Thursday, October 08, 2009

"Mediocrities everywhere, now and to come..."

In keeping with their current policy of awarding the Nobel Prize for Literature to second-rate authors from Europe (lest a first-rate author from the United States be honored), the Swedish Academy has awarded the 2009 Prize to Herta Müller, who had, up until the Swedish proverbial purple found its way to her shoulders, been the recipient of awards from many German cities and Länder.

She had not, however, written Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West. That was Cormac McCarthy in 1985. Or American Pastoral. That was Philip Roth in 1997. Yet another Nobel season has gone by without either McCarthy or Roth ending up with the Prize in Literature. While there have been recipients during that period who have obviously deserved the award, e.g., J.M. Coetzee in 2005, by and large, the Swedes are appearing increasingly desperate to avoid the appearance of having anything nice to say about an American author, lest they appear to have something nice to say about America.

I get it. It's hard to admit that the United States actually has a culture, much less a culture more relevant in recent years than Europe's collective culture. Nevertheless, let's not punish some of the most important authors in recent years because of it, eh? All it does is water down the Nobel Prize into a parochial award given to Europeans (and residents of former European colonies and possessions) by Europeans as a memento of Europe's once-mighty cultural output. That's fine, I suppose, but there's no reason to care any more about the Nobel Prize in Literature than the Bonn Prize for Literary Merit or whatever Müller's biggest prize until now was.

At least we have been spared the egregious Horace Engdahl this time around.