Breaking news: Americans are self-involved

For those who are interested in Nobel prize politics, there’s an article in Salon.com titled “Why American Novelists Don’t Deserve the Nobel Prize.” The author cites the problem of (American) Great Male Narcissists and the “write what you know” message drilled into MFA students. I find it difficult to offer my two cents here – as many contemporary novels and “modern classics” I’ve read, it doesn’t seem to be enough to form a decisive opinion the way the Salon author (and the Nobel committee) has.

Also, like most Americans, I have not read widely outside of American and British literature, despite the admirable efforts of publishers like Europa Editions to offer works in translation (Europa published Muriel Barberry’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog; about two-thirds of the books they publish are works in translation). Furthermore, the stated criteria for the prize seem a bit vague: the Nobel prize shall be awarded for “achievements in literature,” to “the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.” (See the official Nobel Prize in Literature page, and the list of laureates.)

I’m sure there are tacit criteria as well, but surely of all the authors in the world, there are many who could justly receive the prize; it’s a bit like applying to a top Ivy – there are a lot of qualified applicants who don’t get in. Also, it seems unlikely that Europe is producing all the best literature. I’m not necessarily arguing that American literature is superior, but there are a number of other countries and continents in the world, and I believe there are authors there too…?

*UPDATED* I found a bit more background/insight to the Nobel issue in the New York Review of Books. Here’s a quote from the article:

“Now, let’s imagine that we have been condemned for life to making, year in year out a burdensome and near impossible decision to which the world increasingly and inexplicably ascribes a crazy importance. How do we go about it? We look for some simple, rapid and broadly acceptable criteria that will help us get this pain out of the way. And since, as Borges himself noted, aesthetics are difficult and require a special sensibility and long reflection, while political affiliations are easier and quickly grasped, we begin to identify those areas of the world that have grabbed public attention, perhaps because of political turmoil or abuses of human rights, we find those authors who have already won a huge level of respect and possibly major prizes in the literary communities of these countries and who are outspokenly committed on the right side of whatever political divide we’re talking about, and we select them.”

Read the whole article: “What’s Wrong With the Nobel Prize in Literature?”

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