Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Hillmans' New Translation of Ana Cristina Cesar's At Your Feet + Poems: Ana Cristina Cesar

At Your Feet, by Ana Cristina Cesar
translated by Brenda Hillman
and Helen Hillman, with Sebastião
Edson Macedo, edited by
Katrina Dodson (Anderson, SC:
Parlor Press, 2018)
A few years ago at the Associated Writing Program's annual conference, I was on a panel that focused on translating Brazilian women writers, and one of the figures I had translated and shared with my co-panelists and the audience was the late Brazilian poet Ana Cristina Cesar (1952-1983). Although she committed suicide at age 31 and left only a small oeuvre, it has proved to be among the most significant and durable of her generation. She now stands as one of the important Brazilian poets of the last quarter of the 20th century, as well as one who continues to influence poetry in her native country as well as outside it.

What I did not learn until after that panel had concluded was that the distinguished American poet and professor Brenda Hillman and her mother, Helen Hillman, who was born in Brazil, had been translating Cesar's poetry as well. Specifically, they were bringing the poems in her acclaimed 1982 Brasiliense collection A teus pés (At Your Feet) into English, and had run into the challenge I faced, which was trying to get permission to publish the English translations in the US. (I had only sought journal publication, but they had the entire collection in mind.)

Unlike them, however, I never heard back from Cesar's estate, which I knew did permit some translations, as I had found a copy online of British publisher Boulevard's (now Boulevard Books The Babel Guides) 1997 edition of Cesar's Intimate Diary, translated by Patricia E. Paige, Celia McCullough and David Treece and edited by Treece roughly a decade ago. As far I know, other than individual poems published in journals and anthologies, that was the only book-length edition of Cesar's books of poetry in English. Interestingly enough, it contains poems not only from the titular volume, but also from At Your Feet (which itself gathered together the three chapbooks Cesar had published from 1970 through 1980, Luvas de pelica (Kid Gloves: Fragments of a Journey), Correspondência Complete (Complete Correspondence), and Cenas de abril (April Scenes), at times in versions whose original source remains somewhat unclear (more about this below).

Given Hillman's gifts and stature in the poetry world, and her mother's familiarity with Brazilian Portuguese, I was eager to see how they would capture and carry over into English Cesar's ironic, often casual and erotic tone, the often laser-sharp shifts and textual collaging her poetic speakers engage, and the often very subtle tissue of allusions she weaves into her work, sometimes from Brazilian and global literary traditions (especially Anglophone literature, which she was quite familiar with, having lived in the UK for a short period), sometimes from popular culture.

A few weeks back, I received the fruit of the Hillmans' labor, At Your Feet, a bilingual collection completed in conjunction with Sebastião Edson Macedo and edited by Katrina Dodson, published by Parlor Press, an indie publisher based in South Carolina. Their book and translations are certain to become n excellent entry point into Cesar's poetry, and the standard for future English translations of the author's work. Readers now have some of her best known poems, like "[Soundtrack in the background," "[The story is complete: wide sargasso sea]," and "Samba Song," along with others that have not previously appeared in English before. (I hope that this translation spurs a re-translation of  Intimate Diaries, as well as much more of her unpublished prose and poems like "Gramas," which I translated a few years ago.)

In her introduction, Hillman rightly describes Cesar as an "avant-garde" poet, which she was, both for her time and today. She also was a key figure in the Poesia marginal (Marginal Poetry) movement of the 1970s and 1980s, and a pioneer in Brazilian LGBTQ writing. As I noted above, Cesar's mediation between high and popular culture is crucial to how her poems look and sound, and the Hillmans and Macedo negotiate the shifts quite well. Same-sexual desire, and a queering of discourse suffuse her poems, making her love poems in particular feel very contemporary, as if they were written just yesterday, i.e., earlier in 2018 or last year. No wonder that this poetry continues to appeal to young writers and readers of all ages.

Hillman also notes in her introduction that she received help from Cesar's current publishers, Companhia das Letras, in establishing the correct lineation of the poems. What she does not say, and what a comparison between her and mother's collection and the Paige-McCullough-Treece collection demonstrates, are variant versions of the poems, in some cases considerably so, perhaps arguing for a fuller introduction in a future edition of this or another translated Cesar collection. I do not have the Companhia das Letras edition of Cesar's collected poems, Poética (2013), or A teus pés (2016), but I assume that these were the versions that the Hillmans worked from. A few years ago I translated some of Cesar's poems that appeared not just in A teus pés, but also in Antigos e soltos: poemas e prosas da pasta rosa (Rio de Janeiro, Instituto Moreira Salles, 2008), and Álbum de retazos: antología crítica bilingüe : poemas, cartas, imágenes, inéditos (Buenos Aires: Corregidor), a collection of her poems, letters, photos, and unpublished work translated into Spanish and edited by Luciana Di Leone, Florencia Garramuño, and Ana Carolina Puente.

I assumed the versions of Cesar's poems in A teus pés were the authoritative one, but with the ones in other volumes, like Antigos e soltos, I took them as drafts that she--or editors--very well might have refined, she if she had lived to do so, or editors based on drafts they had carefully studied. So I now am quite curious about what versions Paige-McCullough-Treece might have chosen in translating Cesar's poems. Given that the earlier anthology was published in conjunction with the Center for the Study of  Brazilian Culture and Society, now King's Brazil Institute at King's College London, and given that David Treece, now the Camões Professor of Portuguese, is still there, I probably should write him to inquire about this.

Here is one example, the Portuguese taken directly from the Hillmans' book, followed by their translation, and, just for comparison, the P-M-T version (which, as you'll see, contains what are freestanding poems in the Hillmans' version.)

SUMÁRIO


Polly Kellog e o motorista Osmar.
Dramas rápidas mas intensos.
Fotogramas d meu coração conceital.
De tomara-que-caia azul-marinho.
Engulo desaforos mas com sinceridade.
Sonsa com bom-senso.
Antena de praça.
Artista da poupança.
Absolute blind.
Tesão do talvez.
Salta-pocinhas.
Água na boca.
Anjo que registra.


SUMMARY


Polly Kellog and Osmar the driver.
Fast but intense dramas.
Freeze-frame of my conceptual heart.
In a navy blue strapless dress.
I take insults but with sincerity.
Sly with common sense.
Village gossip.
Savings artist.
Absolutely blind.
Lust for the maybe.
Limp wrist.
Mouth-watering.
Recording angel.


tr. Brenda Hillman and Helen Hillman,
with Sebastião Edson Macedo


SUMMARY


Polly Kellog and the driver Osmar.
Rapid but intense dramas.
Still frames of my conceptual heart.
In a navy blue strapless dress.
I swallow insults but with sincerity.
Artful with good sense.
Antenna in the square.
Artist of thrift.
Absolutely blind.
The hots for perhaps.
Puddle-jumping.
Mouth watering.
An angel who leaves his mark.


The story is complete: wide Sargasso sea,
     blue blue that does not
frighten me, and sings like a paper siren.
Without you I am a lake, a mountain.
I think of a man named Herberto.
I lie down beneath the window to smoke.
I breathe dizzily. Roll on the mattress.
And fearfully, heartlessly, I raise the price.


tr. Patricia E. Paige and David Treece


Portuguese original and first translation, as well as the two translations below, Copyright © Ana Cristina Cesar, At Your Feet, translated by Brenda Hillman and Helen Hillman, with Sebastião Edson Macedo, edited by Katrina Dodson. Anderson, South Carolina: Parlor Press, 2018. All rights reserved.

Second translation above, Copyright © Ana Cristina Cesar, Intimate Diary, translated by Patricia E. Paige, Celia McCullough, and David Treece. London: Boulevard, 1997. All rights reserved.

The final section in the P-M-T version is two free-standing, untitled poems in the Hillman's version: "[The story is complete: wide sargasso sea]" and "[Without you I'm really a lake, a mountain.]" Each includes slight variations, capturing a truer sense of the Brazilian original:


A historia está completa: wide sargasso sea, azul azul que não
me espanta, e canta como uma sereia de papel.

The story is complete: wide sargasso sea, blue blue that doesn't
amaze me, and sings like a paper mermaid.


And:

Sem você bem que sou lago, montanha.
Penso num homem chamado Herberto.
Me deita a fumar debaixa da janela.
Respiro com vertigem. Rolo no colchão.
E sem bravata, coração, 
     aumento o preço



Without you I'm really a lake, a mountain.
I think of a man named Herberto.
I lie down and smoke under the window.
I breathe dizzily. Roll around on the mattress.
And without bravado, sweetheart, <
     I raise the price


In the Hillmans' version of the first now free-standing poem, "[A historia...]",  the English words become italicized; "espantar" is translated as "amaze" rather than "frighten," changing the meaning; and in conjunction with that change, the original "sereia," which Paige and Treece translate as "siren," becomes a "mermaid," a more benign figure. In the second poem, which is extremely simple yet wry, as Cesar's poems often are, just on the edge of heartbreak, we get a more mellifluous English translation--"smoke under" and "roll around"--as well as a crucial change, "heartlessly" to "sweetheart." I actually think both slightly miss the sly complexity of Cesar's original, since "sem," meaning without, both does and does not modify "coração" ("heart"), so the original poem is saying both "without bravado [and] heartlessly" and "without bravado, [my] heart"; perhaps "my heart" might have worked the best.

But either way, as she says, she raises the price. At any rate, please do check out the Hillmans' translation when you can.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Quotes: Dionne Brand

Dionne Brand
(The Canadian Encyclopedia)
"VERSO 5.5

I have plans; I have no plans. They disappear in the Gulf of Mexico like brown pelicans and hermit crabs in an oil spill. Isn't it time we stopped saying spill? That wasn't a spill it was a deluge. It has no mercy, nation. I have no mercy. I'm jaundiced. All the while through the hoots of democracy, I was looking for the women in Tahrir Square, in Yemen, in Tunisia. I am listening. Whatever, the author says. I don't want to hear any more about waiting. In September, and now October, I am unpinned from all allegiances. Of course you're not. But what if I wrote like this? Unpinned."


***


"VERSO 16

On hearing of my left-hand pages, ASJ, a poet, sent me this note from Edmond Jabès:

A book without room for the world would be / no book.
It would lack the most beautiful pages, / those on the left,
in which even the smallest / pebble is reflected.

Then I sent away for Jabès's book, The Book of Questions, and received it from England after some weeks. And there was his handwriting: pour Jane et Sidney Shiff / j'ai été heureux / de connaître / En souvenir et / avec la cordiale pensée / d' E. Jabès. This last note arrived with his cordial thoughts, says the clerk. Yes, so I suppose it is a sign that we continue, says the author."


***

"VERSO 41

Tonight my brain is full of beautiful things collected over three weeks: the ring around Jupiter in the southern hemisphere; three flamingos dancing brine shrimp to the surface; the mirages of harbours only I have seen; the lithium salt desert; the rush for the local train at Ollantaytambo; a frantic scramble for a bundle of goods left behind; the electrochemical sky. The silence was the best thing."

-- Dionne Brand, from The Blue Clerk: Ars Poetica in 59 Versos, Durham: Duke University Press, forthcoming in August 2018.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Random Photo

This one is truly random, and I would have missed it had my friend Anthony Montgomery not called my attention to it. The lead-in: a few weeks ago the Daily Mail, as it's wont to do, posted an article on the death of a celebrity, Matthew Mellon (1964-2018), the banking heir and cryptocurrency billionaire, who had recently passed away after a struggle with addiction. Anthony must have scrolled all the way down to the bottom of the article, where he spotted the following photograph, which, it turns out, was one of the last Mellon posted on his Instagram account before he passed away. It shows him beside his close friend, Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy (daughter of environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr.), who is hiding her face behind...well, you see! As I mentioned to C, my publishers, and others, you never know who's reading your work or where it might turn up.


Tuesday, May 08, 2018

National Memorial for Peace & Justice + Legacy Museum Now Open


National Memorial for Peace and Justice
Despite the fact that the US has a well documented history of nearly two and a half centuries of legalized enslavement (1640-1865/66), enshrined in the US  Constitution; nearly another century of legalized apartheid known as Jim Crow (1876-1960-1980s?) and multiple de facto forms of explicitly racialized and class segregation (continuing today); and centuries of racist terror and enforced white supremacist terror, policing, brutality, and violence against peoples of African descent (as well as Native Americans and other non-white peoples), there have been relatively few national or regional museums or monuments recognizing this terrible history.

The aftermath of a lynching
Across the US there (rightly) museums calling attention to the horrific Nazi Holocaust against Jewish people that occurred in Germany and across much of Europe from the 1930s through 1945. There are specific museums and commemoration cites honoring specific African American figures, regional events, and particular moments, like Civil Rights history. Yet until very recently, there were only a few general museums specifically recognizing African American history and culture, and almost none calling attention to the horrendous legacy of slavery, segregation and racialized terror, all of which have contributed in numerous ways to shaping the society in which all Americans live today.
A sculpture commemorating
the brutal history of chattel slavery
Thankfully, Americans and people from all over the globe are flocking to the architecturally stunning National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, which provides an exceptionally thorough overview and celebration of the richness of African American and Black life in the United States and North America. (I wrote about visiting the NMAAHC last February.) To the NMAAHC, as of a week ago you can also now visit a museum that acknowledges the legacy of lynching, one of the most horrific manifestations of racialized terror in American history, as well as chattel slavery and its many afterlives, which include the carceral state. The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, both projects of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), opened in Montgomery, Alabama 2 weeks ago on April 26, 2018. According to its website,
The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration is situated on a site in Montgomery where enslaved people were once warehoused. A block from one of the most prominent slave auction spaces in America, the Legacy Museum is steps away from an Alabama dock and rail station where tens of thousands of black people were trafficked during the 19th century....

The 11,000-square-foot museum is built on the site of a former warehouse where enslaved black people were imprisoned, and is located midway between an historic slave market and the main river dock and train station where tens of thousands of enslaved people were trafficked during the height of the domestic slave trade. Montgomery's proximity to the fertile Black Belt region, where slave-owners amassed large enslaved populations to work the rich soil, elevated Montgomery's prominence in domestic trafficking, and by 1860, Montgomery was the capital of the domestic slave trade in Alabama, one of the two largest slave-owning states in America.

and
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which opened to the public on April 26, 2018, is the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence.

Work on the memorial began in 2010 when EJI staff began investigating thousands of racial terror lynchings in the American South, many of which had never been documented. EJI was interested not only in lynching incidents, but in understanding the terror and trauma this sanctioned violence against the black community created. Six million black people fled the South as refugees and exiles as a result of these "racial terror lynchings."

This research ultimately produced Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror in 2015 which documented thousands of racial terror lynchings in twelve states. Since the report’s release, EJI has supplemented its original research by documenting racial terror lynchings in states outside the Deep South. EJI staff have also embarked on a project to memorialize this history by visiting hundreds of lynching sites, collecting soil, and erecting public markers, in an effort to reshape the cultural landscape with monuments and memorials that more truthfully and accurately reflect our history.

African Americans re-enslaved
through convict leasing
The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), established by public interest lawyer, author and MacArthur Foundation "genius" award-winner Bryan Stevenson in 1989, was long known for its impressive work providing legal aid to innocent death row prisoners and successfully exonerating a number of them, as well as its manifold efforts on behalf of economically and socially marginalized communities across the US. As Stevenson looked at the history of the US prison-industrial complex, the school-to-prison pipeline and unequal applications of justice that African Americans faced, and the larger, profoundly skewed narrative about race in the US, he realized that one component of maintaining the structures and systems that allowed this narrative to take root was the absence of public recognition of the history that had helped to create it and the structures of oppression now in place, and one key element was the occluded history of US lynching, which usually went unpunished by federal or state authorities--and in the case of the latter, often had their complicity or tacit acquiescence--and which helped to support and further white supremacy and inequality.

Newly freed African Americans
in the post-Civil War era
Moreover, the absence of public museums and venues commemorating this history have helped in allowing narratives of white and national innocence to take hold; what the public doesn't know cannot exist, right? Out of site, out of mind. It only happened down there or far away, etc. Slavery ended and that was the end of it, right? Furthering this, the absence and silencing of the names of the more than 4,000 lynched, of their stories and voices, their families' and communities' traumas, except in specific works of art (films, photographic exhibits, works of fiction and nonfiction, etc.), has allowed the horror to become abstracted and thus, to a certain degree, ignored and dismissed. And yet, it waters the very soil and sand on which every American treads, much as the dispossession, forced removals and slaughter of Native Americans, to name but another frequently obscured component of US history does as well.

Stevenson and a group of fellow lawyers spent years delving into this history, combing through archives to notate names and stories of lynchings across the South, and documented roughly 4,400 across the South (though there were lynchings all over the US, including in the North and West), from 1877 to 1950, which are featured at the Memorial site. As a result, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice redresses this long silencing and invisibility; its architecturally striking building housing the tribute to those who were lynched and the site on which it sits have drawn considerable praise. The latter venue was inspired by the unforgettably powerful Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, and by the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. To quote The New York Times's Campbell Robertson

At the center is a grim cloister, a walkway with 800 weathered steel columns, all hanging from a roof. Etched on each column is the name of an American county and the people who were lynched there, most listed by name, many simply as “unknown.” The columns meet you first at eye level, like the headstones that lynching victims were rarely given. But as you walk, the floor steadily descends; by the end, the columns are all dangling above, leaving you in the position of the callous spectators in old photographs of public lynchings.

The magnitude of the killing is harrowing, all the more so when paired with the circumstances of individual lynchings, some described in brief summaries along the walk: Parks Banks, lynched in Mississippi in 1922 for carrying a photograph of a white woman; Caleb Gadly, hanged in Kentucky in 1894 for “walking behind the wife of his white employer”; Mary Turner, who after denouncing her husband’s lynching by a rampaging white mob, was hung upside down, burned and then sliced open so that her unborn child fell to the ground.
At the second site, the Legacy Museum makes the connection between the slavery and apartheid past and the present prison system, showing how the past evolved into a system that continues to wreak havoc on countless Black and brown lives. As the Times article notes, the Museum guides the visitor through the compelling argument that Stevenson have made for how this system is still operating, ending on the hopeful note encouraging voter registration and political activism. Like the NMAAHC, where I witnessed groups of students eagerly queuing up to visit, the Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice should be obligatory sites for American school children to spend time and study. Given the current state of our politics and society, the US can only benefit as a result.


The Guardian interviews museum founder Bryan Stevenson:

Saturday, May 05, 2018

New Comics (Comey + The Summit)

Some doodles to pass the time.

First, Comey commentary:

James Comey on George
Stephanopoulos's show

And second, since the "Summit" between North Korea and the corrupt chaotic gang running the US will supposedly take place at some point soon (June? never), here's a prediction (if they pull off a real peace deal, they'll earn my thanks):

The Summit

Friday, May 04, 2018

As Ignoble Scandal Unfolds, No 2018 Nobel Literature Prize


One of this site's perennials used to be my fall Nobel speculation posts. These would usually appear a week or so before the Swedish Academy named that year's Nobel Prize in Literature laureate each October. My predictions, often wrong and far off the mark, would follow a private email exchange with fellow writer Reggie H., who is and remains one of the most avid and discerning readers I know. We would toss out names to each other, and then I'd post a long-ish speculation about whom the Swedish Academy might select from the large pool of excellent writers across the globe.

Several suppositions shaped my choices: The Swedish Academy, though it had elected a woman, author Sara Danius, to lead it as its Permanent Secretary (i.e., Director), has mostly comprised 18 (or nearly that many) white, middle-aged and senior Swedish male academics, critics and writers. One of its prominent members, Horace Engdahl, was on record as denouncing contemporary American literature for its parochialism: "The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature." (Yes, by some lights, no by many others.)  Throughout its history, the vast majority of winners have been European men, or wrote in European languages if they lived on other continents (see most of the African winners).

Additionally, most of the Nobel laureates have produced work that was clearly in one genre--poetry, fiction, drama, and to a far lesser degree, historical or critical nonfiction--even if they wrote in a variety of genres; radical formal innovation, outside of some notable examples, has been rare among the winners. I also took into account that certain countries or language groups with significant literary traditions--Brazil, South Korea, India, Algeria, Iran, Nigeria, Cuba, Argentina, etc. have been completely or mostly overlooked. Writers working on other languages--like those of southern India, for example--were like to be ignored completely. Lastly, the charge for this elite body has been, as per Alfred Nobel's will, to give the award for work of "an idealistic nature," and not, as I have always interpreted it, for groundbreaking, lasting, culturally or politically impactful and resonant literature. 

Thus, while some of the widely acknowledged great writers of the 20th century from across the globe but writing in European languages--William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Toni Morrison, etc.--have received the award, many more, including James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, Wilson Harris, etc., did not, for a variety of reasons some known only the Swedish Academy. Meanwhile, writers who will most certainly fade into the shadows even of their own literatures have been recognized (Mikhail Sholokov, to give one example, Pearl S. Buck and Jaroslav Seifert two others), despite the temporary bump in attention the Nobel gave them. The limitations I note above therefore should lead anyone to approach the Nobel Prize in Literature with considerable skepticism, as Tim Parks argued in the New York Times today. Yet, because of its longstanding global reach, its sustained history and its sizable purse (roughly about $1 million dollars, sometimes more, sometimes less, depending upon the Swedish kroner's exchange rate), it remains the premier honor in the international literary world.

Or it did, perhaps up to the point two years ago when, bizarrely, the Swedish Academy passed over countless superlative living writers, particularly poets, and awarded the honor to Bob Dylan, a songwriter and composer who proceeded to act out by initially not acknowledging his selection, and then left the Academy hanging as to whether he would even show up to accept the prize. (Perhaps embarrassment left him somewhat socially paralyzed.) I am all for eccentricity in choice--Camilo José Cela, anyone?--and vision, but this pick struck me as the worst kind of spasm of Baby Boomer fanboy-ism, a comfort-foodish but also cynical thumb in the face of readers and writers everywhere. It was also, I imagine, an attempt to spark controversy and appear relevant, which is not exactly the purpose of the Nobel Prize in literature, though it succeeded on the first account. I could not bring myself to write about the absurdity of the 2016 debacle. This past year's winner, Kazuo Ishiguro, one of Great Britain's most highly regarded fiction writers, however, seemed like a compensatory, safe choice. Ishiguro is, at the very least, a writer, and one of great accomplishment.

What was unknown to the wider public until last fall, however, was the extent of the maelstrom engulfing the Swedish Academy, a result of snowballing sexual harassment and abuse allegations by 18 women against photographer Jean-Claude Arnault, the 71-year-old husband of one of the Academy's permanent members, poet Kristina Frostensen, and friend to many others. In another literary world-specific instance of the #Metoo movement, he has been accused of using his position to coerce women into sex, including raping them, at his apartments as well as Swedish Academy-owned venues in Stockholm and Paris; allegations of his inappropriate behavior date back to the early 1990s up through to quite recently, when he is reported to have groped Sweden's Crown Princess Victoria. Adding to the controversy, Arnault also is alleged to have leaked the names of Nobel winners at least seven times before they were publicly announced, hinting that Frostenson may have revealed them to him in advance, and providing bookmakers with a potential windfall. In addition, though not a member of the Academy, Arnault co-owned and ran a cultural center, the Forum, in Stockholm, which received Academy funding, so its and his affairs were part of its purview.

In response to the cumulative allegations, some of which date back more than 20 years, several members of the Academy resigned, and former head Danius severed all Academy ties with Arnault and the Forum, then ordered a legal review of Arnault and his cultural center. For her troubles, however, Danius was ousted by fellow members from her post, though she remains an Academy member. The mounting crisis spurred the Nobel Foundation, which oversees and awards all the prizes, to issue a statement postponing the prize for 2018, given the jury's diminished ranks--it now lacks enough members to form a quorum--and the public glare on its internal turmoil. Instead, it will name two winners in 2019. As the acting permanent secretary, scholar Anders Olsson has put it, "Confidence in the academy from the world around us has sunk drastically in the past year...and that is the decisive reason that we are postponing the prize."

Because of its depleted ranks and a rule that members of the jury cannot resign or retire, the King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf, had to step in to change the rules to allow the resigning members to leave and new ones to be added. Only 10 of the current 18 members are active, and most of those remaining carry the taint of the Arnault debacle. As the Der Spiegel article I link to above notes, one option could be for the Nobel Foundation to replace the 232-year-old Swedish Academy, which has awarded the prize since 1901, with another one in the country or based elsewhere. For example, what about a rotating set of "academies," based in a different country every two years? (The Nobel Foundation, however, says no, the award will most likely stay in the Academy's hands, but that it needs to take the necessary steps to reform itself.). Another option might be to limit terms of service and cycle members in and out and, most importantly, bring in artistic and critical authorities from outside Sweden, while also requiring gender parity, age and racial-ethnic diversity, and a clearer statement of what the prize aims to reward. Critic Ron Charles argued in the Washington Post that the Swedish Academy should skip more than one year to get its act together. He even quoted some of Dylan's doggerel to underline how ridiculous the 2016 choice was. Perhaps several years of joint awards, to address the huge gaps in writers and writing the Academy has missed, might also be in order.  Why just two in 2019? What about two for the next ten years, or twenty?

Or, as Tim Parks asks, should there even be a Nobel Prize? Does it matter? Beyond sales surges, however temporary. Even if we account for the limits of any group of judges to assess quality in literary works written in a variety of languages, is there not value in calling attention to works that might merit wider attention based on their assessed excellence, beauty, social and political resonance? Scrapping the Nobel would be dramatic, but does anyone think that some other existing award, like the Man Booker, or the Neustadt International Prize, or a new prize created with funds from one of the world's small but growing ranks of billionaires, would not take its place? Moreover, as I point out in the previous paragraph, what should the Nobel Prize, when it returns, honor? Is Alfred Nobel's specific search for works "of an idealistic nature" still stand? What does "idealistic" even mean in today's world of perpetual war, mass inequality, almost uncontrolled technological advances, and climate change? Should we start honoring those SFF writers who offer glimpses, amidst their dystopias and post-apocalyses, of a better world? It is so unfortunate that Ursula Le Guin and Octavia Butler did not live to enjoy this possible turn of events, unlikely as it may be.

At any rate, then, this fall there will be no Nobel laureate in literature. Maybe the very idea marks an impossibility. On the other hand, as the continued popularity and acclaimed global performances and adaptations of works by figures such as William Shakespeare--who died far too early to be considered for a Nobel, of course--demonstrate, some writers and some works do translate, or can resignify, despite cultural barriers. So, in two years, we will see who the reconstituted Academy, if it can reconstitute and reform itself, selects.