Monday, October 09, 2006

Nobel Lit Laureate for 2006?

Last year, I wrote a longish piece on the Nobel Prizes, focusing specifically on the Nobel Prize for Literature. A few of the paragraphs:

For the last few years, nevertheless, Reggie H. and I have tossed out our choices and expected winners--who we realize won't coincide--and usually the Swedish Academy has chosen someone else. Realizing that my bias tends towards American and English-language writers, and writers from the African Diaspora, whose work I know best, I still believe that top choices should be, based on the innovation, sustained excellence, and literary, cultural and aesthetic significance and impact of their work: Wilson Harris [at bottom] (Britain/Guyana), Jay Wright (US), Kamau Brathwaite (Barbados), Maryse Condé (Guadeloupe/US), John Ashbery (US), Adonis (Syria/Palestine), Assia Djébar (Algeria/US), Hélène Cixous (Algeria/France), Nuruddin Farah (Somalia), Juan Goytisolo (Spain/France), Duong Thu Huong (Vietnam), Alexander Kluge (Germany), Javier Marías (Spain), Harold Pinter (UK), Haruki Murakami (Japan), Luisa Valenzuela (Argentina), Adrienne Rich (USA), Ngugi (Kenya/US), Amos Oz and A. B. Yehoshua (Israel); Milan Kundera (Czech Rep./France), E. L. Doctorow (US), and Femi Osofisan (Nigeria). Several candidates who probably would have strongly been in the running are no longer eligible--August Wilson; Israeli Yehuda Amichai; German-British writer W. G. Sebald; and Chilean Roberto Bolaño, who passed away a few years ago. I also think it's tougher for poets, and other than Osofisan, I know very little about international dramatic arts, so there may be some very important playwrights I've totally overlooked. I haven't tossed this list of my usual suspects to Reggie H.; I imagine he agrees with some and not with others.

Taking into account the fact that often the Nobel committee follows a round-robin pattern with genres and continents, but prefers writers with centrist-to-leftist viewpoints, a few writers who probably are more likely to have the award bestowed upon them include David Malouf (Australia), who is one of the most highly regarded novelists in his country, a Booker Prize recipient, and winner of the Neustadt Prize for Literature a few years ago, which has gone to several Nobelists in advance of the Swedish prize; Les Murray, also of Australia; Carlos Fuentes, with whom I took a course in college, and whose work has always existed in the shadow of García Márquez's; Marías; Tom Stoppard and Ian McEwan, of Britain; Tomás Tranströmer, of Sweden; novelist Nélida Piñon of Brazil; French poet Yves Bonnefoy; poet Okot p'Bitek of Uganda; Israeli Yoel Hofmann; Roberto Sosa of Honduras; Caryl Phillips, of St. Kitts, the UK, and the US; Mavis Gallant of Canada and France; Alvaro Mutis of Colombia; Homero Aridjis of Mexico; Brazilian Adélia Prado (at right); Cuban Herberto Padilla; Pramoedya Ananta Toer of Indonesia; and Muriel Spark, of Britain. Less likely is American Philip Roth, who, simply because he's American, will probably not win, especially given the horrorshow we have passing for a government, though one exposé a few years actually mentioned Roth as a favorite of one of the chief judges. And he is an extraordinary writer, of capacious skill and accomplishment. To have written one or two of his best books is a lifetime's achievement, but to have penned Portnoy's Complaint; Goodbye, Columbus; Operation Shylock; Sabbath's Theater; American Pastoral; and The Human Stain is beyond amazing, and one of the reasons he's the most highly decorated living fictionist in the US.

The 2005 recipient was playwright Sir Harold Pinter, who wrote and presented (via video, I believe, because of his illness) one of the most courageous, blistering speeches in the history of the Swedish Academy's award program. Vocalizing what millions in his own country, in the US and across the world have felt for some time, he took Bush, Blair and other imperialists to task for their warmaking and the aftermath. Rather than engaging in the exalted rhetoric of prior laureates, he chose to speak directly to the moment at hand, an act that I felt at the time was more necessary now than in many past years. Overall I thought the Academy's choice made a lot of sense, though it was a bit surprising. Naturally I'm curious to see whom they choose this year.

I would bet that it won't be an American. Sorry Joyce Carol Oates and Philip Roth. In addition to the widespread loathing for the current administration, Americans have literally run the table on the awards so far (another American received the economics prize today.) I think the winner will be a poet, since no writer primarily writing poetry has won since Wislawa Szymborska a decade ago, rather than someone who's primarily a fiction writer or dramatist. Writers in European languages have repeatedly received the prize over the last few years, so I don't think it will go to one of the writers I'd most like to see receive it (Wilson Harris, Kamau Brathwaite, Maryse Condé, Jay Wright, Margaret Atwood, Luisa Valenzuela, etc.). If I'm wrong about this bit of betmaking, I'd be quite happy to admit it. And I also think it will somehow reflect upon the current geopolitical situation, so I am thinking that it might go to a combo, which happens infrequently, but has some precedence. I am thinking that it will go to Adonis (Palestine) and Amos Oz (Israel), or at least to someone from the Middle East, particularly an Arab writer or a writer of Arabic. Another choice might be a writer from Africa like Nuruddin Farah, who combines multiple traditions, or Assia Djebar, who writes in French and lives in the US, but whose subject matter is based in Northern Africa and in those interior, transnational, transitional and nomadic spaces that exiles and immigrants, especially women, carry around inside them. No Korean writer has ever received the award, so Ko Un could become the first, just as a writer from Indonesia, the Phillipines, Turkey, or Iran might be the first from each of those countries. Yet no Brazilian or Argentinian has received it either, so it might go to one of several leading figures from those countries, despite the European language issue. And should a European writer be strongly considered (and 7 of the last 10 have been European, or 9 if you add V.S. Naipaul, who has tried to out-English the English, and J. M. Coetzee, a European South African who writes in English), I think either Juan Goytisolo or Javier Marías would be the top choices. But then the Swedish Academy does its own thing, and who knows? It'll be interesting to see whom they announce on Wednesday.

1 comment:

  1. John, I've been behind in contacing you to do our annual Nobel prognostications. I agree that US writers should pretty much forget about the prize until after George W exits the White House ( that I've said that, watch them choose John Ashbury or Roth this year!:) I would love to see either Adonis or Darwish win; Farah has been high on my list for a number of years as well. I'm with you in hoping that the Academy is feeling a poet this year....and did you know that Jay Wright recieved a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Book Awards/Before Columbus Foundation this year?