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domingo, octubre 05, 2008

American Exceptionalism In Reverse

This would be a laugh if it were fiction. But it's not. It's just moronic.

Horace Engdahl, permanent secretary of the Swedish Acadamy, which will award the Nobel Prize in literature on October 9, has this to say about US literature:
As the Swedish Academy enters final deliberations for this year's literature award, permanent secretary Horace Engdahl said that writers from the country that produced Philip Roth, John Updike, Ernest Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald were "too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture," dragging down the quality of their work.

"Of course there is powerful literature in all big cultures, but you can't get away from the fact that Europe still is the centre of the literary world, not the United States," he said.

"The US 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."

Although [the eurocentric, ed.] Mr Engdahl insisted later he had been misunderstood by the Associated Press, with whom he conducted the interview, the chances of the two American authors, Philip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates, thought to be on this year's secret five-person shortlist now look slim.
Oy. The responses, of course, were brutal:
Harold Augenbraum, executive director of US National Book Foundation said: "Put him in touch with me, and I'll send him a reading list.

"Such a comment makes me think that Mr Engdahl has read little of American literature outside the mainstream and has a very narrow view of what constitutes literature in this age."

But David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker magazine, said they came as little surprise since the 16-member Nobel award jury had historically overlooked some of the world's best authors.

"You would think that the permanent secretary of an academy that pretends to wisdom but has historically overlooked Proust, Joyce, and Nabokov, to name just a few non-Nobelists, would spare us the categorical lectures," he said.

"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."
The last American to win the prize was Toni Morrison in 1993, before Engdahl got his job.

The list of writers who have won the Nobel is really idiosyncratic. The list omits, in addition to Proust, Joyce and Nabokov, Thomas Hardy, Mark Twain, H.G. Wells, WH Auden, Jorge Luis Borges, Robert Frost, Thomas Pynchon, Wallace Stevens, and Rainer Marie Rilke, to begin a very, very long list. Nobody can deduce the algorithm behind the choices, but if Engdahl is taken at his words, it has more to do with the voters than with the books.

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