Those of use who bemoan the occasional spectacle of this-or-that two-bit American critic clumsily attempting to take Robert E. Howard out to the woodshed can take heart in remembering that no matter how elitist or arrogant or divorced from reality a particular critic appears, there always — always — is an even bigger and more clueless snob waiting just around the bend:
STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) – The man who announces the Nobel Prize in literature says the United States is too “insular” and ignorant to compete with Europe when it comes to great writing.
In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Horace Engdahl said Tuesday that “Europe still is the center of the literary world.”
Engdahl is the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, which selects the literature prize winner. He is expected to announce the winner in the coming weeks.
Engdahl says the U.S. “is too isolated, too insular” and doesn’t really “participate in the big dialogue of literature.”
Since Japanese poet Kenzaburo Oe won in 1994, the selections have had a distinct European flavor. The last American winner was Toni Morrison in 1993.
Mr. Engdahl really thinks that by making such statements he is leveraging the enormous clout and gravitas of the Nobel Prize and marshaling that august legacy to the defense of literary Europe. What he’s really doing is squandering what little reputational capital the Prize has left and continuing its long continental drift into irrelevance. Just saying something doesn’t make it so, and sometimes a prize can over time become a scarlet letter. American literature has as little to fear from Sweden’s literary aesthetes as our military does from their Home Guard.
Steve adds: The late Norman Mailer’s zeitgeist-wrassling was never to everyone’s taste (although some visitors to this site would be startled by the ambition and multiple adrenaline spikes of his boxing journalism), but the best of his fiction (The Naked and the Dead, Why Are We In Vietnam?) and the best of his nonfiction (“Superman Comes to the Supermarket,” The Armies of the Night, Miami and the Siege of Chicago, The Executioner’s Song) should easily have notched him a Nobel. Rumor was, he was blackballed year after year after year by at least one academician, as also occurred with Graham Greene. Guess there’s more than one kind of Stockholm Syndrome…