Who wants a Nobel Prize in Literature?

The litany of ignored quotas and flagrant Eurocentrism has not been absent this Thursday either after public knowledge of the Swedish Academy’s decision regarding the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature. Year after year, the archive inexorably denounces the more than centenary European, anti-American and anti-third-world absolute majority of the Scandinavian preference. The atonement will never come before a century, so much is what must be tried to repair from a damage that, by definition, like all racism, if it is imprescriptible it also results in the inextinguishable end. Perhaps the greatest irony is that the prosecution does not own the defense arguments, which reinforce the position of the prosecution, although in the sentences they gain recognition of mitigating factors and admission of the veracity of a firm intention of amendment. The Academy is never more Nordic than when it rewards the continents colonized by Europe: Africa this October, America the previous one.

It was the turn of a great writer, the Tanzanian Abdulrazak Gurnah, born in 1948, two years after Freddie Mercury, in what was then the Sultanate of Zanzibar, a British protectorate. This island in the Indian Ocean was absorbed in 1964 by Tanganyika, which thus became Tanzania. Like the singer of Queen, today the novelist Gurnah is a subject of the queen and a British citizen. They knew exile, migration and minority status from before they were born. The family of the future star victim of AIDS in times of rampant post-Reagan and Thatcherist homophobia was Indian and, moreover, of the Parsi or Persian religious minority, who in Hindu India had suffered suspicion and discrimination as migrants who practiced the cult of Zarathustra or Zoroaster. The future professor of English Literature retired with honors and awarded this week with the Nobel was Arab and Muslim. Unlike the future idol of the short-lived gay-friendly America of the late ’70s (still Conviction, the newspaper blessed and germinated by Admiral Emilio Massera in the Argentine civic-military dictatorship, boasted of being so in signatures and topics), Gurnah enters as black or ‘colored’ in ethnic classifications. The news that the media has been distracted from recording this Nordic advance of positive contribution in the annual award of the literary million plus one hundred thousand dollars has escaped this namesake panoramicist of the explosive developer of dynamite Alfred Nobel, whose last will they fulfill from the first year of the last century the eighteen chairs of the Academy.

For my mother, bohemians

The pop star lived through his bohemian rhapsody in the US and Britain as a designated representative of a minority that he stripped of equality, and whose mass death when the AIDS pandemic was not viewed with massive dissatisfaction. The success of the rapid investigations of rival laboratories that collaborated to produce in months vaccines that compete with each other in relative efficacy to immunize us against the coronavirus contrasts with the complacent indifference of the hygienic establishment to a previous but less age-selective retrovirus. of its mortal victims and more cruel in the virulence of its symptoms. It seems difficult to imagine that the Swedish Academy, which in 2016 awarded the American Bob Dylan (born Robert Zimmerman), would ever award Freddie Mercury (born Farrokh Bulsara), son of ‘gypsies’ of ancient Iranian believers of a dualistic religion for which the Good and Evil are in permanent struggle. Too little European. As for his fellow countryman Gurnah, few glances stopped at the fact that the author has lived – which cannot be blamed for – an existence of privilege. In Zanzibar, he belonged to the dominant Arab economic and political minority. Islam was and is the dominant religion in Zanzibar, and Arabic is recognized as a co-official language. In Tanzania the majority of the population is Christian, and the official language favored by the government is Swahili, although English is used in teaching, in high courts and in diplomacy and official documents: more than 100 languages ​​are spoken in the country, none of them were ever awarded. The Nobel Prizes for African Literature were for works written in English or Arabic, and generally for authors in European exile. Gurnah is a British novelist who writes in English, whose family had to go into exile in England when in the socialist revolution of 1964, which represented the poor and black African majority of the archipelago, deposed the sultan and his Muslim elite. When it is said that it is the first Nobel, since that of the North American Toni Morrison in 1993, which awards novelists of blackness, a historical detail antagonizes their lineages although both figures are today united in their declared militancies: while the narrator from Beloved (1987) descended from African slaves, the Gurnah family It was from the Arab oligarchy that had made the island a prosperous maritime enclave thanks to the slave trade. Interestingly, both published novels with the same title. Paradise (1994) by Gurnah is the only one of his novels with a protagonist born outside of Zanzibar: a boy, Yusuf, born in an imaginary city in Tanzania, is given by his father in pledge for the debt he owes to the Arab merchant Aziz, and travels with him through the heart of the Congolese darkness of Africa, when he returns to Tanzania, which was then a German colony, they seek him to recruit him as a troop in the First World War. The action of Paradise Morrison’s (1997) takes place in Ruby, a city or utopia founded by former black slaves in the heart of the white darkness of Oklahoma; the author wanted to headline War (War) to her novel, but was dissuaded by her publishers.

Prayers heard aloud

On the mornings of the first Thursday of October, in 2020 as in 2021, the North American public radio (NPR) offered a clean example of its integrity. Pre-produced notes on the imminent award of the Nobel Prize for Literature in times of pandemic, pious variations on the unpaid fees for the most anticipated award in the world. In 2021, a few hours later, when the Swedish Academy announced the winner, black was the redemptive word. In 2020, when the winner was the American from a Jewish family Louise Glück, no emotion, least of all patriotic emotion, vibrated in the voice of NPR. A journalist interviewed a specialist in the poetry of the new Nobel Prize, and the two agreed that Stockholm’s million dollars and even the quality of Glück’s poetic voice were going to be an obstacle to the voices of color from being heard. a choir of superior quality but of disadvantaged nations and races.

Fair play must be recognized in its argumentation to the United States public radio, to which no nationalism deviated from political security from its iron premises last year, and of course, much less this year, when it saw in the Swedish election a belated will to repair. They did not stop in that they awarded two consecutive years to the English language, the most awarded in the last decade.

In this reasoning there is a major premise: that the Nobel Prize in Literature It has ahead of it a historical mission of repairing cultural imperialism that has been failing to fulfill, or fulfilling very poorly, to which are added scandals and resignations due to accusations of corruption by the academic jury itself. Mission that failed in 2019, when a winner was the German-speaking Austrian narrator Peter Handke, who confirmed an overwhelming Aryan inclination for Scandinavian or Germanic male authors.

In this planetary reasoning about the faulty deontology of the 18 people who make up the Stockholm Academy of Letters, the trick of arguing, to justify the academic decision, is excluded in advance, to justify the academic decision, any intrinsic literary quality of the writings of the recipient of the Prize. It should also be admitted that this preliminary inhibition is argumentatively consistent: that same quality or higher complexity (formal, stylistic) alleged, is it not itself proof of cultural privilege?

In Louise Glück’s poetry the Swedish Academy celebrated the universality of a voice that rises above particularities. (Also behind the praise of gurnah there is praise for their ability to rise to the top of the superior vision that illuminates human sufferings, all too human) Is it not the essence of whiteness and of the imperial language, the fact of always being first candidates for universality? The award-winning and pressing Academy also celebrated the rich network of classical, Greek and Latin mythological references and resonances, in its collection of poems. Hell (2006), on the myth of Persephone, who descends into hell abducted by Pluto, and rises once a year to the surface. “Spring has come / nobody knows how it was,” Antonio Machado sang; poets like Glück can respond with a wise mythical narrative to the ignorance of the Castilian poet, instead What Hellenic goddesses are there in the poetry of the mourning for George Floyd, for the Black Lives that do not matter and that were cut off by the North American police in the year of the rebellion and the pandemic?

On the contrary, we could ask ourselves if primitivism serves as an ethical-political precondition of favorable selection for the Nobel Prize. But isn’t there another racism in this, that of equating primitive forms with literary authenticity and legitimacy? They would answer us no. And again, it must be recognized that there are no contradictions in the argument. In the radio notes of the NPR, as in the European or African or American written press, the name that reappears this year to mark affinity, that of Morrison, appeared in contrast to Glück’s. The closeness or distance with what the author of the dense, complex poetic novel means Beloved (1987) is in 2021 as in 2020 the gold standard of value.

Glück, a former poet laureate from the United States, a professor at the very expensive Yale University, in the ivy league of the old universities of the North American East Coast, is a “professional poet” – as well as a “professor” -. A somewhat forced analogy – forced by the lack of a better comparison term – would be the Argentine poet Alberto Girri. That a woman is that “professional poet” is something that we take for granted today, although not too long ago we could not do it: progress that is all the more effective, efficient and settled because we do not feel or perceive it. Perhaps it has a positive balance, within a literary culture, to verify the existence and reference of “professional poets”: they indicate a minimum threshold of verbal, elocutive quality with which to measure themselves, a standard that, however low it may be, nevertheless is already high.

Gurnah is also a retired professor at the English University located in the city of Canterbury, the Vatican of the Anglican Church, whose archbishop is the highest religious authority of the Reformed faith whose highest political authority is the Queen herself. If we look at the list of Awards, we see that those of America they correspond, in the last fifty years, to prosperous figures, well known or resident in Europe. When we hear or read the complaint, which as a record of a fact cannot be more true, that “no one knows” the people they award, it must be said that it is just as true that no one knows much about literature. The Academy follows this trend, which is why it awards journalists, singers, teachers, activists. Literature does not occupy the place in Western societies that it did in 1900; Today there are those who live by being a novelist and acting as such, but not from the reading public of their novels. What would have become of Toni Morrison’s ornate, ornate prose without Oprah propping it up from her teleshow? This panoramic viewer would like the Nobel, for example, for the Argentine narrator Haydée MascaróBut a plain novelist is bland today.


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Who wants a Nobel Prize in Literature?

Hank Gilbert