17 oct. 2007

It's not just that the Nobel Prize passed over many great writers, the Henry James, Mark Twain, Woolf, Joyce, Ibsen, Strindberg, Lorca, Pound, Stein, Stevens, Kafka type of writers. But that it fell to the utterly forgettables:

Sully Prudhomme Theodor Mommsen Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson Frédéric Mistral,José Echegaray Henryk Sienkiewicz Giosuè Carducci

The we finally get

Rudyard Kipling (1907)

Followed by

Rudolf Eucken Selma Lagerlöf Paul Heyse Maurice Maeterlinck Gerhart Hauptmann

Then the great

Rabindranath Tagore

followed by Romain Rolland Verner von Heidenstam Karl Gjellerup Henrik Pontoppidan Carl Spitteler Knut Hamsun Anatole France Jacinto Benavente

(Ok, I know Knut Hamsun has his followers, but you get my point)

It's been hit or miss since:

William Butler Yeats

Wladyslaw Reymont

George Bernard Shaw

Grazia Deledda Henri Bergson Sigrid Undset

Thomas Mann

Sinclair Lewis Erik Axel Karlfeldt John Galsworthy Ivan Bunin

Luigi Pirandello

Eugene O'Neill

Roger Martin du Gard Pearl Buck Frans Eemil Sillanpää Johannes V. Jensen Gabriela Mistral
Hermann Hesse

André Gide

T.S. Eliot

William Faulkner (three legitimate picks in a row!)

Bertrand Russell Pär Lagerkvist François Mauriac Winston Churchill Ernest Hemingway Halldòr Laxness

Juan Ramón Jiménez

Albert Camus

Boris Pasternak

Salvatore Quasimodo

Saint-John Perse every other year with a decent pick.

Ivo Andric John Steinbeck

Giorgios Seferis

Jean-Paul Sartre Mikhail Sholokhov hmuel Yosef Agnon Nelly Sachs Miguel Angel Asturias

Yasunari Kawabata

Samuel Beckett (two in a row!)

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Pablo Neruda

Heinrich Böll Patrick White Eyvind Johnson Harry Martinson

Eugenio Montale

Saul Bellow

Vicente Aleixandre

Isaac Bashevis Singer

Odysseus Elytis Czeslaw Milosz Elias Canetti

Gabriel García Márquez

William Golding Jaroslav Seifert Claude Simon

Wole Soyinka

Joseph Brodsky

Naguib Mahfouz

Camilo José Cela

Octavio Paz

Then a pretty varied group the last few years. I won't presume to distinguish the deserving from the undeserving in this list, some of whom I haven't read:

Nadine Gordimer Derek Walcott Toni Morrison Kenzaburo Oe Seamus Heaney Wislawa Szymborska Dario Fo José Saramago Günter Grass Gao Xingjian V. S. Naipaul Imre Kertész J. M. Coetzee Elfriede Jelinek Harold Pinter Orhan Pamuk Doris Lessing

I'm sure a good case could be made for many of these writers I haven't italicized, but my point is that winning the Nobel prize is not a particulary high distinction, in historical terms. For every Mann there's 10 Celas.

8 comentarios:

jane dijo...

Did you know that Romain Rolland gave us the phrase "pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will"? Everyone thinks it was Gramsci.

Seriously, Jonathan: I'm all with you in terms of describing the committee's results as "hit and miss," and in the following suggestion that the choices aren't always entirely merit-based, whatever that would mean. But your parsing of the list is largely a way of naming your own insights and your blind spots. Which is your right, but bears inspection.

Though I certainly think that Canetti's best work is not his fiction (have you read much of it?), he's at least as great a contributor to letters as, say, Perse. Elytis (seriously, have you read it?) is in the same league as Seferis (by which I mean "is much better than," but am trying to avoid the inevitable accusations of hyperbole). And Mahfouz — again, have you read it? I found the trilogy frankly dull and descriptive, with weakly schematic quandaries punctuating the murmur. It ain't worse that Claude Simon, but it ain't better. And lastly: O'Neill has given us more than Sartre? I'm going to have to assume, by that point, that your account is a bit of a put-on...

Jonathan dijo...

I agree it does show some gaps in my reading. This is what anybody's list would look like, with the inevitable gaps and mistakes.

Joseph Duemer dijo...

Science Nobels also have their nasty little secrets:


jane dijo...

Indded. They have libraries filled with what I haven't read. I guess all I mean is, it's one thing to say that Apollinaire is great and should have won (agreed) and further to say that Glasworthy ain't so great and shouldn't've (more agreeance)...and an entirely different thing to have suggested that some of these winners are undeserving because one hasn't read them. It hardly serves as a judgment on the award at that point, no?

Bob dijo...

I love Selma Lagerlöf!

Jonathan dijo...

Fair enough. Some I haven't read may be great. (I have read Asturias, Cela, Hesse, Brodsky, Golding, and many others, though.)

But the Nobel's uncertain relation to modernism and posmodernism is troubling to me.

Jordan dijo...

Canetti: Auto-da-fe and Crowds and Power. OK social analysis in context, and valuable as an example of self-critical post-axis thought outta Italy. I'll reread him, but I'll look forward more to rereading Fromm. (No doubt you've read Escape from Freedom and dismissed it - undismiss it.)

Perse: Seamarks, Rains, Snows, Chroniques... setting aside Djuna Barnes's remark that reading T.S. Eliot's translation of Anabase was like falling down in a urinal, Perse is like *the* subterranean river in the geography of American letters... which is what Jonathan's talking about, right? The relative usefulness of laureates for the production and therefore the contextualization of American poetry. Without Perse ... it's not just Ashbery O'Hara and Koch whose unending scrolls would have been seen as even more outlandish than they were.. I would argue that without the Pantheon/Bollingen volumes of Perse rolling across the country from the 40s into the 60s not even Ginsberg or Olson would have made enough sense to the reading public to make a wave beyond small circles.

Bob dijo...

Your post reminds me of a funny episode back at Stanford. A Masters in English student, Mark King, was so incensed that William Golding had won the Nobel Prize that he insisted that Golding should not only return the prize but apologize for ever putting pen to paper.

"It's not Golding's fault that he won the award," I protested.

"Yes it is," he said, correctly, I see, in hindsight.