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Nobel to US: Drop Dead

Looks like you can use those SAS frequent flyer miles for something else, Philip. All award nerds and bored literary columnists can thank Horace Engdahl, permanent secretary of the literature jury for the Nobel Prize, for stirring things up today with his comments that Americans aren't qualified for the big prize they haven't won since 1993:

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

I had come to understand that no American (especially Roth) was getting the prize until Bush was out of office, but it looks like things may go deeper than that, and we in the provinces (where, admittedly, we could read a little more translated literature) will have to watch from the sidelines while Europe gives itself another one of those gold medals with the picture of the dynamite tycoon on it. David Remnick of the New Yorker gets the best response in the AP article: "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." Speaking of insular, it's worth noting that of the eight books by Americans in our editors' top 10 last year, three are by first-generation immigrants and one by the son of immigrants.

Does his contempt extend to Canadians? I've been holding out for Alice Munro for some time now, but it's true that her work shows no influence of the work of Michel Houellebecq, so she may be ineligible. --Tom

Comments

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Unless I'm mistaken, a few books I've read lately, Cold Mountain, Memoirs of a Geisha, The Kite Runner, 13 moons and others all qualify as American Literature. They may not have won the Nobel prize, but they are as important to me as The Grapes of Wrath, The Old Man and the Sea and many other classics. But I guess I'll need to focus on the European writers if I want to read truly great literature.

ian on October 01, 2008 at 09:16 AM
Good literature is good literature regardless of where it comes from.

I was going to pile on and say that good literature is good literature regardless of what award its author happened to not have won, but john brown beat me to it.

Euros obsess over pedigree? Dog bites man.

As another Duke said, "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing."

The trouble with American writers is that they write what people want to read.

Euro writers are way more sophisticated. They write what lit. profs. want to read.


We commenters all seem to acknowledge that awards for literature are inherently subjective and don't really "mean" anything. They're like the Academy Awards, except the recipients are old and ugly instead of young and beautiful.
So, who cares what Helmut thinks about American literature?

I say we boycott all Nobel prizes offered us. Not because they're snobs about our literature (who cares), but because studies show that the people who receive Nobel prizes for physics, chemistry, et al do their best work before getting the prize. After that, they get lazy or something, who knows.

Considering that 7 or 8 out of the last ten recipients of Nobel prizes in the hard sciences have been Americans, this constitutes a conspiracy by resentful Europeans to destroy our brightest intellects. I recommend they start looking in China, Venezuela, Iran, etc. for new candidates.

It's nice to know that anti-Americanism (and the arrogance of the European intelligentsia) is alive and well on the Continent.

"I had come to understand that no American (especially Roth) was getting the prize until Bush was out of office, but it looks like things may go deeper than that"

Of course it does. It isn't about Bush now and it never was. He hasn't helped, but many Europeans have simply used him to justify their perennial anti-American (and possibly Canadian) attitudes.

In the words of Dr. Henry Kissinger, "By this time next year, we will see the beginning of a new administration. We will then discover to what extent the Bush administration was the cause or the alibi for European-American disagreements. Right now, many Europeans hide behind the unpopularity of President Bush."

In the not so distant future, the Koran will be the winner every year.

Less
"Understand that only the dregs of any culture or society came to the US in the first place, killing the redskins, enslaving the Negroes for the almighty dollar, inventing global warming for profit, etc."

The US has a heritage of taking in misfits and "dregs" as you call them and, when we had had enpough of you Europeans, we kicked your arrogant asses off the continent. Go ask Geoge III, (or one of his inbred descendants). In the end, the "dregs" made a culture and nation that you Europeans will never equal.

How does it feel to belong to an NGO organization (EU) that has almost as big an economy as California?

You people never got it. Never. Which is why, within 10 years, the much vaunted "culture" of Europe will be drowned in the tidal wave of Islamic migration that will overtake you just as surely as the barbarians buried Rome.

Read your own history, fool. You are about to repeat it.

Your mean to tell me that NEITHER of Obama's two biographies qualify?
Mon Dieu!

If only Al Gore would write a novel we could once again claim our dominance in the world of belle lettres.

Is there any doubt that a certain Nobel Laureate from Oak Park, Illinois, had he been born thirty years later, would be totally ignored, if not lambasted, by the Dithering Nordic Disciples of Mediocrity?

Two words - Rigoberto Menchu

Nobel, Snobel.

Who needs it?

I'd prefer that we honor our literary luminaries the way comedians do it, with a roast.

Or maybe we could set up a competing award with bigger prizes and a truly international award committee. And just to spite the eurotrash we could call it the Bush Prize.

The Nobel Prize in Literature has always been worthless -- or rather, it's worth exactly whatever percentage of the interest on Alfred Nobel's fortune they're giving away in any given year, and not a mili-krona more. Any prize that passed up eleven chances to go to Leo Tolstoy (and passed ten times on Mark Twain) has nothing to say of any value whatsoever, no matter whom it may have dropped on from time to time by merest chance.

We should never forget that the Noble Prizes have long been heavily politicized in a quirky, Scandinavian sort of way. In 1933 the Noble Peace Prize was awarded to Norman Angell, best known for popularizing, through books such as The Great Illusion, the idea that no modern war could profit an aggressor, even the easy conquest of a wealthy nation that offered no resistance. Contrasting that with today, when pacifists claim that all wars are about profit (especially oil), illustrates that, while modern pacifist rhetoric may change, its thinking is never well-reasoned. Ideology always trumps good sense.

Angell's own flawed thinking about war in his bestselling books played a major role in creating the climate of appeasement that Hitler would exploit in the 1930s. If the U.S. had not intervened, the continent of Europe would have become the permanent vassal state of either Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia. Today's Noble Prizes would be restricted to either full-blooded Aryans or doctrinaire Marxists.

The same year Angell won the Noble Prize, he published another book, Chaos and Control. Despite the fact that Hitler was now in power in Germany, brutally suppressing political opponents and persecuting Jews, Angell gloated at the success of pacifist rhetoric, writing:

________
"No one pretends now--as the papers above quoted used to pretend--that war was due to the special wickedness of Germans, the sudden swoop of the satanic wolf in a peaceful world lusting to eat such harmless lambs as France and Russia, and to take on at one and the same time a dozen other States."
__________

Contrast that with the English writer G. K. Chesterton, who had warned the year before (1932) that Germany was going to choose dictatorship and turn aggressive. If the leaders of Britain and France did not act firmly and forcefully to restrain a newly militarized Germany, he stressed, the next European war would break out over a border dispute between Germany and Poland, precisely what happened seven years later.

Chesterton also bluntly linked militarism and pacifism by an ideology they share. Both, he warned during World War I, believed that might was right, that the aggressor should triumph. That's why he noted that, "Pacifism and Prussianism [militarism] are always in alliance, by a fatal logic far beyond any conscious conspiracy." For modern examples of that "fatal logic," recall the behavior of European pacifism during the last decade of the Soviet Union or their eager assistance to Saddam's embattled regime just before the Iraqi War.

The great failing of the Noble Prizes for Peace and Literature isn't who wins, but who doesn't win. Chesterton's warnings about Germany should have won him the Peace Prize. It went to Angell. Reagan should have won for ending the Cold War. Carter won for his ineffectual action in the Middle East. A Polish woman who risked her life to save thousands of Jewish children should have won last year. Instead the prize went to the hysterical, flaky Gore.

It isn't hard to see what's happening. The Noble Prizes for Literature and Peace are cheating, freeloading on the genuine prestige bestowed by legitimately earned prizes in fields such as physics and medicine.

Finally, don't let remarks like these bother you. Every time you hear a European criticize the United States, remind yourself that the U.S. is the only reason today's Nobel prizes aren't restricted to those of "Germanic origin" or that most modern European literature isn't being written in German.

--Michael W. Perry, editor of Chesterton on War and Peace: Battling the Ideas and Movements that Led to Nazism and World War II

Good literature is good literature regardless of where it comes from.

They give out Nobels for LITERATURE? When did this start?


The Nobel Prizes are awarded by Europeans(Swedes and Norwegians, I think). The statement about American writers was surprising in it's honestly, not in it's message. I personally find most Europeans so self-absorbed to be uninteresting - dull and predictible. Is it just me that thinks that?

"From the story: "Engdahl ... said U.S. writers are "too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture," dragging down the quality of their work."

Isn't he correct?"

Oh, obviously. It clearly can't be 'literature' unless you're snottily talking down to the masses and deprecating their tedious, moronic lives. Why, some, even many, of them may actually be bitterly clinging to their guns and their religion.

This is unlike Europe, where no one is a member of the masses and they don't bitterly cling to anything (like for instance an outmoded and quite possibly dying French language or Marxist thought).

I would love to see some American billionaire start a new prize, perhaps called "The Provincial Award for Writing Stuff Real People Really Read." An award of about 10M ought to get noticed.

Well, 40 years ago I graduated from college with a degree in "English" Literature. Even back then it would have been more accurate to refer to it as British Literature with an occasional foray into translated European works. American literature was allowed only a backward glance, focusing mainly on the literary production of the 20th century south.

Since then I've had to make my living actually doing something, but in my spare time I continued to read. For many years I read what my betters had taught me to read in college, but as I grew intellectually by becoming, of necessity, a student of life and real people, it gradually dawned on me that I was spending a great deal of time processing the nattering of soulless goof balls.

At the moment, my literary project is to read the entire opus of Louis L'Amour. All 125 or so of his novels, short stories and whatnot. I can't tell you how much I am enjoying this. I'm learning to watch my back trail, to build my camp fire small and under a tree so the smoke will dissipate before it is observed by my enemies. I am learning to deal with others squarely, to blurt out the honest truth at every opportunity and to be prepared to defend myself quickly and decisively when attacked.

Years from now, when the lights dim to darkness, the infrastructure fails and civilization recedes to nothing, it will be L'Amour's stories that are told by people gathered at the hearth. If Nobel is remembered at all it will not be for the prize named for him, but for his invention of a better class of explosives.

Frankly, Europe is so ****** up (in far more ways than one), the only questions now are: A) What's going to happen to those poor souls who have nothing to do with the insanity, dishonesty, & BS that is called Europe?; B) How long will Europe contaminate the international scene before they die?; & C) How noisy will Europe's death throes be (the chance of violence is laughable)?

Anyone who is being even slightly honest about it will realize that the chances of Europe shaping up enough to make themselves capable of survival, & worthy of respect, are very slim.

We should have never said, If we're nothing but a culture of illiterate hillbillies, why do so many Nobel prizes go to Americans or people working at American universities? Because that made the Euros think, Hey, they're right, they do get too many Nobels. Et voila, the Nobel committee started awarding prizes elsewhere.

They started with literature, but the hard science prizes will follow soon. They'll be awarding them to Frenchmen for developing new dryer lint technology or something. And the literature prizes will go to African transexuals who craft magical realism novellas about how they're being metaphorically raped by their adopted culture.

But the committee will still be able to find leftist anti-American Americans to give the peace prize to, after which the committee chairman will announce that the "peace" prize was meant as a kick in the teeth to the US.

Every day, I find another reason to stop assigning value to anything anyone in western Europe says or does.

Oh, let's really get on the Nobel Prize for Literature for a more damning stance: A woman wins the award about ten percent of the time. Doris Lessing was only the 11th woman to win in over a century of the award's existence.
As Ursula K. Le Guin so aptly posits in her essay AWARD AND GENDER, do women only constitute 10% of the writing population?
(We know the answer is no.)

From the story: "Engdahl ... said U.S. writers are "too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture," dragging down the quality of their work."

Isn't he correct?

To Mr. Horace Engdahl,

The fact that someone of his "expertise" thinks of Americans, as "watered down" in their abilities to write is completely asenine. If you are going to judge our nation as a whole, don't judge us by what our president or government does. Let's face it, The Nobel Prize is nothing more than an award fueled by politics. The fact that Europeans think they are the best, doesn't surprise me. Look at the world cup, Europeans only win the world cup when it's held in Europe. And like someone said in a previous comment, give them ten years, we'll see how 'cultured' they will be, they can't even give citizenship to kids born in their countries whose parents aren't European. So keep your literary and "peace" prizes, after all, it was the U.S. that bailed out europe (both militarily and economically) in BOTH world wars, not to mention in the Baltic conflict as well.

Dieux is most definitely plural, comme les dieux du grecque ancien, like the gods of ancient greece..

Mon Dieu is the correct spelling of My God....

perhaps the fact that the X is silent has confused prosetech.

who cares when the award is not based on merit

"What is pathetic is that you are willing to debase your own culture(Coca Cola, mon Dieux!) to wipe the boots of your colonial masters. And what about all that pandering( sons of immigirants) nonsense? Do you mean to say that an American son of soil shouldn't be eligible for an award for literary excellence?"

You've misunderstood. He's mocking Euro perceptions.

Oh well. I guess Americans will have to settle for winning the prizes in Physiology (8 in the past 10 years), Physics (8/10), Chemistry (7/10), Economics (8/10), and Peace (2/10).

Its hard to be modest when you're a Euro, what with being at the fulcrum of poetry and civilisation since the dawn of time, and stuff.

Understand that only the dregs of any culture or society came to the US in the first place, killing the redskins, enslaving the Negroes for the almighty dollar, inventing global warming for profit, etc.

Zero culture. Obama is the the Messiah. Do even the "samrtest" Amis realize this? Nope.

"Mon dieu" or "mes dieux" not whatever you said.

'"mon Dieux!"

I studied German in school, not French, but I'm guessing that "Dieux" is the plural.'


Maybe you should go back to school and study French because "mon dieux" is a perfectly acceptable phrase in French howsoever it translates in English.

Hard for me to feel sorry for American writers who will suffer for this. Like Joyce Catol Oates and Erika Jong and others who hve passed on but were denied like Vonnegut. Live by anti-American sword and die by it too.

They've fed the beast and now it feeds on them.

Which strikes me as something close to justice.

In the American Rube vernacular--

Hey Horace, Stick your Nobel where the Sun Don't Shine!!

Give the Euros another ten years, and the only literature they will dare recognize for any prize is the Q'ran.

Does it matter? The prizes that insiders still respect (Phys, Medicine, Chemistry, and Econ) are totally dominated by the US. So Peace and Lit, being the most subjective are the consolation prizes Europe gives to itself.

"mon Dieux!"

I studied German in school, not French, but I'm guessing that "Dieux" is the plural.

Now, back to my comic book. Thank you.

Who cares what the Nobel Prize wanks have to say? The Prize is meaningless. It has become nothing more than another political sideshow.

What a jackass. Neal Stephenson has more deep, richly contoured fiction that requires intelligence to read than perhaps any author in the last five years. Yet he'll be dismissed *because* he's American.
Prejudice is prejudice is prejudice.

If the document awarded along with the check is on paper,
it might pass rigor for toilet paper.
The europeans must all be double jointed in their shoulders,
so they can perpetually pat themselves on the back.

If the document awarded along with the check is on paper,
it might pass rigor for toilet paper.
The europeans must all be double jointed in their shoulders,
so they can perpetually pat themselves on the back.

If the document awarded along with the check is on paper,
it might pass rigor for toilet paper.
The europeans must all be double jointed in their shoulders,
so they can perpetually pat themselves on the back.

If the document awarded along with the check is on paper,
it might pass rigor for toilet paper.
The europeans must all be double jointed in their shoulders,
so they can perpetually pat themselves on the back.

If the document awarded along with the check is on paper,
it might pass rigor for toilet paper.
The europeans must all be double jointed in their shoulders,
so they can perpetually pat themselves on the back.

If you want to make any real money as an author you have to publish in the US market.

I lost all respect for the Nobel organization a long time ago. The live with blinders on.

I first read of the comments by Horace Engdahl on the CNN website. I wasn't surprised by the stance, though I do not agree. Perhaps the gentleman could use a few well thought out reading lists to assist in his American Lit 101 course work. The idea that Americans can't or don't compete in the larger arena of high literature may, though, be more an issue of perception. Case in point: Engdahl's opinion was given voice to many Americans via the same venue that I frequent, i.e., CNN, which listed the article under entertainment. Yes, entertainment - along with Clay Aiken's coming out announcement and review of Tina Fey's most recent imitation of Sarah Palin. Now THAT's high brow culture for you.

The Nobel Prize for Literature is no more about literature than the Nobel Prize for Peace is about peace, and hasn't been for many years. Both are about anti-Americanism in particular and leftwing extremism in general.

It's actually something of a badge of honor that no American writers have been considered depraved enough to receive this award recently, particularly since during the same time period there have been a number of Americans considered depraved enough to receive the "Peace" award.

What is pathetic is that you are willing to debase your own culture(Coca Cola, mon Dieux!) to wipe the boots of your colonial masters. And what about all that pandering( sons of immigirants) nonsense? Do you mean to say that an American son of soil shouldn't be eligible for an award for literary excellence?

Fortunately, Noble Prize is not about literature anymore; like an old dowager piling on make-up to maintain a pretense of glamour, it's the last neurotic gasp of a rapidly disappearing Europe to maintain it's cultural viability. And they can only do that by bashing America.

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