Big news in Austria over the last week has been the awarding of the Nobel Prize for literature to their citizen Elfriede
Jelinek. A controversial writer even in Austria, this is a brave and forward-looking decision from the Stockholm-based jury.
Jelinek is no New York Times bestselling author. But not content with their president’s failed commandeering of the United Nations, many Americans would like to put the Nobel prize jurors in their place and assure a more level playing field for American writers.
VIEW / What’s a Nobel in literature really worth?:
the literature prize, since it was first awarded in 1901, is irrelevant when it comes to ensuring a writer’s immortality, let alone in assuring that an author will be recognized as “great” — both qualities we are supposed to associate with the prize bestowment, but which it doesn’t deliver.
Take the first part. Even the most erudite among us will have a hard time naming a single book by a great chunk of past laureates. How about that Sigrid Undset (1928)? Who could ever forget her, right? Or how about Par Lagerkvist (1951)? Or Jaroslav Seifert (1984)? Got those names tattooed on the brain, don’t you? And if you do, it’s because you’ve boned up on all the past winners for trivia night at the pub.
So what is the point of the Nobel Prize in literature? Maybe there isn’t one. Maybe it’s just as it appears to be: the hefty $1.3 million cash award given out by a civilized, knowledgeable group of Northern Europeans to authors they really, really like for completely subjective, sometimes political, reasons.
Who do they have in mind? Philip Roth, for instance. A foul mouthed man obsessed with his own genitals and with a vile writing style to boot.
Oscar Villalon is the name of the dullwit whom I quoted above.