Nobel committee judge: American authors need not apply
The head of the Nobel prize for literature feels that no American writer has the gravitas worthy of the award:
Speaking generally about American literature, [...] [Horace Engdahl] said U.S. writers are "too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture," dragging down the quality of their work.A couple of notable Americans in the literature business defend our current crop of writers:
"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."
"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," said David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker.Having read several recent Nobel recipients (the latest being Austrian Elfriede Jelinek, 2004 winner), I can attest that there is little to commend some of them. Their chief qualities seem to be a hatred of western life, and a willingness to distort it. How very brave they must appear to the guardians of *Literature*.
"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."
Harold Augenbraum, executive director of the foundation which administers the National Book Awards, said he wanted to send Engdahl a reading list of U.S. literature.
"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," he said.
"In the first place, one way the United States has embraced the concept of world culture is through immigration. Each generation, beginning in the late 19th century, has recreated the idea of American literature." [....]
However, an American they've overlooked - and who clearly fits the bill - is one of my favorites, American ex-pat Gore Vidal. Apart from being an excellent writer, his qualifications include: anti-American enough to live abroad (although he lives or lived most recently in Rome, so I can hardly hold that against him), being gay (The City and the Pillar was an early post war novel that dealt frankly with homosexuality), dislikes organized religion, politics left enough to reassure the Nobel committee (he is a keen-eyed social critic), has written controversial books (e.g., Live from Golgotha), and was damned good throughout his career.
Sure to work against him, though: he has worked in Hollywood, and George Bush is our president. On the other hand he was related to Jackie O and got on well with most of the Kennedys (notable exception: Bobby).
It may be that he can win next year under an Obama presidency - provided he lives long enough.