Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Nobel Prize for Literature

Charles McGrath, in today's NYT Week in Review, laments the State-of-the-Nobel for American writers. While not necessarily disagreeing with his overall thesis, he makes such sweeping statements about previous non-American winners being unknown or obtuse writers, particularly to an American audience. Representatives of the Nobel committee who choose the winners, state that American writers, and by extension readers, write for and about an American audience only and further, that the publishing industry here does limited translations, therefore, Americans just don't know what is out there. Again, while none of this can be refuted, McGrath does mention one of this year's potential candidates, Claudio Magris, and seems to think he is one of the unknowns here in America: hmmm, not quite. In 1989, Magris' book Danube, was published in Britain. This book is an incredible travelogue, geographic and historical odyssey, from the start of the Danube River at a spigot in Germany to its outlet in the Black Sea, on the coast of Romania. Magris not only lyrically describes the places he and friends are floating through, but also the historical, literary , musical, political, philosophical importance of these places. McGrath is wrong if he accepts the intellectual snootiness of the Nobel committee and assumes that Americans, readers and writers alike, are any more provincial than their European counterparts. (Even if Sarah Palin makes us look like hicks).

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