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American Literature

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Brad
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since 08-20-99
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Jejudo, South Korea


0 posted 11-07-2008 05:12 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

I received this letter about a month ago. The writer is a good friend, an American from Minnesota, and he was very angry at the comments of Mr. Enghahl.

I have permission, of course, to post it.

About a week a go, I attended a classical concert that ended with two ABBA songs. Nobody could understand my disgust--except this guy.

Note: I have edited it slightly, with permission of course, to delete some profanity.


quote:
Dear Sir,

I must write in vociferous protest of the recent comments by your man Horace Engdahl, whoever the hell he is and whatever (dubious) qualifications he holds to allow him to express such a naive and broadly sweeping dismissal of the state of American Literature, at least as he sees it.

First off, it strikes me as pretty rich for a Swede to call America 'insular'.  English is the world's most widely-spoken language and the U.S. publishes more books each year than all other nations combined.  We are also, though this seems to have escaped Mr. Engdahl's notice, the most racially and culturally diverse nation in the history of the world.  With a population of under 10 million, and still predominantly Nordic, I find it hard to believe that Sweden is in a position to question the multiculturalism or pluralism of the U.S.

It seems more likely to me that Mr. Engdahl's comments stem from a personal dislike of the current policies of the U.S. government, or from the undisputed domination of world popular culture by American-produced films and music.  Too bad he can't divorce his cliched, trendy anti-Americanism from recognizing deserving authors

Anyway, coming from a country whose proudest cultural export was ABBA, perhaps he should keep his lame comments to himself.

I submit for your consideration:
Cormac McCarthy (oh, and he won an Oscar, too, but you were probably too busy watching 9-hour Bergman films or the self-pleasuring pretentious posings of your neighbor, Lars von Trier)
Don DeLillo
Philip Roth
Thomas Pynchon
David Foster Wallace (oops, too late)
Tom Wolfe

Not American but also overlooked:
Haruki Murakami
Salman Rushdie
David Mitchell
Umberto Eco

Missed the boat a long time ago:
James Joyce
Vladimir Nabakov
Graham Greene
Ken Kesey
Hunter Thompson

Anyway, with the awards being handed out by a group of politically-correct socialists who'd rather recognize some obscure lesbian Turkman poet than quality authors who've produced major and universally acclaimed bodies of work, the pretty much lose whatever luster they might once have enjoyed.

So, if you see Mr. Engdahl, please relay this message:

Ride your reindeer back to whatever igloo whence you came, chew on some lutefisk or caribou jerky, read your obscure favorites, cut down on the aquavit, and pop in your favorite ABBA and AHA tapes all the while.

The only good thing to come out of your godforsaken icy wasteland of a country is The Hives, and what language do they sing in and in what genre? (Hint, since you've probably never heard of them: English, and punk rock, invented by, you guessed it, provincial Americans)



P.S. I can assure you that American teens aren't studying Swedish in school, because it's completely useless outside of Sweden.

P.P.S.  Where was your outspokenness during the fatwah on Mr. Rushdie or the unfortunate Danish cartoonist.  Or were your politically correct sensibilities afraid of 'offending' Islamofascist, medieval, intolerant thugs?


Ron
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1 posted 11-07-2008 05:28 PM       View Profile for Ron   Email Ron   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Ron's Home Page   View IP for Ron

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/oct/02/nobelprize.usa
Grinch
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since 12-31-2005
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Whoville


2 posted 11-07-2008 06:43 PM       View Profile for Grinch   Email Grinch   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Grinch


I’m not sure what you’re trying to point out Brad. Is it how not to respond to a critic perhaps?

Why doesn’t your Xenophobic friend just accept that the Nobel prize is biased in favour of Swedish writers and leave it at that. Horace Engdahl and the academy can hand the prize out to whoever they like, however inane their decision seems to others, it’s their prize and their decision and no amount of vitriolic whining is going to change their minds.

Smile, thank them for their opinion and then ignore them like the rest of the world.

I quite like ABBA btw.

Brad
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since 08-20-99
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Jejudo, South Korea


3 posted 11-08-2008 07:01 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Thanks Ron.

Grinch,

Though you did make me smile with that adjective 'xenophobic', I really have no idea why apathy should be the preferred course. You seem to be saying many things at once:

1. Shut up!

2. That Swedish guy has a right to his opinion.

3. It doesn't matter anyway.

If we drop 'Swedish' from 2, 2 contradicts 1, and 3 makes 1 and 2 irrelevant.


rwood
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since 02-29-2000
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Tennessee


4 posted 11-08-2008 11:39 PM       View Profile for rwood   Email rwood   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for rwood

Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" also won the 2007 Pulitzer.

Not a shabby win, no

Engdahl seemed extremely supercilious with his remark toward U.S. literature, but I doubt he'll change his mentality no matter who is suggested for him to read.
Bob K
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5 posted 11-09-2008 04:13 AM       View Profile for Bob K   Email Bob K   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Bob K



Dear Brad,

          When I was a kid, I thought that grown-ups ruled the world.  The older I get, the more convinced I am that there really are no grown-ups in the sense that I thought that I believed there were back then.  Sometimes, you see a person that's better at it than most other folks, and that's pretty gratifying.  I wouldn't count myself among that bunch, by the way.  

     It sounds as though this Nobel prize guy is simply hysterically funny and doesn't know it.  I wonder what would happen if he suddenly acquired a capacity for recognizing personal humiliation?  For his own sake, I can only hope he never attains that capacity.  

     I can only wonder how he managed to get to his current place.

     I've just finished reading how Einstein got his Nobel Prize, and how political that was.  They refused to give it to him for relativity, you know, because it rubbed some of the Swedish guys on the prize committee the wrong way, and they passed over him for several years for seriously trivial reasons because they were having a hissy fit about the profundity of the subject.  Finally they gave it to him for discovering theory around the photoelectric effect.  It looks like this is more of the same.

Hope all is well, and best wishes,  Bob Kaven
Grinch
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Whoville


6 posted 11-09-2008 07:11 AM       View Profile for Grinch   Email Grinch   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Grinch


Brad,

I don’t think your xenophobic friend should “shut up”, I think he should engage his brain before exercising his pen.

The world’s full of people like your friend, normally you see them burning caricatures or effigies and flags, or chanting racist remarks and defaming nations based largely on the actions of one individual. They resort to extreme xenophobia to counter minor xenophobia without realising that winning the Nobel prize for xenophobic proficiency isn’t something to be proud of.

If your friend had said it isn’t fair or that it isn’t right or even that the allocation of Nobel prizes isn’t a true reflection of greatness in the literary world I’d have readily agreed with him but once the flag and matches come out the reaction, at least for me, becomes far more repugnant than Horace’s claim.

I can ignore Horace - he's harmless.
  

Brad
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since 08-20-99
Posts 5896
Jejudo, South Korea


7 posted 11-09-2008 06:07 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Perhaps, you should blame it on my high school English teacher. She had pictures of the Americans who had won the Nobel prize in literature on the classroom wall.

RW,

McCarthy is great. I have an unread copy of "The Road" on my shelf. As usual, my reading is backed up. I'm shooting for next year.


Bob,

Yes, I guess it's too much to ask that the committee for something as prestigious as the Nobel should in fact treat aesthetics on its own merits and not degenerate into national -- What? -- jealousy. I did wonder if the case for American literary provinicialism could be made, but no one here seems to take that seriously.

That's a good thing.

G.

I don't know. One of the reasons I thought the letter was clever was that it took the specific tone it did and then went about arguing for a stronger internationalism and a more open aestheticism (punk rock?). One could almost see Mr. Engdahl nod his head as it confirmed his own prejudices without actually reading the list of authors being presented.

Forgive me for still being a bit of an idealist, but the Nobel still commands respect throughout the world. I think it does so, at least partially, because of the the idea, if not always the practice, of recognizing literature that transcends national boundaries.

Why tarnish that?

Bob K
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since 11-03-2007
Posts 3860


8 posted 11-09-2008 07:10 PM       View Profile for Bob K   Email Bob K   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Bob K



Dear Brad,

          You could probably make the case for almost anybody's literary provincialism.  The case would probably be right.  I had an unpleasant run-in with a Japanese woman in Wordsworth Bookstore in Cambridge about 15 years back in which she accused me of the same thing, for not knowing Japanese Literature as well as she knew American Literature.  She was probably right about the levels of familiarity, relatively speaking, though I think she missed the boat on how much each of the cultures actually wanted to be known.  We American's are endlessly eager about ourselves, I sometimes think, and very open about our culture.  The Japanese, at least until after WWII — not so much.

     I think this may be  a factor in such provincialism as we have.  We like what we do, and we're proud of it, and we want other people to know about it, sort of.  Not if it actually costs anything, I mean that would be going too far about art and literature, wouldn't it?  We want everybody to recognize what wonders we are as writers and artists, but we don't want to actually face the facts about the lives that artists have to live in this society and support art and artists as they do in many other countries.

     In Ireland, writers don't have to pay income taxes.  It's not like Ireland is giving up some huge cash windfall, you know.  That is definitely not provincial.

     So, whatever this Nobel guy says about the quality of the writing being Provincial, I'd put our stuff up against anybody's in terms of literary quality; though often you won't find it published by huge commercial publishers, it's out there and available from small presses in large part, and in larger amounts than elsewhere in the world as well.

     When it comes to how America treats its artists, however, its dancers, its sculptors, its poets, its novelists and essayists, it's painters and its actors, provincial may be far more accurate than is comfortable to acknowledge.

     Any thoughts on the matter?

Sincerely, Bob Kaven
Grinch
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Posts 2710
Whoville


9 posted 11-09-2008 09:16 PM       View Profile for Grinch   Email Grinch   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Grinch


Brad,

If the references in your friends letter were aimed at African Americans instead references to a supposed Swedish stereotype my guess is that this post would have been removed quicker than you could say “racist”.

Try reading it again, only this time imagine you’re Swedish. Are you not offended by this?

quote:
Ride your reindeer back to whatever igloo whence you came, chew on some lutefisk or caribou jerky, read your obscure favorites, cut down on the aquavit, and pop in your favorite ABBA and AHA tapes all the while.

The only good thing to come out of your godforsaken icy wasteland of a country is The Hives


With regard to the whole Nobel prize circus I couldn’t care less who they give it to, the nomination and selection process is so biased the whole thing is a joke. It should be renamed The Nobel Literary Lottery.

rwood
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since 02-29-2000
Posts 3797
Tennessee


10 posted 11-10-2008 03:13 PM       View Profile for rwood   Email rwood   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for rwood

Brad,

Maybe Engdahl needs to go back and read Mr. Alfred Nobel's will:

quote:
"It is my expressed wish that in awarding the prizes no consideration whatever shall be given to the nationality of the candidates, so that the most worthy shall receive the prize, whether he be Scandinavian or not."


—Alfred Nobel, Alfred Nobel's Will


So yes, your question is a good one.

"Why tarnish that?"

Some people don't honor the very honor they have been trusted with.

Stephanos
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11 posted 11-10-2008 05:33 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Grinch:
quote:
If the references in your friends letter were aimed at African Americans instead references to a supposed Swedish stereotype my guess is that this post would have been removed quicker than you could say “racist”.

Try reading it again, only this time imagine you’re Swedish. Are you not offended by this?


Isn't it tit for tat?  Wasn't the first example offensive to Americans in exactly the same way the second may be offensive to Swedes?  


Besides you have to admit that due to Black history, the public standard has become quite unbalanced regarding racism.  "Black Pride" would be a perfectly acceptable slogan today.  But imagine the reaction to "White Pride".  


Stephen
Ron
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12 posted 11-10-2008 08:28 PM       View Profile for Ron   Email Ron   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Ron's Home Page   View IP for Ron

quote:
Isn't it tit for tat?

Perhaps it is.

But should it be?
Brad
Member Ascendant
since 08-20-99
Posts 5896
Jejudo, South Korea


13 posted 11-10-2008 10:00 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Well, I did raise my eyebrows when I first read that part, but to me it is vitiated by the reference to the Hives:

Hives

I don't know. I know the guy, I know his style and I put it in the same mix as when Brits and Yanks get together over beers and make fun of each other. The last time this happened, of course, we also started making fun of the French. At one point, one guy broke down a bit and said, "Well, yeah, but when you actually sit and have a pint with those blokes, they're okay."

--I think that's what he said or something like that.

At any rate, the point is that aesthetics trumps national stereotypes or should trump them as does a good pint (or two).  

Bob,

You asked a much tougher question and I'm out of time. I'll try again tomorrow.
oceanvu2
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since 02-24-2007
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Santa Monica, California, USA


14 posted 03-19-2009 04:39 PM       View Profile for oceanvu2   Email oceanvu2   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for oceanvu2

Maybe it's a generational thing, but I found this post amusing for two not yet touched on things.

First, the title:  "American Literature". The actual topic seems closer to "American Fiction." which is fine, because "creative" writers most often recieve the award for literature.  American and world-wide "literature" includes equally stunning works of non-fiction.

In this list:

"Don DeLillo
Philip Roth
Thomas Pynchon
David Foster Wallace (oops, too late)
Tom Wolfe",

No one has pointed out that these are essentially writers in the comic tradition which IS the main thrust of 20th and 21st century American fiction.  Most, though definitely not all, relatively contemporary and good writers follow in the footsteps of Mark Twain, not Henry James.  Twain was the pivotal figure in shaping the main thrust of American Fiction, and James was retrograde even at the time he was writing.

Sinclair Lewis, the satirist, was the first American to win the Nobel.  Hemingway, the second winner, was an experimental writer who won quite possible on the basis of "The Old Man and the Sea," a fairy tale almost anyone could understand.  

Which leads me to two more folk for the missed the boat list:  William Gaddis (The Recognitions," "J.R." and "A Frolic of His Own -- the latter two winning National Book Awards,"  and John Barth ("The Sotweed Factor," "Giles Goat Boy" and "Letters".  The works of these two seminal post modernists do not translate to the screen, which is probably why, in this post literate age, few have heard of them.  You can be sure the writers on the above "nominations" and "missed the boat" lists did, however, and neither list would exist without them.

Just some thoughts.

Best, Jimbeaux

 
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