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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:
Fleming awoke in the dark and his room felt loose, sloshing so badly he gripped the bed. From his window there was nothing but a hallway, and if he craned his neck, a blown lightbulb swung into view. The room pitched up and down and for a moment he thought he might be sick. The word “hallway” must have a nautical name. Why didn’t they supply a glossary for this cruise? Probably they had, in the welcome packet he’d failed to read. A glossary. A history of the boat, which would be referred to as a ship. Sunny biographies of the captain and crew, who had always dreamed of this life. Lobotomized histories of the islands they’d visit. Who else had sailed this way. Famous suckwads from the past, slicing through this very water on wooden longships.
A welcome packet, the literary genre most likely to succeed in the new millennium. Why not read about a community you don’t belong to, that doesn’t actually exist, a captain and crew who are, in reality, if that isn’t too much of a downer on your vacation, as indifferent to one another as any set of co-employees at an office or bank? Read doctored personal statements from underpaid crew members — because ocean life pays better than money! — who hate their lives but have been forced to buy into the mythology of working on a boat, separated now from loved ones and friends, growing lonelier by the second, even while they wait on you and follow your every order.
Rank of Detroit among major U.S. cities whose residents give the largest portion of their income to charity:
A South Dakota researcher concluded that only scant blood spatter results when chain saws are used to dismember pigs.
Four people were arrested for using a remote-controlled hexacopter to fly two pounds of tobacco to prisoners inside the yard at Calhoun State Prison in Georgia.
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Our congratulations to Alice Munro, winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature