Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Nobel Prize for Literature Committee Chairman to America: Drop Dead

The head of the awards committee (some guy called Horace Engdahl) for the Nobel prize for literature went off on the state of writing in America in a big way yesterday. In reality, in his attempt to insult American authors, the man revealed more about his own petty world view and political prejudices than anything else he spoke about. He came across as a pompous simpleton, but maybe for him that's as good as it gets. According to London's Guardian newspaper:

It's been 15 long years since an American author was last honoured with a Nobel prize for literature.

Judging by the low opinion the head of the award jury holds of American writing, it is not going to happen this year.

Today, the literary world on this side of the Atlantic reacted in bemusement and anger to an extraordinary tirade against American writing by Horace Engdahl, the permanent secretary of the Nobel prize jury.

"Of course there is powerful literature in all big cultures, but you can't get away from the fact that Europe still is the centre of the literary world ... not the United States," he told the Associated Press today.

"The US 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."
The US literary community has long had an ambivalent attitude towards the Nobel prize - not helped by the long drought. The last time American to win a prize for literature was Toni Morrison in 1993.

In the years since then, Europeans have been recognised nine times, including Britain's Doris Lessing.
The prestige of Nobel prizes, because of the personal political views of its various judges, has been been drastically discounted for several years now. In effect, Nobel Prizes of all types have become something of a joke because the first standard that potential winners are judged on is their political philosophy. If that philosophy is not the same as that of the judges, they are booted from contention. It's become as simple as that. Frankly, I lost respect for the prizes after watching the politics involved in the awarding of them to people like Jimmy Carter and Albert Gore.

Mr. Engdahl is just another chump of a judge in a long line of chumps.


  1. Hi Sam:
    I don't know if I'd be that dismissive. Literature in the U.S. has been under siege for quite some time by publishing houses terrified of risk, addicted to bestsellers, and obsessed with cross-over appeal (movies, celebrities, games, etc.). The industry has become one of followers -- just look at all the copycat books that hit the market as soon as book hits big. There's a reason we haven't won a Nobel in nearly two decades -- we're not dedicated to literature and writing.

  2. Oh, I realize that we don't always shine when it comes to publishing for reasons like you mention.

    But I lived a few years in the U.K. and in France and, frankly, I saw as much junk there as here...perhaps even more in the U.K. than here, in fact.

    I am irritated by the anti-Americanism that is so consistently displayed by Nobel prize judges and, knowing that about them, I have no respect for their opinion, especially when expressed for absolutely no reason like this one was.

  3. Eh, he does sound like a bit of a jerk, but - and I guess this is the American in me speaking - who cares about the Nobel anyway? I guess the Nobel prize is a big deal to writers, but for me I ceased to care about their nominations (at least when it comes to literature) a long, long time ago. When it comes to the big literature awards, the Pulitzer tops my list.

  4. I completely agree, J.S. In fact, since the Nobel prizes have become little more than political statements, I pretty much ignore them.

  5. Isn't the guy a euro-centric jerk? So condescending. And apparently South America doesn't even matter at all since it didn't even get a nod to its existence.

  6. Judging strictly by the announced winner, it is obvious that the selection committee hasn't a clue about good literature, Stefanie.