Thursday, 9 October 2014

Five writers who should have received the Nobel Prize

Today the winner of the Nobel prize for literature is announced by The Swedish Academy. I am deeply sceptical of the whole idea of prizes in literature. I agree with Jan Myrdal, who in a 1974 tv interview (1), expressed a worry that such prizes have a limiting or controlling effect, by showing authors what and how to write,  enforcing the artistic standards of the bourgeois establishment. The very fact that most people have a pretty clear idea of the kind of books and authors who win these awards show that Myrdal is right: It's well known that most award-winning writers are non-experimental, "apolitical" realists with no sense of humour. The best thing would to abolish all literary prizes, including The Nobel and disarm the Literary establishment of one of its most damaging weapons.

But even if we hypothetically accept the prize as a concept, it is hard to argue that the Academy has done a good job of recognizing merit. Granted, merit is a subjective concept. But most writers, who have been awarded the prize in the past have been forgotten, and most of the writers who are remembered today did not get it. Time is in the end the only judge that matters, although I must admit that there are many authors who are unfairly forgotten. Nevertheless, with few exceptions like Thomas Mann, most writers who in my opinion based on merit should have been given the prize have been ignored by the academy. So here is a short list of writers, both living and dead, who should have gotten the prize. This list is based on my own limited reading, and others can surely give other names (2). The list come with short motivations, which shouldn't be taken too seriously.

Alan Moore, for taking writing in the Comics medium to new heights with works like "From Hell".

Thomas Pynchon, for his experimental and magnificent novels, which with humor and empathy explore what it means to live (I must admit that a big part of the reason I want Pynchon to get the Nobel is because I want to see what he will do. If he does something a smidgen as delightful as what he did when he received an award in 1974, it will be worth seeing)

Allen Ginsberg, for his innovative poetry, which revealed the human costs of modern capitalism.

James Joyce, who has done more to innovate the modern novel than any other writer.

Virginia Woolf, for her poetic fiction, with its deep psychological insight.


(1) The interview can be found here (in Swedish)

(2) For example, I haven't read much of Auden (though I have liked what I read), so it wasn't really possible for me to add him to the list. Ditto for Zola, Tolstoy, Graves and other famous "Nobel rejects".

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