• Tag Archives 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature
  • Mo Yan: China’s Chronicaler and Critic wins the 2012 Nobel Prize


    “If I were to choose a Nobel Laureate, it would be Mo Yan.”

    – Kenzaburo Oe, winner of the 1994 Nobel Prize


    Mo Yan, winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature

    As I stood in the morning sun on that first day of the year, I kept digging in my hooves to keep from falling over. Then I took my first step as a donkey, thus beginning an unfamiliar, taxing, humiliating journey. Another step; I wobbled, and the skin on my belly tightened. I saw a great big sun, a beautiful blue sky in which white doves flew. I watched Lan Lian help Yingchun back into the house, and I saw two children, a boy and a girl, both in new jackets, with cloth tiger-head shoes on their feet and rabbit-fur caps on their heads, come running in though the gate. Stepping over the door lintel was not easy for such short legs. They looked to be three or four years old. They called Lan Lian Daddy and Yingchun Mommy. Hee-haw, hee-haw— I did not have to be told that they were my children, the boy named Jinlong and the girl called Baofeng. My children, you cannot know how your daddy misses you! Your daddy had high hopes for you, expecting you to honor your ancestors as a dragon and a phoenix, but now you have become someone else’s children, and your daddy has been changed into a donkey. My heart was breaking, my head was spinning, it was all a blur, I couldn’t keep my legs straight…I fell over. I don’t want to be a donkey, I want my original body back, I want to be Ximen Nao again, and get even with you people! At the very moment I fell, the female donkey that had given birth to me crashed to the ground like a toppled wall.

    She was dead, her legs stiff as clubs, her unseeing eyes still open, as if she had died tormented by all sorts of injustices. Maybe so, but it didn’t bother me, since I was only using her body to make my entrance. It was all a plot by Lord Yama, either that or an unfortunate error. I hadn’t drunk an ounce of her milk; the very sight of those teats poking out between her legs made me sick.

    – from Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out

  • 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature – My Personal Shortlist

    Strange. I can’t shake the feeling that when the Nobel literature committee sends white smoke up its chimney on Thursday, it will smell like pepernoten and Cees Nooteboom will have a very busy day. While not my first choice, this Dutch author, widely known in Europe for his poetry and travel writing, and in the United States for the few of his short, brilliant, philosophically disarming novels available in English, would cut a distinguished, charming, and very apt figure on Stockholm’s stage, come December. His win would also net The Netherlands its first Nobel laurels for literature.

    Unless, that is, the committee decides its time to bring another non-European into the fold. China’s Mo Yan, perhaps. What a delight it would be if they pulled a fast one and gave it to Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, Russia’s wicked wise novelist, short story writer, playwright, and cabaret artist. Amos Oz will almost certainly have to wait for some other October to arrive with his moment, unless Stockholm wishes to make overt its often implicit, always coyly denied political motivations. And is it just me, or does the neglect of Chinua Achebe seem unwarranted? I read in David Marr’s biography of Patrick White that the ground-breaking Nigerian writer was on the shortlist as far back as 1973. What happened there? Ladbrokes, Britain’s famous betting company, has Haruki Murakami as the favorite. I don’t see it myself. Perhaps another year. And that Bob Dylan buisness? Cute, but really, that’s enough of that.

    So, here is my personal short list: Normally I could yap away all day long about these writers. But My partner, Sam – who seduced me, in part, with books – is gravely ill and in the hospital. Which means I have had neither the time nor the reserves to write cogently the rationale behind my choices. So these five magnificent writers will have to speak for themselves – better, by far, it turns out, than I ever could.

    5.  Cees Nooteboom (Holland)

    Once, and then for good, the spell had been broken. As the chalice was being lifted to where, high above the church, the sun would soon trace its course, the old man suddenly began to tremble. Inni would never forget the scream that followed, never. The raised hands let go of the chalice. The wine, the blood, poured all over his chasuble, and the cloth was torn from the alter in one haul by the monk’s clawing hands, dragging candles, host, and paten with it. A scream as of a huge wounded animal bounced back from the stone walls. The man tugged at his chasuble as though he was trying to tear it asunder, and then, still screaming, he slowly began to fall. His head hit the chalice and started to bleed. When he was already dead, he still went on bleeding, red and red mingled on the islands of shiny silk amid the gold brocade, and it was no longer clear which was which — the wine had become blood, the blood wine.

    – from Rituals

    4.  Ismail Kadare (Albania)

    It must have been snowing…there…. Then he stopped writing, snatching away the pen as if afraid it might be held to the paper by magic. It was with an effort that he went on to record, in the succinct style used in the rest of the rest of the Chronicle, the death of Kurt and his own appointment as head of the Palace of Dreams. Then his pen was still again, and he thought of the distant ancestor called Gjon who on a winter’s day several centuries before had built a bridge and at the same time edified his name. The patronymic bore within it, like a secret message, the destiny of the Quprilis for generation after generation. And so that the bridge might endure, a man was sacrificed in its building, walled up in its foundations. And although so much time had gone by since, the traces of his blood had come down to the present generation. So that the Quprilis might endure…

    Perhaps that was why — like the ancient Greeks, cutting off their hair at a funeral so that the angry soul of the departed wouldn’t be able to recognize them and do them harm — perhaps that was why the Quprilis had changed their name to Köprülü: to avoid being identified with the bridge.

    Mark-Alem knew all this, but remembered how on the fateful night he had longed to throw off the protective mask, the Islamic half-shield of “Alem,” and adopt one of those ancient names that attract danger and were marked by fate.

    – from The Palace of Dreams


    3.  Milan Kundera (France/Czech Republic)

    What remains of the dying population of Cambodia?

    One large photograph of an American actress holding an Asian child in her arms.

    What remains of Tomas?

    An inscription reading HE WANTED THE KINGDOM OF GOD ON EARTH.

    What remains of Beethoven?

    A frown, and improbable mane, and a somber voice intoning “Es muss sein!”

    What remains of Franz?

    An inscription reading A RETURN AFTER LONG WANDERINGS.

    And so on and so forth. Before we are forgotten, we will be turned into kitsch. Kitsch is the stopover between being and oblivion.

    – from The Unbearable Lightness of Being


    2.  Alice Munro (Canada)

    Savanna has fallen asleep, her lips slack around the nipple. With the boys out of the way, it’s easier to detach her. Sally can burp her, settle her on her blanket, without worrying about an exposed breast. If Alex finds the sight distasteful — she knows he does, he dislikes the whole conjunction of sex and nourishment, his wife’s breast turned into udders — he can look away, and he does.

    As she buttons herself up there comes a cry, not sharp but lost, diminishing, and Alex is on his feet before she is, running along the path. Then a louder cry getting closer. It’s Peter.

    “Kent falled in. Kent falled in.”

    His father yells, “I’m coming.”

    Sally will always believe that she knew at once, even before she heard Peter’s voice she knew what had happened. If any accident happened it would not be to her six-year-old who was brave but not inventive, not a show-off. It would be to Kent. She could see exactly how. Peeing into the hole, balancing on the rim, teasing Peter, teasing himself.

    – from Deep-Holes, collected in Too Much Happiness


    1.  Philip Roth (United States)

    What happens when people die, my mother explained, is that they go up to the sky and live on forever as gleaming stars….

    That explanation made sense then and, of all things, it made sense again on the night when, wide awake from the stimulus of all that narrative engorgement, I lay out of doors till dawn, thinking that Ira was dead, that Eve was dead, that with the exception perhaps of Sylphid off in her villa on the French Riviera, a rich old woman of seventy-two, all the people with a role in Murray’s account of the Iron Man’s unmaking were now no longer impaled on their moment but dead and free of the traps set for them by their era. Neither the ideas of their era nor the expectations of our species were determining destiny: hydrogen alone was determining destiny. There are no longer mistakes for Eve or Ira to make. There is no betrayal. There is no idealism. There are no falsehoods. There is no class struggle. There is no discrimination or lynching or Jim Crow, nor has there ever been. There is no injustice, nor is there justice. There are no utopias. There are no shovels. Contrary to the folklore, except for the constellation Lyra —which happened to perch high in the eastern sky a little west of the Milky Way and southeast of the two Dippers — there are no harps. There is just the furnace of Ira and the furnace of Eve burning at twenty million degrees.

    from I Married a Communist

    Well then, until tomorrow…

  • The 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature: Dreaming Up a Winner

    I had the strangest dream last night: The Nobel Prize for Literature was announced, and the winner for 2012 was…Romy Schneider. Lets hear it for 1960’s Euro-glam! You might easily wonder how much time I have spent obsessing about Frau Schneider that her name would elbow through to the fore of my dreadfully overstuffed unconscious. Absolutely none. I assure you. In fact, I had to Wiki her just to remind myself what films I’ve seen her in. While in her too-short life the Austrian-born bombshell made trouble for stiff, bland Tom Tyron in Otto Preminger’s  The Cardinal, played Empress Elizabeth of Austria in Lucchino Visconti’s lugubrious Ludwig, and carried on a very public affair with Alain Delon, produce a great work of literature she did not. I could be persuaded that she had an active postcard life, but, beyond that, it is hard to even imagine her in the act of writing. But, in my dream, she had written at least one great novel, praised for its “pervasive melancholy and diaphanous language”. From what neural trash-bin of cliches did I pull this? My first thought upon waking: It should have gone to Fanny Ardant. With her Truffaut background and ability to take Cathrine Deneuve to the floor, she’d have no time for such gauzy tosh. My second thought was a rueful wish that Schneider had actually produced this reputed lachrymose masterpiece. I’d be curious to read it. Though it would, perhaps, be a toss up between that and Simone Signoret’s memoir, Nostalgia Isn’t What It Used To Be.

    Romy Schneider – Surprise winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature

    Thankfully, the choice for the Nobel is not up to my brain stem. It is, rather, up to the brain stems of the five men and women appointed by the Swedish Academy whose job it is each year to dream up a winner. If this sounds irreverent to that illustrious coterie of intellectual curators, consider neuroscience. Because of the work of scientists, who themselves have won Nobels, we know that to make so-called “rational” decisions, our brains must enlist  their more antiquated components, those areas in charge of our emotions, desires and anxieties, our knee-jerk reactions, all that was once subsumed by the Freudian id. The separation of reason from un-reason, they tell us, is pure illusion. In a normally functioning brain, the cortex weighs options, puts forth its arguments, assembles its narratives, but at the moment of choice, something primal, emotional, reptilian, must be satisfied. What we decide to do with our money, who we decide to sit next to on the bus, or vote for, or flirt with, or flee, who, what, how, and where we decide to worship, or read, unless we draw on the lizardish parts of our brains –  those parts connected to our dreams – we are left in a purgatory of indecision.

    When the announcement comes, the head secretary will  issue a pithy statement, summarizing the committee’s rationale. The new laureate may “Give voice to an experience as yet un-heard on the World stage”, or use language to “limn the boundaries of the sayable.” But, in his effort to make their choice make sense to us, he won’t tell us the half of what went into it. To wit, what lights their little Nordic fires.

    Whatever conversations I might have with my analyst about my “Romy Schneider wins the Nobel Prize” dream, the best part of it is the sublime joke of it, that is, its unpremeditated murder of expectation. Whether we grouse or whoop, we all secretly love it when this happens. Our brain stems light up, we become alert, our bodies vibrate. My waking brain will forever keep Romy Schneider from her Nobel Prize. But there is something in the names of each of the men and women I do place on my personal list of contenders that lights the same spark of delight I had upon waking this morning, and realizing that something rather fabulous had happened.

    So, in the next few weeks, think kind thoughts for the Swedish five, as they lay their heads down each night on their impeccably laundered pillows, that their brain stems send them wild dreams, and that when they wake to hold their conclave, they remember the delight.


    My Personal Long List:

    In the mean time, here is my long list for this year. Sometime before the big announcement, I’ll share my short list. Read through it. If there is someone I’ve named at whom your own limbic system shudders, by all means say so. Likewise if you are in agreement about any of these writers, let me know. But, best of all, if there is someone absent from this list who you feel must be included, don’t remain selfishly silent. Tell us who you would dream up as a winner.


    1.   Chinua Achebe (Nigeria)

    2.   Antonio Lobo Antunes (Portugal)

    3.   Margaret Atwood (Canada)

    4.   Bei Dao (China)

    5.   Juan Goytisolo (Spain)

    6.   Ismail Kadare  (Albania)

    7.   György Konrad (Hungary)

    8.   László Krasznahorkai (Hungary)

    9.   Milan Kundera (Czech Republic/ France)

    10.  Cormac McCarthy (United States)

    11.  Alice Munro (Canada)

    12.  Les Murray (Australia)

    13.  Cees Nooteboom (Netherlands)

    14.  Amos Oz (Israel)

    15.  Ludmilla Petrushevskaya (Russia)

    16.  Philip Roth (United States)

    17.  Salman Rushdie (Great Britain)

    18.  Tom Stoppard (Great Britian)

    19.  William Trevor (Ireland)

    20.  Michel Tournier (France)