05 October 2008

US Literature is "too insular and ignorant"

It appears that many contemporary American writers, often hyped-up by various TV book clubs or the very private tastes of so-called 'celebrities', do not find similar recognition outside the USA.
Even in Britain and Ireland, traditionally the countries most open towards American literature (and obviously not in need of translation), the interest in contemporary US writers has dropped in recent years significantly.

Analysts put some of this down to the general decline in popularity the USA have encountered since the non-election of George W. Bush in 2000/2001 and especially since the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003.

But there are also other reasons, quite unconnected to politics. The most important is the quality of modern American literature, which - according to experts - has gradually declined over the past 20-30 years.

The Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, which awards the annual Nobel Prize for Literature (as well as all other Nobel Prizes, except the one for Peace), has recently assessed US writing as being "insular" and "too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture".

Speaking to the media a week before the official announcement of this year's prizes, Horace Engdahl (right) said of the current American literature: "They don't translate [foreign books] enough and don't really participate in the big world-wide dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining. Of course there is powerful literature in all big cultures, but you can't get away from the fact that Europe still is the centre of the literary world."

Reading between the lines of this statement, one can assume that no American writer can expect to receive a Nobel Prize for Literature any time soon.

The last US writer to win the prize was Toni Morrison (left) 15 years ago.

Of the 14 Nobel Prizes for Literature awarded since, eleven went to writers from European countries, including the Irish poet Seamus Heaney, who was honoured in 1995. Two went to Asia and one to Africa.
The 2008 Nobel Laureate for Literature will be announced in Stockholm on October 9th.

The Emerald Islander

1 comment:

By Tina-Sue Ducross said...

A thousand thank you's for this post and this lovely blog.

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