The 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature: Round Two

By Susan Harris

Resuming last week's conversation, the speculation continues. Britain's suspiciously accurate Ladbrokes bets on Adonis at 4:1, followed by Tomas Transtromer at 9:2 and Peter Nadas at 10:1. Thomas Pynchon and Assia Dejebar are at 12:1, with Ko Un in sixth position at 14:1.  Any number of WWB authors made the list, including Vijay Dan Detha, Mircea Cartarescu, Adam Zagajewski, Cees Nooteboom, Ismail Kadare, Ernesto Cardenal, Juan Marse, Victor Pelevin, Javier Marias, and Elias Khouri, with Kjell Askildsen bringing up the rear. Ladbrokes' rival Unibet gets its intel from different sources: their money's on Haruki Murakami (6.5:1), followed by Vijaydan Detha (5.5:1)  and Adonis (8:1). WWB's commenters have nominated a wide range of candidates, including many of the above; their choices include a number of Americans, includng that older while male whose work is so divisive, Bob Dylan. The prize will be announced on either October 6 or 13, and the odds will change between now and then, so you still have plenty of time to ante up. And remember that a wager on a candidate is also a bet about country, language, and genre. We'll discuss that in our next post. In the meantime, let the speculations fly. UPDATE: It's this Thursday. We're moving to the countdown.



I say it every year: Ernesto Cardenal or Nicanor Parra.  But since a Latin American got it last time, I doubt they have a shot.


Péter Nádas deserves the Nobel Prize


Dylan’s name appeared in many Internet debates on the Nobel Prize of Literature almost every year in the past decade. Perhaps that alone already demonstrates his significant influence. Literature is the art of writing. So, what is good literature? Hard to define. One man’s meat could be another’s poison. If the Nobel Prize was established in the Stone Age, perhaps the prize winner would be a caveman with some excellent scripts on a cave wall. Likewise, in the early days when there was no TV or movie, naturally the Nobel Prize mostly went to poets and novel writers. The world is changing every day, so as the ways we see things when we realize more. We saw human’s change for better life from the stone age to the iron age, from the discovery of the use of fire to the industrial revolution and more recently the IT revolution, we saw the medical discoveries from Penicillin to now genetic engineering, in physics we saw the break-throughs from Newton’s gravitation theory to Albert Einstein’s laws of relativity and to the recent debates on the M-theory. Human just shouldn’t just live in the past. I am just a roadwork engineer doing road digging work everyday thus I am perhaps not “civilised” enough to comment on literature. I do not intend to offend any others who have their personal enlightening views which I respect also. What I like to express is just my personal perspective from the capacity of a guy who like to escape from my stressful practical life by reading literatures, and I have to confess that I never liked literature until influenced by Dylan’s writing three decades ago. Yes, we can follow our predecessors’ footsteps and judge whether the value of a piece of writing by its rhetoric, rhyme, grammar, metaphor, etc., but should we just abide by rules, if there is any. What is good literature, my personal view is that it is that kind of writing that could influence others deep down in their hearts with a touching feeling, it is something that stimulates others to put aside their daily burdens and look at things from a mental angle, it is something that inspires readers to reflect and think forward, it is something that encourages us to think of the good sides of human nature instead of hatred, it is something that stimulates others in writing and it is something which should not be judged with any financial, racial or political (too usual these days) considerations. When two masterpieces are really to be compared for their literature value, the extent of influence (in time, geographic and culture dimensions) counts! A recognition is a recognition and a tribute is a tribute, the Nobel Prize committee should not consider whether the writer needs it or not.

Back to Dylan. The other day when I was in a bookstore I saw these two young kids tracing his albums and books, and I heard their chat on their great impression on Dylan’s lyrics and how they stimulated their interests in their reading and writing. Gee, these days most of these 16/17 years old kids are listening to the pop music or playing with their I-pad.

Literature does not belong to academics who drill in the rhetoric, rhyme, grammar, metaphor or style, etc. of writers and their masterpieces with their magnifying glass. Literature belongs to all those who love literature. For those who lives in the ivory tower of traditional literature elitism, perhaps they should take a look on how many billions people like Dylan’s writings, how his songs and lyrics have influenced others for generations. Give the old man the prize he deserves to pay tribute to him before it is too late. A Daniel comes to judgement.


Javier Marias will win, but when?


DeLillo won’t get it, he portrays non-Americans in a far too unflattering light - or he just makes them two-dimensional. Roth doesn’t have a chance ‘cause he’s a curmudegonly GMN, although he does have genius enough to match his oversized ego. Pynchon wouldn’t show up for his award even if he got it, and the Nobel Committee likes itself a little too much to let that embarrassment happen. So, who’s left? Oh yeah, the whole rest of the world!

My money’s on Adonis, Geoffrey Hill, or, maybe, Kundera. I’d like it to go to a poet, though, and I’m conflicted over whether Adonis or Hill deserve it more. Probably Adonis, given how much he’s done for Arabic poetry. But, being able to read Hill in his native tongue let’s me realize how precise and original he is for English letters, things I’d probably see more readily in Adonis if I engaged him in the Arabic.


Vijaydan Detha is a noteble Indian writer who’s works are inspired heavily by Indian folklores. He uses Rajasthani (an Indian regional language) for his work. Central point in his writing is complexities of human emotions, relation between man, woman and society, social taboos and problems and beauty of Indian village life. Hoping for him to win.


To #7, JTolle:

I’m interested in your regard for Geoffrey Hill. Having long heard of his high reputation, I made an effort to read THE ORCHARDS OF SYON. I must confess it eluded me. Is there perhaps a better place to begin with him?

Regarding poets writing in English, I am partial to Les Murry from Australia - a complex and seething mind channeled into intense, formally dense, poetry. He is like Seamus Heaney, only angrier.

To #8, Totto:

I wonder what poets you have investigated to lead you to the conclusion that there are none living who convey “an important message to the whole world.” Perhaps you have not read Julia Hartwig, from Poland, Bei Dao, from China, or Tomas Transtromer, from Sweden.

Tomas Transtromer is my first choice for this year’s Nobel.  There is no greater living poet.  Adonis is the more likely winner, and he would be a worthy recipient, but my heart is with Transtromer.


To #10, David:

Funny that you mention “The Orchards of Syon” out of all Hill’s books. That’s where I began, as well. And yes, starting at “Orchards” is a mean road, I literally forced myself through the whole thing 3 times, understanding very little, until, finally, something about his style clicked. A greatly more accesible entrance would be “For the Unfallen” (1959) and “King Log” (1968).

But, a helpful hint I know I would have appreciated is that Hill’s work can be pretty evenly divided into two domains: Lyric and Soliloquy. Early collections tend to be “Lyric” and generally display a staggering level of technical craft. And, cragged, dense, and layered, as these poems are, they still run in the common poetic vein.

Later books, starting definitively with “The Triumph of Love” (1998) tend to be Soliloquys, in that Hill, or his narrator (they are, if different entities, remarkably similar), spend the whole time talking to (or at) you. Thus Hill’s regard for the practitioners of ‘Common Speech’ in poetry - O’Hara, Hopkins, Whitman, Browning - and his (subtle) admiration of a few of the Confessional poets, Berryman and Lowell, particularly.


To #11

Thank you, JTolle, for your suggestions, and for your helpful hints about how to approach Hill’s work. I am always fascinated when an artist’s work divides, as you suggest Hill’s does, like Beethoven, becoming the supreme master of the symphonic form, then pushing through the very boundaries he helped define. I look forward to a second attempt to “scale the Hill”.

I like your assessment of Philip Roth, by the way.  He his a grouch, isn’t he.  Even so - and his work since 2006 notwithstanding - he is my second choice for this year’s Nobel, after Transtromer.

You also mentioned Kundera.  For the life of me, I can’t figure out why he is still waiting for his laurels from Stockholm. Sheer capriciousness, I guess.

I’d love to hear more of your thoughts.  I write a blog called “The Stockholm Shelf: The Nobel Prize for Literature, It’s Winners, Their Books, and the Madness of Prestige” ( It would be a pleasure if you “dropped by.”

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