The Birdcage Archives

Tuesday 29 May 2018

Discussing the Munk Debate on Political Correctness


[ Sub-Title: A Perspective, a Thought, and an Opinion ]



Hello Gentle Reader



[ About The Debate ]

On Friday, May 25th, Canada and the online world (who were aware) tuned in to see a debate presented by the Munk School of Global Affairs, about political correctness. The debate had two teams of debaters: (pro) Michelle Goldberg and Michael Eric Dyson; (con) Stephen Fry and Jordan Peterson. For those who have not seen it, you can find it on ‘youtube,’—but forewarning: it’s over two hours long, and I would be hesitant to call it a debate. If one were to be open and even honest (as two of the debaters were in the end) this was not so much a debate in the idealistic definition let alone a practical definition. Rather, the debate which you may choose to view or not view, was rather a heated exchange between two men primarily, which involved: personal insults, condescension, pontification, arrogant condemnation, and as usual with debates a personal exchange of views which veer off the topic of the actual idea or issue, which many had desired to see being discussed, but instead spiraled down into racial batting on one end, and on the other, pompous self-absorbed proclamations of the others inability to see beyond their nose. It’s not the most exciting thing to watch; in fact it’s more a quick digression which is perhaps more reflective of the usual Christmas Day dinner table political debate, which ends in hurt feelings, resentment, and a rather uncomfortable and awkward remaining evening. In other words: consider yourself adequately forewarned. 

[ What is Political Correctness? ]

Sadly, political correctness as a topic was only superficially discussed during this debate. When it actually was discussed (with some sense of civility and decorum) it was presented by: Michelle Goldberg and Stephen Fry. Everything else was a personal battle of insults and digressive comments aimed and fired by Michael Eric Dyson, and in retaliation by Jordan Peterson. So in the end what is political correctness? Some have it called it a millennial perspective that promotes censorship, limits freedom of speech, and seeks to essentially collar and gag (and not in the kinky way) the modern, rational, and free individual from thinking, speaking, acting and expressing themselves as they see fit. Others, however, view political correctness as an engaging tool and term (now with open promotion with social media) to help push for progress, push for change, and create substantial social adjustments for human rights. The actual definition of political correctness is as follows:

“Political Correctness – [Noun] the avoidance, often considered as taken to extremes, of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.”

Or if that definition is offensive, the Cambridge Dictionary offers the following definition(s):

“Politically Correct – [Adjective] Someone who is politically correct believes that language and actions that could be offensive to others, especially those relating to sex and race, should be avoided.

[Or]

“A politically correct word or expression is used instead of another one to avoid being offensive.”

Given the three definitions of what political correctness is, the main goal of the idea or the concept or the ideology is: is it is the use of language or action that is edited or refined or an action which has been halted or refrained, due to the fact it may cause offense to a minority group, or a group who feels or perceives itself as being marginalized, in comparison to the majority. What or who is the majority? Apparently the majority Gentle Reader, is: white heterosexual men. If you are not a white heterosexual man, you are not discriminated against, you are not harassed or persecuted—in fact you are: privileged or princely or honoured or given advantages, based on gender, race, and sexual preference. Fate or the luck of the draw or genetics perhaps, has decided to shine on that individual and has graced them with these three most essential skills for being successful in today’s modern and progressive world. The privileged white gentile heterosexual man will be first in line for all: jobs, homes, cars, and other luxuries, based on these qualifications. Everyone else? They have to scrape, work, persevere and prove they are just as deserving for these necessities and luxuries, because they are not a: white, heterosexual man. They are not by admission: privileged. Seeing, however, the white heterosexual man is privileged and placed on given a social advantage, he must be cognizant and aware of how he: behaves, acts, speaks, and expresses himself, out of fear he will offend the much larger minority. The request itself sounds like: self-censorship, which I take issue with. Being offended is an aspect of life. Everyone will be offended, everyone will be discriminated against (even the white heterosexual man), everyone will experience inequalities, or an unfairly dealt hand. Some, however, will be fortunate enough to deal with them on a minimal scale, while others; will be forced to endure them on a more reoccurring basis. Political correctness, however, in its conception (roughly) has sought to mitigate or lessen the reoccurring and continual assault of discrimination against, those who experience on a more frequent basis. Political correctness, as it stands, has attempted to relieve and reconfigure social and societal conventions—linguistically and physically ||OR|| psychologically and sociologically—to lessen and create a more fair, understanding, and comfortable environment for all individuals who exist and co-exist within that environment. One can go a step farther and state: the ideal goal of political correctness is to remove all social barriers and blockades, surrounding discriminatory practices (external or internal), where all members of a society have the right to pursue equal opportunity be it economic or educational or health care related (et cetera). In essence if one wishes to look at the idea of political correctness through these lenses: it’s essential seeking to enact principles and ideals of socialism or perhaps more moderately social democratic institutions and on the extreme side communism. But, it does not seem like the political correctness is interested in enacting a more socially engage or equal playing field with regards to economics or education or health care; but rather it is more interested in turning society into this inoffensive ‘safe space,’ for all people to live, free of being offended by language or behaviors that have been redefined or propagated or proliferated as inconclusive or inadequate or combative of this ‘safe space.’ The goal is: the limit/mitigate and ultimately end offensive language, behaviours, conducts and perspectives, through renovated social norms, will create a society or environment where no one is offended or subjected to offensive behaviours. As a pragmatist and a realist: this is neither plausible nor possible. Emotional reactions and responses (‘feelings,’) are not empirical, they are not definitive or logical or straightforward. Somehow, someway, somewhere: someone will be offended. That is life.

Every day when someone watches the news, reads the news, or scrolls through some form of social media or wherever else they get the news (the stalls in the public bathroom are not reliable), they will inevitably see a world in duress and chaos, one that continually risks on a moment’s notice to falling to pieces. In recent memory we have had terrorist attacks, school shootings, sexual assault allegations and accusations, government’s failings, a royal wedding, global disasters, political upheaval, civil war—the list is endless, and quite frankly it is offensive(!)—thankfully though one has options and abilities: they can (a) change the channel or (b) turn the television off or (c) stop reading or (d) go to a different website. There is a wonderful individual and biological component about being a sentient human being, who has consciousness, who can exercise their own agency and autonomy by removing themselves from the equation which only equals their offensive manner. I mean I am a bit disappointed today, with the state of how the news is delivered. It’s a steady diet of hell. Where are those feel good stories?, such as: puppy saves a kitty from burning house fire; or Timothy successfully climbs out of a well. Now day’s it’s: puppy saves a kitty from burning house fire, only to eat the kitty; or Timothy successfully climbs out of a well, only to be pushed back into well by his evil tweeting twin Trump. There is no sun; just the piss and pour of dour rain. Thankfully though, I as a rational and logical human being often decide by choice, not to fixate on these events or allow them to consume a great deal of my attention. However, they do—by osmosis or collective societal social anxiety—become part of one’s own mental state in some manner or another. You see a hundred videos or snippets of police officers assaulting people, and you become concerned and even frightened by the idea of a police officer approaching you, even when all they want to do is ask you directions; or you’re worried about entering and shopping at Wal-Mart due to some vigilante loss prevention officer will chase you down into the parking lot and begin unlawfully assaulting you and attempting to falsely imprison you. If anything a media saturated world has created to a degree, this strange pantomime existential crisis of perpetual fear. So fearful in fact, that entering and shopping at a Wal-Mart makes me wish I had a therapist. Wal-Mart satire aside, this is not entirely the fault of political correctness. In some ways, however, it is.

It is not possible or probable or profitable or plausible to build an offensive free world. For generations people have worked on behalf of others—be it: children, religious groups, families, and now minorities—to provide a safe or offensively mitigated environment or entertainment free of offensive language, behaviour, or actions. Before HBO and Netflix, you couldn’t say a multitude of words on television (the big one being FUCK), in the eighties, the FCC wanted censor or ban or whatever, music which they saw as offensive or inappropriate to the youth of the time. A compromise was reached (and is more a badge of honour) placed on CD’s was: “Parental Advisory. Explicit Material.” This was done in the name of youth and families, and to save the good old nuclear family unit from the corrupting influence of heavy metal music and rap music. Before this it was rock’n’roll and the Beatles, before that it was Elvis Presley, and before that it was Jazz; and once again the list goes on and on. The end goal: to create (or save) someone from the corrupting influence of another, by applying essential censorship. This can go back to the beginnings of science and the church, fighting over absolute universally defined and accepted truths—such as whether or not the earth was the centre of the universe (or flat) or if the earth rotated around the sun.

Political correctness, however, always attempts to reaffirm and ironically, comfort and quell these criticisms by stating, they are not interested in censoring people or writers or musicians or artists or intellectuals or scholars or scientists—they merely wish to have the world progress beyond its current state of postmodern fragmentation, and create a world based on equality on a social level, which is free from derogatory (offensive) language, actions, behaviours, thoughts, perspectives, and opinions. What I still hear is: censorship. Political correctness, ideally has confessed or eluded to advertently or otherwise, admitted it seeks to have individuals in society self-censor themselves in order to avoid and evade causing offense to another person—specifically a member of a minority group or collective. One of the greatest principles I stand by as an individual, who apparently is privileged and lives a rather decent life (not easy, however) that one of the most important values which came from the Enlightenment Era, which spurred and has developed modern day democracy—with tweaks here and there—is the statement by Voltaire:

“I don't agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

As frightening as that sounds, it means despite my vehement disgust against racism, sexism, heterosexism, misogyny, misandry, ageism et cetera—people have the right to say it. They have the right to open their mouth and insert foot. Though I publicly denounce and will state it openly on the street that I disagree with their comments, I also inherently recognize that the individual has the right to state their contorted opinion or perception, however, unintelligible it is. I also reserve the right to walk away from that person and not engage them. I also reserve the right Gentle Reader, not let myself become offended. Always consider the source and how microcosmic and myopic it is, when compared to the macro surroundings. I believe people have the right to speak freely and the right to be offended freely, but we do not reserve the right limit ones freedom to speak when we choose or have become offended.

[ An Issue With Social Justice Warriors ]

Perhaps nothing is more nerve grating right now then the social media driven, social justice warrior. Yes those young, millennials, who have been indoctrinated by either friends, he internet, or school, or god knows what else—now feel the need it is their divine or otherwise inherent right, to fight over every issue they see as a social injustice. This includes but is not limited to: racism, sexism, heterosexism, islamophobia, Antisemitism (though on conditions), decimation of mental health and so on. I have profiled the social justice warrior as the following:

These are the strangest creatures to have come into social being of recent memory. Their smug self-importance is only rivaled by their self-serving sanctimonious conduct. These individuals view the world in a perpetual state of progressive purgatory. Armed with smartphones, twitter feeds, Facebook, Instagram, forums, websites, vlogs and blogs, as well as self-righteous fiery swords of fury; they seek out with vigilante vigor, the evil villains and perpetrators of people who willingly transgress against the ideas, concepts and ideals of political correctness. These villains refuse to acknowledge progress, they are agents of regress. They wish to either maintain the current status quo or worst push society back. These people—as the social justice warrior would claim—are supporters of slavery, serfdom, no equal opportunity, racism, and religious persecution; to list a few of the laundry list of charges. So what does the social just warrior do? They confront—or shame—and call out this person, their personal viewpoints, perspectives, opinions, and thoughts, and demean, attempt to humiliate, and strike down with this offender with their smug sanctimonious self-righteous haughty and arrogant manner, where they seek to forcefully harass the individual of the opposing viewpoint to make the appropriate adjustments in personal revelation, by publicly decrying and harassing them, before removing the saintly bleeding heart, and expressing their offense and their sensitive morality. All the while this is tweeted, recorded, vlogged, blogged, instagramed, and the rest of the social justice warrior community responds with equal rioting outrage, expects and implores the rest of society to be bamboozled and baffled and then outraged alongside them.

When I see a social justice warrior (and I do see them) I am always think of a chicken who believes it is somehow tapped into some universal divine thought, and believes it has awakened from its postmodern programming, and has seen some grander veracity beyond the tip of its beak, and begins to pontificate and cluck, usurping and upsetting the other chickens who in turn become some disorganized rabble riot of chickens clucking, but view themselves as a collective group of revolutionary who must spread the gospel of progress and political correctness. Prescribed advice: do not take them seriously and do not engage.

Perhaps the greatest failure on political correctness is the gospel according to the social justice warrior. Being offended and overtly sensitive does not equate morality. Shutting down and disrupting public discussions, speakers, and lectures, because you view them as regressive or offensive or socially inflammatory or unacceptable, is not taking the moral high ground nor is it act of intellectualism or having enlightened manners. To put it frankly: it is censorship, and a lack of self-control and self-awareness, to be able to take hold of your own autonomy and agency and respect another individual’s perspectives, opinions, and thoughts by allowing them to speak. If liberalism was once the idea of freedom, moving the world away from serfdom, feudalism, slavery, and other great advancements since the Enlightenment era; then the social justice warriors gospel and actions have been a complete breakdown and digression, where they wish to silence and restrain contrary opinions and thoughts of others, without having a debate (and no chanting repeatedly and filming yourself screaming and interrupting an opponent is not a debate). All the social justice warrior has sufficiently done has misapplied political correctness in any moderate or progressive terms, and contorted it into some juvenile propaganda based ideology based on language, and created a busybody—and ironically some would say: created a hostile (or unsafe) environment—where they reserve the entitled thought that they can openly accuse and convict others of being: insufficiently liberal or insufficiently progressive or fascist or a misogynist or a racist or a heterosexist or a transphobic individual; the list is endless. As a individual who identifies as a moderate liberal and more specifically a centrist on the political spectrum; I resent, refute, and disregard this entitled thought process that they believe they have the right to preside, judge, and convict me because I choose to disagree with their extreme perspective, because I stand on true liberal grounds, true liberal philosophies, and even true liberal ideologies, where I believe one can have freedoms—such as the essential one of speech—without consignment and without concessions. Partial freedom is not freedom. Rather partial ‘freedom,’ is merely the illusionary idea of freedom, presented in an authoritarian society. Social justice warriors are not interested in preserving freedoms, they are not interested in promoting rights, they are not interested in protecting people; they are solely concerned with defending feelings, and have decided and aggressively fight to continue to propagate this notion about defending feelings in this world, because somehow feelings all of a sudden matter—as long as they are the right feelings. Let me tell you something: the person walking down the street, the person sitting next to you on the bus or the train or the plane or in a cab, or at a hockey game or in a theatre or at a library cares or regards your feelings as having any worth—and frankly nor do I; and by the same logic no one regards my feelings as having any worth either.

One of the biggest issues social justice warriors have with regards to contrary thoughts and opinions is they lack the ability to listen. They lack the ability to listen, process, understand, and in return communicate their disagreement in a polite, civil, and graceful manner---but accuse everyone else of perpetrating and exhibiting these faults. How can you disagree with someone when you refuse to listen? How can you disagree with someone when you censor them? When you shut down their ability to host or have a public discussion or give a lecture? If you so strongly disagree with them, why is it impossible to be civil and hold yourself with the social grace, and debate them? Why must it always revert to accusations and harassment? Why must it take the form of poor chants, and disruptive behaviors? That is not debating in intellectual spirit, that is not communicating, that is not having a discussion or a conversation, that is being inflammatory and petulant, and quite frankly you may find yourself lacking the appropriate maturity to engage on any level of intellectual candor and communication due to your own stunted maturity to realize that there is a grander world out there beyond yourself, where other people are going to disagree with you—that is a fact of life—and if you cannot handle that, due to your lack of maturity or overt sensitivity, you are going to have a very difficult life. As someone once told me: when life gives you lemons you can either make lemonade or suck on it—but you do not reserve the ability or the entitled perspective to accuse someone else at being fault for being tossed lemons, opportunity exists, you just need to make it work.

It should be noted: that people have the right to proclaim strange, outlandish, provocative, and even cruel perspectives, thoughts and opinions. This should be left alone, whether or not you agree with it. As Fran Lebowitz stated, if she was in college and a Nazi was to present or lecture there, she wouldn’t go to the lecture; but she would not seek to stop it from happening, because it is important to let stupid people speak, so others can see how stupid they are, and of course prey and engage on the good nature of rational thinking of other people who believe it, to realize their thoughts and opinions and perspectives, are a bit out of touch with the world. Silence and censorship only creates reactions; and those reactions are sometimes more frightening and disturbing then we originally thought possible. For that I say: thank-you social justice warriors for creating a renewed, renovated, revitalized and reactionary far right, who find themselves spewing racism, sexism, heterosexism, and many other regressive comments, in order to refute, contest, and negate your ideals of censorship and your adamant desire to protect feelings in this world.

The rise of the reactionary right has only come from political correctness and its Sturmabteilung social justice warriors. It is one of the reasons it led to Donald Trump to use populism to get elected as he was able to tweet, orate, and say the nastiest, vicious, and hidden sentiments of the people who found themselves silenced and censored by the oppressive cloud of political correctness and social justice warriors. This is why see racism becoming more rampant; or sexual abuse or assault or sexism more prevalent; or why we see homosexuals once again being persecuted and demeaned by their nature. All because one sect of the political spectrum has decided to take it upon itself, to force feed acceptance and tolerance on to others, under the threat of punitive action, which has led to a militarized force which now propagates contrary and controversial statements that carry regressive components, while flying the banners of freedoms of individuality of absolute rights and discretions—the very same principles centuries before liberals had fought for. How frightening and even peculiar it is to see this slightly odd change of stances. But it comes down to the fact that political correctness, has attempted to institute social conventions which seek to ensure individuals, groups, and people edit, censor, and redefine their language, actions, opinions, thoughts and perceptions to ensure they do not cause offense to another individual or more specifically: myself [referring to a political correctness proponent or social justice warrior]. It has subsequently limited the exchange of ideas and ideals, and now it has forced a reactionary right to pick up that mantel, and twist that message into its own vitriolic statement(s) and ideals, only to combat the social justice warriors, and ironically, defend (on a superficial scale may I add) fundamental and monumental rights and definitions of freedoms which exist and belong in a democratic society.

A bit of wisdom for the social justice warriors as well: you must be open to all opinions, thoughts and perspectives, however contrary they are to your own; because having a diverse pool of knowledge or material at your disposal to work with, to understand, to empathize with, and to consider when forming an opinion, and becoming political literate, which means: being able to consider, review, ponder, and eventually concede or refute to the other side on certain issues. All because if you do not have disagreements, reasonable debate, and rational conversations: you are a one-sided fool.

[ Political Correctness & Social Movements: Do Not Supersede Established Institutions ]

In an opinion piece for the Globe and Mail, titled: “Am I a bad feminist?,” Margaret Atwood reflects, considers, and refutes the notion and the criticism presented to her by apparent new age or contemporary feminists or neofeminists, that she is a ‘bad feminist.’ The statement (or question) will most certainly raise eyebrows. If it is one thing Margaret Atwood, has always been referred to as (besides a poet, novelist, academic, intellectual, public speaker et cetera) is that she is a feminist. She has been criticized for it and satirized for it; which Atwood points out in her opinion piece, where she mentions a cartoon done up of her early on, dressed up as a dominatrix (whip boots and all), or in another cartoon standing on a pyramid of the decapitated heads of men. This time, however, it is not men who are scared or lambasting Margaret Atwood, it is women, who have stated that Atwood is a perpetrator of a War against Women; that she condones misogyny, and enables rape and sexual assault. All because Margaret Atwood viewed injustice and unjustifiable treatment of a former professor at UBC, who stood accused of sexually assaulting or coercing his female students into sexual engagements. Margaret Atwood makes it clear from the start of her article:

“My fundamental position is that women are human beings, with the full range of saintly and demonic behaviours this entails, including criminal ones. They're not angels, incapable of wrongdoing. If they were, we wouldn't need a legal system.

Nor do I believe that women are children, incapable of agency or of making moral decisions. If they were, we're back to the 19th century, and women should not own property, have credit cards, have access to higher education, control their own reproduction or vote. There are powerful groups in North America pushing this agenda, but they are not usually considered feminists.

Furthermore, I believe that in order to have civil and human rights for women there have to be civil and human rights, period, including the right to fundamental justice, just as for women to have the vote, there has to be a vote. Do Good Feminists believe that only women should have such rights? Surely not. That would be to flip the coin on the old state of affairs in which only men had such rights.”

But to hold this position it seems in today’s world is inappropriate, unacceptable, and not politically correct, it is not true feminism now. Equal rights now must certainly mean one must remove rights from another group; in this instance: privileged white men; as their moral ineptitude, lack of ethical thought process, and sheer inability to control their loins and leanings, means they no longer deserve their freedoms and basic concepts of rights. Margaret Atwood takes issue with this. Equal rights for women, does not mean less rights for me. It means equal rights for both women and (as terrible as it must sounds) men. It means equal opportunity and equal social advantages. But the accusers of Margaret Atwood believe no one—or rather: no man—is allowed to experience or have the advantage of these rights at their disposal. In this case no man has the right to experience fundamental justice, including: the right of innocence until proven guilty.

The institutions of the courts, legal philosophy, legal precedence, jurisprudence, legal theories, and the very construct and concepts of the law—are above politics. These institutions that represent morality, ethics, and justice, are pinnacles of democratic societies; and thankfully (though at glacial paces—for good reason though), they do review and adjust to the changing social and societal environment in which they operate. This, however, does not mean that their principles, statutes, theories, philosophes and pillars of jurisprudence are pushed to the wayside either. Innocent until proven guilty, is a fundamental, monumental and spectacular pillar of the judicial system in Canada; and it is not discriminatory on any count. Evidence must be presented and reviewed before a court, before any verdict or conviction (be it innocent or guilty) is to be issued.

Social movements—such as the MeToo movement or political correctness—do not have the ability or the right or the entitled sense of self-worth, to supersede these institutions. They do not inherit or establish themselves as the newest legal fad, where they are able to preside over their own idea of justice, and administer it to anyone else. Their complaints, their accusations, their allegations, their concerns, their fears, must go through the appropriate channels, and this will include a formal investigation, as well as a formal review by the judicial system, which will examine the evidence presented, and cross-examine. The judicial system does not only prosecute, it defends—and social justice warriors take issue with the idea of fundamental ideas and concepts of defense during judicial proceedings. Before the MeToo movement took off as its brand of social media movement; in Canada there was a court case, where a CBC broadcaster, Jian Ghomeshi, stood accused of sexually assaulting women and aggressively portraying himself in a sexually inappropriate manner to women. His legal counsel was led by a defense attorney by the name of Marie Henein, who by doing her job as his defense attorney was tasked with examining the evidence and cross-examining the plaintiffs, with scalpel precession, to refute their claims. During this trial, Marie Henein became a centre of a social media controversy; she was accused of betraying her gender, and promoting sexual assault, misogyny, sexism and the degradation of women. Marie Henein was unjustly slandered, condemned, and yes, face unwarranted persecution reminiscent of a witch hunt; on the grounds that because she is a woman, she cannot or should not have defended her client, and she should have eschewed her professional principles, in order to comply with a still yet fetal social movement; but was still harassed, verbally assaulted, slandered, and defaced by social justice warriors, because she was a woman who was doing her job, but it was the complete contrary to their perspective of what justice looked like. Everyone in Canada (thankfully) is entitled for a fair trial; they are also entitled to have their narrative and story told in the court of law, which is free from external social and political interloping predilections; and of course they are presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court of law or a jury of their peers.

It is frightening, disgusting, and abhorrent to think, let alone witness, the sheer breakdown in rational thought, where people believe and promote that these cornerstones and principle pillars of a society, are wrong; because they believe it is based on the notion that justice, or equality, or fairness is based on gender, or sexual preference, or race, or creed, or source of income—this idea, this twisted and frightening ideology, is ludicrous. In fact its self-absorption to the point of: head up ones ass. How dare anyone think justice is conditional? How dare anyone think justice is to be selective? How dare anyone think legal principles and judicial philosophies should be based on gender or sexual preference, race, source of income, or creed? How can anyone think and believe that? Justice we are told is blind. Justice we are told is equal. Justice we are told is governed by its own strict conventions and statutes. Justice we are told is fair. Sadly in today’s world, social justice warriors and political correct proponents believe justice is only served in the trust terms of the idea, when it is in their favour. I do not accept or tolerate this view—and no it is not an opinion, it is a contorted and disturbing view. Justice goes two swings, like a clocks pendulum. Much like the pendulum is weighted one way or the other; so is justice and that is done by the trial and by proving innocence or proving guilt—beyond a reasonable doubt. If this simple principle is tossed out the window, then surely society will fall because it is no longer willing to accept the basic concepts and ideas of a true democratic governing society, when it cannot support or abide by its own pillar of judicial process. No social movement—be it MeToo or political correctness or feminism—has the right to supersede the established societal institutions such as the judicial branch of government and the courts. If you view them as unfair or unjust, you have the ability and the right to civil petition and work towards change via the established avenues and channels, however bureaucratic they are. Neither a tweet nor a troll should be allocated either the authority or the power to influence legislation or judicial proceedings; simply because it is popular on social media.

[ To Conclude ]

To be honest, the Munk debate about whether or not political correctness provided social progress, never really took place. The issue was barely discussed. In fact it almost seemed, like everything but the issue was discussed. I now have released my statements and my views and my thoughts on the idea, concept and ideal of political correctness and veered off into other areas. I will say, this has been an interesting and divisive subject. My research, articles I’ve read, there has been no real middle ground on the subject. Though I despise Rush Limbaugh, Anne Coulter, Bill O’Riely, Erza Pound, Jordan Peterson, Milo Yiannopoulos, Jason Kenney, and Doug Ford—I understand that it is important for them to speak. It is important for them to be able to express their views; even if I think they need professional help of a psychiatric kind. I also understand it is important to allow: Herta Müller, Janice Stein, Margaret Atwood, Fran Lebowtiz, Bill Maher, Stephen Fry, and Beverley Mclachlin, to speak and admire them for what they say. I don’t believe in making demands. I don’t believe in censorship. I most certainly do not believe that societal principles, rights, freedoms, and equality are conditional or based on consignments and concessions. It’s a frightening world Gentle Reader, one that has been pushed to polarizing dichotomous views, by what I would say is a minority on both ends. Where do moderate people exist? It’s hard to say. But I think they’ve done what we’ve always done: used our autonomy and agency and ability of a rational mind, to not engage on these issues or matters. Let them scream at each other, until their blue in face or knocked out on the ground. But keep an eye on them, as both sides: the politically correct social justice warriors and the reactionary right, are causes for concern.

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

M. Mary


To watch the Munk Debate:

Political correctness: a force for good? A Munk Debate

To Read Margaret Atwood's Opinion:

Am I a bad feminist?

Sunday 27 May 2018

The Golden Booker Prize, Shortlist


Hello Gentle Reader

This year’s Golden Booker Prize, has released its short list. Five different novels and their respective authors, from five decades have been brought forward for the public to vote on, which one, they deem to the worthy winner of the Golden Booker Prize.

The following are the shortlisted authors and novels for the Golden Booker Prize (presented in no particular order):

V.S. Naipaul – “In a Free State,”
Hilary Mantel – “Wolf Hall,”
Michael Ondaatje – “The English Patient,”
Penelope Lively – “Moon Tiger,”
George Saunders – “Lincoln in the Bardo,”

The Golden Booker Prize has been called a publicity stunt by many; an attempt to renew the Booker Prize in to greater relevance, as well as to take attention away from the smoldering resentment bubbling up about the decision to including American authors into the prizes eligibility. Yet, the Golden Booker Prize has unfortunately created a unique issue on its own. Only five novels and authors could be selected, from the five decades, which means the process of selecting a diverse, reflective and representing shortlist amongst the previous winners would be difficult. For example of the five writers chosen there is no winner from India or Ireland; on the flip side only three authors have won the Booker Prize twice, only one however has made this shortlist: Hilary Mantel (neither Nobel Laureate J.M. Coetzee or Peter Carey were included). Yet, the excluded author getting the most pondering glance is: Salamin Rushdie, and his novel “Midnight’s Children,” which has previously won the “Best of the Booker,” Award. Perhaps though the most curious writer included on the list is last year’s winner: George Saunders, and his novelistic debut: “Lincoln in the Bardos.” Perhaps freshness has a more crisp and agreeable quality, then old and outdated.

Now it is up to the public to cast their vote on who they think is the most deserving writer and novel for the Golden Booker Prize; while they may (or may not) wait in muted enthusiasm for this year’s Booker Prize to release its longlisted candidates.

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

M. Mary

The Nobel Prize for Literature: A Questionable Future


 Hello Gentle Reader

Throughout April and earlier this month, the Swedish Academy, the institution who announces and awards the Nobel Prize for Literature, has been plagued by a scandal which has obliterated the cultural institutions façade of being pristine and princely, only to reveal an institution suffering a poor lack of formal objective governance, petty and petulant perspectives, and an almost frightening dirty political game of power. The scandal has also brought into question members of the Swedish Academy’s ethics and moral pedigrees and principles (specifically: Sture Allén, Göran Malmqvist, Horace Engdahl and Katarina Frostenson). Now, as you already know, the scandal has centered on the alleged sexual assaults committed by Katarina Frostenson’s husband, Jean-Claude Arnault. The allegations themselves, however, were merely the initial wedge and fracture which eventually revealed a larger scandal concerning ethics and moral integrity.

Katarina Frostenson cannot be held liable or at fault for the allegations concerning her husband. However, she can be held responsible for numerous other dubious arrangements she had made while a member of the Swedish Academy. The first being: she knowingly accepted (and perhaps lobbied) financial assistance from the Swedish Academy, for a prestigious and exclusive cultural club, she co-owned with her husband in Sweden, called the Forum. The second being: she has been accused (or perhaps knowingly proven) to have prematurely released the names of future Nobel Laureates to her husband, beginning in 1996 and ending in 2016; which breaks the cardinal rule of the Swedish Academy’s statute of silence. Yet, there is no official consensus on whether or not these leaks had proven to be monetarily lucrative.

Early in April, the Swedish Academy voted on whether or not to exclude Katarina Frostenson from the Swedish Academy, by considering the above transgressions she had committed against the Swedish Academy as an institution. The votes swayed to stay in her favour, and soon after the scandal became a public storm, showing how incapable the Swedish Academy was able to operate and govern itself. Three members publicly stepped down (Peter Englund, Klas Östergren, Kjell Espmark) in protest. Sara Danius (then Permanent Secretary) went on damage control; but the wedge only grew wider, and others within the academy took the opportunity to voice their disproval of both the protesting members and Sara Danius herself (Horace Engdahl and Göran Malmqvist). The crisis only thickened before royal intervention, and the Swedish Academy met and found a compromise: Katarina Frostenson will step down on the condition Sara Danius relinquishes her position as Permanent Secretary. Sara Danius did relinquish her position and then voluntarily stepped down, while Katarina Frostenson stepped down as the conditions of the compromise were met. Following Sara Danius’s departure, a few weeks later Sara Strisdberg also stepped down.

Since then and in between, the King of Sweden (and royal patron of the Swedish Academy) Carl XVI Gustaf, has rewritten the election statutes of the Swedish Academy, meaning now where members served for life, they can opt out to voluntarily resign or being removed and replaced if they are inactive over two years. Sweden itself has erupted in support of Sara Danius, who has become something of an icon; all the while Horace Engdahl and Göran Malmqvist have opened their mouths and inserted their foots—on countless of occasions.

Finally, it was announced the Swedish Academy would postpone this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature, considering the crisis which has deeply divided and struck the Swedish Academy to its core, and will allow them to re-elect new members and regain the public’s trust in itself as a culturally prominent and worthy institution. Yet questions remain: what extent has this crisis and scandal done to the Nobel Prize for Literature itself?

[ For Previous Blog Posts, thoughts and perspectives on the issue please see the following links ]













The question: what extent has this crisis and scandal done to the Nobel Prize for Literature itself? And: What is the Future of the Nobel Prize for Literature? And: What is the Future of the Swedish Academy? Are now being asked publicly, and answers are perhaps being eluded too; as it is now apparent: the storm may have passed, but the flood waters are still rising.

In an open letter delivered to the pro tempore Permanent Secretary: Anders Olsson; Sara Danius, Peter Englund, and Kjell Espmark, stated they will return to the Swedish Academy to assist in electing new members to the Swedish Academy (as they currently lack the 12 members to hold a quorum), on the condition Horace Engdahl resigns. Horace Engdahl of course refuses to resign, and has stated the other three can return as they see fit, and at any time; without making grand or delusional statements. Further more another member of the Swedish Academy, Kristina Lugn, stated she would resign if Horace Engdahl, resigned. 

The Nobel Foundation (the absolute administer and guardian of all the Nobel Prizes) has already expressed its grave concern over the current atmosphere of the Swedish Academy’s inability to appropriately govern and control itself. Now, the director of the foundation, Lars Heikensten, has taken a more public and serious bent with regards to the current situation and crisis. Lars Heikensten, has stated there very well might not be a Nobel Prize for Literature in two-thousand and nineteen either, depending on the crisis currently facing the Swedish Academy, as well as pending on the academy’s ability to reclaim and acquire the public’s trust in it as a cultural institution. Lars Heikensten, had also eluded on two other matters. First: in polite and veiled terms, Mr. Heikensten, had eluded to the idea that it may be in the best interest of the Swedish Academy that all members resign in order to restore faith in the institution. Second: Lars Heikensten, eluded to the notion and thought, that the Nobel Foundation, will find a more reputable institution to award the Nobel Prize for Literature instead of the Swedish Academy.

The former Permanent Secretary, Sara Danius, also agrees with Lars Heikensten’s eluded view that all members of the Swedish Academy should resign. In a recent interview, Sara Danius has stated that in order for the Swedish Academy to renew itself and rebuild the trust and confidence of the public, it would be in the best interest of all members of the Swedish Academy to resign, and allow third party institutions to appoint and elect appropriate members to the Swedish Academy, and allow the process of renewing and regaining trust to happen without interference or hindrance of those currently presiding.

In the meantime, Gentle Reader, the Swedish Academy is working with a mediator to help resolve the issue. Yet, will the issue actually be resolved in the court of public opinion? As it currently stands many members of the Swedish Academy, have ultimately failed and disregarded the trust of the public—reading and otherwise; over their failure to appropriately govern themselves, without personal dealings of friendships coming into play or being taken into consideration. Sture Allén, Göran Malmqvist, Horace Engdahl, as a trio have ultimately continued to deface and destroy the remaining fragments and remnants of the Swedish Academy, with their churlish behavior, negligence, or public statements regarding former members or their personal relationships. The fact is, as a member of the Swedish Academy, their words, their relationships, their actions, and opinions are weighed heavily, as they in a sense have become public and cultural figures who are no longer entitled to behave in outlandish or negligent manners. They must take firm and defined stances on issues where issues of morality and ethics are concerned, or risk destroying their own reputations and that of the Swedish Academy—which they have already done. First: by Sture Allén, neglecting to act on a letter he received back in the 90’s, where a accuser of Arnault's, sought the Sweden Academy's assistance and appeal in dealing with Jean-Claude Arnault. Sture Allén dismissed the letter as non-important, which has only strengthened criticism of the academy's lack of moral pedigree or ethical direction. Second, during the entire crisis, Göran Malmqvist and Horace Engdahl, acted as power starved vultures, who exploited the crisis as an opportune moment to criticize Sara Danius in her role as Permanent Secretary (and continue to), which only moved the Swedish Academy closer to implosion. Third, Horace Engdahl specifically refuses to distance himself from Jean-Claude Arnault, and remains an advocate and supporter of his friend. In the end: as I already mentioned when one becomes a public figure—be intellectual, cultural, political, or even ‘pop culture/celebrity,’—your behaviour is noted and scrutinized when it is placed in a moral or ethically precarious situation, and you risk your reputation being damaged, decimated, or destroyed in the process and in this case the Swedish Academy as well. Perhaps the only way for the Swedish Academy to truly renew and reinvigorate trust with the public both in Sweden and internationally, is for the current members to resign; and allow for a fresh perspective of intellectuals, writers, scholars, academics, linguists, and historians to steer the Nobel Prize for Literature, without being tainted or touched by the scandal.

For now though, Gentle Reader, only the Swedish Academy can truly decide on which moral and ethical ground(s) it stands as does its best to whether a passing storm and the impending floods. Though, it is obviously clear: the Nobel Prize for Literature’s reputation has been unprecedentedly been questioned and even marred by the Swedish Academy’s current member’s behaviors and a very fresh scandal.  

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

M. Mary

For Further Reading Please See the Following Links –



https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/26/world/europe/swedish-academy-nobel-prize-literature.html

https://www.svt.se/kultur/danius-englund-och-espmark-kraver-horaces-engdahls-avgang

https://www.svt.se/kultur/bok/kristina-lugn-efter-sara-danius-utspel-har-hittills-lost-alla-problem

https://www.svt.se/kultur/sara-danius-1

Thursday 24 May 2018

The Franz Kafka Prize, 2018 Winner


Hello Gentle Reader

The Franz Kafka Prize is a relatively new literary award; established in two-thousand and one, where it was first awarded to the recently departed Philip Roth. Over the past seventeen years, the award has gathered attention for its unique list of laureates, which blends both world renowned authors and still yet unknown. Previous winners include: Elfriede Jelinek, Harold Pinter, Amos Oz, Peter Handke, Arnošt Lustig, and last year’s Margaret Atwood.

The Franz Kafka Prize has outlined the following as the criteria that the judges use to evaluate the winning authors:

The basic criterion is the quality and exclusivity of the artwork, its humanistic character and contribution to cultural, national, language and religious tolerance, its existential, timeless character, its generally human validity and its ability to hand over a testimony about our times.”

[Retrieved from the Franz Kafka Society Website: Franz Kafka Society]

This year’s winner of the Franz Kafka Prize is the Czech poet and collage artist: Ivan Wernisch. Wernisch has been publishing poetry since the early sixties. His poetry is known for being diverse and chameleon like in nature, moving from playful, to tragic, absurd and dreamlike, to imagistic haikus and lengthy monologues, to metaphysical meditations. He has been called a postmodern poet of the first degree, where his poetry is painted with skepticism, and a certain fascination with both high cultural pursuits, and the populated world of low culture. Over the past five decades, Ivan Wernisch, has been one of most critically acclaimed contemporary Czech poets. The sheer diversity of his themes, forms, and style, has earned Ivan Wernisch this award.

Congratulations Ivan Wernisch.

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

M. Mary

Wednesday 23 May 2018

Philip Roth, Dies Aged 85


Hello Gentle Reader

When someone dies it generally removes any veil of prejudice one held of them beforehand. Death is the ultimate leveler of the playing field. I’ve made no qualm or secret about general distaste for Philip Roth’s novels, which I found self-absorbed, suffocating, and in the later years carrying a certain authoritarian arrogance. This had often put me off in reading his novels, which always struck me as repetitive and suffocating preoccupied with their own narcissistic themes and plots. In his later years, it was a poorly hidden secret, how Roth viciously craved and vied to be recognized as a great of American literature—and by extension international literature—by coveting the Nobel Prize for Literature. Philip Roth, however, was doomed to forever be the Nobel bridesmaid, never the actual laureate. This point of contention infuriated his supporters, American literary critics, and even (it is rumored) the author himself. Yet, yesterday at the age of eighty-five, Philip Roth died due to congestive heart failure; where he was surrounded by friends. With his passing, it is difficult not to take note and stock of Philip Roth’s success as a writer, and his undying and unyielding influence on American literature cannot be ignored or denied. Roth’s stellar career began in nineteen-fifteen nine, when he published his first short story collection: “Goodbye Columbus,” which would set the stage for one of the most endeared and controversial writers of late American twentieth century literature. The novel won the National Book Critics Award, and it tackled ideas of assimilation and differentiation in suburbia through the eyes of middle-class Jewish Americans, who struggle with their identity and morality, and concepts of ‘Jewishness.’ Beyond being hailed as a major voice of an up and coming writer, it also received backlash from others who called Roth a ‘Self-Hating Jew,’ and the work antisemitic. Ten years later he released his smash hit comic and erotic monologue “Portnoy’s Complaint,” about the erotic release of the titular character and being held back by his Jewish upbringing. The stellar acclaim and the media scrutiny forced Roth to retreat further into literary fiction and become as some would call: reclusive and aloof, in order to evade and dodge any media scrutiny made against him.

After becoming a scandalous literary celebrity, Roth began to write the works of fiction which would cement his name as a great modern American writer. His later works depict the lives of Nathan Zuckerman and David Kepesh, which allowed Roth to trace the line between author and his work. However, many found these works autobiographical and confessional in nature, which annoyed and disappointed Roth, who continually refuted these claims, and asserted his novels were imaginary and purely fiction, there were no shadows or parallels to his work as being autobiographical or confessional in nature.

In the nineties, Philip Roth once again reinvented his literary imaginings. After a series of personal collapses and marital failure, Roth resigned himself to a farm house in Connecticut, and teaching, and the works he began to draft from there took another distinct directional turn. Moving away from the introspection of Nathan Zuckerman and David Kepesh; these later works were externally focused and discussed American cultural blunders, the Vietnam War, McCarthyism, as well as the dangers of fascism; and how these external factors enter the private and personal homes of bystanders who are unexpected and ill prepared for the sudden instruction be it ideological or cultural in nature.

In two-thousand and twelve, Philip Roth announced he was retiring from writing, making “Nemesis,” (2010) his final novel. Throughout the years Philip Roth gave a few interviews, but never wrote another novel or story (at least none published). He caused minor controversies here and there (the final one being the Man Booker International Prize, in its former format) and his name repeatedly as a contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature. In the end he did not win the Nobel; but reviewing a varied and lengthy career, it can be seen Philip Roth had written some of the well-achieved books of the later part of the twentieth century American literature. He moved from erotic liberator (or perhaps retained these provocative predilections), to a introspective chronicler and historian of American ideologies and cultures, and how these external factors affect the private and personal. In the end, you just have to tip your hat Philip Roth, and say: well done.

Rest in Peace, Philip Roth. It is well deserved.

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

M. Mary

Man Booker International Prize Winner, 2018


Hello Gentle Reader

The winner of this year’s Man Booker International Prize is: Olga Tokarczuk for her novel “Flights,” translated expertly by Jennifer Croft. In winning the Man Booker International Prize, it can be clear that Olga Tokarczuk has solidified her place as an established author now translated into English. This being said, Olga Tokarczuk is no stranger to the English language, as prior to her novel “Flights,” being translated and published, two of her previous novels were already translated: ““Primeval and Other Times,” and “House of Day, House of Night.”

The Man Booker International Prize judges, have praised Olga Tokarczuk as a writer of great imagination and wit, with acute literary sensibilities. Her novel “Flights,” is drafted on interconnected fragments and micro narratives, which weave into each other, and sometimes remain in their own solitary orbit; but each one is connected by the themes of travel both literary and figurative, as well as human anatomy (and its own connection to the idea of travel). The novel has been self-described as a “constellation,” novel, built up varying fragments and micro narratives, to depict a grander whole. This same literary device can be seen in “House of Day, House of Night,” and even “Primeval and Other Times,” but “Flights,” does away with unified characters or a singular narrator as a reference point, and instead buzzes and glows with a multitude of different voices, narratives, stories and tales; each one shined like a individual firefly, only to have another shine back in response. To describe “Flights,” accurately, would be like a beehive, buzzing and dancing in a symphonious orchestration, each one dying to tell its tale or release its narrative. It’s truly an extraordinary mixed bag of nuts, and each narrative, essay, story, or grander novelist trope, is a literary delight to take in. How, Olga Tokarczuk fragments the novel keeps it fresh, exhilarating and the momentum moving. Rarely, is there a place for the novel to dip down or move into a sluggish pace because she is bored; on the contrary by presenting some new narrative, some new story, or by describing dissection and the art of anatomy, she maintains relevance and interest.

Of the longlisted and shortlisted novels for this year’s Man Booker International Prize, Olga Tokarczuk was the only writer I had read prior to the lists. I had strong suspicions she would be the biggest contender for the award, and would most likely take it. However, I am well aware that the Man Booker Prize judges are generally rather prudent and conservative in the nature, when they judge novels, and had slight concerns over how fragmented and even slightly postmodern Olga Tokarczuk’s novel is; not to mention the Booker Prize in particular, does enjoy reveling in its own sense of status quo, and often seeks to retain and maintain this perspective when choosing winners. However, in the end she beat out previous winners: Han Kang and László Krasznahorkai.

In the coming months and year(s) the English language is expected to be treated to two more novels by Tokarczuk: “Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead,” and “The Book Jacob,” which had caused controversy back in Poland, for its discussion of the darker aspects of Poland’s history, but also Olga Tokarczuk candidly and openly discussing these facts and matters. For this she received death threats and blatant and vicious criticisms from far-right nationalists in Poland, who felt her views, betrayed the country and its national points of pride.

Congratulations are certainly in order for Olga Tokarczuk, who is by far a unique and powerful voice on the international literary stage. Her establishment in the English language is overdue, and to this day “Primeval and Other Times,” remains one of the most wonderful and enjoyable books I have ever read, and secretly desire to re-read but can never bring myself to do it again out of fear the same magic and beauty would be lost.

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

M. Mary

P.S. To read my review of "Flights," follow the link below: 


Flights

Wednesday 16 May 2018

The Best Translated Book Award Finalists, 2018


Hello Gentle Reader

Just over a month ago snow tenaciously clung to the ground, refusing with conviction to melt or thaw. Now bushes and trees are in leaf, weeds are green and have sprouted and the grass has shaken off its winter shawl and growing with renewed fervor. The sky is expansive and blue, peppered with clouds; while the sun oppressively shines and the heat grows tiresomely tyrannical. The Best Translated Book Award has released their finalists for this year’s award, and much like in years past, the judges have been tasked with reducing the extensive and impressive longlist down to its chosen final ten. Much like the longlist, which was praised for its success in including a wide variety of books which tackled a multitude of themes and perspectives, the finalists reflect this same venture.

Below Gentle Reader, are this year’s ten fiction finalists, listed in no particular order:

Guðbergur Bergsson – Iceland – “Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller,"
Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette – Canada (Quebec) – “Suzanne,”
Fleur Jaeggy – Switzerland/Italy – “I am the Brother of XX,”
Wolfgang Hilbig – Germany – “Old Rendering Plant,”
Marie NDiaye – France – “My Heart Hemmed In,”
Wu He – China – “Remains of Life,”
Mathias Énard – France – “Compass,”
Romina Paula – Argentina – “August,”
Santiago Gamboa – Columbia – “Return to the Dark Valley,”
Rodrigo Fresán – Argentina – “The Invented Part,”

The diversity of the longlist has now been condensed into the shortlist. The novels range from the postmodern, historical, to the personal, as well as novels and short stories. My two favorites on these years shortlist are: [the late] Wolfgang Hilbig with his stream-of consciousness and postmodern novel about childhood set in the former East Germany; and the Swiss Italian language author, Fleur Jaeggy, with her newest collection of steel scalpel precise stories “I am the Brother of XX.” Of the two, I only own “I am the Brother of XX,” and have read a couple of the stories within the collection—which range in both length, but never constrained intensity. First impressions with Fleur Jaeggy’s newest collection is as startling, frightening, and claustrophobically controlled and desolate, less gothic then “Last Vanites,” but just as violently delicious. We He also makes the shortlist with his stream of consciousness historical novel reviewing the genocidal actions committed by the Japanese military against an aboriginal tribe who had committed a head hunting ritual which killed soldiers in the ranks. The novel is a postmodern historical exploration of these atrocities. Mathias Énard also comes onto the list with his large sprawling novel about orientalism, music, philosophy, history, among a multitude of other themes and preoccupying reminisces. Marie NDiaye is no stranger to the Best Translated Book Award, being shortlisted last year for the prize; her newest translated novel “My Heart Hemmed In,” is considered psychologically potent, devastating,  and frightening novel on social issues, discrimination, prejudices, and persecution in a world gone slowly divided and made. “My Heart Hemmed In,” is a novel with keen social insights and a pointed perspective on a world continually divided and concerned with distinctions and differences. The Southern continent is well represented on this year’s shortlist with two books by Argentine writers and one from Columbia. Romina Paula writes a poignant novel about coming of age, identity and grief in her novel “August.” Santiago Gamboa is considered one of the most influential young writers to rise out of “Columbia,” he is in complete contrast to the Latin Boom writers of decades past, and instead moves in the same vein as the late Roberto Bolano, writing in a striking style both noir and populated by the desperate and colourful characters who are both ideal and realistic. The world of Gamboa is violently turbulent and beautiful, liberation is continually sought and always on the cusp of explosion.

The finalists for this year’s poetry portion of the Best Translated Book Award are as follows, again listed in no particular order:

Ursula Andkjaer Olsen – Denmark – “Third-Millennium Heart,”
Aase Berg – Sweden – “Hackers,”
Ana Ristović – Serbia – “Directions for Use,”
Eleni Vakalo – Greece – “Before Lyricism,”
Wilson Bueno – Brazil – “Paraguayan Sea,”
Hirato Renkichi – Japan – “Spiral Staircase,”

As is a well-known fact—I am no poetry reader, and therefore cannot offer much comment or commentary on the poetry finalists, but once again it appears to be a unique longlist, perhaps the most striking of the finalists is the Greek Eleni Vakalo and her monumental and striking display of linguistic acrobatics in her poetry collection “Before Lyricism.” Aase Berg also returns to the poetry shortlist with her newest collection of poetry: “Hackers.”

There you have it Gentle Reader, this year’s Best Translated Book Award Finalists for two-thousand and eighteen. Once again the judges have drafted a wonderful list of finalists for this year’s award with many worth winners. It’ll be interesting to see who will win this year’s award.

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

M. Mary

Tuesday 8 May 2018

On The Postponed Nobel Prize for Literature


Hello Gentle Reader,

[My column has been established to operate on a biweekly basis, however, considering the pressing need I felt for this column I’ve decided to publish now, rather than next week.]

Since the embattled Swedish Academy announced that this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature, will be postponed until two-thousand and nineteen, where two laureates will be crowned, there has been the crowing and cooing of many, who have felt the need to exercise an excessive amount of schadenfreude towards the Swedish Academy—or rather its smoldering remains. This has all reminded me of the words of a dear friend: “Never fret, when you hit rock bottom, someone always graciously passes the shovel.”

(i)

Since the announcement rang last Friday, that this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature would be postponed, many journalists, editors, columnists, cultural and literary critics, have all snickered and hissed their vitriol and criticism (justly and unjustly) towards the brow beaten and now severely depleted Swedish Academy. Tim Parks a writer and translator (and an excellent translator may I add) was first to take the shot. Writing in The New York Times, Mr. Parks takes aim at the scolded, burned, and marked Swedish Academy. He opens his opinion piece, with almost cheers about how much entertainment the Swedish Academy had offered the public over the past few weeks. He continues to go over briefly the scaffolding of the scandal, to provide a bit of context, both contemporary issues facing the academy, and its antiquarian principles. He concludes, the Literature prize in itself is a scandal of sorts. How can one compare different languages, cultures, and literary methods against one another, and then crown a winning author over so many other viable candidates. As Tim Parks points out, literature is not a sport. It is not a footballer or hockey player, decked out head to toe in pads, helmets and the instinctual or testosterone competitive urge to seek out and get a goal or touch down; it’s not a speedo clad water polo player or a bikini flaunting volleyball player; it is not soccer (football) or rugby—it is literature, a activity completely deprived of human connection (in its conception, drafting and creation). It is produced in solitude or via the sole hand of a singular individual. There is no uniform—no helmet, no skates, no speedo or bikini. There are no regulated instruments—no bike, no stick, no bat, no cap, or suit—just pen and paper, or pencil and paper, or typewriter or computer (all preference oriented than organized and issued by decree or governance or regulation). Literature is not a competition. Tim Parks argues that making a literary prize of such a stature like the Nobel Prize is a scandal, as it attempts to place Literature in the same vein as any sport, like baseball, or football, or hockey or water polo. The Nobel by design is both scandal and failure, which apparently most do not see.

I disagree with Tim Parks on many ends and yet understand the validity of his points. However, I do not view the Nobel Prize for Literature as a competition. Mainly because no one is aware who is a contestant. It is not like a Miss World (or Universe) pageant, where everyone is judged and pleads their case for world peace (that is after all the Peace Prize’s place). Those who watch the Nobel Prize for Literature (myself included) do enjoy the speculative process, the research conducted, and the exchange of writers new and old, and of course it always provokes a unique discussion—much like discussing politics or economics at the dinner table (though once again that is reserved for, The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel). The Nobel Prize for Literature has the unique ability to crown and offer the golden dream and paycheque to its chosen writer and laureate. This is an opportunity which is not offered by any other literary prize, which by comparison could be described as parochial or myopic in perspective. On a personal note, without the Nobel Prize for Literature, I highly doubt I would ever have had the unique ability to discover Wisława Szymborska or Herta Müller or Patrick Modiano; without the speculative process I would never have had the opportunity to learn about Svetlana Alexievich, Magdalena Tulli or Yasunari Kawabata or Tua Forsström, or Antonio Tabucchi or Jon Fosse or Sirkka Turkka, or Adunis, or Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, or Mia Couto, or Yoko Ogawa. Though perhaps I would have learned about them at later dates, but the fact the Nobel Prize for Literature, requests (or demands) one broaden their horizon beyond their linguistic and cultural island and seek to take an interest in the distant shore.

So no, the Nobel Prize for Literature is not a competition. There is not a backroom where countless potential names of writers are busy typing and scribbling; each one seeking to outdo the other in their quest for a medal and diploma and the status of Laureate. It has been claimed a competition by merely those who view it, criticize it, or begrudge the award. The idea the Nobel Prize for Literature is a competition, is merely an air which has been externally forced upon it, and has neither been endorsed or accepted either by the Nobel Foundation or the Swedish Academy or the other institutions who name their laureates in the fields of Medicine, Physics, Chemistry, Peace, and Economics—though as it stands, these prizes are considered more: respectable, more contemporary, more necessary, more required, more revolutionary. To me (again on a personal note), their endeavors, their research, their findings, their breakthroughs, their new ways of thinking, are revolutionary, ideal, groundbreaking and contemporary. But science has, and continues to occupy the empirical ivory tower. It’s almost self-absorbed and self-assured its own importance, in its own grandness, that if you do not understand or comprehend their findings, than you must be a mongolid, a troglodyte, uneducated, a useful idiot, or ignorant. Science has no time to waste on those who neither share their interests or their findings, as it quickly moves onto the next big project. Literature, reminds us of our humanity and or modesty, it builds bridges beyond language and culture, and identifies the universal ideas, concepts and perspectives of what it means to be human. The area of literature—much like the idea of humanity—is grey, and difficult to traverse. To make any firm adjudicating statement on the matter is always difficult to defend; and therefore always open to controversy and criticism. Medicine, Chemistry, Physics, Peace and Economics, these are Nobel pursuits, even lucrative pursuits; but poetry, prose, essays, novels, stories, plays and theatre, and philosophy these remind us of what we are living for. These are not just toss away concepts, or entertainment with no value; they speak to the soul and the idea of what life is however euphoric or tragic it is; however frightening or beautiful it is.

(ii)

In The Guardian, Claire Armitstead, takes immense pleasure is scathingly giving the Swedish Academy and by extension the Nobel Prize for Literature a scathing lecture (and perhaps a deserved swat and spank). She calls the Nobel Prize for Literature the anomaly among the Nobel Prizes; one in which exists as a vain bauble, which has no real statement to make other then:

For seasoned Nobel watchers, award day often appears to be a ritual humiliation by a shadowy society of sadists. As one journalist wryly tweeted, the announcement of the first Belorussian literature laureate in 2015 was accompanied by the sound of 10,000 reporters Googling Svetlana Alexievich.

Ms. Armitstead goes on to state that Svetlana Alexievich was one of the better decisions made by the Swedish Academy, when choosing a Nobel Laureate in Literature. Yet, I do disagree with Ms.  Armitstead, I do not personally line up to receive any ritual humiliation by the Swedish Academy, when they award a Nobel Laureate or unknown author. Rather I praise and applaud such a decision. How wonderful it is to find a new author to be introduced to—such as Patrick Modiano, who has been a wonderful discovery, thanks to the Nobel Prize for Literature.

I find the statements proposed and defined by Ms. Armitstead, speak with a pugnacious tone with regards to the English culture and languages perspective of foreign language  and culture—one met with skepticism and even a slight bit of colonial snobbery (that might be pushing it). But the truth is, English language readers, and its literati, critics, journalists and writers are always quick to promote English language literature beyond anything else. After all you never promote the other team or any other team. Take Philip Roth for example, every day and anywhere, that man is promoted as some astounding genius of late twentieth century American literature. Where in reality he is: pompous, pugnacious, pretentious, sophistic, plain, plodding, and suffocating; the man is not only convinced and self-affirmed via his own self-absorbed delusions of his genius and grandeur, he also has everyone else coned and bamboozled into the Pretentious Plodding Philip Roth Propaganda train as well; and they continue to heap praise on to him, and claim he deserves the Nobel, and he’s the best America has (oh dear), and so on and so forth. Quite frankly, he is by the far, the most unimaginative, and boring and suffocating author I have ever had the displeasure of attempting to read. Reading Philip Roth (sorry: The Great) would be best described as an arranged marriage, to a frumpy characterless old man; and the only ways out are either suicide or murder. To be honest, I’d sooner be damned to hell to read Shakespeare for the rest of eternity then ever be forced to be acquainted with the works of Philip Roth ever again.

However, now I sound like an apologetic monolingual reader, who is attempting to be acquainted with the grander world and cultures by taking into consideration the translated literature of writers from other countries. Let’s face the facts though. The English language is a predominately spoken language on this third rock from the sun; it can be heard all over the world. Due to its influence and demand as the de facto ‘universal,’ language, there can be no denying the importance the English language and literature has had on the world; but the sole desire to continually self-promote itself as superior and snub anything else is not an admirable trait. It should also be noted two of the previous laureates (2016 and 2017) were also well known (though in different circles and for different reasons) both in the English language as well as other cultures. Both Bob Dylan and Kazuo Ishiguro were surprises, but neither would be described as obscure or unknown to readers or the public. Ms. Armitsteads’ statement of ritual humiliation is once again not entirely an accurate statement based on objective fact.

(iii)

The final statement on the matter is how the media has chosen to focus on mere elements that lead to the scandal, while disregarding the entire scandal in its entirety and detailed mess. The Swedish Academy scandal is not just limited to a sex scandal or the wave and social media driven MeToo movement (which I look upon casual ambivalence, and see the movement itself has no real jurisprudence perspective, as it seeks to tar and feather, rather than seek judicial process—though they claim all legal avenues have failed them). Let’s be clear with each other Gentle Reader, the scandal affecting the Swedish Academy goes beyond a sex scandal, it goes beyond mistreatment of women, or sexual favours and bitter sweet promises of career advancements. The scandal runs much deeper and has more interesting connotations.

First, the Sex Scandal was the initial spark that led to the current crisis affecting the Swedish Academy. Ironically no specific member of the Swedish Academy was directly accused of dubious sexual activity. No member was accused of using either position or prestige to gain sexual favours. Rather it was a member’s significant other or spouse; that spouse would be Jean-Claude Arnault, a French born Swedish photographer, who is the husband of (former) member Katarina Frostenson, a renowned Swedish language poet. It has been alleged that Jean-Claude Arnault utilized Swedish Academy owned properties (both in Stockholm and Paris) to carry out his escapades and attacks. Eighteen women have come forward to accuse Arnault of his misdeeds, and these accusations go back to the mid nineteen-nineties. In fact during this time, a letter was sent to the then Permanent Secretary Sture Allén, by a young woman who has been allegedly attacked by Jean-Claude Arnault, whereupon she makes her case known and urges the Swedish Academy to do something. Sture Allén disregarded the letter; and now the Swedish Academy has been forced to apologize for this oversight and blatant act of negligence. The sexual assault scandal’s touching of the Academy is not; however, the sole reason the Swedish Academy fell from grace and crashed into its current smoldering ruin. The accusations level against Arnaut were merely the tipping point and the beginning of the fall, as they led to further investigations which caused the Swedish Academy to become divided and show its incapacity to govern itself appropriately.

Besides being married to Katarina Frostenson, and by extension having close ties with one of the most elite cultural forums in Europe (and arguably the world), meant he could utilize this position for his photographic pursuits and business ventures; with networking capabilities and marketing possibilities, through social events and reputational basis. But the plot thickens even more. Jean-Claude Arnault ran an exclusive cultural club in Stockholm called Forum, which he ran with his wife Katarina Frostenson, who was part owner. This club received grants and funding from the Swedish Academy for many years. As the sexual assault allegations began to pour in and add up, questions began to rise over the Swedish Academy’s financial assistance to not only Arnault but also his wife. These questions forced the former Permanent Secretary Sara Danius to hire a private law firm to investigate the relationship between the Swedish Academy and Jean-Claude Arnault, and any support (economic or otherwise) offered to Jean-Claude Arnault and by extension to Katarina Frostenson.

The investigation forced the Swedish Academy to face the fact that it was breaking its own statutes—knowingly or otherwise. With the findings of the investigation now being heatedly discussed and debated, the Swedish Academy voted at the beginning of April on whether or not to exclude Katarina Frostenson for her obvious abuse of position within the Swedish Academy, to seek and lobby financial assistance and funding from the institution to help her own personal capitalistic ventures. In order to resolve the issue the Swedish Academy held a vote to exclude (remove) Katarina Frostenson from her position within the Swedish Academy, in early April. The vote was divisive, and it was claimed during this vote that Katarina Frostenson, would retain her position. This decision divided the Swedish Academy—on one side there was the former Permanent Secretary Sara Danius, and the other the ‘old guard,’ headed by Horace Engdahl with vocal support from Sture Allén and Goran Malmqvist. This divide forced three members to resign in protest, and so the scandal would become a public spectacle, rivaling an Elizabethan tragedy in its second hand emotion and dramatic histrionics (which was mainly perpetrated by Horace Engdahl and Goran Malmqvist).

With the public and press taking note of the dissidence and divide, the Swedish Academy was under immense pressure to figure out a solution. The then Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius was often in continual meetings and talks with their royal patron King Carl XVI Gustaf, in order to find some remedial approach to resolve the crisis. Week after week, the pressure continued to mount, and as the Swedish Academy’s wedge grew to a chasm, criticism began to pour from all angles and avenues. With end to scandal in sight, and criticism (external and internal) mounting, the Swedish Academy was forced to come to compromise which was presided over by its master of ceremonies Anders Olsson. The compromise was simple: Sara Danius would need to step down from her position as Permanent Secretary, and Katarina Frostenson would resign. Sara Danius not only stepped down from her position as Permanent Secretary she removed herself from the Swedish Academy; while Katarina Frostenson resigned as per end of the bargain.

During this time it became public knowledge that Katarina Frostenson had also broken the statute of secrecy with regards to the Nobel Prize for Literature. She had leaked information on serval different occasions information regarding the as of yet secretive Laureate. She had first done this is nineteen-ninety six and the last time in two-thousand and sixteen. It has been speculated that Jean-Claude Arnault used this privileged information to his advantage, financial otherwise. It goes without saying that breaking this statute is a highly reprimandable offense. Though it has been said many members of the Swedish Academy have told their significant others of who would win the Nobel Prize for Literature, but they could be trusted, and never used the information for any beneficiary or self-serving means—or so we hope.

After the resignation of these two women, Sweden reacted in outrage and protest. They believe the Swedish Academy internally had pitted two women against each other, in order to hide the crimes and negligence of men. But this is not necessarily true. It is perhaps true on the front of Sara Danius, she had been unjustly sent to the alter to be sacrificed; while on the front of Katarina Frostenson, she had dug her own grave by violating ethics, morals and the internal statutes of the Swedish Academy, knowingly. She had accepted money from the intuition to assist in running her club and she advertised privileged information, which in return could (or did) benefit her. I have no sympathy for Katarina Frostenson, as she had obviously decided to take full advantage of her position to benefit herself, and had done so for a decade plus.

Since then the Swedish Academy has been doing its best to put out the flames which have been left in the wake of scandal and resignations. Since then another member has also resigned. Horace Engdahl and Goran Malmqvist, continued to enflame the public with more comments, and the Swedish Academy continued to fail to get control of the situation. It should come to no surprise that the Nobel Prize for Literature has been postponed for a year. It’s the only logical, knowledgeable and wise decision the Swedish Academy could have done at this point.

            (iv)

The question now is: how will the Swedish Academy redeem itself, reinstitute itself, and gain the trust and respect from the public once again. Let’s slip into the vernacular for the moment and call a spade a spade: They fucked up royally. The Swedish Academy had proven a multitude of points during these ensuring events

(a)    They cannot properly govern themselves. They prove to the world that in the depths of the Swedish Academy the ‘old guard,’ still reigns supreme, with many men still refusing to acknowledge or budge on matters of contemporary reforms. Beyond that, the Swedish Academy proves that it was unable to properly take a stand on ethics and morals, when faced with facts and refused to exclude a member despite breaking its golden statute of secrecy.

(b)   They have proven that they are a fragmented entity, and when the going gets tough it’s an opportune moment to make political maneuvers; as both Goran Malmqvist and Horace Engdahl proved.

(c)    Personal friendships override all grounds of proper governance. The vast majority of voting showed this to be true—and many resisted (or still remain reistant) to the law firm to continue the investigation into personal relationships of members held with Jean-Claude Arnault.

For now the Swedish Academy is quite—and it is in their best interest to remain silent. Any comment now issued or made without official status, will only put the Swedish Academy into a further tail spin.

Moving away from the Swedish Academy, the current talk throughout the world is rather frightening to varying degrees. Many have taken the current scandal and weaponized it into a feminist and political issue. The issue is not very political and it is not feminist oriented. If any issue of feminist is to be taken against anyone, it is against Jean-Claude Arnault, who has allegedly attacked, mistreated and disrespected various women (including apparently, the Princess of Sweden). But this does not mean some opportunists are taking it upon themselves to demand concessions with future Nobel Prizes for Literature. Many believe the Nobel Prize for Literature of two-thousand and nineteen should be shared by two women, in order to repair the damage. I find this statement absurd. If it is one thing the Nobel Prize for Literature has been semi-diligent about, it is not making political statements with regards to its decisions. It has awarded (for the most part) worthy writers (not Bob Dylan) on grounds of literary merit. These decisions should not and are in fact promoted and propagated by the Swedish Academy, to be free from any external political influences—how much of that is true, I couldn’t say. To share the Nobel Prize for Literature between two women would be considered a forced sentiment. If anything the Swedish Academy needs to work on getting its self-back on its feet, and continue with the good work—which would mean Horace Engdahl and Goran Malmqvist would need to shut their mouths. It has also been reported there are three new potential members already in waiting to be inducted into the Swedish Academy as well. Who they are, is as of yet unknown. Though I believe next month (or they will be elected to the Swedish Academy in September) we will know their names and they will be officially inducted into the Swedish Academy come December, I believe (how without the required twelve member quorum I do not know).

As the good work apparently is to continue here is hoping the Swedish Academy can rectify its recent travesty and get back to work. Here’s hoping for another moment of ritual act of humiliation, as they announce two obscure and unknown authors—now wouldn’t that be double trouble and a good year of reading.

On a side note: for those wondering, I have decided to postpone my Nobel Speculation for this year as the award has been postponed. However, this gives me even greater time to compile more names, more research for the list; it will offer greater time to review and revise, add and subtract, so by August 14th of two-thousand and nineteen it should be a marvelous list (or so I hope).

For now my Dear Gentle Reader, I wish you well.

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

M. Mary


P.S. – It should be noted Gentle Reader, that since the statute of election for life has been amended by his majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, only four members of the Swedish Academy have taken the opportunity to officially resign. They are:

Lotta Lotass
Klas Östergren
Sara Stidsberg
Kerstin Ekman

There is no word yet on whether or not, Sara Danius, Peter Englund, Kjell Espmark or Katarina Frostenson will formally resign; as they currently sit as inactive within the Swedish Academy’s records. However, after two years of inactivity their seats become void and open for new elections and inductions. 



For Further Reading --


Tim Parks - "The Nobel Prize for Literature is a Scandal All by itself,"


Claire Armitstead - "Nobel literature prize: anomalous vanity bauble scrambles for dignity."