The Nobel Prize in Literature will be awarded this Thursday, October 9, amid much talk about the role American literature plays in the international community. The prize is given for an author's body of work, and has been awarded to 104 people since 1901. Last Thursday, the Nobel Literature Chief, Horace Engdahl, had some very harsh words for American letters. "The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature," Engdahl said. "That ignorance is restraining."
Lots has been said about these comments in the last few days. (Mark Athitakis' American Fiction Notes blog does a great job of compiling some remarks.) This morning, the New York Times takes on the task. Charles McGrath argues that "the Nobel selection process is hardly the lofty and purely literary exercise — the “big dialogue” — that Mr. Engdahl suggests, and it never has been." He further concludes that it is not the fault of American writers that the Nobel judges view Americans with such harsh criticism, but "the rest of us, the American readers, who in truth don’t even read our own Nobel candidates in the numbers we used to, and whose poor mass-culture taste is infecting the rest of the world." Ouch. Hard to swallow, but hard to argue against, too.