SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
No one would think to begrudge the grower of a prize-winning pumpkin tipping the scales at a country fair. Pity, though, the poor writer saddled with similar, heavyweight fortune. With any honor bestowed, she is guaranteed equal obloquy. Both Doris Lessing and Elfriede Jelinek, with their recent $1,415,969.81 checks (at today’s rate for 10,000,000 Swedish Kroner), also earned the opprobria of professional readers who took some measure of glee in dismissing work more polysemous than one might have been led to suppose.
There are problems and there are problems, of course. Perhaps your temperament doesn’t run to hand-wringing over the fortunes of newly minted Nobel Laureates. If so, pay no attention, tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. CET, to the announcement of the latest lamb to lie down on yonder altar made of dynamite.
For some of us, though, there is the attraction, in a rhetorically stunted time, of a celebration–any celebration–of literature that makes news not out of authorial behavior but of endeavor. For, whatever biases may surely be at work in the sanctum sanctorum of the Swedish see, some sort of serious conversation is taking place there about who will be cast in the fleeting but meaningful role as Writer of the Moment.
Who should win? I don’t care. If pressed, my preference would be that it go to no one I’ve ever heard of and whose work, upon my reading it, engages, moves, teaches, surprises. Short of this, from my chauvinistic point of view, there could be no better time for an American to win–the sort of American writer, for example, whose writing betrays a humility about our national soul that all this season’s Gosh Darn Greatest Country Ever!!!!!!™ rhetoric does not. For as much as the Nobel is a marker for seriousness of literary endeavor, it is a prize lately inclined to favor a definition of “serious” that embraces a writer’s political orientation–political in the Greek sense, what it means to be a citizen–in this case a citizen of a declining world. As such, mightn’t it be useful, right about now, were the world’s readers reminded that we Americans do indeed have a few writers who are serious in just that very way , and at just this weird, dark, dim, dumb time.
More from Wyatt Mason:
Conversation — October 2, 2015, 8:26 am
“By committing to the great emotional extremes demanded by Greek tragedy,” says Bryan Doerries, author of The Theater of War, “the actors are in effect saying to the audience: ‘If you want to match our emotional intensity, that would be fine.’”
Freddie Gray’s relatives arrived for the trial in the afternoon, after the prep-school kids had left. By their dress, they seemed to have just gotten off work in the medical and clerical fields. The family did not appear at ease in the courtroom. They winced and dropped their heads as William Porter and his fellow officer Zachary Novak testified to opening the doors of their police van last April and finding Freddie paralyzed, unresponsive, with mucus pooling at his mouth and nose. Four women and one man mournfully listened as the officers described needing to get gloves before they could touch him.
The first of six Baltimore police officers to be brought before the court for their treatment of Freddie Gray, a black twenty-five-year-old whose death in their custody was the immediate cause of the city’s uprising last spring, William Porter is young, black, and on trial. Here in this courtroom, in this city, in this nation, race and the future seem so intertwined as to be the same thing.
Average speed of Heinz ketchup, from the mouth of an upended bottle, in miles per year:
After studying the fall of 64,000 individual raindrops, scientists found that some small raindrops fall faster than they ought to.
The Playboy mansion in California was bought by the heir to the Twinkie fortune, and a New Mexico man set fire to his apartment to protest his neighbors’ loud lovemaking.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
“Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'”