Nobel Prize Musing

With so much commentary on the upcoming contest between “Ease the Squeeze” and “Be Inert and Embalmed” I thought I’d shift attention to Scandinavia where once again a decision will be shortly announced for the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. If I were not so time-poor I’d congratulate the winners of the Chemistry, Physics and Medicine prizes in greater detail – if you want more information on such laudable achievements check out the Nobel website.

But I am going to ramble on about the Literature award as this is probable the only category in which I feel confident in making a judgement, and even then this is with the caveat that there are a multitude of writers whose work I have yet to had the privilege to experience. Still as always on the eve of the announcement there has been a lot of conjecture about possible winners, and just like elections there a lot of wagering on the possible recipient. Sadly this no longer includes New Zealand’s Janet Frame or Ivory Coast author writer Ahmadou Kourouma who both passed away in 2004.

Still there is a wealth of talent to choose from. The idea by some canon fetishists that the production of writing has dried can be proven to be overly pessimistic. This year I personally would like to see the attention given to one of several non-English speaking writers who merit greater attention in their ability to communicate experience. In this country and in the broader Western world there is still is a significant shortage of translated texts in bookstores and featured in review sections (mind you I should broadcast my appreciation to Grove Press and other small publishers for keeping a lot of work in limited circulation). Often translation difficulties can work against such texts receiving a more deserving amount of commentary, diminishing broader readership. In such circumstances the Nobel Prize provides an outlet for exciting voices to obtain greater media and critical attention. It has certainly allowed some of our greatest-living authors (IMHO) e.g. Jose Saramago and Kenzaburo Oe to receive a larger introduction to a foreign audience. For this reason it has often puzzled me that while the Booker Prize has been able to generate an enormous amount of publicity, a worthy international award like the IMPAC seems unable to receive similar exposure. Considering the talent that has won this award, which has often eclipsed the recipient of the Booker Prize it seems strange that such winners have often been largely ignored even in literary circles. As the Independent’s literary editor Boyd Tomkin noted this years IMPAC recipient Tahar Ben Jelloun did not even have his work published in English when he was bestowed with the award. Thinking about it, the Moroccan writer Ben Jelloun might even be in with a chance for the Noble. What I have read of his work is particularly engaging, reminiscent of Beckett in the monologues of his hopeless characters. But I am waffling.

When it comes to deserving writers, there are four writers I would particularly like to see win this literature life-time achievement award: Ismael Kadare, Mario Vargas Llosa, Antonio Lobo Antunes and Juan Goytisolo. This year I would be particularly happy to see Albanian writer Ismael Kadare win, his work is particularly unsettling in highlighting the absurd nature of Balkan tribalism and totalitarianism. His work in many ways shares many of the qualities of the Kafkaesque fable; the sudden eruption of violence an ever-present possibility as austere histories and unspoken rivalries are navigated with such intense peril. Through Kadare’s Albania the reader is provided with much to ponder, which goes beyond the author’s frustration at the mindlessness of regional traditions: – the Albanian filial blood feuds, the ethnic divisions, the vain displays of power and the petty suspicions and superstitions. Through these various experiences we are presented with characters that struggle to escape the dehumanising qualities implicit in outdated medieval notions of identity. This dilemma is exercised in his many works as his many figures attempt to find an exit from the dead weight of societal expectations, trying to discover a space that allows for a development of self. A world that allows for private habitation that eludes the closed world of rigid hierarchies present in Albania through the years of fascist occupation, communist dictatorship and through the various strains of nationalist politics.

However, I would also be equally happy for the narratorial wizardry of two Spanish-speaking authors to be rewarded, Mario Vargas Llosa and Juan Goytisolo. Both are fantastic writers with an abundance of energy with the potential to weave a tale with the strangest of collision of perspectives. Finally, Portuguese writer Antonio Lobo Antunes would similarly be a deserving candidate, a writer who was rumoured to be in contention when his compatriot Jose Saramago was awarded the Nobel in 1998. A writer now in his 80s, who like Saramago has developed his own idiosyncratic form of stream of consciousness to probe the intimate details experienced by his characters.

Other deserved winners well there are heaps of them, Austrian writer Peter Handke, good old Carlos Fuentes, John Banville (even if his last novel was nowhere near his best), Dutch writer Cees Nooteboom whose novella’s “Rituals” and “The Following Story” are scintillating, but whose recent effort “All Soul’s Day” was rather droll. Then we cannot omit Canadian author and poet Margaret Atwood, Turkish writer Yashar Kamal and what about our Les and David Malouf for the parochial at heart. Out of the American writers, the post-structuralists in the academy might think it is time to reward Don Delillo or Thomas Pynchon for their endeavours. And in coming years expect Orhan Pamuk, Haruki Murakami, Rohinton Mistry and Andrei Makine to come into consideration.

Update:- Congratulations to Elfriede Jelinik the author of the “The Piano Teacher” for winning the 2004 Nobel Prize.

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James Russell
2022 years ago

It was actually announced about an hour before you posted this. Elfriede Jelinek won.

Stephen Hill
Stephen Hill
2022 years ago

I know my labtop has been going loopy, BLOODY MICROSOFT, Word crashes more than Mark Webber.

Francis Xavier Holden
2022 years ago

stephen – thanks – would you be able to list some of the authors mentioned above and book titles?

There was some talk around about Bob Dylan and a Nobel but I couldnt figure out how considered it was.

Stephen Hill
Stephen Hill
2022 years ago

Sure I’ll do that tomorrow.

I know I’m going to get in a bit of a tangle with Mr Back Pages, but I don’t think Bob Dylan is a contender. Sure he’s a great lyricist and musician and charismatic to boot, and His Bobness deserves a truckload of paudits. Mr Noble should have specified a Nobel Prize of Music. IMHO he’s just no quite in that league, and I doubt despite the excitmeent of various Bob enthusiasts that he is a contender.

Having said that Paul Virilio (not one of my favourite theorists) in “Art and Fear” draws upon Dylan as an exemplification of an abandoned humanism. So there are definitely contrary opinions to my own.

Mind you I just stumbled on a Noble Prize stock-market web-site

http://www.nobelpreisboerse.de/stocks.aspx?stc=4

Bob Dylan is at $12.88, but the site also includes J.K. Rowling and Chuck Palahniuk, who would never be seriously considered. It seems the value of the American Writers like John Updike and Philip Roth are the highest-priced stocks, around 20 bucks, a bit exaggerated. It says on the site the Austrian writer Jelinik who won, wasn’t listed. Mind you they say the announcement of the winner is meant to be shrouded in secrecy, la da da.

Still there are all sorts of petty jealous and intrigues we never hear about after the fact. They has always talk that Graham Greene and Anthony Burgess would have won but certain critics on the deciding panel having it in for them. But the biggest ommissions of the last twenty years has to be Jorge Luis-Borges, who seems to be the most remarked upon snub, probably because at the time he was seen to be sympathetic to Pinochet and the Argentinian Junta. Whether this has anything to do with his writing I don’t know, but when there are so many writers, only one award, it only takes a minor taint. I also wonder the same thing about Peter Handke, who I believe is going to be subpoened as a defence witness for Slobodan Milosevic.

Francis Xavier Holden
2022 years ago

thanks stephen – I notice Pope John Paul is up high in the Peace Prize @$33.65 – so I guess the chart doesn’t reflect reality.

Stephen Hill
Stephen Hill
2022 years ago

Also on that site Nelson Mandela is one of the betting favourites for the Noble Peace Prize – which is a bit strange, considering he has already won the thing

David Tiley
2022 years ago

There’s a list of all of them and the reasons here, while the official site is here.

The sting in the awards is this phrase – “the most outstanding work of an idealistic tendency” – (cited in Wikipedia) which has led to a heap of debate over the years.

Was Borges an idealist? What about authors who are not uplifting? Was Dylan generally a positive sort of bloke? Well, compared to Cohen..

Right now, with the country poised to decide, I prefer the Ig Nobel, particularly Dr Mara Sidoli’s illuminating 1997 paper “Farting as a Defence Against Unspeakable Dread”.