So You’ve Never Heard of the New Nobel Laureate

Illo for Nobel Prize in Literature piece.

It’s possible that when the winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature is announced in Stockholm on Thursday it will be someone you’ve never heard of.

Here’s what to do.

  • Try to form a judgement as quickly as possible. The Internet hasn’t got all day to wait for it.

  • Remember: the best way to get over the embarrassment of being ignorant is to make out that the people who aren’t ignorant have bad taste.

  • Say, ‘Well, I’ve never heard of him/her, and I read a lot,’ and when someone points out that this says more about you than it does about the laureate, say, ‘Hey, here’s a phrase that says more about you than the laureate: “Custard-headed virtue-signaller”.’

  • Go on Amazon and find out that only two of the writer’s books have been translated into English, both in the nineties by a retired diplomat. They are out of print. Get suddenly very angry about the fact that only 3% of books in the U.S. and the U.K. are translated from another language. ‘Three goddamned per cent!’ you fume. ‘What riches am I being denied?!’ Delete all your shelfies that show that you are part of the problem.

  • Remark that an American hasn’t won it since 1993. Trial the slogan ‘Make America Laure-ate Again’.

  • Rehearse the old bromide that the Swedish Academy is biased toward or against certain countries, insinuating that the only unbiased selection process is one that would give the prize to a writer you like.

  • Mutter ill-temperedly about how the fact that the prize is awarded to an author producing ‘the most outstanding work in an ideal direction’ means that it’s basically a political award, as if you’d rather see it given to stooges and apologists for brutal regimes.

  • If it’s not a poet, bewail the death of poetry. If it’s a non-Western poet, bewail the death of poetry in the West. If it’s an Eastern European poet, complain that poets there have had a historical advantage in that conditions there meant that the very act of survival was poetical. If it’s someone who has written poems but is much better known for fiction, just have a little cry.

  • If it’s a man (and it is still really likely to be a man—of 112 laureates, only fourteen have been women, although two of the last three have been; and only six of eighteen members of the Swedish Academy are women), buy a book by a woman.

  • For the love of God, next year, don’t pay any attention to the odds the bookies give. Don’t you realise that they’re not based on facts?

  • Say, ‘If I won it, I’d decline it. Like Sartre. I write for the world, not for institutions.’ Look around and make sure everyone is drinking in the pureness of your spirit.

  • Bellow ‘PHILIP ROOOTH!!!’ in enraged grief like Stanley Kowalski crying ‘STELLAAA!!!’ in A Streetcar Named Desire. He’s never going to win.

  • 1993.

  • Take a strong position on the laureate’s merit one way or the other, and don’t worry: by dinner time, you’ll be an expert.

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