• Tag Archives Candidates for the Nobel Prize
  • 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)

  • The 2011 Nobel Prize for Literature: A Guide to the Season, and Twenty Prize-worthy Authors

    It’s Autumn, and the Nobel season is fast upon us.  Whether or not it be “of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” the fruit of some some lucky author’s labor has ripened at last and is about to drop from that great Northern branch.  The question remains, will it land in the favored one’s lap, or on  his or her head?  Or will the poor thing look up at the wrong moment and get it on the face?  All have been the case.

    “It makes no difference,” we say of the Nobel Prize. Quite rightly too – or at any rate with rectitude.  “No Tolstoy, no Woolf, no credibility.” Yet we know full well that such protestations are nothing but the posturing of a twelve year old  trying to be canny about Christmas. In spite of our good sense, our heart rates run on sensibility, and the Nobel is nothing if not a tanker of sensibility. And so we find ourselves a little charged, a little addled from about the first of October until announcement day, as if something of actual importance were afoot, as if  Stockholm really were Olympus, as it claims. As if there really were a Santa Claus.

    When the winner is announced, there are really only three possible responses: “Who?” “Why?”, or, rarer, “Why, of course.” Last year’s winner elicited all three. I remember just where I was and what I was doing when I first learned that the award had gone to Mario Vargas Llosa.  I was at the gym,  hamstering on the treadmill.  I glanced up at the nearest hanging television screen which happened to be tuned to CNN, and caught handsome Don Lemon telling Wolf Blitzer, standing across the high-gloss newsroom set, “This year’s Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded to…some guy from Peru…Mario Vargas…Yeosa.  Where do they find these guys?” A fun variation of “Who?”.

    I also remember Sam’s reaction when I got home and told him. “You’re kidding,” he said.  “That’s ridiculous!” The only time I have seen him more indignant about the Nobel was after reading The Golden Notebook, a book which ignited in him a fond loathing for Doris Lessing.  His response illustrated the “Why?” position. I happened to think Vargas Llosa was a logical choice. “Why, of course.” Only, my heart went out to Carlos Fuentes, the Latin American author I would have preferred to see win.  “No doubt, he’ll be out with a bad case of the flu for the rest of the month.” “For the rest of his life,” Sam rejoined. All this indicates a potential fourth response, one that draws on the flavor of all three, the “Oh. So that’s how it is,” response, generally followed by the “Maybe next year…” response.

    But, I’m getting ahead of things. Right now it is time to celebrate caprice (see my first post: “The Nobel Prize: In Defense of Caprice” 2/26/11), or, as commenter Andsnes said, to move, intellectually, as children at play “in curvilinear ways.” For example, one member of the Shelfari discussion group (see link) put forth some most unexpected names as Nobel contenders: Hillary Mantel, Geraldine Brooks, Jhumpa Lahiri, fine writers all, but none of whom I would have connected to the Nobel.  And yet, it is a moment of play, that disconnect, like the mechanics of a good joke, so critical to our psychological health. I am all at once confronted with the question of why their names would not occur to me.  But they did occur to someone else. How interesting. Or, how about this one:  I have a friend who thinks it should go to Terry Pratchett.  Honestly!  Now, I can call that for the absurdity it is,  and yet I must affirm the spirit of play in which the suggestion was made. There is a touching exuberance with which we who worship our books project our own hopes and dreams onto our favorite authors, expecting them to reflect well-being back to us. What better for my friend than Terry Pratchett winning a Nobel.  It would feel like winning one himself.

    On LibraryThing, I’ve been trying to work out with a couple of members just why they think Ngugi wa Thiong’o, worthy as he is for his use of his tribal language, would make a better African choice than Chinua Achebe, really the progenitor of the very concept of African literature destined for the world stage. This kind of go-around is, to me, the true worth of the Nobel Prize. Rather than some self-serving imprimatur, The Nobel Prize for Literature is an arms-flung-wide invitation for all of us who thrive on our reading to play with our intellectual food.  This is not frivolous.  Its how we get a grip on who we are, what we think, what holds meaning for us.

    To get the party started, Here is my long list, twenty authors I would love to see win this year.


    My Long List:

    1.   Chinua Achebe (Nigeria)

    2,   Adonis (Lebanon)

    3.   Antonio Lobo Antunes (Portugal)

    4.   Bei Dao (China)

    5.   Annie Dillard (United States)

    6.   Carlos Fuentes (Mexico)

    7.   Ismail Kadare  (Albania)

    8.   Gyorgy Konrad (Hungary)

    9.   Milan Kundera (France)

    10.  Cormac McCarthy (United States)

    11.  Javier Marias (Spain)

    12.  Alice Munro (Canada)

    13.  Les Murray (Australia)

    14.  Cees Nooteboom (Netherlands)

    15.  Amos Oz (Israel)

    16.  Ludmilla Petrushevskaya (Russia)

    17.  Philip Roth (United States)

    18.  Tom Stoppard (Great Britian)

    19.  Tomas Tranströmer (Sweden)

    20.  William Trevor. (Ireland)


    Next week I’ll give you my shortlist, my top five choices, with a sentence or two about why I think they are especially deserving. But, for now, its your turn. Don’t be bashful. It doesn’t suit you.  You have opinions. The “comments” icon is right here. Share your list.