Wednesday, October 01, 2008

American Writers too Insular and Isolated Says Head of Nobel Prize Committee

Well. Doesn't take much to get me riled, does it?

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) - Bad news for American writers hoping for a Nobel
next week: the top member of the award jury believes the United States
is too insular and ignorant to compete with Europe when it comes to great

Counters the head of the U.S. National Book Foundation: "Put him in
touch with me, and I'll send him a reading list."

As the Swedish Academy enters final deliberations for this year's award, permanent secretary Horace Engdahl said it's no coincidence that most winners are European.
"Of course there is powerful literature in all big cultures, but you can't get away from
the fact that Europe still is the center of the literary world ... not the
United States," he told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview Tuesday.
He said the 16-member award jury has not selected this year's winner, and
dropped no hints about who was on the short list. Americans Philip Roth and Joyce
Carol Oates
usually figure in speculation, but Engdahl wouldn't comment on
any names.

Speaking generally about American literature, however, he said
U.S. writers are "too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture," dragging
down the quality of their work.

"The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature," Engdahl said. "That ignorance is restraining."

Color me mad.

Ignorance? Insular? Isolated? Just how in the Dickens (my bad--European writer) could anyone actually apply these words to American literature? For that matter, since when would an international committee created to honor acheivements in literature willingly employ an official who carries this view into the week of the Nobel voting system?

I have friends in Europe who have never been exposed to the joys of Hemingway or Steinbeck, never were pulled in by a Poe or Twain short story and didn't have the oportunity to study Hawthorne or Thoreau. Why is that? Is there some preconceived notion that American literature is, by the the very nature of its origin, somehow inferior to European? What of Asian literature or African literature? Are they insular too?

What are the odds of taking politics out of the arts? And, while we're at it--isn't the appreciation of art in all its forms primarily a subjective matter? Here's my take on it: all literature is, by its nature, international. There is no such thing as a continent that spawns *better* writers.

And there shouldn't be a leading executive of the Nobel Prize for Literature Committee who thinks there is either. Mr. Engdahl should be removed from his position now.

And I'll continue in my ignorance to write insular and isolated stories without the edifying bolster of a European nationality, thanks.