Damn. I was rooting around looking for some other angle to lob shit at the current state of American literature, and ran across a very good comment on the Christian Science Monitor. The actual story says nothing new, but this comment by Mike Pat put together a lot of points fairly, laying just as much blame with the Nobel selection committee:
Horace Engdahl’s recent comments concerning American writers are an unfortunate confirmation of what most of us inferred already- the Nobel committee hates American literature. The reasons matter little, however it appears clear that Euro snobbery is at least part of the answer. There is probably a measure of jealousy, mixed with political punishment for the Bush administration policies. Historically, Nobel has largely ignored American writers. When one considers that since 1962, when John Steinbeck won, only three Americans have won-(and one of them was really a European writer- Isaac Bashevis Singer- writing in the Yiddish tradition and language-although we are happy to claim him) it is clear that Nobel disdains America.
Maybe this isn’t so bad when one considers the stunning list of European and Non-European non-winners which leads one to conclude that the Nobel committee knows nothing about literature. Consider this partial list of non-winning European writers who were eligible since the prize was created in 1901: Leo Tolstoy, Emile Zola, Anton Chekhov, Henrik Ibsen, Thomas Hardy, August Strindberg, Edmond Rostand, Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, Joseph Conrad, Rainer Maria Rilke, A.E. Housman, Miguel de Unamuno, Marcel Proust, Maxim Gorky, Hugo von Hoffmansthal, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, G.K. Chesterton, Fernando Pessoa, Isaac Babel, Virginia Woolf, Federico Garcia Lorca, Osip Mandelstam, Paul Valery, Aldous Huxley, E.M. Forster, Bertolt Brecht, George Orwell, Luis Cernuda, Isak Dinesen, W.H. Auden, Nikos Kazantzakis, Paul Celan, Jorge Luis Borges, Graham Greene, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Jean Anouilh, Italo Calvino, Eugene Ionesco, Stanislaw Lem, Iris Murdoch, Milan Kundera. None of these writers were deemed worthy by the Nobel Committee.
Consider this partial list of North/South American writers who were also ignored by Nobel: Henry James, Mark Twain, Joaquim M. Machado de Assis, Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, John Dos Passos, Theodore Dreiser, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, Flannery O’Connor, Vladimir Nobokov, Alejo Carpentier, Julio Cortazor, Robertson Davies, Mario Vargas Llosa, Philip Roth, Arthur Miller, Carlos Fuentes, Thomas Pynchon, Norman Mailer, Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthy, Ralph Ellison, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Updike, Margaret Atwood, Roberto Bolano etc. etc.
Instead of some of these names we get unbelievable selections like Dario Fo, Elfriede Jelinek, Gao Xingjian. The simple fact of the matter is that while many Nobel laureates have richly deserved the prize (like recent choices such as Pinter, Coetzee, Saramago, Grass) these choices are the exception rather than the rule. In light of the comments of Engdahl coupled with the total lack of North/South American winners since Toni Morrison’s win in 1993 it is time to wipe clean the Academy and find new and qualified Nobel selectors. The award is so tainted at this point it seems to be an international joke. I love European literature but to annually award the prize to European writers while virtually ignoring the rest of the world is not acceptable. If you want to have a European award go right ahead but don’t pretend that this flawed award is the height of international acclaim. Nobel virtually missed the “Latin Boom”, has all but ignored North American literature, Asian literature, Australian literature and African Literature. How do you justify the choice of someone like Jelinek while not picking Chinua Achebe or Philip Roth or Roberto Bolano? A new international award is needed to properly reflect literary greatness. Engdahl’s ridiculous comments only confirm the misguided selection process that has resulted in choices that will seem as bizarre as the terrible early choices made by the committee.
I agree with this man nearly completely. Engdahl’s comments pissing off American critics delighted me, but Pat makes the better argument of the Nobel Prize in Literature being a joke. This is the voice of reason. I was sick of reading Americans chanting Philip Roth, Philip Roth, Philip Roth without much more elaboration.
His inclusion of Stanislaw Lem in the list of unfairly ignored authors, in addition to championing the Latin Boom, makes Mike Pat extra super awesome.