03 October 2008
On Tuesday, I read an article about the continentalism evident from the actions and words of the Nobel Prize in Literature selection committee. Really, the word 'continentalism' may not exist, but it's exactly what Horace Engdahl is displaying by saying, "Of course there is powerful literature in all big cultures, but you can't get away from the fact that Europe still is the center of the literary world ... not the United States." I have been struggling all week to think of way to express my disgust with this comment; lucky for me, Slate.com did it better than I ever could have.
Not only are Engdahl's comments culturally ignorantly, they're also patently false. Kirsch's piece does a nice job of pointing out exactly why the European elites no longer much care for American culture. Having been the global hegemon of commerce and trade for many decades, America has come of age as a culture of art in the last few decades as well. For the most part, American authors who have been awarded the Nobel prize in Literature have been lauded in Europe for portraying the folksy nature of the former colony, but that's no longer the case. American authors such as Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates, and (of course) Don DeLillo have produced much better work than many of the Nobel Laureates of the recent past, but those at the Swedish Academy cannot seem to accept that.
All this having been said, I don't believe that any one nation's literary power is greater than any other. The best attribute of literature is that it can deftly cross cultural borders and bring impossibly diverse groups of people to a better understanding of one another. I happen to be very fond of American literature and I plan to devote my scholarly and professional life to the study of that which I am fond; but I never want to isolate myself from the word of the world.
So Swedish Academy, you can award whomever you want--it doesn't really matter anyway.