It’s been a light posting week–sorry. Journalism has been getting in the way. I’ve also expended too much energy fretting over the Nobel Lit prize and recent fighting words from Horace Engdahl, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, about how backwards American lit is:
“There is powerful literature in all big cultures, but you can’t get away from the fact that Europe still is the centre of the literary world … not the United States,” he told the Associated Press. “The US is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature …That ignorance is restraining.”
Well, he’s entitled to his opinion, ignorant and insular as it may be. What really got my goat was how seriously American lierary folk took his comments. He stuck a knife–a small one, maybe, but sharp enough to sting–right into the heart of American insecurity, which runs as deep in this culture as our sense of exceptionalism does. Our culturati still, after 232 years, have a tendency to look over their shoulders at Europe.
Without sounding like an arrogant and provincial American, I have to ask: Why do we care what some dude in Sweden thinks? Writers write what they write, and ours are no exception. Sometimes it’s regional, sometimes it’s universal. The two are hardly incompatible.
Oh, and why is it okay, in 2008, to claim that Europe is the center of the literary world? Does the literary world even have a center? Should it? Does handing out a million-dollar prize buy you the right to decide? I don’t think so.
The Nobel Prize in Literature is no doubt a very lovely thing for the winning authors and their publishers. But if Americans won it every other year, it still wouldn’t mean a damn thing, really.