The Birdcage Archives

Monday 2 October 2017

The Final Analysis

Hello Gentle Reader

Last week it was autumn in full force. Now a winter storms whips and whirls through my region, bringing wet heavy snow, and a frigid north wind. Some would say: it feels a lot like Christmas. Others would resent that comment. But today is a rather special day; today the Swedish Academy, announced these years Nobel Announcement Date would take place on the suspected and conventional date of: Thursday, October 5th. In that regard it does feel a little bit like Christmas.

Generally around this time, after my closing thoughts have been mulled over and discussed I leave speculation alone until the date of the announcement, at which point I reconvene with the news and express my congratulations (generally speaking). This year, however, I am too excited in a way to resign completely from the discussion.

Despite the Swedish Academy releasing this year’s announcement date for this week, there has been very little shift in odds; but the speculation and the discussion has only intensified, making this one of those exciting years; as the sour taste of last year slowly dissipates into oblivion.

The favored candidates remain the same: [ According to the Betting Sites ]  

Ngugi Wa Thiong'o (NicerOdds)
Haruki Murakami (NicerOdds)
Margaret Atwood (NicerOdds)
Ko Un (Ladbrokes)

Followed by:

Amos Oz
Claudio Magris
Yan Linake
Javier Marias
Jon Fosse
Cesar Aira
Ismail Kadare
László Krasznahorkai
David Grossman
Gerald Murnane
A.B. Yehoshua
Peter Nadas
Daniel Kahneman
Doris Kareva
Merethe Lindstrøm
Juan Marsé
Kjell Askildsen
Dubravka Ugrešic
Adam Zagajewski
Mircea Cartarescu
Leonard Nolens
Sirkka Turkka
Cees Nooteboom
Jaan Kaplinski
Tua Forsström
Bei Dao

Please Note Gentle Reader, the above list was taken from the betting sites, and is based on the lowest odds given to the listed writers.

( I )

In two-thousand and ten many proclaimed it was the year Ngugi Wa Thiong'o would win. Many commentators and speculators offered detailed analysis as to why they thoroughly believed, the Kenyan writer would take the award. First and foremost: his nationality. The last African writer (by continental definition) was the Nigerian playwright, poet, and memoirist, Wole Soyinka in nineteen-eighty six. By awarding Ngugi Wa Thiong'o, many saw this as adequate compensation for the neglect and oversight, the African continent has often suffered on the literary world stage. The second reason, he writes in a traditional and tribal African dialect (Gikuyu), which the writer is able to preserve the traditional and cultural identity of his native land. Third and finally, Ngugi Wa Thiong'o discusses post-colonial themes in his work, and how they have shaped the continent as it is today; in political terms, he has mapped the contemporary narrative of the African continent, through its oppressive colonial rule, to the high hopes of independence, to political disillusionment and disappointment post colonialism and independence was. He has been imprisoned for his plays and his writings, and has been exiled for his criticism against the new oppressive power of Kenya. Yet, in two-thousand and ten, despite being the bookies favored candidate to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, Ngugi Wa Thiong'o was passed over in favour of the Peruvian writer: Mario Vargas Llosa.

The Swedish Academy was under heavy fire and criticism, when Chinua Achebe died in two-thousand and thirteen, without receiving the Nobel recognition. Many called fowl on the Swedish Academy’s perceived ignorance, and willful desire to neglect and overlook writers hailing from the continent. Despite the criticism, Ngugi Wa Thiong'o, remains (as it stands) in the peripherals of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

( II )

Haruki Murakami has been the perennial Nobel bridesmaid for many years now; yet he is not entirely alone, as he has company with: Philip Roth, Ismail Kadare, Milan Kundera, and Ko Un. Personally, I think Haruki Murakami is often considered a candidate, due to his high level international appearance. After all, Murakami, is the western publishing industries darling: he’s foreign as he is familiar; weird enough to sell well (and he does) while grounded enough not to alienate the readers. He offers the illusion of literary experimentation, which in reality are merely pop cultural references and odd moments of surrealism. His philosophy is at best aimed towards youthful disillusionment and urban existentialism. Not really the hallmark of grand philosophical ideas.  His decision to move from: ‘detachment,’ to ‘commitment,’ is superficial at best. Credit is due to Murakami, as his work has transcended the cultural barriers of Japan and the Western World, becoming a very popular and well known writer, as well as successful. This being said, noteworthy, international reputation, popularity, and success do not always translate to Nobel worthy. Murakami lacks the required depth (in my opinion) to be considered a Nobel Laureate. His commitment to the repressed, downtrodden, and victims of society, is again superficial; and neither revolutionary nor groundbreaking. It’s a cheap ploy in order for the writer to present himself as a socially conscious writer. He may have written books about the earthquake, or the Tokyo subway sarin attack; his actions beyond the pen do not showcase any further involvement. He is not in other words: Herta Müller or Kenzaburō Ōe. A fine writer, who has helped shape and influence Japan’s contemporary youth; but he would be a very uninspiring choice, lacking any imagination or profound reasoning, and would be a subsequent disappointment.

( III )

In two-thousand and thirteen, Alice Munro, won the Nobel Prize for Literature; and it came as quite a shock. The applause, however, were endless. Those who read the short story masters work heralded the decision as being long overdue. I too applauded the decision, but was left confused at the same time. Perhaps it’s the fundamental and dogmatic Canadian modesty, which is sewn into our flesh and branded on our hearts, and engraved on our brains—that Munro’s Nobel, came as quite a shock. Up until two-thousand and thirteen, I did not think any Canadian writer was ever in the running for the Nobel Prize for Literature; let alone had a chance at the Nobel accolade. Alice Munro was a quiet giant. She wrote her stories, and let them speak for themselves; she was not known for going on the television to defend her work, or promote it. She resigned herself, to the rafters and behind the curtains, remaining reticent and regal. When the once advertised ‘housewife writer,’ won the Nobel, it was a shock and delight.

Seeing Margaret Atwood as one of the favored writers for this year’s prize is less then thrilling. As previously mentioned in my closing thoughts, Margaret Atwood is a prolific writer, who has written in numerous literary formats: poetry, prose, short story, essay, children’s literature, libretti, and now comic books. Not to mention her numerous speaking engagements, editor of anthologies, commentaries, twitter tweets, and activism. She’s the Joyce Carol Oates of Canada; a singular industrial literary machine. Much like Joyce Carol Oates, however, Atwood’s prolific nature is also her demise. Her output is uneven and it shows in her vast diversity of her work. Playing many instruments may make an individual well rounded, but do they ever become a master of any of them? This conundrum falls to Margaret Atwood; she is most famous for her novels, where she tackles numerous social and political issues, ranging from feminism to environmental concerns; but again her novels range in quality, from good to poor.

One of the major reasons one should be apprehensive about Atwood’s position on the betting sites, is once again the recent adaptions of her work. The recent television adaptions of Margaret Atwood’s novels “The Handmaids Tale,” and “Alias Grace,” have seen a resurgence of interest in Margaret Atwood. One should be careful of awarding a writer, simply because interest has renewed in them due to pop cultural adaptions. Though “The Handmaid’s Tale,” may be seen as having certain relevance, due to the current presidential administration down in the United States; and has been utilized as a symbol of resistance, freedom, democracy, feminism, as well as protest. Still the Nobel Prize for Literature is a literary award first and foremost; social and political ideas, themes, contexts, narratives, and perspectives, are all secondary to the literary merit of the author. Atwood could be another Doris Lessing, a writer with scathing preoccupations and perspectives towards contemporary society, societal standards, social conventions, and political institutions. The likeliness of this is slim; but October 5th may state otherwise. As a writer though, with such a massive oeuvre, international acclaim and renowned, Margaret Atwood does not necessarily need the Nobel, as her work and commentary are often respected and solicited for now. The Nobel would not necessarily change her positions, or lift her higher—it would only increase her speaking engagements, and request for interviews.

( IV )

Ko Un’s odds recently shifted on Ladbrokes. For years Ko Un has been considered in the running; much like Jorge Luis Borges, Vladimir Nabokov, and W.H. Auden in decades past, and much like Borges, Nabokov, and Auden, Ko Un has been passed over. Now in his eighties, the Swedish Academy needs to make their decision on whether or not Ko Un will receive the Nobel or not. His poetry is extensive and wide reaching, covering the vast political discourse of the Korean peninsula over the past fifty years.

Ko Un’s poetic profile varies in form, themes, and format. He has written imagistic poems, to haiku’s, to long epic narrative poems, as well as his monumental poetic achievement: “Ten Thousand Lives”; a thirty volume poetic series, where Ko Un wrote a poem to commemorate and remember every person he has ever met. This thirty year, long poetic achievement came from Ko Un’s imprisonment, where he waited to be executed; and vowed if he lived, he would write a poem for every individual. “Ten Thousand Lives,” is both documentary through poetry, as Ko Un discusses social themes, individual themes, and the people he remembers; it’s a starting epic piece of work recounting the personal history of (South) Korea and the Korean war, through the eyes of the citizens and individuals, who witnessed firsthand the death and the destruction the war would bring, and the division of their homeland into two spheres of ideologies.

During the Korean War, Ko Un worked as a grave digger, and his studies were interrupted. Many of his friends and family died during this time. The war had traumatized Ko Un, so terribly; he even poured acid into one of his ears to drown out the sounds, horrors, and noise of the war. This action would leave the poet deaf in one year. In nineteen-fifty two, Ko Un spent a decade as a Buddhist monk, where he published a collection of poems and a novel, but would soon abandon this way of life, and returned to the layman’s world, with all its hardship and suffering. In nineteen-seventy an alcoholic Ko Un attempted suicide, but failed.  It was a chance (and poetic epiphany) during this time that Ko Un read a newspaper article, about a young textile worker who immolated himself in protest against the government, advocated worker’s rights, and democratic reform. It was then, Ko Un, the social activist was awaken. During this time he founded numerous writers organizations for freedom and democracy, and found himself at odds with the government of the day, which imprisoned him three times due to his activism and political activities. In prison, Ko Un, was beaten and tortured. After the coup d’état and the military takeover, Ko Un was once again arrested, this time for treason and sentenced for twenty years in prison, he was pardoned two years later, and the poet would finally come at peace. He married, and dedicated his time to writing poetry, chronicling and documenting the turbulence of the Korean peninsula.

Ko Un would make a delightful Nobel Laureate. His poetry changes in style and form, and its themes are wide ranging and historical scope, with personal narrative. Ever socially aware and conscious of the state of the world, Ko Un is a poet of engagement and commitment. It would also be a delight to see a true poet receive the award.

For now though Gentle Reader, I resign myself to be quiet and anxiously patient for Thursday to come around. Hopefully I’ll see you then in the early hours here. Till then Gentle Reader:

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary


  1. Wonderful analysis, Mary. I too hope to see a true poet getting the prize this year.

    1. Hi Octavio,

      Thank-you very much! I couldn't agree more, a true poet (or even a true writer) will do!

      M. Mary