The Birdcage Archives

Monday 28 October 2019

Göran Malmqvist, Dies Aged 95

Hello Gentle Reader

Over a week ago it was announced and come to everyone’s attention that the Swedish Academy’s member, literary historian, translator, and resident sinologist Göran Malmqvist had died at the age of 95. In comparison to the surprised and unfortunate death of Sara Danius, former member and former Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy; the reaction surrounding Göran Malmqvist’s passing was quiet. Notices of course were delivered, obituaries published, and the Swedish Academy made a statement in itself regarding the academics passing. The death of Göran Malmqvist is of course a monumental blow to the Swedish Academy, especially if the academy’s renewed goal is to take a more ‘global perspective,’ with regards to the Nobel Prize for Literature, as Malmqvist was an essential in-house bridge between the Swedish Academy and Chinese language and literature. Of course this niche position did have its fair share of controversies; as in the case of Mo Yan’s Nobel. Regardless, the vacancy of Chair No. 5, due to Göran Malmqvist will mean the Swedish Academy will not be at full capacity by next year—unless they find a suitable replacement before December 20th. Even then though, the incumbent who takes the seat of Chair No. 5 will have a lengthy shadow in which to settle into, and hopefully grow out of. Göran Malmqvist will be a difficult act to follow, his position as the resident sinologist and leading expert on Chinese literature and language, will impair the Swedish Academy, as they will be forced to see external expertise with no political biases or motivations. Beyond his career and renown in the Swedish Academy, Göran Malmqvist was an accomplished academic who taught Chinese language and literature all over the world, including University of London, Australian National University in Canberra, and of course Stockholm University, where the academic was able to create a field of study attuned to his interests: Contemporary Chinese Language and Literature. It is in this time that Malmqvist begun to translate works of contemporary Chinese writers into Swedish. Looking beyond his academic career, Göran Malmqvist was a diplomat in China, serving as a cultural commissioner. China had often praised as being a bridge between China and the rest of the world.

Thank-you CY for informing me of Göran Malmqvist death; I do apologize for the delay it has taken me to comment on it.

Rest in Peace Göran Malmqvist

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

M. Mary

Thursday 17 October 2019

Ismail Kadare Wins the Neustadt International Prize for Literature

Hello Gentle Reader

Ismail Kadare has become the twenty-sixth Laureate for the biennial Neustadt International Prize for Literature. Kadare is the most prominent Albanian writer, whose works are noted for their global reach and appeal. Ismail Kadare rose to prominence in the Albanian literary scene in the latter half of the Twentieth Century on the strength of his poetry; however, his novels such as “The General of the Dead Army,” gained the attention of the world. Behind the Iron Curtain in Albania, and later in Soviet Russia, Ismail Kadare made a stir due to his open rejection of ‘socialist realism,’ the ideological literary measurement deemed appropriate by the bureaucratic administrative powers of the communist regime. After the Soviet-Albanian political divorce, Ismail Kadare would return to Albania and embark on a literary career. He published a fragment of his first novel in a magazine. The fragment (or short story) titled: “Coffehouse Days,” was immediately banned. The novel would hidden and kept in secret for decades until being published after the fall of communism.

“The General of the Dead Army,” may have gained him international renown, it left his fellow writers, critics, and dogmatic literary establishment of Albania embittered. Ismail Kadare was viewed as the darling of the west, and his subsequent works were either criticized before being banned, or banned before publication. Kadare’s work through this time took a continued allegorical and resistance approach to the totalitarian government of Albania. In the nineteen-nineties Ismail Kadare sought political asylum in France, where he supported and called for democratization.

Despite the political overtones and undertones surrounding his work, Ismail Kadare refutes being classified as a dissident writer, as dissidence in Communist Albania was severely and tactically suppressed. Kadare could not be considered a conformist under the ideological restraints either, as the author continually tested the waters and provoked irksome responses for the government and literary establishment, while delighting Western admirers.

In winning the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, Ismail Kadare’s reputation as one of the most important Albanian writers in the world is only cemented further. Prior to this award, Kadare has received the inaugural Man Booker International Prize (in its first conception), the Princess of Asturias Award for Literature, and the Jerusalem Prize. Ismail Kadare has remained a perennial candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature since the nineteen-nineties.  

Congratulations to Ismail Kadare who is a worthy winner!

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

M. Mary

Wednesday 16 October 2019

Sara Danius, Dies Aged 57

Hello Gentle Reader

Sara Danius made history by becoming the first woman Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy in two-thousand and fifteen. Her tenure as Permanent Secretary was unfortunately cut short due to the infamous scandal. Despite this Sara Danius provided a unique flare to the role of Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy. Previously the role carried the dry monotone pallet of an erudite, perturbed intellectual, who grumbled their way down from the ivory tower to interact with the mortals below. This changed with Peter Englund, noted for his personable abilities, and willingness to engage with people; while Sara Danius in turn brought a certain style, flare, and uniquely fashionable sensibility to the proceedings. I remember in two-thousand and fifteen with her debut as Permanent Secretary, she made the announcement that the Belarusian documentary writer and journalist, Svetlana Alexievich was named as the years Laureate in Literature. Sara Danius executed her function perfectly. When she greeted the journalists in the great hall, Sara Danius held her composure offering a short pause before overseeing the proceedings. As master of ceremonies she conducted the event with exceptional grace, composure and professionalism. Even when she had difficulty in pronouncing Svetlana Alexievich, she never grew flustered or frustrated; she paused and worked out the syllables silently, before resuming speaking. During the Nobel Ceremonies, Sara Danius proved herself to be a fashion icon! Her evening gowns were stunning and bold. They always brought in needed colour to an otherwise monotone affair.

Beyond being the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius was a professor of aesthetics, and later professor of literature at Stockholm University. Danius’s educational background included a Master of Arts in Critical Theory, and two Ph.D.’s, one from Duke University (1997) and another in Uppsala University (1999). She published numerous essays on the relationship between literature and society; and wrote extensively about Marcel Proust, Gustav Flaubert, and James Joyce. Her last publication was about Bob Dylan. Though the work is in Swedish, I suspect it is about the literary value and importance of winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. I admire Sara Danius, but my opinion won’t change on the Bob Dylan affair.

To give insight into Sara Danius’s character one need look no further than an interview with Tidningen Curie back in two-thousand and thirteen before she was inducted into the Swedish Academy. When asked what qualities have been most important to her career, Sara Danius responded:

“Endurance, self-criticism, questionability. I'm not very curious, but I do get obsessed with certain things. I have realized that I am something of a nerd.”

The response only shows her warmth and sense of humour, the hallmarks of what made her an appealing Permanent Secretary.

The only comment that should be made on the previous scandal, which not only saw Sara Danius resign from her position as Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, but also the institution as a whole, is how graceful, proud, and honorable she walked when she left the academy. Journalists swarmed her, but Danius walked with her held high, smiled and answered their questions with dignity. Not once did Sara Danius showcase any acerbic vitriol, resentment, or bitterness towards the academy in that moment. She took her leave with graceful integrity, and showed the world how she was the bigger person. Something I believe more people should aspire to do.

Sadly, Sara Danius passed away this past weekend from an extended battle with breast cancer, at the tender age of fifty-seven. Many have offered remarks of sadness in the wake of the academic, writer, and essayists passing; including His Majesty, King Carl XVI Gustaf, who remembers Sara Danius fondly and warmly, and passes on his deepest sympathies to her family.

I hope the Swedish Academy does the honorable act of sharing their condolences, regardless of the terms in which they too may have departed, Sara Danius was a part of the academy, and performed the obligations of Permanent Secretary exceptionally well. If Sture Allen, Horace Engdahl, and Göran Malmqvist have nothing to say on the matter, then they can keep their fork tongues behind their teeth.

Rest in Peace, Sara Danius. Your absence I am sure will be felt in the Swedish cultural and academic world.

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

M. Mary

Harold Bloom, Dies Aged 89

Hello Gentle Reader

Harold Bloom was known as one of most granite literary and cultural institutions of American Letters and literary culture. In becoming a monolith of a particular staunch idea of aesthetics and literature, Harold Bloom could evoke strong reactions. Those who praised his intellectual sensibilities, literary catering, and defense of the Western Canon; and the others who decried him as outdated, unfalteringly traditional, and lacking progressive ideas with regards to the social impact and potential of literature, they often styled him a: first class patronizing patriarch. Either way, Harold Bloom never apologized. His criticism was not porous. It was sedimentary in form: tight and compact. They could be chipped away but they remained consistent. However one chose to depict Bloom; be it outdated oddball, or defender of the old guard—there was no denying he was a truly influential critic. The polarization merely added girth and weight to his criticism, theories, and persona. Even if one never read much by Harold Bloom, they knew who he was, and often held some peripheral opinion with regards to the critic.

The aesthetic perspective that Bloom promotes is an admirable one. Harold Bloom promoted readers to read literature with an aesthetic attitude, and to disregard the notion of ideological driving forces. Literature should be written for literary measures first, never written to meet ideological, social conformity, social criticism, social movements, political panhandling or other external socio-political measures. Harold Bloom criticized, decried, and condemned what he called the literary “School of Resentment,” which is a pejorative term referring to literary criticism and theory such as: African American Studies, Marxist Literary Theory, New Historical Criticism, Feminist Criticism, Gender Studies (includes: women’s studies and queer studies); and the post-structuralist literary criticism, philosophy and theories of: Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida, and Michel Foucault. Harold Bloom viewed these ‘schools,’ as being overtly preoccupied with minor social, political, and ideological concerns. In short, it could be described (by Blooms perspective) as the literary equivalent of political correctness or the ‘diversity hire.’ For Harold Bloom the “School of Resentment,” sought to ensure literature is ‘inclusive,’ and that writers from a diverse and minority background were promoted or included in literary canon, in order to ensure that literature would be able to showcase the plethora of literary experiences of all individuals regardless of race, ethnicity, creed, gender, sexual orientation, et cetera. It removes the aesthetic measures of literature, and contorts it to the realms of socio-political machinations, and ideological confirmation. To a degree one can agree with Harold Bloom on this. Diversity, equity, inclusiveness for the sake of it, is disingenuous. Just as a company should hire a candidate based off competency, works of literature should be considered off of merit. Needless to say Harold Bloom often faced criticism for these views. Yet his perspective is not entirely without merit. Universities and colleges should be incubators of free thought, freedom of expression and speech, and thought provoking discussion, even the ones in which we do not agree with. Now these same institutions have become factories of mind numbing social concepts, which demand political correctness, social conformity, apologetic lectures on gender, and sermons on the idea of unconscious bias, and the desire to create homogenous literature or else risk  the accusation cultural appropriation—it’s ludicrous! Then again, we live in the age where being offended is considered moral (as if they’re being crucified).

I may not have always agreed with Harold Bloom. In fact, I disagreed with him more often than not. I found him disagreeable, with a personality fitting of a gallstone. But his open disproval and adversarial tone he took to literary values being polluted by political discourse and social deconstruction, has my support. I also enjoyed his often long windbag speeches riddled with such potent vitriol one had to laugh. He knew how to unleash an insult in the lengthiest manner. Though I never quite agreed with his overt support for Philip Roth. I was never quite sure whose petulance over Roth being denied the Nobel Prize for Literature was louder, Philip Roth’s passive aggressive annoyance, or Harold Blooms foghorn response.

Admire him or despise him, Harold Bloom was memorable, influential, and stuck to his opinions, his criticisms, and his stances. He was never short of stalwart conviction.

Rest in Peace, Harold Bloom.

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

M. Mary

Tuesday 15 October 2019

The Booker Prize Winner(s) for 2019

Hello Gentle Reader

This year’s Booker Prize has gone to two writers:

Margaret Atwood for her novel: “The Testaments,”
Bernardine Evaristo for her novel: “Girl, Woman, Other,”

The decision has been described as defiant, where the judges have explicitly rewritten (or rather broken) the rules to appease themselves. The Booker Foundations literary director has already clarified this decision is not precedence setting. Despite this, in its early years, the Booker Prize could be shared between writers, and was. In nineteen seventy-four, the award was shared between Nadine Gordimer and Stanley Middleton, and in nineteen ninety-two the award was shared between Michael Ondaatje and Barry Unsworth. After nineteen ninety-two, however, the award amended its criteria, stating only one writer was eligible to receive the award; at least, until now.

The decision has been lukewarmly received. In winning the award, Margaret Atwood ticks a few boxes off the list:

(i)                 She is the oldest recipient of the Booker Prize at 79.
(ii)               She is the fourth writer to receive the Booker Prize twice. Other writers include:
                                                              i.      J.M. Coetzee (1983, 1999)
                                                            ii.      Peter Carey (1988, 2001)
                                                          iii.      Hilary Mantel (2009, 2012)

Bernardine Evaristo ticks her own boxes in winning the award. She is the first black female writer to receive the award.

The decision has been called divisive, and a bit like cheating. The Booker Prize judges have the ability award one author; but in this case they took not only their piece of cake, but a second helping along with it. The decision has no potency. It is not poignant. It’s an attempt at appeasement, with no real conviction. The entire decision comes across as being sanctimonious; and nothing is worst then the moral gloating of others.

Bernardine Evaristo and Margaret Atwood have been polite in the decision. The predicament is awkward. Journalists have pushed both authors in the split decision. Atwood has stated she is happy to share the award, stating it would be awkward not to award a more deserving writer early in their career, while she is in the final trek; while Bernardine Evaristo did not deny she would have preferred to win it on her own, but at least has great company.

The decision to award the Booker Prize to both authors is a generous one, just with high riding morally superior attitude.

Congratulations to Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo! It’s certainly a unique award.

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

M. Mary

Post-Nobel Prize in Literature Thoughts 2018 & 2019

Hello Gentle Reader

The return of the Nobel Prize for Literature is complete. On this exceptional and rare occasion two writers have become Nobel Laureates at the same time.

Olga Tokarczuk, received the retroactive award for the Nobel Prize for Literature of two-thousand and eighteen, with the citation:

“For a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life.”

Peter Handke, receive the Nobel Prize for Literature of two thousand and nineteen, with the citation:

“For an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience.”

Leading up to this monumental award, I viewed the prize with tepid trepidation. The external factors created concerning atmospheres, whereby these external concerns would be used as the scales in which to weigh and balance this year’s laureates. What a dreadful prospect. The idea that social criticism, critiques, concerns, and social media movements, coupled with niche political agendas, influencing the literary award for apologist reasons, became a cause for concern for the awards immediate future. Thankfully, the Nobel Committee who held the most clout with this year’s deliberations managed a delicate transition. Kudos and bravo to them!

The New Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy Mats Malm also handled his new role within the Swedish Academy exceptionally well; though his position has been momentarily reduced in comparison to previous Permanent Secretaries of the Swedish Academy such as: Peter Englund and Sara Danius. Despite this, Mats Malm carried himself with stoic dignity, as he welcomed those in attendance to the Swedish Academy’s announcement. There was a bit of confusion, in understanding the Permanent Secretary Mats Malm (at least on my end) when he moved between speaking in Swedish to English. Despite this, he performed his role with exceptional ease.

The mood, however, within the hall was subdued in comparison to previous years. When Nobel Laureates: Tomas Tranströmer, Alice Munro, or Svetlana Alexievich, there were cheers, cries and claps of encouragement. This year the silence became a poignant soundtrack to the announcement. It became a biting observation, expressing blatant judgement and acute scrutiny of the procession. The following panel interview with members of the Nobel Committee which were:

Anders Olsson (Chair)
Per Wästberg

And three members from the external branch:

Rebecka Kärde
Mikaela Blomqvist
Henrik Petersen

The mood for the interview or panel discussion was equally as quiet, lackluster and dare I say boring. In previous years, when the Permanent Secretary had facilitated any interview with a journalist, in the background one can hear the mingling of those in attendance, reporting and discussing the announcement. The Permanent Secretary would then been engaged in a conversation with regards to the Laureates work, some reasons as to what made them standout, what are their personal recommendation for new readers to begin with their work, as well as other personal details as necessary. The interviews are noted for being short, light, and provide a quick overview and personal observation of the Laureates work. This year, this enjoyable process was absent. Instead journalists in attendance were encouraged to ask questions to the above listed panel. The mood was not casual. Instead the entire setup came across as stifling, controlled, staged and uncomfortable. The discussions taking place where mainly in Swedish, which on my end was a bit alienating—but that’s beside the point. The casual informal release of years past was severely absent. This year’s set up came across as a formal institutionalized stage show, reminiscent of a strangely strict school assembly.

Before the Dual Announcement of the Nobel Prize for Literature for two-thousand and eighteen and two-thousand and nineteen, there were a few posts issued on the Nobel Prize Facebook page.

·         The first post was a picture and a quote by Nobel Laureate: Rabindranath Tagore.

·         The second post was a quote by Nobel Laureate: Ernest Hemingway; complete with a photo.

·         The final post was another quote by Nobel Laureate: Nadine Gordimer, complete with her Nobel profile photo.

The Hemingway post worried me the most. The thoughts bubbling through my mind were frightening. The first one was the disappointing thought was the idea that once again there will be another English language author receiving the award; how boring. Then these thoughts became more sinister. What if it was a writer who admires or worst emulates Hemingway? “Oh sweet Jesus fucking Christ, not Jonathan Franzem!” I screamed in the early dark hours of the morning. I am sure I woke the neighbours.

The Nadine Gordimer post offered assurance that at least one of the winners would be a female winner; but also provoked my thoughts as to perhaps it’s an inclination to the African continent as well? Who could that be: Mia Couto or Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o? Perhaps, Ben Okri or Tierno Monénembo? Being a little more imaginative it could have been a nod to: Antijie Krog or Nawal El Saadawi. I calmly reassured myself that due to the new dynamics of the awards—‘awarding structure,’—the decision had yet to be decided. At least it was my understanding that final discussions were taking place at 11:00am, Stockholm Time that morning. Regardless there wasn’t much discussion to have, as the Nobel Committee had already made the decision, the Swedish academy is merely operating as a rubber stamp in the meantime.

Yet on cue at 1:00pm Stockholm Time, Mats Malm made the announcement of the double Nobel Prize for Literature. Their names: Olga Tokarczuk and Peter Handke; are flying around the literary world, and even the internet. What’s missing is the perennial hooting “Who?” of the insular journalists; which must be a sign that these two names are familiar with the global and international literary stage—and they are. 


First: Olga Tokarczuk

The reception of Olga Tokarczuk receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature has been met with a unanimous chorus of approval. Readers, critics, and journalists have all praised the acknowledgment of the Polish author, who joins of the ranks of previous Polish Nobel Laureates:  Czesław Miłosz and Wisława Szymborska. Though to a degree, it would have been curious to award Adam Zagajewski; that way the Nobel Prize for Literature really could have crowned the royal triplets of contemporary Polish poetry, for a three of a kind. Still, I am delighted to see Olga Tokarczuk receive the retroactive Nobel Prize for Literature for two-thousand and eighteen.

Over the past few years, Olga Tokarczuk’s success, renown and recognition in the wider literary world has grown significantly. After the translation and publication of her monumental novel: “Flights,” Olga Tokarczuk, would go on to receive the Man Booker International Prize, and be engulfed in a whirlwind of success. Despite having two novels previously translated in the English language: “Primeval and Other Times,” and “House of Day, House of Night,”—the Polish author remained relatively unknown to English language readers. These two novels though are worth just as much attention as: “Flights.” They are examples of the early gestation of her famous writing style called: “fragmented consciousness.”

“Primeval and Other Times,” was the first novel I had read by Olga Tokarczuk, roughly six years ago. The novel recounts the eccentric lives and destinies of the inhabitants of a small Polish village called: Primeval; which is guarded by four angels in its four corners. The novel moves through the Twentieth Century (1914 – 1980), and recounts the inhabitants of Primeval, which is not just limited to the human inhabitants, but also: animal, mineral, vegetable, divine, celestial and fungal. Some characters receive more exposure then others, such as the Niebieski family; while others only make minuet appearances. But Olga Tokarczuk ensures each character— regardless of the length of their appearance—remains memorable and unique, with subtle inclinations of their story still unfolding even if it’s not recorded. The novel itself is not massive. It’s two-hundred and eighty pages; but is able to distill the inhabitants’ lives and their experiences into the most essential framework. The first half of the novel alone should be read for its warmth. The tone begins with the bright light of summer days, and warm summer nights. The pages become tinted in this almost airy baroque gilding. Of course good times never last, and the Second World War hits Primeval, with Nazi occupiers, neighbouring the once beloved residents, before the black and grey coats of the Nazi’s are replaced with the red ideology of the Soviet Union. Time, politics, social changes, ideology—they inevitably hammer, crack, and splinter away at Primeval and the residents. The once pastoral idyll becomes a grey, lifeless world, oppressed by foreign powers, and strict dogmatic ideological conformity.

“Primeval and Other Times,” also showcases Olga Tokarczuk’s ability to depict archetypes while avoiding the pitfalls of clichés, and entering the realm of caricature. Tokarczuk is a trained psychologist and a student of Carl Jung; who she considers to be one of her greatest literary influences. Her exploration of symbolism and archetypical characteristics as a reflection of both an individual’s personal consciousness, as well as societal consciousness; and even as an echo of how civilization and human beings perceive, identify and comprehend the cosmos. In this, Olga Tokarczuk is able to turn a single drop of water and force it to become a prism that refracts the multifaceted notion of reality, viewed in a new spectrum of perspective; while also being able to allow the single drop of water to reflect and echo the grander collective ocean of the universe.

“House of Day, House of Night,” is a similar novel to “Primeval and Other Times,” again showcasing the authors signature fragmentary style, but also her research capabilities as she explores otherwise forgotten, overlooked, or almost mythical elements of European history. In this case the mythological story of: Saint Wilgefortis, the female Saint who would grow a beard. The novel also passed through similar grounds of the Polish countryside, especially near the border of Czechia, and offered up some recipes for poisonous mushrooms. It’s a novel that explores both the grander mythology of the landscape, but also the personal realm of dreams, identities, and secrets.

“Flights,” however, took Olga Tokarczuk to new heights. The novel (described as a: “constellation novel,”) abandoned the skeletal scaffolding of the novel, in favour of a loose short story, fictional essay like narratives and anecdotes that orbited around themes such as: travel, movement, and border crossing. The notion of travel is not a straightforward subject in Tokarczuk’s hands, as she blends the theme with numerous conventional and unconventional narratives, which includes anatomy, the calls of home, the transport of the heart, stories, allegories, as well as personal observations and reflections. The novels continual transition between narratives ensures it remains relevant, revitalized, and interesting. “Flights,” remained a unique read from start to finish. It really was a mixed bag of nuts, offering a new kernel or thought with each chapter. It was never weighed down by a character, by a lack of action, dramatics, or intrigue. Instead, Olga Tokarczuk provides unique details about the human body, history, notions of travel, and migration. In today’s world of closing borders, shutting down, and ignoring the calls beyond the way, “Flights,” becomes a continual reminder that travel, movement, and progression have what brought us forward today, and is not a unique habit to human beings, but is a naturally developed and refined process found all over the biological world.

The decision to award, Olga Tokarczuk is not undeserved, but it is surprising. Her literary reputation and recognition had just begun to grow, with publication of the English translation of “Flights.” While her recent novel “The Book of Jacob,” (originally published in two-thousand fourteen) caused a political stir in Poland, when it not only questioned but openly exposed, the nations identity as a victim of larger powers, and a sanctuary for the underdog, to be false. Far-right politicians and nationalist groups immediately saw Olga Tokarczuk as an intellectual enemy, one which denied the nationally accepted treatises on such matters. Politicians casually would slander, deface, and decry Olga Tokarczuk as a means of political maneuvering. Some of these politicians have gone so far as to gloat they haven’t even read one of her books. All of this only increased the authors reputation and profile. Being such a high-profile author, riding on recent waves of success and exposure, it seems odd for the Swedish Academy and the Nobel Committee to award Olga Tokarczuk at this time, whereby in previous years they’ve waited, until the coals had cooled before reigniting the fire once again. Being a female writer certainly did not harm Tokarczuk chances either. Gender in this event, appears to have played little of a role—though it cannot be denied as being a contributing factor. As a writer though, Olga Tokarczuk has remained either indifferent or quiet on the matter of gender and identity politics. She does not limit her perspective based on these otherwise ubiquitous subjects. Instead, Tokarczuk focuses on the human experience as a whole, one not incumbered or limited to the biological components of birth. This being said, some have attempted to fixate on Olga Tokarczuk’s gender, ensuring that she is noted as a ‘feminist,’ along with other credentials to follow up the cause. This fixation on such a myopic matter diminishes and insults Olga Tokarczuk and her work. Its an attempt at trying to politicize the award further, by insinuating that the Swedish Academy and the Nobel Committee had made an example that they’ve taken the previous year of scandal, as a serious acknowledgement to their mishandling of the situation, and the documented decades of failures leading up to the abrupt postponement of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Taking this viewpoint does a disservice to all involved: from the Swedish Academy, to Olga Tokarczuk, and any reader who seeks out her works for an enjoyable and enlightening read.

On a personal note, I’ve read all of Olga Tokarczuk’s work currently translated. In this event, having a Nobel Laureate on the shelf before they get the: ‘Nobel Prize,’ sticker on their book comes as a somewhat of a feather in the cap.


Second: Peter Handke

In two-thousand and four, when Elfriede Jelinek learned she had become the Nobel Laureate in Literature, she immediately stated her contemporary and compatriot, Peter Handke was more deserving. Fifteen years later, Peter Handke would receive the Stockholm Call. The decision to crown Peter Handke as a Laureate, has been met with divisive reactions, leaving little room for one to stake out their middle ground. Despite the white noise of the political bruhaha currently surrounding Peter Handke’s win, it would be prudent to discuss his work first.

It has been fourteen years since a playwright has received the Nobel Prize for Literature. The last one Harold Pinter in two-thousand and five, had made a long and outstanding career as a proponent of postmodern and experimental theatre, exploring the bounds of language and communication, as well as memory, and only later took to more political agitation. Following Pinter’s win, there was a gap in a playwright receiving the award. Previously though: Gao Xingjian and Elfriede Jelinek, had received the Nobel, and they were both renowned for their works for the stage. Gao Xinjian blended western theatrics with traditional Chinese theatre, which included dance, shadow puppetry, as well as introduced absurdist theatrical works to a Chinese audience, gaining the reputation as an avant-garde writer. Elfriede Jelinek has received acknowledgement with her highly vicious and unsettling novels, but is more renowned for her theatrical work. Jelinek’s plays are noted for their overt political caricatures, themes, images, and criticism of society. They’ve been described as grotesque, shocking, visceral, and thoroughly experimental, as well as magnificent works of theatrical genius. Her theatrical plays are noted for their precise attention to detail regarding language. They’re linguistic gymnastic performances, employing high, low, and commercial cultural tropes to create a schizophrenic collage of societal expectations, ideals, and believes, which shape and configure the individual in societal standards; and all of this is displayed through the careful musical and rhythmic structure of language of her work. Elfriede Jelinek’s ‘post-dramatic,’ texts eschew the traditional framework of a play. Characters are thinly designed, acting more as severed voices in search of their body. Narrative, stage plots, blocking—the meat and potatoes of the theatrical world, absent. Instead Elfriede Jelinek entrusts these earthly details to the directors, stage hands, artistic producers, and even the consultation of actors, who in turn embody the mercurial language of Jelinek, giving it form.

Peter Handke in companionship with: Gao Xinjian, Elfriede Jelinek, and Harold Pinter—is a mammoth of global literature, and one of the most influential playwrights of the latter half of the Twentieth Century. His debut for the stage: “Offending the Audience,” first published and performed in the late Sixties, put Peter Handke on the map as a rising heavy weight of German language literature. The play itself—often deemed a “antiplay,” for its disregard of conventional theatrical tropes—was praised for its thought-provoking premise and delivery, where the audience became an active participant, and would be ensnared and encircled by how language is used within the theatrical context. The play was not a representation, but engage the audience in questioning the arbitrary confines and institutions of both language and theatre.

“Offending the Audience,” was followed up with: “Kasper,” another play that took questioning stances towards language, as the foundation of human identity, experience, as well as torturous device employed by society and individuals to instate conformity, normalcy, and perceivable notions of the acceptable self, which only negates the individuals ideas of themselves, reducing it to the acceptable concept imposed by the collective. “Kaspar,” is lightly based off the story of Kaspar Hauser, the historical character, of a young German man who allegedly lived in a secluded imprisoned life the first seventeen years of his life. In the work of Peter Handke, this dear Kasper only knew how to speak a few words, and one complete sentence, and was quick in emulating the language, body language and behavior of those around him. The titular Kaspar is a creature of curiosity, and how language becomes a cruel inventive tool of torture, negating and destroying the individual, and its tyrannical force exploiting Kasper, and others who are more formed within the womb of the language. Once again, Peter Handke was able to preoccupy himself with the use of language as the focal point of the play, showcasing the terrible power that language possess over people, and the tyrannical force it has when applied by societies against the individual. “Kaspar,” was a phenomenal follow up to Handke’s debut theatrical work. Handke would go on to write more plays and screenplays, each time exploring the boundaries of the mediums.

Peter Handke’s greatest renown, however, has been his prose works, specifically his novels. The novels of Handke are much the same as his plays; they eschew conventional notions of narrative, and instead fixate on language and its engrossing power over the human experience, as well as the psyche of the individual and the collectives’ recollection of the experience. Identity, alienation, truth, the wasteland of the modern world, and the ability of how language frames, forms, and provides a mercurial understanding are the tropes of Peter Handke’s work. He is a first class postmodernist, one who could entertain, baffle, irritate and dazzle in the span of but a few pages. The quantity of his translations into other languages, confirmed his reputation as one of the most invigorating and prominent writers on the international literary stage. His plays were performed on theatres throughout the world. His screenplays screened at international film festivals. His novels consumed by the young and curious readers, who sought to find a writer who could adequately describe the world they inhabited. Personally, I’ve read Peter Handke—not to the same extent as Olga Tokarczuk as the availability and quantity of their works is not comparable—and have enjoyed him. His work showcases the immediate originality of his debuts, his boldness in experimentation, and his immediate preoccupations and themes have never failed to inspire, shock, and test audiences and readers alike. He remarkable literary output cannot be denied or overlooked.

Over the past few decades, Peter Handke has made a reputation for himself beyond his literary output. Much like compatriots, Thomas Bernhard and Elfriede Jelinek; Handke could often been described as an enfant terrible; in German Nestbeschmutzer (Nestbeschmutzerin). His literary tone has always been unapologetically confrontational. His early sparring partner was of course was the German language; which in the same vein as Thomas Bernhard and Elfriede Jelinek, had become diseased and stained by the Nazi’s. This was cemented further by Austria’s limpid response to being a collaborative state with the Nazi Reich, and even attempting to hide its enthusiastic and complicated past from being discussed openly. In this event, Thomas Bernhard, Elfriede Jelinek, and Peter Handke, worked independently to rebuild the German language, from the abused conduct of the previous decades. IN doing so, however, they became extraordinary provocateurs. Elfriede Jelinek openly discussed Austria’s shadowy Nazi past, and its lingering sentiments, which only infuriated the political and the public. Despite the criticism Jelink continued to provoke with added gusto. Thomas Bernhard famously called Austria:

“A brutal and stupid nation … a mindless, cultureless sewer which spreads its penetrating stench all over Europe.”

Peter Handke is by no means any different. His issues with language immediately sought to shock and offend the audience. His eye for detail and desire for examination, often make him a literary pathologist, whereby he examines the autopsied remains of the German language, and seeks to find the cure for its future, in its ideological poisoned remains. When compared to Thomas Bernhard and Elfriede Jelinek, Peter Handke often appeared moderate. Thomas Bernhard took issue for the sake of taking issue, and often at the expense of others. Elfriede Jelinek did not only poke the ulcers of the past, she created new ones in which to drum on. Peter Handke had the allure of being experimental, profound, moderate, offensive and postmodern while being successful.

Peter Handke took startling political stances with regards to the Yugoslav Wars. The Yugoslav Wars were one of the bloodiest fallouts during the collapse of the Soviet Union. After the death of Josip Broz Tito in the nineteen-eighties; the ethnic nationalism which he forcefully quelled, begun to reignite, in particular: Serbians, under the instigation and political machinations of Slobodan Milošević. With historical injuries from the Second World War still festering, the Serbs manipulated the political uncertainty of the time, and began to reform the autonomy the ethnic dominated provinces, which inspired former Yugoslavian territories to seek independence, which the new Serbian nationalist’s forces fought against—especially when it came to Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina. The following wars fueled by ethnic hatred, would be one of the most troubling conflicts to happen in Europe since the Second World War, and marked the nineteen-nineties as a decade of genocide, with both the Bosnian Genocide and the Rwanda Genocide.

Early on Peter Handke had taken a strong stance favouring the Serbs during the wars, and expressed support for Slobodan Milošević, going so far as to offer continual support while Slobodan Milošević faced charges of war crimes, and was detained at the Hague in the Netherlands.  After his death from heart failure, Peter Handke would make a eulogy at Slobodan Milošević’s funeral. After Milošević’s death an investigation was conducted by the International Court of Justice, whereby Milošević was acquitted of the charge of committing genocide. However, Milošević was found guilty in violating Genocide Conventions, by failing to actively prevent the genocide from taking place, and not cooperating with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in persecuting the perpetrators of the genocide. Despite the acquittal and new findings, this continual fevered support, made Handke a literary leper; or persona non grata. His previous literary output could not be considered strong enough to outweigh his otherwise controversial political statements. Handke never backed down, nor apologized for his stance. He remained firm. Ever the provocateur, it seemed Peter Handke had kicked the hornets’ nest, and this time was stung beyond recognition of his former literary glory.

Now for Peter Handke to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature has come as a shock; and a controversial one at that. I thought the possibility of Peter Handke receiving the award after his previous comments with regards to the Yugoslav Wars, next to impossible. After just rising from their own bruise ridden scandal, it would seem curiously masochistic for the academy to dive into another one. Yet they have; though they have completed thorough research on not only Peter Handke’s literary work, but also his well noted political commentary.

In an interview Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy Mats Malm, and fellow member   Eric M Runesson defended their choice with a more rational stance, then Anders Olsson did during the ‘press conference,’ when asked about Peter Handke’s political views. Anders Olsson stated abruptly the award is literary and not politically motivated. On the contrary Permanent Secretary Mats Malm and Eric M Runesson, instead defend the decision with careful rationale. They describe the political commentary of Peter Handke being less black and white as it has been painted. They defend their choice first and foremost, by stating that under no circumstances has Peter Handke promoted, advertised, vouched, or condoned the atrocities of the Yugoslav Wars. Instead, Peter Handke at worst is playing devil’s advocate, and at best: his statements were misconstrued.

Still, the stance, position, and perspective Peter Handke has taken, does make me uncomfortable. The more research I’ve done on the Srebrenica Massacre, the more horrified it is to think how this terrible tragedy has gone unannounced, unremembered, or even declared with abrupt honesty that it was a horrific genocidal attack on the Bosniaks, is egregious. It makes me more uncomfortable to think that a writer would involve themselves in stating with affinity (loose or otherwise) that they believe it was anything but a genocidal act. Slobodan Milošević may not have been convicted of Genocide, but his rabid dogs: Ratko Mladić and Radovan Karadžić were; and there are plenty of others who have also been arrested, tried, and convicted on equal charges. These convictions by otherwise impartial judicial systems, cements the fact that the Srebrenica Massacre was not only a war crime, but also an act of Genocide—even if the UN Security Council, refused to declare it as such.

Peter Handke’s remarks are questionable. They are difficult to swallow. They are made even more complicated because I enjoy Peter Handke’s work. Despite this, the separation of the literary work and the writer is not always a possible task. In years past, I’ve made decisions not to read certain writers for what I saw as a lack of intellectual integrity, such as the Chinese writer and apologist: Mo Yan, who would receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. Mo Yan was noted for cozying up to his political masters, essentially becoming a tool of propaganda, one which praised the efforts of communism in China, while ignoring the current states nationalistic aggression (past and present), as well as other deplorable behaviours. He was an insult to writers such as: Gao Xingjian, Mu Xin, and Bei Dao, who were persecuted relentlessly by the red communist machine, which was hell bent on destroying them. Defenders of Mo Yan came to his defense stating he had no choice in choosing to become close with party officials in China, in order to maintain his position and his limited freedoms, while ensuring his work would be published. This defense still does not appease me. Many writers have risked life and limb to expose, revolt, rebel, and stand on integrity by openly and directly opposing oppressive regimes, such as: Herta Müller, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and Duong Thu Huong. The stance Peter Handke takes is different than Mo Yan. Peter Handke does not have the otherwise literary responsibilities to defy an oppressive regime who suppresses human rights and freedom of speech, in favour of maintaining a cruel ideology. Rather Peter Handkes’ response is on par with Jean-Paul Sartre, who in his own self-absorption lost all intellectual integrity and credibility when he denied the existence of the Soviet Gulag system, despite the rampant evidence produced. Sartre’s inability to recongize, comment and decry the Soviet Gulag system cost him his integrity and his legitimacy as one of the great minds of the Twentieth Century. Peter Handkes’ fevered support for the Serbian antagonistic role in the Yugoslav War is much the same. Handke just happens to be an extraordinary writer, where Jean-Paul Sartre was mediocre at best.

If one is expected to look at Peter Handke through pure literary terms, he is an extraordinary writer. His early career began as a provocateur who, rebelled and shunned the old German language literary establishment. He called the likes of Günter Grass and Heinrich Böll impotent, and accused them of being incapable of moving German language and literature forward, while it maintained its moral obsession with the past. Handke in turn became an iconoclast, who sought to forcefully renew German literature in the company of other young German language writers, away from the moral reckoning of the past (this does not mean ignore it). From there on out he had accomplished these facts. His style is the slow panoramic cinematic style of capturing detail, landscapes, and external factors to reflect the troublesome unconscious of the individual, while language is incapable of describing the experience in literal senses. Language inevitably fails to describe reality; instead it influences how reality is to be perceived, through its linguistic translation of the visual. Inevitably, Peter Handke is a writers’ writer, but an extraordinary one all the same. Still one cannot ignore his political statements. Handke has been accused of trivializing the Yugoslav War; ignoring the reportage, the documentation, and the records of the atrocities conducted. It has also been alleged that Peter Handke has explicitly denied acts of genocide. I cannot comment on these matters, as I have yet to read the works in question. Though ever the shit disturber, Peter Handke may have gone too far, and in return has suffered for his miscalculated missteps. The position he has taken leaves me uncomfortable and uncertain, without being able to form a strong opinion one way or the other. This lack of decisive maneuvering on my end is not only frustrating, but disappointing. I do appreciate that the Swedish Academy had come forward to elucidate and defend their decision. Before, the Swedish Academy would take the stance: “this is a literary prize not a political one,” but at least now they’ve taken the step to engage, converse, and defend their decisions, which strengthens their causes, and clarifies that they are not just the Eighteen Olympians who guard and emit the writers of their choices, to their pantheon. They’ve taken steps to at least become more transparent.


I won’t deny it Gentle Reader, when I heard that Olga Tokarczuk and Peter Handke had received the Nobel Prize for Literature, I was elated, and am still content with the decisions. Some have taken issue that the Swedish Academy—or to be more precise: the Nobel Committee—who stated they sought to take a more global inclusive perspective with the Nobel Prize for Literature, and in the end awarded to two European writers. This criticism is not unjust, but minor. The two Laureates for the years two-thousand and eighteen and two-thousand and nineteen are deserving—even if one of the two has caused a controversial stir. Both decisions surprised me, which is always a delight, and having read both of them, and have known each of them prior to the award is quite a treat as well.

It will be interesting Gentle Reader to see how Peter Handke fairs in Stockholm come Nobel Week. I suspect without question, we will see protests. The Nobel Lectures will also be interesting. As for next year Gentle Reader, we will see once again how the extended Nobel Committee and the Swedish Academy fair. Next year the Swedish Academy will have every seat filled, after the newly elected members are formally inducted on the twentieth of December of this year.

I’ve missed the Nobel Prize for Literature, and it is a pleasure to have the award renewed, revitalized, and back. May the final months of two-thousand and nineteen be filled with great literature and reading.

I am curious Gentle Readers, what do you make of this year’s Nobel Laureates in Literature?

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

M. Mary

Thursday 10 October 2019

The Nobel Prize for Literature 2018 & 2019

Hello Gentle Reader

Olga Tokarczuk, has been awarded the retroactive Nobel Prize for Literature for 2018 with the following citation:  

“For a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life


Peter Handke, has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for 2019 with the following citation:

“For an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience.”

Congratulations to both writers!

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

M. Mary

P.S. A special shout out to Stewart who administrates the World Literature Forum, who got the forum back up and running for the big day! Stewart you’re a beaut and a doll, darling! I hope the members of the World Literature Forum, have a healthy day of discussion of these two fine and interesting laureates.

To you my Dear Gentle Reader, my Post-Nobel thoughts will be published in the coming days. For now, I will say this year has turned out to be wonderfully delightful and exciting!

Saturday 5 October 2019

Final Thoughts on the Nobel Prize for Literature 2019

 Hello Gentle Reader,

We have now entered the first week of October and are now in the finishing stretch before Nobel Week Commences, complete with the Nobel Prize announcements starting next Monday with Medicine, followed by Physics on Tuesday, then Chemistry on Wednesday, Thursday the Nobel Prize for Literature, the Peace Prize on Friday, and concluding the following Monday with the announcement of the honorary Nobel Prize in Economics. 

This year, the new Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy: Mats Malm, will have the honour of announcing two Laurates for the Nobel Prize for Literature. One Laureate is for two-thousand and nineteen, while the other Laureate is to be awarded retroactively for the previous year, when the Nobel Prize for Literature was postponed due to an unprecedented affair involving scandal, ethical violations, and other issues of internal governance, which saw the Swedish Academy’s reputation in all its gilded wonder, suddenly tarnished and soiled publicly. Even now there is contention about the notion of awarding two Laureates. Some believe that the absence of the Nobel Prize for Literature of two-thousand and eighteen, should be left vacant as a solemn reminder of the academy’s fiduciary failings. Others believe it should be left vacant as a testament to the eighteen women who came forward to leverage accusations and allegations against Jean-Claude Arnault, and his predatory sexual appetites, which now see him serving a two year prison term. And some believe the awarding of two Laureates is merely apologetic, which carries no genuine sincerity, and is merely an attempt of the Swedish Academy to reaffirm themselves as the high arbitrators of literature. Personally I view the event of awarding two Nobel Laureates in Literature to be an exciting affair. Though I do wish the circumstances were different.  It has been forty-five years since the Swedish Academy has announced two Laureates in Literature, which showcases just how rare it is for the Nobel Prize in Literature to be shared. The science prizes (Medicine, Physics, and Chemistry) are noted for being shared between collaborators on breakthrough projects; but writing is a singular solitary act. As I am sure any creative writing professor or teacher would say:

“First Lesson: It’s just you and the page. Enjoy.”

Despite the somewhat lukewarm idea of two Laureates being announced this year, speculation for the Nobel Prize has been otherwise subdued. Only in late September did the betting sites release their Nobel Prize for Literature Odds, and the list is otherwise conservative, complete with the usual suspects making their expected return on the list.

The cynic inside of me wonders if this is due to the fact that former member, Katarina  Frostenson who was accused of breaking the Swedish Academy Statute of Silence, whereby she informed her convicted husband Jean-Claude Arnault of the year’s Nobel Prize for Literature winner. Rumours had swirled for years about the high possibility of a leak within the academy; and when the law firm who performed its investigation during the Swedish Academy Scandal into the academies relation with Jean-Claude Arnault—both in a personal and business capacity—they found reasonable evidence to believe that Katarina Frostenson had prematurely released the names of winning laureates for the following years:

1996 – Wisława Szymborska
2004 – Elfriede Jelinek
2005 – Harold Pinter
2006 – J.M.G Le Clezio
2014 – Patrick Modiano
2015 – Svetlana Alexievich
2016 – Bob Dylan

Of this list of seven, the most recent (and albeit obvious leak) of recent memory was: Patrick Modiano, who became an unknown dark horse during speculation, appearing ominously on the betting sites lists, and in the closing hours would shoot up the ranks to be considered the favoured candidate to win the prize, and did.

One cannot help but wonder in the wake of Frostensons’ absence is perhaps why the betting sites have remained restrained and hesitant in releasing any list of speculation until now. Perhaps without Jean-Claude Arnault’s insider information, people have become disinterested in playing literary roulette. Then again, it would be naïve and garishly optimistic to think that anyone who watched or observed the Nobel proceedings would have forgotten the previous year and a half scandal. It would be foolish to think the scandal had not infected and tarnished the Nobel Prize for Literature, and only now are we seeing the immediate post effects of the scandal.

This years’ betting sites speculation reads as follows:

Anne Carson – 4/1                                               Javier Marías – 20/1
Maryse Conde – 5/1                                             Jon Fosse – 20/1
Can Xu – 8/1                                                        László Krasznahorkai – 20/1
Haruki Murakami – 8/1                                       Milan Kundera – 20/1
Lyudmila Ulitskaa – 8/1                                      Peter Handke – 20/1
Ngugi Wa Thiong’o – 8/1                                   Yoko Tawada – 20/1
Margaret Atwood – 10/1                                     César Aira – 25/1
Marilynne Robinson – 10/1                                Yang Lian – 25/1
Olga Tokarczuk – 10/1                                        Ko Un – 33/1
Péter Nádas – 10/1                                              Ernesto Cardenal – 50/1
Adunis – 14/1
Gerald Murnane – 14/1
Mircea Cartarescu – 14/1
Ya Hua – 14/1
Ismail Kadaré – 17/1

[ Nicer Odds “Nobel Literature Prize 2019 Winner,”

As you can see, Gentle Reader, I was not being dramatic or exaggerating the muted perspective the betting sites have taken to this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature. The list is skeletal in appearance, populated by perennial candidates; some of which I’d like to comment on. Of course despite whatever I say or theorize, each writer listed (or not) has relative equal chances of being one of the two authors named as Nobel Laureates for this year.

Front and centre on this otherwise conservative list is the Canadian poet and classics scholar, Anne Carson. I quickly discussed Anne Carson in my “Announcement Of The Nobel Prize for Literature 2019 Speculation List,” I quickly mentioned and discussed Anne Carson. To be blunt, Anne Carson is somewhat of an open secret in the literary world, while being a dark horse. Her work is noted for redefining the traditional notions of poetry, essay and prose, by blending them joyfully. Puritan poets resent referring to Anne Carson as a poet, while other writers are not entirely sure how else to define her work. Regardless, Anne Carson is often referred to as a poet  who has reshaped the form, renewed relevancy in the form, as well as being able to engage with antiquarian subjects with contemporary flare. Despite this, Anne Carson would raise an eyebrow here and there when discussed. Critically she is praised, admired, and even envied; but by the reading publics standards she is unknown—despite her beautifully and excellent wordsmithing craftsmanship. Internationally, however, Anne Carson’s reputation is growing. One of the external members of the Swedish Academy’s Nobel Committee, Rebecka Kärde [if memory serves me correctly] had stated in an interview that she enjoys the work of Anne Carson. It is easy to speculate that of course that Ms. Kärde would lobby for the poet. Of course, Anne Carson would be a worthy Nobel Laureate; though yet another English language writer receiving the award sounds drab and boring and almost monolingual. Then again at least she is more rationally a poet then the Bob Dylan could ever be molded into.

Following Anne Carson is Maryse Condé, who won the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize for Literature,’ last year. The Guadeloupean writer graciously accepted the alternative version for the prize, and it is easy to see how winning this award could be seen by some to improve her opportunities to receive the real one in turn. Despite the scandal, the Swedish Academy is still a rather prideful institution. The ‘Alternative Nobel Prize for Literature,’ could be considered salt and insult to the academy during its lowest point. I have personal doubts the Swedish Academy will entertain awarding a writer who had become a bystander turned victim in the scandal because of the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize for Literature,’ as it could be misinterpreted as validating the previous ‘New Academy,’ whereby the Swedish Academy accepts and acknowledging their work as admirable or legitimate; where in fact they most likely view it as peevish and insulting. Unfortunately, I believe this diminishes Maryse Condé’s chances significantly. The Swedish Academy may have been in ruin, and is only just attempting to distance itself from the previous scandal, but it’s still proud and won’t appreciate being mocked.

Tucked away on the list, is the perennial speculated candidate and other Canadian writer: Margaret Atwood. It would be negligent not to discuss Margaret Atwood at this time. Margaret Atwood has always been a force within the literary world. Now, however, she has blown on blizzards' winds to new heights and new planes. This due in large part to the critically acclaimed televised adaption of her famous novel: “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which since its initial publication has taken on a life of its own. It is no longer confided to the covers, pages and spines of its original incarnation. “The Handmaid’s Tale,” has been adapted into a film, performed on the stage, become a ballet, sung as an opera, and revised as a graphic novel; and of course has become a synonymous image of protest for women’s reproductive rights around the world. It is with thanks to the televised adaption though that Margaret Atwood is now gaining wider appreciation and interest, which reached its most recent pinnacle with the release of her follow up book thirty four years later, titled: “The Testaments,” which once again sees the author return to the theocratic and totalitarian state of Gilead.

The build up to the release of “The Testaments,” was intense. Readers worldwide hankered to get their hands on the book. It has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the Giller Prize; and Margaret Atwood has made circuits on television talk shows, indulging uninteresting television personalities and their less then incisive questions with regards to her work. Atwood remains a charming figure, but is perhaps too educated and erudite for the superficiality of day time television, and late night talk shows. In one interview I happened to catch a glimpse of the author, her noteworthy medusa corkscrew curls, freshly ironed and straightened. Makeup airbrushed on. She sat pleasantly enough, surrounded by her hosts, who clucked and gabbed about. The author remained pleasant, but reticent, answering the questions in the most simplified ways she could. Atwood appears almost apologetic about her erudite way of speaking; while the talk show personalities never apologize for their lack of interest or depth into the real meat of her work. Instead they skim the top, licking the icing while never enjoying the cake. Still, the new found fame graced on Margaret Atwood, has also seen the author appearing in photoshoots and on the covers of magazines like a model or movie star--and she pulls it off well. These are strange extroverted graces to be awarded to a writer. Margaret Atwood is honest, sincere, and witty with regards to her perspective on the new found attention. She confessed she loves it, and stated she would be lying if stated otherwise; but admits it’s great that it has come now, expressing concern that if it happened to a younger person it would destroy them. After all: the only direction from the highest point is down.

Margaret Atwood is of course a perennial speculated candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature. If the Swedish Academy chose to award the Nobel Prize for Literature, it would send a striking message, but also be considered predictable or even obvious, considering her revitalized and intense attention surrounding her. But also the metaphorical, social, and political statement it would make with regards to the previous scandal, and the ill-mannered ‘MeToo,’ movement, and its hypersexualized divisive views on gender.  

The last author I’d like to comment on directly from the above list is: Olga Tokarczuk. Over the past few years, the Polish magical realist and student of Jung, has finally gained her overdue recognition and acclaim in the English language, with her constellation novel: “Flights.” Prior to “Flights,” Tokarczuk had two previously published novels in the English language: “Primeval and Other Times,” and “House of Day, House of Night.” Of the two “Primeval and Other Times,” remains one of my personal favourites. The first half of the novel is baroque and enchanting, showcasing the authors fragmented perspective, and ability in handing these fragmentary consciousnesses into creating a mosaic narrative of a small Polish town, complete with its own mythology. “Flights,” is a mere extension of the early experimentation in fragmented narrative, and instead allowed the atomization to increase without a narrative spine cementing it together. Instead the novel moves with cellular independence, through the veins and arteries of image and theme creating a more airy philosophical depiction of the idea of movement in its various fluid forms. Olga Tokarczuk would be a delightful writer to receive the award. There would be no complaint or gripe on my end.

The other writers named are considered usual and perennial candidates:

(i)                 Adunis
(ii)               Haruki Murakami
(iii)             Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
(iv)             Jon Fosse
(v)               Ismail Kadare
(vi)             Mircea Cartarescu
(vii)           László Krasznahorkai
(viii)         Peter Handke
(ix)             Milan Kundera
(x)               Ko Un

And so on.

Of the writers discussed above the four of them have one trait in common: all four are women. Reviewing the otherwise conservative list presented, one can see there is a large quantity of women writers named. Of the twenty four writers issued, nine are women—though not an even split down the middle, it’s still an improvement from previous years of speculation. During the previous scandal, women and sexual assault, where often seen as the main pressure points surrounding the events. I disagree. The scandal was only superficially about sexual misconduct, which orbited around Jean-Claude Arnault. The true scandal of the Swedish Academy was the festering rot behind closed doors. Despite the evidence and rationale behind why the scandal had nothing to do with sexual assault—at least on the Swedish Academy level—the vast majority of people believe the scandal was only about sexual assault and women. This will inevitably play a role in how people view the deliberations and decisions of the Swedish Academy. How the Swedish Academy will in turn deal with this foreshadowing, can only be assessed after the announcement next Thursday.

There are, however, complications to consider. If the Swedish Academy chooses two women to share this year’s prize; the decision will be infected by the previous scandal, and contaminant the writers, whereby the award will be reviewed and discussed via the lens of social politics and movements, rather than the literary merit the writers may bring to the table. If the award went to two female authors, despite its landmark decision, could still be criticized as apologist in tone, which will only diminish the historical potency of the movement.

If the Swedish Academy forgoes any women during this year’s prize it will most certainly be a disaster. Again social politics, movements, and perspectives play a role in what would be eviscerating criticism. Critics, readers, and the public would question the Swedish Academy’s ability to learn from the previous scandal (which will be touted as a sexual assault scandal, calling back to the MeToo Movement). The two male writers chosen will have their works and literary merit completely ignored, as they will be bombarded with prosecutorial questions about their gender, their opinion on women, and the previous scandal and so on and so forth.

If the Swedish Academy choses to award a male writer and a female writer, it will be seen as a compromise between the genders, but again it will have the external connotation of social politics, movements, and perspective at play once again, completely derailing the literary importance of the writers work. One side will most certainly inquire why not two women for the award? Why a man and a woman?

Unfortunately regardless of what ratio the Swedish Academy chooses to play, I suspect that the literary talents of the writers will be overlooked in favour of social contexts. It’s a disappointing and even cynical thought, but a realistic one all the same. Sadly, the Swedish Academy can no longer take into consideration the literary importance and merit of writers for this year; they must also consider the double entendre of the social context in which their decision will be weighed and reflected against. I suspect this year, there will be no appeasement of anyone. In its stead I believe there will be greater criticism leveraged against the Swedish Academy, depending not only on their literary choices, but also on their gender.

I’d also like to note:

The previous year’s scandal has also changed how the Swedish Academy goes about choosing its laureates. The most noticeable change has been the extension of the Nobel Committee with five external members:

Mikaela Blomqvist
Rebecka Kärde
Kristoffer Leandoer
Henrik Petersen
Gun-Britt Sundström

These members are expected to stay around until after the Nobel Prize for Literature twenty-twenty. Together with the Nobel Committee made up of the following Swedish Academy members:

Anders Olsson (Chairman)
Per Wästberg
Kristina Lugn
Jesper Svenbro

Will present a shortlist of five writers to the Swedish Academy of potential candidates for the Nobel Prize for Literature. This year, due to two laureates being honoured, the Nobel Committee has presented a shortlist comprising of eight potential writers, which the Swedish Academy read and reviewed over the summer break. According to recent articles, on October 10th hours before the prize announcement, the Swedish Academy will be presented with the Nobel Committees suggestions of who should receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, afterwards deliberations and a vote will commence, then in the early afternoon, the new Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy Mats Malm will announce the two laureates.

Traditionally after the announcement is made the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy will then participate in a short interview with a journalist about the year’s Nobel Laureate. The Permanent Secretary will discuss the Nobel Laureate’s work, their themes, their personal favourite work and other restrained questions presented by the journalist. This year, however, Mats Malm the new Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy will not be available to answer questions from the journalist. Due to the high interest into the newly enlarged Nobel Committee, the press conference will be conducted with:

Anders Olsson as Chairman
Per Wästberg (former Chairman)
And three external committee members [names have yet to be released/decided]

Speaking of the Nobel Committee their autonomy and their authority has also been revitalized after the previous scandal. In years past, the Nobel Committee would present names to the entire Swedish Academy for deliberation, then advise on who they think would make the preferable laureate. The Swedish Academy in turn would take the Nobel Committees advice into consideration during its deliberations, but would not be bound by their commentary or their advice, and reserved the right to overrule their deliberations in favour of another. This year, the Nobel Committee has taken full charge of the Nobel Laureates; they will decide who will receive the award(s) with the Swedish Academy’s input, but in the end they will decide on who will win the awards and present their findings in the late morning of October 10th before the announcement. Their decision will be made with a comprehensive analysis to be submitted to the Swedish Academy explaining their motivations and their decision.

On a personal note, I am not in love with this idea of a supersized governing Nobel Committee. I’m left pondering what part the Swedish Academy and their members play in this process. From what it appears they’ve lost their teeth and claws in the process, and are merely neutered house cats, with a small meow rather then their once ferocious roar. Their position sadly reduced. I don’t believe awarding a centralized committee audacious authority is appropriate. I would prefer personally, if the Swedish Academy in conjunction and association with the Nobel Committee were able to work in a democratic and collaborative environment, to discuss, debate and deliberate together on the chosen Nobel Laureate. The current method appears to be one sided, with little room for any discussion or debate. In this fashion the laureate(s) in question are chosen, and whether or not the Swedish Academy agrees with the decision of the Nobel Committee, it will go through regardless, with no room for dissidence due to the statute of secrecy.

Anders Olsson the former pro-tempo Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, who has been praised for steering the academy through the tumultuous storm of the scandal, after the tradeoff of former Permanent Secretary Sara Danius and Katarina  Frostenson; had recently cast shade towards previous decades of the Nobel Prize for Literature. In an interview posted on the Nobel Prizes YouTube account, Anders Olsson has expressed this year the Nobel Prizes are attempting to take into an account a: “Global Totality,” whereby the awarding institution must take into account wider perspectives, where in years past the award carried a more ‘Eurocentric perspective,’ that was also male dominated. This is perhaps a nod and side eyed glance towards Swedish Academy member of Chair No. 17 Horace Engdahl. Of course it can’t be denied that in some of the past decades the Nobel Prize for Literature was accused of having a gender bias, and being Eurocentric. These criticisms are superficial and often showcase some critics lacking perspective of the prize and the laureates chosen. Due to the rarity of woman laureates, those who are chosen were always a gem, and often outshined other Nobel Laureates. Such laureates as:  Wisława Szymborska, Herta Müller, Alice Munro, and Nelly Sachs—are proven powerful writers who often outshined the other male laureates who surround them.

In less than a week’s time Gentle Reader we will learn who this year’s Nobel Laureates will be. It’s an exceptional year because two laureates will be named, but the circumstances spoil the tone. Regardless of who is chosen as this year’s Nobel Laureates, it will be interpreted through the social and political lens of gender politics, equity, and other social justice mechanisms, which detract from the literary merit of the prize. This inevitably pollutes this year’s Nobel Laureates, whoever they maybe at this time. This year’s decision will be difficult and complicated. The external influences, the social interpretation, and the scathing scrutiny will ensure that pleasing everybody will become an impossible task. The pressure of being the first Nobel Prize after the scandal will also weigh heavily on this year’s decision. It is a position one should not envy.

Every year, Gentle Reader, it’s often asked who I hope who will win the Nobel Prize for Literature. It’s a difficult question to answer, as my preferences are mercurial in form, changing by the day and the hour. Despite this I will attempt to answer the question Following are three columns where I’ve listed eight authors in each column concerning who I’d hope to win the prize. The three columns are organized by if the winners are to be both female, if the prize is to be two men, and if the prize will be split between a female and a male; in order to present a clear angle of all three possibilities. All writers I’ve listed come from my speculation list. They have been listed in no particular order.

Column 1                                                 Column 2                                  Column 3

Sirkka Turkka –                                    Jon Fosse –                                 Sirkka Turkka – 
Doris Kareva –                                      Durs Grünbein –                        Doris Kareva – 
Yoko Ogawa –                                       Mia Couto –                              Adunis – 
Annie Ernaux –                                     Yang Mu –                                 Magdalena Tulli – 
Lyudmila Petrushevskaya –                  Gyrðir Elíasson                       Zsuzsa Takács – 
Olga Tokarczuk –                                 Adunis –                                    Jon Fosse – 
Kim Hyesoon –                                    Jaan Kaplinski –                        Gyrðir Elíasson – 
Nancy Morejón –                                Mircea Cartarescu –                   Yang Mu – 

Even after listing the writers, my mind immediately begins to gnaw and wonder about who has been omitted: what about László Krasznahorkai or Péter Nadas? Should I have included: Adam Zagajewski? Why not have included Ý Nhi the Vietnamese poet, or the dissident Duong Thu Huong. Why did I omit: Adélia Prado and Rodrigo Rey Rosa? Why did I not include, Ersi Sotiropoulos; after all I enjoy her work. What about Can Xue? The dark horse surreal Chinese novelist is gaining increased international attention, and recognition when it comes to global literary awards; she's a silent giant, who should not be overlooked easily. There is just no winning Gentle Reader, and I am sure between now and this coming Thursday my opinions will once again change.

For now though Gentle Reader, we will have to wait to see who will be the two laureates for this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature. Who will win it is anyone’s game at this point. It’s certainly going to be an intense year though, with high expectations riding on the decisions for this year’s award. Announcing and awarding two Laureates in Literature is a rare exceptional event. As previously noted the last time the award was shared was in Nineteen-Seventy Four, which was forty five years ago. Beyond the shared prize in Nineteen-Seventy Four, the Nobel Prize for Literature had only been shared three times prior. In total the Nobel Prize for Literature has only been shared between writers on four different occasions, in the prizes one-hundred and eighteen year history. It is a true pity that the circumstances for this exceptional event are not different.

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

M. Mary

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