Friday, October 02, 2009

Oz favored for Nobel

The Nobel Prize in Literature will be announced next Thursday. The Israeli novelist Amos Oz is a four-to-one favorite to win—with the French-language feminist Assia Djebar, an Algerian Arab expatriate teaching at New York University, and the wholly improbable Joyce Carol Oates running behind at five to one (h/t: Michael Schaub). A contest between a post-colonialist Arab and an Israeli, even one as dovish and anti-settlement as Oz, is no contest. Besides, Oz blamed Hamas for the war in Gaza and initially supported Israeli military action there.

As for Oates. I was astonished recently to find Malcolm Bradbury praising her in his Modern American Novel (new edition, 1992). Locating her in the Gothic tradition and calling her “multitalented,” Bradbury says that Oates has “constructed an enormously varied fictional world, at times highly literary and allusive, but also distinctively hers—marked by her preoccupation with estrangement and horror, with the dynastic contemporary success-driven and violent American present.” Although the quality of her work varies tremendously, and though she is “apt to use sensation for its own sake” (you think?), Bradbury concluded that she is a “writer of great importance.” Color me flabbergasted.

The greatest living American novelist has no better than a seven-to-one chance to win the Nobel, according to oddsmakers. Although an American has not taken home the prize since 1993, when Toni Morrison was named, English-language writers have won four of the last ten. There is little to no chance of an American’s winning in 2009, and an even smaller chance that the winner will be Philip Roth.

Five months ago I predicted that the Peruvian poet Carmen Ollé would be given the nod, and I am standing by that prediction. Although Djebar has the right ethnic and political credentials, she is handicapped by writing in French, the same language as last year’s winner Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio. The last time that the prize went in consecutive years to writers in the same language was also 1993, when Morrison succeeded Derek Walcott, who himself followed Nadine Gordimer. A South American writer has not been honored since 1982, when Gabriel García Márquez of Colombia was singled out. Another possible laureate is Cristina Peri Rossi, an expatriate Uruguayan poet and novelist living in Barcelona, who writes sexually charged stuff from a feminist viewpoint.

Anyone who thinks the Nobel Prize in Literature has anything to do with literature is deluding himself.

9 comments:

R. T. said...

So, what is the point of the Nobel Prize in Literature? I do not mean that as an empty, rhetorical question, but would extend it also to ask, "What is the point of any prize in literature?" (My question suggests my own answer.) I imagine you could generate a discussion about the point (or pointlessness) of such prizes. And what is your answer?

D. G. Myers said...

I don’t know about other literary prizes, but the point of the Nobel Prize in Literature is to celebrate the international literary Left.

R. T. said...

That assessment, however, would hardly account for T. S. Eliot (1948), Saul Bellow (1976), and Isaac Bashevis Singer (1978)--to cite just a couple of examples from the past. I wonder when the pendulum shifted to the Left.

As for other book prizes (Pulitzer, Booker, NBA, NBCC, PEN/Faulkner, and others), it seems to me they are similarly politicized, and I suppose I ought to do some research and find out if anyone has written about the recent trends.

In any event, do you consider any of the annual awards/prizes to be particularly worthwhile as objective representations of literary quality?

D. G. Myers said...

[D]o you consider any of the annual awards/prizes to be particularly worthwhile as objective representations of literary quality?

Oddly enough, the Orange Prize—which a low-wattage literary Leftist assumed that I would object to, on no other basis than my being a conservative. Conservatives must be anti-woman. Natch.

The Orange prize jury has made some very good choices over the years, including Marilynne Robinson in 2009. I discovered Linda Grant’s terrific When I Lived in Modern Times because of the prize.

Anonymous said...

"the point of the Nobel Prize in Literature is to celebrate the international literary Left."

And all the reds must die, said the Nazi.

Peter Heink said...

Friend, a small mistake.

You said that "Anyone who thinks the Nobel Prize in Literature has anything to do with literature is deluding himself."

But later, you said "the point of the Nobel Prize in Literature is to celebrate the international literary Left".

We have a contradiction here. Suppose you are correct (you are not, btw). Celebrate the literary left HAS something to do with Literature. You just wrote it: literary left.

D. G. Myers said...

And all the reds must die, said the Nazi.

Came across an interesting detail in shul on Saturday from Francine Prose’s new book on Anne Frank:

“[A]n episode of 60 Minutes reported that North Korean schoolchildren were being assigned to read Anne’s journal with instructions to think of George W. Bush as Hitler and of the Americans as the Nazis who wished to exterminate the North Koreans” (p. 21).

D. G. Myers said...

We have a contradiction here. Suppose you are correct (you are not, btw). Celebrate the literary left HAS something to do with Literature. You just wrote it: literary left.

I am right, btw. How else to account for the awarding of the prize to such second- and third-rate writers as Pinter, Elfriede Jelinek, and Toni Morrison?

And there is no contradiction, btw. The literary Left also has nothing to do with literature—when it is Left.

Anonymous said...

The PEN/Faulkner award has been consistently excellent. Check out the winners in 2007: Roth, Charles D'Ambrosio and Amy Hempel, among others.

http://www.penfaulkner.org/affWinners02.htm