Nobel Literature Head: US too Ignorant to Compete

Breaking news! As if slowly losing grip politically and militarily around the World and the Wall Street financial meltdown were not enough, the once all-powerful United States of America is in for another let-down. The Associated Press reports:

Bad news for American writers hoping for a Nobel Prize next week: the top member of the award jury believes the United States is too insular and ignorant to compete with Europe when it comes to great writing.

As the Swedish Academy enters final deliberations for this year’s award, permanent secretary Horace Engdahl said it’s no coincidence that most winners are European.

“Of course there is powerful literature in all big cultures, but you can’t get away from the fact that Europe still is the center of the literary world … not the United States,” he told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview Tuesday.

“The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature,” Engdahl said. “That ignorance is restraining.”

Needless to say, his controversial statements riled up not a few US literary officials.

“You would think that the permanent secretary of an academy that pretends to wisdom but has historically overlooked Proust, Joyce, and Nabokov, to name just a few non-Nobelists, would spare us the categorical lectures,” said David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker.

[Leo Tolstoy too! He died in 1910, a decade after the the Nobel Prize was started.]

“And if he looked harder at the American scene that he dwells on, he would see the vitality in the generation of Roth, Updike, and DeLillo, as well as in many younger writers, some of them sons and daughters of immigrants writing in their adopted English. None of these poor souls, old or young, seem ravaged by the horrors of Coca-Cola.”

[In my opinion, another contemporary American writer that deserves the prize is Ursula Le Guin. I love her works of literary science fiction and fantasy that incorporates sharp social commentary and explorations on alternative systems of organizing human society, including The Dispossessed, The Left Hand of Darkness and The Earth-Sea Cycle, among others.]

Harold Augenbraum, executive director of the foundation which administers the National Book Awards, said he wanted to send Engdahl a reading list of U.S. literature.

“Such a comment makes me think that Mr. Engdahl has read little of American literature outside the mainstream and has a very narrow view of what constitutes literature in this age,” he said. ■

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “Nobel Literature Head: US too Ignorant to Compete

  1. Some important points to consider from Three Percent:

    7) Do American writers/critics really think we deserve to win the Nobel more frequently than other countries? I don’t. There are fantastic writers from all over the world who are equally as talented and important as American writers. Over the history of the prize, the U.S. has had a few nice runs, as have other countries. Almost by definition, the prize should be diverse and as global as possible;

    8) It’s dangerous for anything, especially a “peace prize,” to be viewed in a nationalistic way. Celebrate the writers that win, rather than criticizing the committee for not picking more writers from your own country. Same would apply to Engdahl. Making fun of American culture is easier than falling down the stairs, but you could give a nod to the uber-talented at the same time;

  2. I don’t think his comments amount to mere European hubris. By hubris, one means “Excessive pride to the point that a mortal challenges the superiority of the gods; Hubris is a fatal flaw which is inevitably punished.”

    I don’t think the criticism voiced by the Nobel secretary was based on excessive pride. On the contrary, the typical neoconservative American reaction as exemplified by Adam Kirsch’s article over at Slate.com and an October 5 New York Times article shows that very same excessive pride that you refer to.

    This excessive American pride is tackled closely over at Blographia Literaria

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s