Nobel Savages

We admit we’ve always sort of liked Horace Engdahl, the superpolyglot permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy who emerges each year from a pair of enormous double doors to announce—in Swedish first, of course, then English, French, and pretty much every other language on earth—the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. He seems like the closest modern equivalent to the grand high chancellor that would step outside the palace gates to announce royal decrees to the masses. But our world was shaken a few days ago when this lovable Scandinavian mandarin revealed himself to be—gasp—a snob:

In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Horace Engdahl said Tuesday that “Europe still is the center of the literary world”…Engdahl says the U.S. “is too isolated, too insular” and doesn’t really “participate in the big dialogue of literature.” (from Breitbart)

Abbeville doesn’t publish much literature, so we don’t really have a dog in this fight, but as Arbiters of Style we’re still galled by the hypocrisy. If only we Americans could shake off our insular self-absorption and start using phrases like “the center of the literary world” to describe ourselves (and awarding ourselves eight out of the last ten Nobels to prove it). Honestly, would it kill Thomas Pynchon to set a novel in, say, Europe? Or for John Ashbery to incorporate French aesthetics into his poems once in a while? Anyway, one of Gawker’s tipsters has theorized that Engdahl is just dropping red herrings because they’re going to give the prize to American isolation poster boy J. D. Salinger this year. We doubt it, but if so, goddamn it, that makes him a snob and a phony.


Filed under Books and Publishing

3 responses to “Nobel Savages

  1. Mark Kohut

    Four of Thomas Pynchon’s novels have European settings, along with American. Three, in fact, including the latest, might be called a World Historical trilogy.

    Many think he will never win because he will surely not go to Stockholm to get the Prize. Something the Nobel Committee wants (since Sartre refused to go).

  2. abbeville

    You’re right, Mark, and our call for Pynchon, Ashbery, et al. to look outside the borders of their own country for once was entirely sarcastic. Certainly America has its provincial authors, as does every country, but it has just as many who are all too eager to evade the old charge of American provincialism by borrowing European settings, aesthetics, etc. for their works.

    I agree with you about Pynchon and the Nobel, and I think this is why Salinger also will not win. Then again, the Nobel Committee has never, to my knowledge, used the prize to try to lure a famous literary recluse out of hiding; maybe one of these years they’ll figure it’s worth a shot. In any case, given the embarrassment Engdahl’s remarks have caused the Swedish Academy, I do suspect we’ll see the prize go to an American within the next two years if not this year.

  3. This is funny! Thanks I needed a laugh.

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