Lessing of Britain.
The academy called Le Clezio an "author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization."
Le Clezio made his breakthrough as a novelist with "Desert," in 1980.

The rest of the story:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20081009/ap_on_en_ot/eu_sweden_nobel_literature

Last year it was Doris Lessing, and the only thing that I have read by her is the short story, "Through the Tunnel", a rites of passage thing.

Never read a thing by Le Clezio. Guess Americans are to pre occupied with King George to impress Sweden.
Rolling Eyes
0 Replies
 
dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Thu 9 Oct, 2008 08:04 am
@Merry Andrew,
Damn...I wish you would....or, is there some place one can listen to it?????
Gargamel
 
  1  
Reply Thu 9 Oct, 2008 08:12 am
@Cliff Hanger,
Cliff Hanger wrote:

Garrison Keillor, an entertainer, epitomizes the insularity. His "sincere and folksy" charm is unbearble as he touts the virtues of poetry and literature.


How would his "charm" have any impact whatsoever on his critical views of literature?
ehBeth
 
  2  
Reply Thu 9 Oct, 2008 08:20 am
@dlowan,
http://prairiehome.publicradio.org/

the audio link's on the page below

http://prairiehome.publicradio.org/programs/2008/10/04/

Quote:

Segment 1
00:00:00 Logo
00:00:13 Tishomingo Blues
00:02:39 GK opens, talks about the weather, Nobel Prize for Literature
00:09:13 "I Dreamt I Dwelt in Old St. Paul" - GK/ Maria Jette
dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Thu 9 Oct, 2008 08:28 am
@ehBeth,
COOOOOOOL!!!!!!!!!!!
0 Replies
 
Cliff Hanger
 
  1  
Reply Thu 9 Oct, 2008 08:45 am
@Gargamel,
He promotes literature and poetry. He's popular and he knws his stuff. I find he spins a kind of sincerity that makes me want to throw the radio out the window. Instead, I turn it off.

I know it's blasphemy to critisize him, but the man is a cliche.
Gargamel
 
  1  
Reply Thu 9 Oct, 2008 08:57 am
@Cliff Hanger,
Cliff Hanger wrote:

He promotes literature and poetry. He's popular and he knws his stuff. I find he spins a kind of sincerity that makes me want to throw the radio out the window. Instead, I turn it off.

I know it's blasphemy to critisize him, but the man is a cliche.


I can't say I blame you entirely, though I do have a soft spot for him.

I will say I don't particularly like the poems he distributes via The Writer's Almanac, which clearly cater to his target audience. They're typically maudlin poems about dead grandparents. My complaint is, if you are trying to promote poetry, give your audience a little more credit. Challenge them. That's part of the enjoyment.
ehBeth
 
  1  
Reply Thu 9 Oct, 2008 09:01 am
@Cliff Hanger,
do tell ... at the I like Garrison Keillor thread ...
0 Replies
 
wandeljw
 
  1  
Reply Thu 9 Oct, 2008 09:13 am
Thanks for starting this thread, Edgar. I had heard the same quote and was puzzled. There are many American writers worthy of Nobel Prize recognition.
ehBeth
 
  1  
Reply Thu 9 Oct, 2008 09:14 am
@wandeljw,
Finn started a thread on the same subject yesterday.
0 Replies
 
ehBeth
 
  1  
Reply Thu 9 Oct, 2008 09:15 am
@wandeljw,
http://able2know.org/topic/123509-1
0 Replies
 
Brandon9000
 
  1  
Reply Thu 9 Oct, 2008 09:26 am
@edgarblythe,
Engdahl should be fired at once, as any American official who said this about a particular other country certainly would be.
Cliff Hanger
 
  2  
Reply Thu 9 Oct, 2008 09:28 am
@Gargamel,
Exactly, he doesn't challenge. Then again, his audience wants to feel they are supporters of the arts without feeling too challenged. Staying in the territory of state fairs or dead grandparents as memory hits the right tone.

The man is no slouch. I just don't want to have to listen to Billy Collins or Robert Bly when there are so many other less well-known and interesting poets out there.
0 Replies
 
Merry Andrew
 
  1  
Reply Thu 9 Oct, 2008 10:19 am
@ehBeth,
Thankee for doing my work for me, Bethie. I knew some techno-savvy A2Ker would come to the rescue! Thx. Smile
0 Replies
 
Merry Andrew
 
  1  
Reply Thu 9 Oct, 2008 10:24 am
Btw, is this thread still about the Nobel Prize for Literature or did I manage to sidetrack the whole thing to Garrison Keilor?

(See, if it's about Keilor, I've already said all I'm a-gonna say. If it's about the Nobel, lemme know. Who knows? I might have some thoughts.)
ehBeth
 
  1  
Reply Thu 9 Oct, 2008 10:26 am
@Merry Andrew,
Go Nobel, noble man.
 

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