The Birdcage Archives

Monday 27 January 2020

The Nobel Prize in Literature: 1969 Nominations

Hello Gentle Reader

In 1969 the Swedish Academy decided to bestow the Nobel Prize for Literature onto the Irish playwright and novelist: Samuel Beckett, with the citation: “for his writing, which - in new forms for the novel and drama - in the destitution of modern man acquires its elevation.”

As a perennial candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature, Samuel Beckett was often a polarizing figure. In 1968, Beckett was considered a forerunner for the award, along with the French writer and politician Andre Malraux; but the Swedish Academy chose to compromise with the Japanese master of the psychological novel, Yasunari Kawabata. The battle regarding Samuel Beckett and Andre Malraux continued into 1969. The Swedish Academy once again divided between the two authors.

On the one side sat, Anders Österling who was then Chairman of the Nobel Committee. Österling rallied members of the Swedish Academy which opposed Samuel Beckett receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature. Anders Österling retained his perspective that Samuel Beckett was a proprietor of nihilism and propagated this perspective in his dramatic works and novels. In bestowing the award on Beckett, Österling feared that it would significantly pollute and damage the awards reputation, and betray Alfred Nobel’s will referencing: “the person who, in the field of literature, produced the most outstanding work in an idealistic direction.” In 1968, Österling staked out his position with fervor, stating:

“I do not dispute the artistic effect of Beckett’s dramas, but misanthropic satire (of the Swift type) or radical pessimism (of the Leopardi type) has a powerful heart, which in my opinion is lacking in Beckett.”

Anders Österling maintained this same opinion again in 1969 when he described Samuel Beckett’s work as:

“On Beckett [ . . . ] the serious question on whether an authorship of this demonstratively negativistic or nihilistic character should be considered to fulfil the Nobel Prize’s idealistic intentions rises itself. It could be argued that his plays behind their depressive motives hide a secret defence of the humanistic, even though it only is expressed ironically and indirectly. Even if such an interpretation is possible, with more or less subtle and far-fetched reasoning, the fact remains that Beckett’s whole oeuvre offers the least possible stimulus for the threatened sense of life in our contemporary times. In the eyes of most it remains an artistically staged writing, characterised by a bottom-less contempt for the human condition.”

Instead, Anders Österling promoted André Malraux once again. This time around there was no fail safe or third place candidate to be presented; or if they were they lost out on the opportunity.  The Swedish Academy was locked in a stalemate between Samuel Beckett and André Malraux.

Then Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy Karl Ragnar Gierow refuted the open protests of Anders Österling. Karl Ragnar Gierow argued that Samuel Beckett was a revolutionary and revitalizing force within theatre. Gierow had strong ties and connections to theatre world; as the Managing Director of the Royal Dramatic Theatre Gierow actively staged controversial and new forms of theatre, including productions of: Bertolt Brecht and Nobel Laureate Eugene O'Neill. Samuel Beckett came as a powerful fresh voice within the dramatic sphere as someone who moved away from the realism and naturalism expressed by previous playwrights. Karl Ragnar Gierow praised Samuel Beckett’s literary value, and fought against the misrepresentation that his work was a bottomless void of nihilism, so eloquently characterized by Anders Österling.

“[ . . . ] artistic passion, consistent purpose, creative power and deep humanity. The last is of course not the least important: Beckett’s devotion. That he paints everything black in his writing is, as I experience it, not an expression for nihilism and animosity against life but on the other hand for a deeply wounded idealism. He describes the human as we have all seen it, in the moment it has suffered its deepest violation, and he seeks the bottom of humiliation with a belief in life, despite everything, because even there, perhaps first and foremost there, exists the possibility of obtaining redress. From this his oeuvre gets his purifying strength, and in the long row of Nobel laureates he is in my eyes one of the few, whose writing is marked by idealism.”

Karl Ragnar Gierow adamantly opposed the case to award André Malraux the Nobel Prize for Literature. Gierow along with four other members of the Swedish Academy thought that Malraux’s position as a minister under Charles de Gualle’s government could contort the prize to being criticized for having political inclinations of favours. Karl Ragnar Gierow went so far as to insinuate that André Malraux as minister of culture had supported censorship and cultural oppression outside of an atypical dictatorship.

This skirmish within the Swedish Academy became the diving platform for the academy to seek greater internal autonomy and heights within its own structure. Previously the Nobel Committee drafted and submitted a singular report to the rest of the Swedish Academy of who it believed should be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, based off of the submissions received. The divide between Beckett and Malraux pushed for the Nobel Committee members to write individual reports of who they thought should receive the Nobel Prize for Literature and why, which inevitably solicit greater discussion, conversations and debates within the academy.

Ultimately Samuel Beckett would go on to receive the award.  Anders Österling, however, refused to give the Nobel Ceremony speech which provides critical praise of the authors work. Apparently, Österling did not want to praise the ghost poetry and nihilistic propagation of Beckett. Instead Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, Karl Ragnar Gierow gave the speech in lieu of. Samuel Beckett however did not attend the ceremony to receive the prize, nor did Beckett deliver a Nobel Lecture.

The year 1969 was also the first year Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature. When discussing the potential of awarding the Gulag Monk the Nobel Prize for Literature, concerns were raise about the possibility of the Soviet Union interfering in the procession, such as prohibiting the author to travel to receive the award, or blatantly refuse it. The Swedish Academy, however did view Solzhenitsyn as a relevant and revered writer working in the former Soviet Union, and perhaps being one of the greatest voices of dissidence in the world and in Russian literature; but the Swedish Academy wanted to avoid tragic political consequences from befalling the author. A year later though Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was deemed suitable to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, after only being nominated twice. Not surprisingly the author could not receive the award personally, out of fears that the then Soviet Union would block his request to reenter if he chose to travel to Stockholm. There were discussions about the possibility of Solzhenitsyn accepting the award at the Swedish embassy in Moscow, but the Swedish government refused the proposal in order to avert further strain in their diplomatic relationship with the Soviet Union. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn did not receive the award until 1974 after he was expelled and entered exile from the Soviet Union.

There is no doubt Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is and was a worthy Nobel Laureate. It is still curious that he was awarded after only being nominated twice, while other Nobel Laureates were nominated for years prior to winning the award, as in the case of Samuel Beckett. Solzhenitsyn’s work is a powerful witness account and testimonial of the then officially denied gulag and forced labour camp prison system of the former Soviet Union. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s wok encompasses novels and short stories, whereby the author utilizes philosophy and historical accuracy to depict the conditions of the former Soviet Union, specifically the unique historical tragedies of the Soviet Union. His themes were humanistic in philosophy and perspective, especially the moral necessity for resisting evil, be it: political, social, or spiritual in nature. His entire literary career and work was built around the novels and short stories that provide a critical autopsy of the failings of the Soviet Union, its lacking humanity; its deception of the everyday people by perpetrating itself as their guardian; and its violent and cruel nature executed through its failed ideals, and political propagation. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn work is critically assessed as political in nature. To be blunt there are few ways in which Solzhenitsyn’s work can be critically measured. His work is encapsulated in a specific point in history, providing an account of the terrors and horrors of that time, and the moral obligation of the individual to resist, and of course those consequences for resistance. All of Solzhenitsyn’s work revolves, depicts, and criticizes the former Soviet Regime. These otherwise historiographic narratives record and recount a bygone era of Russian and global history, providing an intimate overview of the workings of a political system that not only failed in the long term, but also one which sought oppress its populace through aggressive draconian retributive actions, to dissuade any notion considered dissident or curiosity. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s award was considered political, and unfortunately there is very little room to view his award, considering the context and nature of his work. The Swedish Academy expressed concern and reservations about awarding in him 1969 because of the precedence of previous Russian writers such as Boris Pasternak, who were pressured into refusing the Nobel in years past. It will be interesting to read the Swedish Academy’s deliberations in 1970 when they choose to award, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Other writers who were nominated in 1969 and would later win were:

·         Pablo Neruda – Won 1971
·         Heinrich Böll – Won 1972

·         Patrick White – Won 1973
·         Eyvind Johnson & Harry Martinson – Won 1974
·         Eugenio Montale – Won 1975
·         Elias Canetti – Won 1981
·         Jaroslav Seifert – Won 1984
·         Claude Simon – Won 1985
·         Günter Grass – 1999

Of these nominated writers who would eventually win, the Italian poet Eugenio Montale, and the German postmodern postwar fabulist Günter Grass received five nominations each. At this time of nomination, Grass was only 42-43 years old, but had already published his hugely successful “Danzig Trilogy,” (“The Tin Drum,” “Cat and Mouse,” and “Dog Years,”). Despite the persistence of nominations it would be another thirty years before Günter Grass would be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Eugenio Montale on the other hand would be awarded in five years. Eugenio Montale was considered one of the most important Italian language poets of the Twentieth Century. Montale was considered a striking revolutionary voice in Italian language poetry. Much like previous Nobel Laureate and countrymen, Salvatore Quasimodo; Eugenio Montale was described as a hermetic poet, a classification the poet disagreed with. Despite his objections with the poetic cataloguing assigned to his work, Montale’s work worked against the prescribed poetic notions of the time. Where other poets wrote in embellished and exaggerated poetic pomp, Montale wrote in a refined personal and private poetic form. His work was noted for being difficult to discern and comprehend by a casual reader; as Montale, sought to refine and reduce experiences away from external physical descriptions into a more refined and condensed ethereal emotive perspective. Nobel Laureate and poet, Joseph Brodsky noted that Eugenio Montale’s work more aptly to be compared with a man muttering to himself.

A certain brand of French authors was almost nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature:

·         Alain Robbe-Grillet
·         Nathalie Sarraute
·         Robert Pinget
·         Claude Simon

With the exception of Marguerite Duras and Michel Butor (who resisted the classification), almost all the big name writers associated with the French Nouveau Roman [‘New Novel,’] literary movement was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature. The Swedish Academy is noted for being critical of the early modernist literary period; instead they chose to acknowledge writers who had wrote in traditionally established narratives, such as realism. This would explain such omissions of the modernist school such as: James Joyce or Paul Valéry. It cannot be considered fair to blame the Swedish Academy for omitting such modernist writers as: Virginia Woolf, Franz Kafka, or Marcel Proust; due to their unfortunate premature deaths. Regardless, the Swedish Academy has discussed in introspective pieces of their own evolution of the Nobel Prize for Literature; that the academy had an otherwise complicated relationship with literary modernism.

The nouveau roman could be considered a mere extension of the modernist literary method, before moving further into postmodern realms. The nouveau roman is best described as a French literary trend, gaining traction off of the coattails of the modernist movement. The movement itself sought to depersonalize the novelist format. It considered other writers of previous generations old fashioned in their continual fixation on plot, narrative, character, and action. . They proposed instead to utilize the novel to depict with unadulterated accountancy and accuracy the reality in its truest form; not as it had been imagined. Their formal experimentation was appreciated by the literary circles and curious readers; but it never found success with the general reading public.

Of those listed who had affiliations or ties with the nouveau roman movement, Claude Simon was the only one to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1985. Claude Simon rejected the affiliation with the movement. Instead he perpetrated himself as a late modernist. Though, Simon’s work was noted for extensive experimentation with fragmentation of time, stream-of-consciousness, free indirect speech, and interior monologues. Major influences on Claude Simons work are Marcel Proust and William Faulker, and on occasion Simon had provided allusions to their work in symbolic gestures, such as a sniper hiding in a Hawthorne bush; reminiscent to the same bush where Gilberte and the narrator meet in Marcel Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time.” What separates Claude Simon apart from other practitioners of the nouveau roman movement is his retains a strong sense of character and narrative in his work, regardless of its fluidity. Despite receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature, Claude Simon remains an obscure and unknown writer. His heavy handed literary experimentation also alienates him from readers, and he would not be described as the most pleasant writer either. 

Nathalie Sarraute in this sense would best be described as the literary benefactor of Virginia Woolf. Much like Woolf, Nathalie Sarraute was less interested in the traditional notion of character. In fact, Nathalie Sarraute openly celebrated and proclaimed the ‘death of the literary character.’ In a fashion similar to Virginia Woolf and her use of stream-of-consciousness narrations to depict the nebulous and multitudinous of the human experience through psychological experiences and emotional responses; Nathalie Sarraute sought to capture and codify the phenomenological and psychological phenomena of the individual, and in doing so presents a shifting, fragmented, and incoherent depiction of life experienced and lived. It is these sudden and immediate changes in perspective, emotional resonances, psychological experiences, where Nathalie Sarraute is considered and defined as a difficult writer.

Along with Nathalie Sarraute the only other women nominated for the 1969 Nobel Prize for Literature were:

·         Elisaveta Bagriana – Bulgaria
·         Simone de Beauvoir – France
·         Anna Seghers – German [then, East Germany (GDR)]
·         Marie Under – Estonia

It is still apparent even at the end of the sixties; the Swedish Academy was still progressing and evolving in their deliberations and decisions of the Nobel Prize for Literature. These developments have been taking place throughout the decade, and were beginning to take greater prominence in 1966, and in 1968 further developments were reached in the Swedish Academy having an open and democratic forum when they deliberated on Nobel Laureates. Anders Österling still holds great influence within the Swedish Academy, but his rule is now challenged on equal grounds by the Permanent Secretary Karl Ragnar Gierow, who in turn encouraged high spirited debate, challenges and discussions within the academy. The decision to award Samuel Beckett the Nobel Prize may have had some internal controversies between the two competing factions, led by Anders Österling and Karl Ragnar Gierow; Samuel Beckett could not have been a more appropriate choice for the award. Despite concerns about Beckett’s ideals—or the lack thereof—he has remained a relevant writer well into the Twenty-First Century, and there will be severe doubts this will change anytime soon. As one of the most radical and revolutionary playwrights of the Twentieth Century, Beckett’s influence still reaches through time, and indirectly impacts contemporary theatre. Samuel Beckett’s award is one of the strongest awards the Swedish Academy made, in comparison to the otherwise obscure writers they dredge up elsewhere.

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

M. Mary

For Further Reading 

Svenska Dagbladet: "Resultatet av bråket: Akademien fick all mak,"

The Guardian: "'Ghost poetry': fight over Samuel Beckett's Nobel win revealed in archives,"

Irish Times: "Revealed: The fight to stop Samuel Beckett winning the Nobel prize,"

The Guardian: "Samuel Beckett rejected as unsuitable for the Nobel prize in 1968,"

Thursday 23 January 2020

The Years

Hello Gentle Reader

When it comes to Scandinavian literary trends of recent memory it has been divided between: frost ridden noir crime novels (such as the catalyst “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,”) and the deeply personal virkelighetslitteratur (‘reality fiction,’ also known as autofiction) with the focal point being, Karl Ove Knausgård and his mammoth cycle of autobiographical novels: “My Struggle—Volumes 1-6.” Of course autofiction, roman à clefs, memoirs, confessional poetry and autobiographical testaments have been around for a lengthy period of time, they go hand in hand with the publication of personal diaries, journals and correspondence. Despite its otherwise lengthy history of recent memory, the memoirs and autobiography is often been described as being self-indulgent, wrapped up in the advertising histrionics and spiced with heavy narcissism. Those who choose to write and practice in the area of introspective indulgence have become known as superficial. A dreadful stock that in the pursuit of fame, are willing to divulge and air their private demons, personal predilections, and perverse desires. They unabashedly describe sex. They unapologetically take stock of their failures. They shamelessly share their opinions, records and recounts of their prejudices. At the end they tie it off with revelations of redemption through enlightenment; they find comfort in love, or solace in coming to terms with the comfort of themselves and their shadow. Other times they recount horrifying situations, and detail the visceral reality with acute exactitude that it comes as a cheap discourse to find some semblance of survival at the end. Critics lambast them of having no literary aspiration or merit. The work is critically assessed as one would review reality television, the endless accountancy of tasteless narratives produced for guilty consumption. The appeal of Karl Ove Knausgård has been his ability to turn the personal into the universal. According to critics, the appeal of “My Struggle,” is Knausgårds ability to capture and capitalize the empathetic elements of a shared human experience, whereby a reader has stumbled upon a personal and private record of someone else’s life, and yet found their own secrets. Knausgård has been praised for moving the autobiographical novel into heightened realms; all the while readers in Norway, America and elsewhere are eager to consume and read his work. In France the reception was muted, as the French literary scene has a long exemplary list of writers who have practiced the notion of autobiographical novel, and nothing or no one could trump the monolith modernist classic of Marcel Proust: “In Search of Lost Time,” (“Remembrance of Things Past,”), which is often seen as the first novel hiding itself as an autobiographical chronicle. It is of course no surprise that Karl Ove Knausgård is often deemed the “Norwegian Proust,” for his obsession with time and memory, which have served the author well as he’s received numerous awards and honours.

Despite the success of Karl Ove Knausgård and his “My Struggle,” the notion of autobiography, memoirs, diaries, resists any inclination that they aim to achieve the higher pursuits of literature. Rather they bring to mind the superficiality of solipsism, narcissism, and histrionics, due to their private and personal nature. Though empathy is a powerful humanistic trait, it carries the notion of sentimentality and sensationalism, which in turn sabotage the will to achieve literary recognition. Annie Ernaux is by all accounts an autobiographical writer and chronicler, but escapes the pitfalls of the usual autobiographical novel or memoir, by eschewing exaggerated displays of sentimentality and sensationalism. In lieu of cheap sentiments and melodramatic pyrotechnics, Annie Ernaux utilizes personal experience, observations, and records as a central focal point to understand the more macro events shaping, progressing, evolving, and eroding the societal and global realm. Where other writers focus on the empathetic, emotional, and personal obsessions, which endear and enamor their readers, who through the pages find their own open secrets displayed, now only being experienced and lived by another; Annie Ernaux exchanges empathy for objectivity; personal obsession with sociological critical analysis distilled through the lens of private and introspective experience. In this regard, Annie Ernaux writes with the insight and critical eye of a social scientist.

“The Years,” is a generational memoir seen through a detached perspective. The narrative is navigated through by ‘She,’ and at times ‘We,’ rather than more the intimate ‘I.’ The eponymous ‘She,’ is of course Annie Ernaux, who begins “The Years,” in the early years of the nineteen-forties, as the end of the Second World War comes to a close, soldiers return to their families and homes, whereby France is liberated from Nazi occupation. From there it is back to life as normal, though the war is brought up frequently around the table by adults from there on out. They discuss rations, outages, food shortages, curfews, and biting resistance. The Second World War was a persistent social and historical scar that lingered and itched ever forward. Childhood after the war remains much the same as before; one riddled with lasting social conventions, class divisions, and the vice grip of the Catholic Church over social values, expectations and etiquette. Education had taken greater prominence, and becoming a generational divider, between children and their parents. Children are no longer expected or excused to shake apples from trees, or participate in harvests, or help out on the farms. Instead they are expected to remain in their confines of desks and order. The school year had since replaced the seasons. Education despite its new found importance also becomes another social barrier, where distinctions of superiority are made by the educations measurement of capability:

“Those who failed knew the weight of indignity at an early age. They were not capable. The speeches that praised education concealed its meager distribution.

[. . . ]

“If we met a former schoolmate who had enrolled in a commercial school or been sent to apprentice, it wouldn’t occur to us to speak to her, although she’d shared our desk all the way to secondary school. Nor would a notary clerk’s daughter with her fading ski-tan, proof of her superior social rank, so much as glance at us outside of school.”

The Forties move into the Fifties and then the Sixties. French society changes over the course of the decades. In the years past, Ernaux expressed fear of losing her virginity before marriage; the pitfalls of sex and love, and the taste of the carnal pleasures of flesh. Time dusts away these fears with progressive perspectives, and the introduction of the pill, women rights, and the legalization of abortion; the erosion of the Catholic Churches vice grip on morality and social values begins. There is a sense the previous generation has been cheated as they age in the era of contraception, while they endured the insufferable sexual repression and hypocrisy of the past. Despite the sense of being socially treated by outdated social norms of the past, they get married and then divorce, at which point they will take lovers, and rendezvous in their bedrooms or hotels. Their children are also more liberal in their sexual adventures. Ernaux recounts her teenage sons bringing home their girlfriends and spending the night in the room next to hers.

When it comes to the student protests of May ’68, and the subsequent general strikes nationwide, the suppressing attempts of the government, and President Charles de Gaulle’s own conservative cowardice observed, it sets the stage for France to begin to move forward and change. Yet for the older generations questions are asked of where they stand in this new movement; this demand for the new world, a new society, as they’ve now established themselves in professions and careers, they have homes and families; these concerns subside as the movement has neither care or concern for this, as it was a movement of the people for them to speak and to be heard, regardless of their social rank, intellectual pursuits or lacking education. These protests become one of the major turning points of “The Years,”—a time of hope, dreams, and hard won rights:  wage increases, and demands for dignity. However, Hope does not burn endlessly. Though the protests, the strikes, and the uproar created considerable change in French society, it too became another note in the history books, remembered with the wistfulness of nostalgia, and recounted with disappointment. It’s both a badge of honour worn by participants, while also being a bone of contention riddled with concessions and consignments, selling out in the end.

The following years blend in a continual procession of time, aging, and seasons. The presidency of France revolves between liberal and conservative ideologies that in turn are voted in and voted out. They are elected on the winds of change, and unimpeachable ideals; following such a high comes the light of political and public life shining with cynical scrutiny. Beneath the glaring blaze of high expectations each politician has the wind knocked out of their sales. Economics, governance, politics, bureaucracy; each institution slowly erodes their vigor, and ages them viciously. They make their speeches, they backtrack on their promises, they offer caveats and consignments; meanwhile the tides turns against them, the electorate grumble, they protest, and discuss their political failings over dinner. They are either voted out or they die. Death almost absolves the political, the public, and the intellectual celebrity of their previous caricaturized failings. When ‘The General,’ Charles de Gaulle dies, there is a sudden shock, surprise, and albeit hard to find sadness in his passing; his long governing shadow suddenly absent, his immortal image now confirmed mortal nonetheless.

“Simone de Beauvoir died, and Jean Genet, no, we definitely did not like that April, moreover snow continued to fall in Île-de-France.”

From there on out—as it had begun—“The Years,” salts and peppers political and gravitas international events anchoring the narrative in history. The global, the political, and the personal collide in a continual procession of symbiotic relationship, one continually influencing the other.

“[ . . . ] We didn’t like May either, though we’re not unduly disturbed by the nuclear power plant explosion in the USSR. A catastrophe the Russians had failed to hide, surely the results of their incompetence and inhumanity commensurate with the Gulag (though Gorbachev seemed a nice enough fellow), but it didn’t affect us.” 

Fear is the most primordial experience that afflicts both beast and human with equal potency, trumping apathy and cynicism every time. Pestilence, afflictions, viruses, and disease always brings to mind the slow suffering of the end time that is on par with nuclear annihilation; which during the Cold War had lost its relevancy due to the continued stalemate posturing; though this beat the alternative: complete annihilation.

“The fear of AIDS was the most powerful fear on record. The emaciated and transfigured faces of the famous, dying; Hervé Guibert, Freddie Mercury (in his final video, so much more handsome than before, with his rabbit teeth), demonstrated the supernatural character of the ‘scourge,’ –the first sign of an end-of-millennium curse, a final judgement.”

The AIDS scare slowly erodes in the following years. Just as the May ’68 protests are lost to time, or the diminished Catholic Church’s status and its societal power, or the Second World War now looked upon as a milestone of history, no longer remembered around the table. The millennium brings to mind a once in a lifetime opportunity. The chance to run into the future without hesitation.

“The year 2000 was on the horizon. We could not believe our luck in being there to see it arrive. What a shame we though, when someone died in the weeks before. We couldn’t imagine that it could proceed without a hitch. There were rumours of a Y2K computer bug, a planetary malfunction, some kind of black hole protruding the end of the world and a return to the savagery of instinct.” 

Throughout the course of “The Years,” Annie Ernaux presents the social and political upheaval and changes of French Society over the previous decades, but also shows the economic turns and the rise of consumerism. In the postwar period, it was a preoccupation to purchase greater material and goods, in order to improve one’s life. Appliances, homes, clothes, cars; replaced the previous hereditary social standings of society, with a ravenous consumerist need for more, and for the new. This is remarked with sardonic cynicism, when Ernaux points out that there existed so many different types, brands, and flavours of yogurt that even if someone tried a new one every day for a year, they still wouldn’t have tasted them all. On the flipside Ernaux points out how the endless barrage of commercials, advertisements, and marketing schemes blare without question or concern or without scruples.

“In nursing homes, an endless parade of commercials filed by the faded eyes of elderly women, for products and devices they never imagined they would need and had no chance of possessing.”

Yet as Ernaux points out with matter of fact certainty, society has been conditioned to accept the constant bombardment of commercial solicitation without a second thought, and in the process continue to drive the economy by purchasing the products as they are produced. There is a marvel at the devices being developed, produced and consumed, and how quickly they become intricate with daily life, as if technology has become an adaptable extension of human evolution. In this Ernaux cannot imagine the devices that will be manufactured in the coming ten or more years (“The Years,” were originally published in French, in 2008).

“The Years,” has been deemed Annie Eranux’s crowning achievement of her literary career, as well as her masterpiece. Throughout her career as a writer, Annie Ernaux has focused almost exclusively on autobiography as a literary mode of expression. What has continually separated Ernaux from other writers of autobiographical narratives is her preoccupation with how the external and the internal touch and influences each other, which is reviewed and recounted under her critical eye. “The Years,” is by no means any different, other than its generational perspective. Rather than her previous work which focused on immediate concerns: marriage, her father, her mother suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, her divorce and affair—“The Years,” takes stock of a life through sixty years, one that is framed by historical importance, social changes, political discourse and upheaval, and slogans, advertisements, and the modern marketing machine force feeding the economic practices of consumerism. Ernaux never comes across as a solipsistic narcissist whose self-absorbed delusions of grandeur must be written and published for mass consumption. Rather, Annie Ernaux completely ignores the otherwise blatantly selfishly designed narratives of other writers who dabble in the world of autobiographical narratives, who write transgressive cheap thrills, shock value, and then describe their work as a ‘performance piece.’ Ernaux by comparison maintains a clear perspective on her work, which ensures objectivity supersedes prattling. Ernaux uses the personal, the individual, and the at times private as an anchor point in her narratives, at which point she is able to provide context and understanding of the otherwise larger social concerns, developments, evolutions, and progresses; but also the political changes through the years, the fashionable ideals coming and going in an instant, hopes had and gone in a matter of months. History is carefully captured as well as recounted and reviewed with steady hands, and not without personal commentary which is more apt to being found in the streets then on the fact based news. The slogans, idioms, and expressions of the everyday are quickly woven into “The Years,” to give expression and account that the work is literary in nature, and not infused with the dust ridden dryness of academia. Still, Annie Ernaux positions herself as a social scientists, observing the sociological, political and economic changes of society with curiosity, and objective critical analysis; how far they have come in one moment, and how far they need to go in the next. “The Years,” really is a generational time capsule, one that floods with images, slogans, statements, recollections, records, and careful observations. It’s a unique and marvelous read, which at times can also be alienating. The experiences expressed within “The Years,” is of course tinted with where it is written, by its own language, by its own concerns with its own society, and of course gender; but as one progresses through “The Years,” the differences assimilate in varying degrees of a shared experience of global events. Its testament to French society, memory, political science, sociology, and memoir of a generation is truly an amazing feat. In this Annie Ernaux has moved the idea of autobiographical narratives away from the self-indulgent, scathing, and scandalous; and instead has positioned it as a serious literary form whose potential is still being charted out, Ernaux proves that autobiographical can have very unique effects on observing the sociological, political, psychological, interpersonal, and economic impacts of the society on the individual, by becoming its own case study. “The Years,” is most certainly a remarkable and unique book to read.  

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

M. Mary

Friday 3 January 2020

Alasdair Gray, Dies Aged 85

Hello Gentle Reader

On December 29 2019, the Scottish writer and artist, Alasdair Gray died a day after his eighty-fifth birthday, in a hospital in his native Glasgow after a short illness. After the news of Alasdair Gray’s death tributes, memories, reflections, and continued praise have been issued and published by the literary world. Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon paid beautiful homage to the late author and artist by calling him one of the: “brightest intellectual and creative lights Scotland has known in modern times,” [The Guardian, 12/29/2019]. Fellow Scottish writer, Ali Smith called Alasdair Gray a modern William Blake. The continual thread has been consistent in its praise and reflection: Alasdair Gray, provoked and showed that Scottish literature was not second-rate, not second class, not less then, or wanting; but a serious literary form, which rivalled other English language literary traditions, but with its own unique culture and flare. Alasdair Gray is best known for his often surreal, postmodern, dystopian, and (at times delegated) science fiction writing. “Lanark,” is Grays debut and often considered one of the most important landmarks of Scottish Literature in the Twentieth Century. “Lanark,” is compromised of surrealism, postmodern literary techniques, Kafkaesque situations, and a twisted bent of reality reflected and refracted in on itself. The novel put Alasdair Gray on the literary map, and would become one of the most prominent novels of the eighties, and influenced a new generation of Scottish writers including: Ian [M] Banks, Irvine Welsh, and Janice Galloway. Be it a bold assertion—even arrogantly so—it appeared that Alasdair Gray brought post-modernism to Scotland, and encouraged others to continue to experiment with form, narrative, and perspective. In accomplishment and companion to his literary work, Alasdair Gray was a renowned visual artist. Gray studied at the Glasgow School of Art, specializing in mural paintings. His work can be found displayed in museums (Victoria and Albert Museum, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, the National Library of Scotland, and the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery) his murals have been featured in Hillhead subway station as well as the arts and music venue Òran Mór. Alasdair Grays artistic work also made distinct appearances in his literary work, including the landmark: “Lanark.” Throughout it all, Alasdair Gray had proved himself to being a profound and striking polymath whose creative impressions will forever remain in Glasgow, haunting and projecting the city internally and beyond.

Rest in Peace, Alastair Gray.

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

M. Mary