The 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature: Countdown!

By Susan Harris

News flash: The usually coy Swedish Academy has announced that the Nobel will be awarded Thursday. In the home stretch, Ladbrokes keeps Adonis and Tranströmer to win and place, while Murakami moves into show; Unibet has Murakami leading, with Adonis passing Vijay dan Detha into second and Les Murray breaking from the pack to move into third. The lively exchanges here last month and last week show support for all of the above, as well as others expected and otherwise. When we speculate about the winner, we're also betting on nation, language, and genre, and it's tempting to calculate the odds on the basis of past awards. The last poet to win was Poland's Wisława Szymborska in 1996; is it time for another? In that case, who's more likely: Adonis, who would be the first Arabic writer since Naguib Mahfouz in 1988 and the first Syrian to win a Nobel in any category, or Tranströmer, who would be the first Swede since 1974's dead heat between Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson? Can we assume that Mario Vargas Llosa's 2010 prize eliminates Latin Americans? Does that extend to all writers working in Spanish? So: keep those comments coming.



@Totto, reg: “Where has Cormac McCarthy gone?”

As a long time admirer and fan of Cormac McCarthy’s works, I’d love to see him take the prize. I’ve heard some say that he wouldn’t win becuase the Nobel committee would consider his ouevre too violent, bleak, cynical, etc. But I wonder if something else may play into not wanting to recognize him. He is such a literary heir to Faulkner that, especially after also recognizing Toni Morrison, that the Nobel committee feels that there may be some redundancy in giving him the prize. I don’t know. I would disagree, but to an extent I could understand that rationale. McCarthy is one of five writers from the USA who I would like to see win, the others being Joan Didion (brilliant in fiction, non-fiction and memoir), Lydia Davis (who is every much a brilliant writer as she is a superb translator), William T. Vollmann, and Ursula K. Le Guin.


Two Americans that I would be disappointed to see win this prize are Joyce Carol Oates and Philip Roth. This is not because I do not admire these writers, I do. My favorite work being “Because It Is Bitter and Because It Is My Heart” between the two of them. But neither to me seem to qualify really according to my interpretation of the criteria “specified” by Alfred Nobel.


I would love to see Murakami, a widely read novelist, although many will disagree with me, to win the Nobel Prize of Literature. It’s something fun, a bit controversial, and lively. Bob Dylan, that would be fun too.


I am not a usual visitor of WWB. It is great that when I came back today I saw some responses to my previous views posted.

If my saying of traditional literature elitism offended anyone I apologise. If one checked and thought that he/she found a seat there I apologise too.

Who is entitled to be an elitist in mankind? One of the essences I believe is that he/she could see the elite of those tagged mediocrity? No one in this world is mediocrity. Not a hobo, not a prisoner, not an illiterate.

Yes, influence alone should not be the only attribute, but influence definitely is a major one to count with other qualifying factors. I’m a literature lover of perhaps kintergarden level and my personal views on the qualifying factors for good literature might not sound right to some professors in art, and for those agreed to some extent my saying, some may disagree that Dylan’s writings possess such qualities, but he/she cannot deny that many others in this world, perhaps millions or even billions in all the past and recent generations feel that, including me, a humble engineer who hated reading literature in the past.

I am not qualified to advocate the change of rules, if any, in assessing literature art, but if only poets, novelists and playwrights, etc. are entitled to the award, then perhaps I should tell this story. A couple of weeks ago I was driving with my 9 years old son with my CD playing Bob’s Who Killed Davey Moore. I never saw this naughty kid so focused in listening a song and when finished he asked me , “dad, this song sounds like a poem, it’s great, I like this guy, what’s his name?”. Yes, it and many of Bob’s masterpieces are poems. You can say that mediocrities like me and my son have no right to say. Then hear what academics like Professor Gordon Ball of Lexington, Professor Christopher Ricks of Oxford and American Beat Poet Allen Ginsberg said. (

Think about this too – the award to which candidate would attract the world’s attention in literature more, and the award to whom would pull in many more lovers in literature? Words Without Borders is a great site and thanks to it, literature lovers have a forum to openly share their views. When the 18 life time members of the Swedish Academy made their decision this month, they should consider Literature Without Borders – no borders in ethnic, no borders in nation, no borders in culture, no borders in age and gender………and…... NO BORDERS IN LITERATURE RULES AND FORMAT.

By Simon Ngo on Oct 5, 2011


There is no better writer alive in English that E.L. Doctorow. He is long overdue and I hope the Nobel prize goes to him


To #7, Antonio Castella,

How refreshing that you mention E. L. Doctorow.  I have long wondered why his is not a name more frequently heard in Nobel speculations.

To #3 and #4, Spense and Alan,

Here is an excerpt from the latest post on my blog, “The Stockholm Shelf: The Nobel Prize for Literature, Its Winners, Their Books, and the Madness of Prestige (, about why Philip Roth is my second choice for this year’s Nobel, after Tomas Transtromer:

Yes.  I know: Sex. Frantic masculinity. A little misogyny, anyone? Endless rants.  But really, who in America writes like this? Sam and I frequently discuss him.  Sam’s concern is that Roth belongs to the “sex-as-salvation” family of narcissistic straight white male writers.  I contend that, to the contrary, his best work lays bare the sheer benightedness of such a theology. And not just sex, but all the signifiers of the “American Dream” – power, wealth, social acceptance – you name it, he gives the lie to it.  Far from being adolescent in his sensibility, as he is often accused, he takes down our adolescent country in prose as energetic and beautiful as any being written.


Kundera, more than any writer, needed to win…..Roth? Seriously, my god….Murakami? I cant believe Im hearing these same names….and when Updike was alive…..get it thru yer heads:Roth and Updike are not universal writers…Kundera is…...


To #9 herman,

I couldn’t agree with you more about Kundera.  Why he is still being kept on hold by that venerable Swedish conclave is beyond understanding.

But I am curious about what you hear in Roth that you feel keeps him from international standing.  The 1990 Nobel laureate, Nadine Gordimer has herself ranked him along side Kundera and Garcia Marquez as one of the greatest living novelists. I wonder what points you would raise with her.  Many people feel as you do, I know.  Yours is a position that should be seriously considered. Its just that actual reasons for this position are so rarely given.  Please educate me.


(Oops.  Nadine Gordimer won in 1991. Ootavio Paz was 1990. Sorry.)


To #10, Roths paranoia irks me to no end. His worldview is not just depressing but distressing. I think readers and writers have an unspoken treaty: the writer gives the reader something of value, himself, his fears, his hopes, via his creation—-novel, short stories, etc——but if a writer is a “one song singer” the reader gets tired. As Singer—-I think——said of Kafka, Kafka—-wow, Im paraphrasing awfully—-the world Kafka creates is ugly and barely tolerable…a world where Kafkas imitators thrive is a world not fit to live in…..or something to that effect….so, his paranoia, I think, is provincial, a provincial paranoia…Kunderas suspicion of the world is a suspicion that is admirable, witty, funny, at times beautiful, even in its paranoia…one must be suspicious of the world of politics, and governments and movements but its Roths tone, I think, that alienates millions…the other Roth, Joseph Roth, have ye read him? His Radetzky March and other novellas….wow….Flight Without End, the protag. , for me, is one I relate to…that said, I think Phil and I, over drinks, would get along very well….and I have massive respect for him as a craftsman,a writer…his ability to keep keeping on…even with bad reviews, even with his paranoia….kudos to him. Others I cannot “get into”: Updike…Conrad, Didion, Eggers….my faves: Singer, Steinbeck, Carver, Platonov…Platonov is the best writer I have ever read…his short story/novella, “Soul”(Dusha, in Russian) and his s. story “The River Potudan”....I read and reread 3 times in one night, weeping and stunned, literally, telling my Russian wife “I cannot believe this man”....Brodksy,too, was quite moved by him….be well


Your point is well taken. Paranoia is always a disconcerting quality to be around. My take on Roth’s paranoia is this, as a profoundly Jewish writer, he comes by his paranoia honestly. I don’t hear it as provincial. I hear it more as a linking him to the Psalms.  Especially a certain kind of psalm, as exemplified by, say, Psalm 11:

“...In the Lord I sheltered./ How could you say to me,‘Off to the hills like a bird!/ For, look, the wicked bend back the bow,/ they fix to the string their arrow/ to shoot from the gloom at the upright./ The foundations destroyed, what can a righteous man do?’/ .../ The Lord in the heavens His throne-/ .../His look probes the sons of man./ The Lord probes the righteous and wicked,/ and the lover of havoc He utterly hates./ He rains fiery coals on the wicked,/.../ For righteous the Lord is, righteous acts He does love./ The upright behold His face.” (trans. Robert Alter)

This, I think, is Roth, a latter day psalmist. Enemies of the Good are all around. By “good”, Roth means life-affirming, erotic, and just. And he is angry that those enemies always seem to get the upper hand, even in, of all places, America, which holds as part of its identity “liberty and justice for all.” Further, those enemies tragically infiltrate the very souls of his dubious protagonists, who so ardently want the good.  More than paranoid, I think he is angry. At his weakest, that anger can come off a bit as a tantrum. At his strongest - and he is frequently at his strongest - that anger is an arrow shot straight from the Hebrew Scriptures.

Platonov: I first read his name in the… Was it the New Yorker or the New York Times?... In any case, the author of the article said he was probably the greatest Russian/Soviet author of the 20th century. I haven’t read him yet, but I am keen to, and your admiration of him spurs me on.

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