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Did He Really Just Say That?

October 9, 2008

The announcement of the Nobel prize winners in Literature is to be made today. I’m sure most of you have heard or read about permanent secretary Horace Engdahl’s thoughts of U.S. writers. According to him, we are too “insular” and “ignorant” to compete against European writers. I guess we know where he stands.

When I first read this, I felt kind of insulted. However, I’m not taking this personal. It’s his opinion. He has a right to it. We’ve had writers in the past who won the Nobel prize and present/future ones are just as capable of following in their footsteps. Perhaps, as David Remnick from the New Yorker stated, Mr. Engdahl hasn’t read much outside of Mainstream. In the end, I don’t think it really matters.

Any thoughts?

  1. October 9, 2008 2:34 am

    There is no bigger snob than a literary snob. The Euros have had that down since before we even came on the scene. Of course being an ignorant American, I know I would not know good literature if I fell over it. I guess it isn’t good literature unless a bunch of stuffed shirts smoking pipes and sipping expressos in some Eye-talian or French cafe say it is. Tell him to pound sand. How’s that for ignorant?

  2. October 9, 2008 3:28 am

    To answer the question, no he didn’t say that, or at least he didn’t say it the way it has been reported. He’s been reported as saying that Americans are ignorant. What he actually said was that American literature is at the moment ignorant of external events, and is too insular. It is worth remembering that being ignorant is not the same as being ignorant of something.

    It is a valid criticism to an extent, but while American literature at the moment is focusing on the internal, we shouldn’t overlook how different the many parts of the American nation are. Insularity in this case provides a plurality, and I think it is a shame the Nobel panel won’t recognise that.

    But I am disappointed that the press elected to turn this into an “us versus them”, and it is in danger of raising heckles and having people lapse into ugly stereotypes. The “eurosnob” is every bit as inaccurate is the “ignorant” American stereotype.

  3. October 9, 2008 8:01 am

    Is anyone really surprised by how the media, once again, skewed the facts to stir up trouble? Take everything reported with a grain of salt – everything.

    Heck, one look at how they cover American politics should tell you, they don’t, nor will ever, have our best interests in mind.

    It’s all about controversy (i.e. sensationalism), not the actual facts.

  4. October 10, 2008 3:18 pm

    Interesting to hear this from the USA – compare and contrast with this article:-
    Which is taking an English perspective on things – perhaps it is worth looking at what her has to tell us about the guy who won the prize. I think that is an important context for his remark. I do see his point.

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