The Birdcage Archives

Wednesday 27 October 2021

Boubacar Boris Diop Wins the 2022 Neustadt International Prize for Literature

Hello Gentle Reader, 
The Neustadt International Prize for Literature for 2022 has been awarded to the Senegalese writer Boubacar Boris Diop. Previous winner of the biennial award include: 
Francis Ponge (1974) 
Czesław Miłosz (1978) 
Octavio Paz (1982) 
Tomas Transmtromer (1990)
Kamau Brathwaite (1994) 
Assia Djebar (1996) 
Adam Zagajewski (2004) 
Patricia Grace (2008) 
Mia Couto (2014) 
Dubravka Ugrešić (2016) 
Ismail Kadare (2020) 
The listed previous laureates showcase the awards literary reach in recognizing some of the most highly regarded writers of literature; the same with nominees which include familiar names as: Doris Lessing, Wole Soyinka, Pablo Neruda, Jorge Luis Borges, Yves Bonnefoy, Mavis Gallant, Bella Ahkmadulina, Bei Dao, Nirmal Verma, Carlos Fuentes, Mirkka Rekola and Can Xue. Yet due to its biennial operation the award can be difficult to track and follow; though it is often seen as a major competitor of the Nobel Prize for Literature, as the two share similar literary tastes, and in many cases previous laureates of the Neustadt International Prize for Literature have gone on to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. 
Boubacar Boris Diop is perhaps one of the most important writers to come from the former French speaking colonies of the African continent. His novels have been praised by writers such as the late Toni Morrsion, and he's been described as one of the most important contemporary African Writers. His novel "Domi Golo," is the first novel written in Wolof to be translated into English. As an intellectual and scholar, Boubacar Boris Diop is known for his critical studies of African Literature and Culture in the postcolonial context, and the attempts at the continent to regain a sense of self and identity away from the colonial perspective and cultural adjustments implemented. 
Congratulations are in order to Boubacar Boris Diop. The Neustadt International Prize for Literature is an honourable award in its own right, with a reputation and legacy of recognizing important, significant and lasting writers. Though it is not the Nobel (and I would not go so far as to say a competitor of the Nobel Prize) their shared perspectives and contribution to the world literary stage cannot be overlooked. Following on the heels of Abrulrazak Gurnah's Nobel Prize for Literature announcement earlier this month, the decision to award Boubacar Boris Diop the Neustadt International Prize for Literature only affirms that there is great literature being produced in the former colonies of the African Continent, but also exemplifies the changing the cultural landscape of the continent and its own perspective on the global stage. 
Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary 

Tuesday 26 October 2021

In View: October

Hello Gentle Reader,
Few months are as memorable as October. When it comes to seasons, Spring and Summer conveniently entwine themselves. The renewed green of spring leaves taking on new highlights of flowers blossoming into view, while summer enriches the world in its oppressive embrace, which the youth appreciate as they approach the twilight of carefree and freedom that only they can occupy. Those last days of summer. Those lazy days of golden rays on the beach, as the day dies down into a brilliant explosion of extinguishing colours of the sunset. A far cry from April, whose dreary ashen etched depiction and disposition are overcast and unappetizing. On the contrary, September is one of the most distinct and beautiful months when it comes to grace as a virtue. By the halfway mark of September there is a noticeable adjustment in the light. It's receding. The foliage is aware, and as if in festivity or customary they begin to change. They slip out of the youthfulness of green and abandon flowers. There's juvenila to that colour, a hallmark of a different age and time. A freshness to its shade; now out of step with the season. Such callow vigorous endeavours are tossed aside and replaced with the maturation of the season of bounty and harvest. As the daylight pulls back further the leaves begin to turncoat. Some places it's a barrage of harvest colours on chameleonic display. The temporary burning in a kaleidoscope of yellow, gold, orange and red, as well as sprinkled within the shy green. The gold is a personal favourite. The larches, a paradoxical conifer, behaves with deciduous delight and changes its colour come September. An imposter if anyone ever saw one. A turncoat. A traitor. Yet, regardless of the accusations leveraged against the tree, it adorns itself with golden needles. Amongst the stoic and the strong evergreen who remain perpetual, eternal, and everlasting; the larch plays the role of the phantom within the wintergreen shadows, brilliantly lighting up like salt amongst the pepper, and then fading come the onslaught of winter. By October though the regalia is through. Some gilded leaves hang on, but their maturation has come, and they are discarded from the tree with carefree abandonment. In the introductory weeks of October, they rejoice in their newfound freedom. In the wind's casual visits, they scatter up the street and tumble down it. They scurry in scratches along the pavement. All the while a change is taking place.
By mid-October the regalia—the gold, the glitz, the glamour—have all worn away. The plating of September's golden leaves becomes tarnished like unpolished silver. What leaves remain on the now absent minded and barren trees, papery flick in the wind, defiant in their resolve, while pathetic in their singular shiver. Those on the ground have gotten themselves clogged in drains or crowded against fences. Their brilliance drained. All that remained of their former golden glory, was the doe-coloured husks they had become now. Beige ghosts. The entire world had begun to extinguish itself into this indistinguishable state. Hollowing itself out into a lifeless carapace of fawn. The fields were scrapped bare. All that remained were rows and fields of stalks, a 5' O'Clock shadow. The richness of the spring seed and the summer growth now reduced to scruff and stubble. Perhaps October is that weary man of a month. Down on his luck. His shoes, worn to the sole. His coat, moth eaten. He's lost his hat. His shirt and trousers are filthy. His eyes are red, sunken and weary. His face is covered in stubble and scruff, which means his character is brought into question. He's a decent man at heart; the circumstances are just unfortunate. This fact alone does not elicit empathy or understanding. Doors shut and curtains close. No vacancy. No room. No time. In the park the shrubbery and topiary have all but taken to abandoning whims and departed. This leaves him otherwise exposed. Unwanted, unwelcomed and now exposed. Still, in a thicket of bare branches, he'll be found. Cradled in their gnarled scaffolding, beneath the night sky, overtaken with clouds and polluted orange like cataract from urbanization. October is a month of melancholic understanding. There is a darkening in the days. A redaction in light. An absence in generosity and spirit. It lacks the sourness and dour cruelty of April; but unlike April it doesn't have the same hope residing at the end of the calendar days. October is the month of begrudged acceptance of harsh realities, longstanding resentments, and buried regrets. Everything is to be exhumed, excavated and examined. Come to terms with it as they are, as they were, and as they always will be.
In a literary context October brings to mind a select few poets; though the most recent one to slink out of the shadows, who walks within the crunch of disposed leaves, is none other than Louise Glück, the laureate of the month herself. Her austere poems recall the autumnal tones, with her exacting eye for truth-telling, if to the most fastidious degree. There is mourning, there is resentment, there is bitterness and of course outright contempt. In a palate of paints which depict the world with a grisaille perspective, one can’t help but notice within the edges and details, a sliver of mauve or a stroke of russet. In her poem “All Hallows,” the fields are reaped to stubble, while the days retreat and the nights expand with gluttonous glee. The moon in turn rises with dichotomous airs, bringer of the harvest or perhaps instead pestilence. While the soul in turn is lost in a landscape reaped barren and on the verge of being swept into dusk. Through payment of time and place, this woman (a wife) beckons forth (or pleads) the soul to come hither, to bring company into those lonely nights which are both settling and yet to come. Perhaps an obliging soul does come, creeping out of the tree, laid waste by the season and the month, who will slink home and find refuge in the arms that have opened wide to greet and comfort it.  Then of course there is the poem: “October,” about the poet marveling at her age, and the changes befallen the garden, such as the ivy whose expansive ambition is to now overtake the southern wall. “October,” is praised for its directness, its stark nature, and of course the austerity and crystalline measure in which Louise Glück examines with exactitude the circumstances and emotional events taken place and taking place.
On the contrary there’s Emily Brontë’s bewitching poem: “Fall Leaves Fall,” which truly conjures the sensation and understanding: the season of the witch. In the opening lines of the poem, Emily Bronte creates a chant to herald the oncoming winter, but first October reigns. She entices leaves to fall and banishes the former reigning flowers to get on with the business of death. Emily draws forth the night and seeks to cap the day. Without a sense of regret, not even a hint of disappointment she welcomes autumn into the world, and in the zenith of October, scoffs at the departing season of Summer, where she sweeps it from the doorstep in a whirlwind of leaves. With grace there is thanks to the harvest, but in the end with the moon unencumbered or hidden behind trees crowned with leaves, Emily stands accused in its pooling light, charged with the crimes of willing and enticing the end of the brighter seasons, and plaguing the world with October’s callous resentment. Each night, Emily the fierce and capricious, by lantern light wills the nightly decay to welcome further dreary October days. All the while, all the must do is herald to her earlier chants and fall. Abandon their limbs and branches and succumb to the changing season. Where roses rule, may snow succeed and chill the world to sleep.  
By the end of October, the nights are fended off with the faint flickers of candlelight. Wisping in the maws of carved pumpkins, the line steps, decks, porches, windowsills and lawns. In a more grassroots time, the festivities would have marked the end of the harvest, and in doing so must take advantage and give thanks and celebrate. With bonfires, food and treats, there is a sense of this is it.  Up to this point it had been hard work: seeding, tending, weeding, and then harvesting; being at the mercy of the weather and hoping for a decent yield, to survive the winter. Now the landscape has assembled (as Glück states) and the fields have provided what they can, what they deemed owed. No matter, within reach of the flames, and in the gaze of hollowed eyes flickering with wistful wispy understanding, thanks is given. Its one of those few times when everything is laid bare, and still despite the poverty, despite the drudgery, despite the scraping and the uncertainty, tonight within the embrace of company, within the shadow of the flames, and beneath the grotesque gaping eyes of the makeshift jack-o-lanterns the share in the simplest pleasures of life, while ghouls and souls mingle this one night a year. This is what makes October memorable. It’s a month of celebrations that carries within itself ancient pagan rituals and rights, with modern embellishments (and commercial elements). There is the view of October. One clocked in the black of night and the orange jacklight. It’s a month of graceful aging and acceptance of harsh realities, setting aside longstanding grudges, and moving past those buried regrets. Beyond October lies November that Norway of a month with its pewter days.
Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
M. Mary

Saturday 9 October 2021

Post-Nobel Prize in Literature 2021 Thoughts

Hello Gentle Reader,
Another year of Nobel Speculation has come and past. This year proved to defy expectations and came out as a brilliant surprise and shock. The discussions of Haruki Murakami, Anne Carson, Annie Ernaux, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, Jon Fosse and Jamaica Kincaid all fell away when at 1:00pm (Stockholm, CEST time) the clock chimed and the doorknob to those grand white and gold trimmed doors of the Swedish Academy opened and crossing the threshold between secrecy and restrained publicity, is the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, Mats Malm. The journalists present – just a few in total – sat in their seats like a small congregation of church goers (with microphones and cameras), while Mats Malm stood at the pulpit to enlighten the world on the deliberations of the Swedish Academy, and who they have chosen to induct as the Laureate in Literature for 2021. With muted delight Mats Malm announced that the Nobel Laureate for Literature for 2021 is: the Tanzanian born United Kingdom based writer, Abdulrazak Gurnah, with the following citation: “for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee.”
Again, due to complications caused by the global pandemic situation, the Nobel Laureates for 2020 (Louise Glück) and Nobel Laureate for 2021 (Abdulrazak Gurnah) will be invited to attend the Nobel Ceremonies at a later date when it is safe to do so.
Sadly, the reception at the Swedish Academy and the assembled journalists was muted once again. Yet, this cannot be blamed on the pandemic alone. When reviewing the announcement of the 2018/2019 Nobel Laureates in Literature, the atmosphere was once again muted. There were no cheers or applause. There was not even a spark of jovial glee passing through the presented journalists. Soberly and somberly Mats Malm read out the Laureates— Olga Tokarczuk and Peter Handke—and still not a murmur of excitement, which is odd considering that Peter Handke became such an explosive and controversial choice (though that wasn’t a surprise). The following year with the pandemic now an established reality, the atmosphere was even more muted with a sparse and few journalists populating the room for the 2020 announcement, which has become the same décor for this year. On all occasions Mats Malm entered the room with solemn airs immediately and began to welcome the attendees to the Swedish Academy, before running through the script of who the Nobel Laureate is and their citation in the languages that Mats Malm has the command over, afterwards Mats Malm passes the floor to the chairman of the Nobel Committee Anders Olsson who presides over court like a regent. Reading from a prescriptive perspective Olsson recites the overview of Abdulrazak Gurnah’s literary overview, and then takes questions from the journalist which are answered in Swedish and English.
Where’s the ceremony in this? Where is the excitement? The anticipation? Where’s the majesty? Instead, we get the Anders Olsson and Mats Malm show, a less then stunning duo it seems. And I don’t mean to be unkind to either of these men, but they are not public crowd pleasers. Their roles are so managed and scripted (right down to the blocking and interaction with journalists) that one can’t help but feel disappointed in the situation. This is a marvelous occasion. It’s a grand occasion and to treat it as if it’s a routine shareholder meeting or board meeting diminishes the joys of the literature prize. I’ve looked at the samples of previous permanent Secretaries of the Swedish Academy and how they handle the announcement of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Each of the three previous Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy (Horace Engdahl, Peter Englund and Sara Danius) managed the proceedings as a singular member of the Swedish Academy. Poised, professional, and even a sense of regality (well excitement in the case of Peter Englund) they delivered the announcement that solicited response that were gleeful and jovial in excitement as well as applauds. Afterwards they would calmly and with equal enjoyment provide an interview with a journalist regarding the years Nobel Laureate and an overview of their work. Even in 2016, Sara Danius entered through those stages with majestic reticence knowing full well that controversy and outrage were sure to following she had conducted the responsibilities of the time. Yet, when Mats Malm delivers the news with stoic cold calm. The delivery of the news is sober, solemn and even, which are fine attributes, but to preside over the events of announcing the Nobel Prize for Literature, one does need to have a slight flourish and colour in their charisma, a slight sense of spontaneity. Sadly, Mats Mal is either lacking in that spark or is being managed to remain as wooden and follow a defined regiment protocol as decided by Anders Olsson, at which point Mats Malm presents the name of the Laureate and citation, followed up by any information with regards to if the newly minted Laureate has been reached with the news. In the past Olga Tokarczuk received the news while on a reading tour;  Peter Handke welcomed the news while at home; Alice Munro was unavailable at the time and Peter Englund left a voice message; Doris Lessing was informed by reporters waiting for her out front of her home (she was out getting groceries); Louise Glück tepidly responded to the news with apprehension; and in the case of Abdulrazak Gurnah he received the news in the kitchen with suspicion, after all no one wants to be the subject of another prank like Julian Barnes.
Afterwards – at least in years past – the Permanent Secretary would excuse themselves and leave their pulpit and mingle with the assembled journalists, at which point they would engage in an interview regarding the laureate, recommendations where to start (Horace Engdahl recommended “The Black Book,” with regards to Orhan Pamuk; Peter Englund recommended “The View from Castlerock,” with regards to Alice Munro and “Missing Person,” with regards to Patrick Modiano; Sara Danius recommended “Wars Unwomanly Face,” in regards to Svetlana Alexievich), which provided a palpable human engagement to the affairs showcasing a sheer enjoyment and love of literature, language and culture. The lack of liveliness currently exhibited by the Mats Malm and Anders Olsson duo production is dreadfully staged. Mats Malm as Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy makes a short appearance, rattles of the pertinent information, and then excuses himself for Anders Olsson the chairman of the Nobel Committee, who proceeds to stand behind his pulpit and readout with lecture like enthusiasm the overview of the new Nobel Laureate in Literature, and then answer questions from journalists. I can understand that the pandemic has distance treated as a normal social habit, which is why the room is not filled and full of spectators and journalists, but the scripted, staged, and managed production of the proceedings are so lacking in palpable enjoyment. Mats Malm appears almost camera shy and extraordinary wooden in his delivery, while Anders Olsson is just as uninteresting. It still smells like Anders Olsson is the de facto leader of the Swedish Academy and is exercising a fair bit of control over the proceedings both publicly and behind closed doors. Regardless I long for the days of Horace Engdahl, Peter Englund or Sara Danius, a lively, charismatic, and regal Permanent Secretary is a damn good Permanent Secretary. These traits do not seem to be properly showcased in the personae of Mats Malm or Anders Olsson. Again, I don’t mean to be unkind or even unfair to these two men, but they are not inspiring in their delivery.
Now on to this year’s laureate, Abdulrazak Gurnah. What a surprise! Truly I got what I asked for: a writer I did not know and have not heard of. In that regard Gentle Reader, I can’t complain. Leading up to this year’s announcement I mulled the thoughts of Annie Ernaux receiving the award. I contemplated how the Swedish Academy was going to be forced to deny the accusation of Eurocentrism, of being insular and narrowminded in their perspective approach to defining and recognizing ‘global literature.’ Yet, at the same time, Annie Ernaux is a unique writer certainly another boldening approach to the parameters of what we call literature. If Svetlana Alexievich was the chronicler of the Soviet and post-Soviet individual through interpersonal interviews; Annie Ernaux is the social cartographer of post-War France through the intrapersonal self as the reflective angle of social attitudes, change and perspectives. Then from the left field came a writer no one discussed, betted on, or even speculated about. How’s that for a surprise! My daydreams and thoughts about Annie Ernaux had evaporated once Mats Malm had mentioned something about a writer (in Swedish) whose name I could not grasp, not even when announced in English (and I am not blaming Mats Malm, because when Anders Olsson announced it in turn, I still could not grasp who this mysterious writer was), abruptly I contemplated who this new writer is and what their work is going to entail. After seeing the name written I immediately delved into learning about Abdulrazak Gurnah.
Throughout the world there was a consensus amongst readers and journalists scratching their heads at who is Abdulrazak Gurnah. The Swedish Academy stated he was born in Zanzibar and based in the United Kingdom. Zanzibar is an island autonomous region in Tanzania on the Eastern side of the African continent, just south of Kenya, and north of Malawi, Zambia, and Mozambique. His interview with the Nobel websites Adam Smith was pleasant enough, though humorous as well, as Gurnah expressed suspicion initially when he talked to the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy Mats Malm in the kitchen while making tea. He said Mats Malm kept speaking quietly as he repeated the joyous news, and only after watching it announced did Abdulrazak Gurnah believe his good fortune at becoming this years Nobel Laureate in Literature.  In his interview with Admin Smith, Abdulrazak Gurnah expressed complete shock and bewilderment at learning the news he was the years Literature Laureate. This is the same experience the rest of us shared; as Abdulrazak Gurnah mentioned to Adam Smith, leading up to the announcement of the Nobel Prize generally (and there is) a lot of talk regarding specific writers, this year some of the usual suspects were being considered as possible contenders for the Nobel Prize for Literature such as: Haruki Murakami, Anne Carson, Jon Fosse, and Margaret Atwood; followed up with some new comers Annie Ernaux who was touted in the days leading up to the Nobel Prize for Literature announcement, as the most possible candidate for this years prize. Yet on October 7th, rather then reading out the name of one of the perennial candidates, Mats Malm named Abdulrazak Gurnah as the winner. Initially there was delight in hearing the news that an unknown even obscure writer had received the prize, which was quicky followed up with disappointment to learn that it went to another English language writer. The English language has received a great deal of attention from the Nobel Prize for Literature over the previous years. I lamented last year when discussing the Nobel recognition of Louise Glück that it appeared that the Nobel Prize for Literature was merely be passed between Europe and the United States year after year. This immediately felt much the same way, yet again.
Any disappointment that I held initially against Abdulrazak Gurnah quickly subsided after a review of his literary work and scholarly research. When referring to his reasons as to why he choses to write in English. In the same fashion as Chinua Achebe and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o who both (in the case of Thiong’o at one point in time) wrote in English, the language of the colonizer. There are complex concerns regarding language, politics, and the role of colonization and the postcolonial perspective. Though at one-point Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o wrote in English (the colonial language of Kenya) he eventually took on the literary mantel to preserve and disseminate the Gikuyu language through writing and publications. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o argues that in the inclusion and promotion of indigenous African languages are the cornerstone of reclaiming a postcolonial African identity and independence. Contrary Chinua Achebe expressed ambivalence to language, going so far as to state that the singular importance of a writer should be to write well regardless of language; though Achebe did recognize that language can be weaponized to destroy and brutalize a culture and people, and expressed that it can also be used in turn to revolt against colonial perspective through their own language. In the case of Abdulrazak Gurnah whose first language is Swahili and literary language is English, stated that the arguments presented by both Chinua Achebe and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o do not share his own understanding of language. The use of languages as his literary language stemmed from circumstance and environment. As a refugee in the United Kingdom and writing at the age of 21, Abdulrazak Gurnah read works in English, spoke English in his daily life, and then began to write in English. He will endorse the perspective that he learned English because of colonialism, but again the use of language is not viewed in any political or cultural perspective and incorporates phrases from Swahili into his language.
Despite writing in English, it is a safe conclusion in stating that Abdulrazak Gurnah is not a well-known writer in the English language speaking world either. Despite being nominated for the Booker Prize twice (1994 and 2001) Abdulrazak Gurnah has had an otherwise muted reception previously to the Nobel acknowledgement. Rather then being appreciated as a writer of ingenius novels and devastating exploration into the human condition; Abdulrazak Gurnah has found greater success as a scholar of postcolonial literature, a fact that is mentioned in the Nobel Committee’s Bio-Bibliography. Before his recent retirement, Gurnah was a distinguished professor of English literature and Post-Colonial Literature at the University of Kent, where his lectures focused on indepth studies and analysis of such prominent postcolonial writers as: Wole Soyinka of Nigeria, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o of Kenya, and Salman Rushdie of India. The experience of the displaced individual in a world of changing cultural dominance, colonialization, and disrupting oppressive political change, become key factors of Abdulrazak Gurnah’s creative narratives. As both scholar, writer and citizen, Gurnah has provided insight into the experience and tribulations of the refugee now castaway into the larger world where their cultural may no longer exist, and their country is embroiled in civil war or is oppressed by a new regime worst then its previous colonial predecessors. There are the misplaced dreams of a new world and a new bright future, which become inaccessible societies where one looks in, but cannot participate in.
The experience of the refugee and the displacement of the individual in a postcolonial world are some of he most paramount themes and preoccupations of Abdulrazak Gurnah’s work, and steam from personal experience. Born and raised in Zanzibar – an autonomous region of what is now Tanzania – Abdulrazak Gurnah was displaced as a young adult during the Zanzibar Revolution, which overthrow the Sultan and his Arab court by ethnic Africans, what followed suit was the merger of Zanzibar and Tanganyika into the present-day Tanzania. What followed was persecution and oppression which forced Gurnah to flee the islands he had called home and seek refuge in England. The literary works of Abdulrazak Gurnah focus on the experiences of exile, refugees, asylum, displacement, colonial histories and postcolonial fractured states, belonging, and the dissolution of the state. This inevitably can be considered a political statement. The current migrant crisis or refugee crisis taking place all over the world, and the brutality and hostility that greets these individuals is stomach churning. Recently, one can only think of the images of the border agents in Texas on horseback corralling and charging Haitian refugees. The fear and turmoil displayed was not only disgusting it was inhumane. Regardless of the legal status of these individuals, care and diplomacy should be exercised. The images of white men on horseback in cowboy hates were immediately compared to slave trade and the apprehension of the former slaves of the southern state. Furthermore, who can forget the plight and horror that took place in Afghanistan as Kabul fell. The sheer desperation riddled across the face of all those at the airport seeking to flee, to run, to seek some refuge or asylum elsewhere; and yet they too were turned away or shot. All the while like sharks or starved hyenas the Taliban and its pugnacious indoctrinated delinquents circled the parameter with a vulture’s keenness. Yet, whether we like to admit it or not, the refugee crisis that we are currently facing on a global stage, has veered the ugly head of postcolonial realities as the displace seek homes elsewhere, as their own fall into civil war or oppressive regimes.
The discussion of the plight of the refugee is a unique one. The theme is not only relevant, but I suspect will become increasingly predominant in the coming years. The Swedish Academy’s decision to award the Nobel Prize for Literature to a writer whose work directly addresses these issues is a political message. Now this should not diminish Abdulrazak Gurnah’s win as political pandering, but it does showcase to a degree that the Swedish Academy does have a way of making both political and social statements. This same statement can be said true regarding Herta Müller and Svetlana Alexievich whose awards could be considered political in their decisions as well. Though just as in the case of Herta Müller with her restrained poetic pointillistic prose, and Svetlana Alexievich with her beautiful recordings and renderings of the experience of the individual through crisis and history; Abdulrazak Gurnah will be found to have more literary merit, which will undoubtfully outweigh the political context.
The only other writers that I can think of that Abdulrazak Gurnah reminds me of (at least by Nobel Prize winning standards) is V.S. Naipual and Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio. I suspect, however, that Abdulrazak Gurnah will be a worthy Nobel Laureate on his own merit and in his own fashion. I do think the perspective in which Abdulrazak Gurnah writes from is very different from both V.S. Naipual and JMG Le Clézio as Naipaul wrote from the perspective of being a product of colonialization, and Le Clézio wrote with an anthropologists examination of different civilizations and societies with respect and admiration; whereas Gurnah’s work is uniquely from the perspective of the displaced and disposed, who are left stranded and castaways into the greater world and find a new home in exile.
As I begin to wrap up my thoughts on this year’s writer, it came to my attention that Ellen Mattson of the Nobel Committee gave a interview with a Swedish Newspaper where she provided an overview and personal thoughts on this years Nobel Laureate. The immediate question that was asked of her was did she have any recommendations in which to get acquainted with she recommended: “Paradise.” She provided some insight into his use of English language as his literary language, describing it as generous and spacious, with the ability to accommodate his experiences in a literary fashion. All in all this interview seemed to be far more insightful into the writer at a more palpable glance then the dissertation provided by Anders Olsson and the woodiness of Mats Malm. If can Gentle Reader, and if you can find the interview and get a decent translation, it is a warm and welcoming introduction into the perspective of Abdulrazak Gurnah as a writer, it is insightful and warm. I’d like to shamelessly recommend Ellen Mattson as the new Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy and ending this dull reign of the Mats Malm and Anders Olsson show.
All in all, Gentle Reader this has been a remarkable year for the Nobel Prize for Literature. I asked for a surprise and the Swedish Academy indulged and obliged. Here’s hoping they’ve returned to some roots within their mandate (whatever it maybe) of now and then just giving the literary world a big: Fuck You(!), with a writer we haven’t read or have neglectfully overlooked. There is bit a kernel of disappointment knowing that the award went to yet another English language novelists, but I truly believe that the unique perspective that Abdulrazak Gurnah brings to the award and to the literary world and the world at large as it faces a continued refugee crisis, all but makes up for the fact that he writes in English. Bravo to the Swedish Academy this year, you pulled a surprise, flipped the bird, and did the can-can in one go! I can’t remember being this surprised and amused since the late 2000’s.  
Congratulations are in order to Abdulrazak Gurnah, this appears to be a well-deserved recognition. I looked forward to reading and hearing his Nobel Lecture, as in previous interviews that I have been able to watch he appears to be a thoughtful and erudite man, a articulate and commanding speaker who knows how to engage with his audience. I think his insight and perspective will be acknowledged and welcomed. Very well done, and very well deserved. I look forward to giving his novels a try in the near future.
Congratulations Abdulrazak Gurnah!
Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
M. Mary

Thursday 7 October 2021

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2021

 Hello Gentle Reader, 

The Nobel Prize for Literature is awarded to the Tanzanian writer Abdulrazak Gurnah:

 "for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents." 

Congratulations are in order Abdulrazak Gurnah!

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

M. Mary 

Monday 4 October 2021

Final Thoughts for the Nobel Prize for Literature, 2021

Hello Gentle Reader, 
2021 might as well be called an extension of 2020. Yet another long-drawn-out year of pandemic propagation and political shuffling. The world currently works itself into a rolling boiling rage, then beaten back to a state of simmering repression, and then returning to the blistering eruption. These past months alone have shown that appreciation is a finite resource. During the initial months of the pandemic there was love and appreciation for healthcare workers who put their lives at risk as they waged war during the pandemic. Now they have found themselves in turn receiving a generous amount of dissidence and disgusting from the public. There is nothing but protests demanding the end to lockdowns and quarantines; questions and conspiracies regarding vaccines; and of course, incompetent politicians who have bumbled any sense of recovery, now have a front-line seat to a healthcare system collapsing before their eyes (to which they will still refuse to call the situation a crisis). Then there is the fall of Kabul and the re-emergence of the embattled and embittered Taliban, who were once a distance memory in their irrelevance. With their return there is a collective sight of disappointment. The news has no shifting its take to food shortages and labour shortages. Consolation: at least this time we have toilet paper. Once again, the Nobel Prize Ceremony has been moved to a virtual and distanced format due to the ongoing concerns that the COVID-19 Pandemic poses. As if in repeat of last year, Nobel Speculation for this year’s prize remained other muted in an atmosphere so humdrum it would even make a nun cry out: “Jesus Christ!” in vain, and then drink heavily (and it won’t be commune wine). Despite the otherwise repetitive nature of this year’s speculative discourse, there have been flare ups of intense speculation, heated discussions, and lively exchanges, but as brilliant as they begin, they too dwindle until rekindled into a new lively exchange.
The betting sites themselves show case a certainty in their inability to be trusted and are as usual quite boring and plain. The usual candidates and suspects are slapped together.
The top contenders for this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature according to the betting sites remain much the same. At least according to NicerOdds, who predicts the following in the highest ranges:
Haruki Murakami
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
Anne Carson
Lyudmila Ulitskaya
Margaret Atwood
Maryse Condé
László Krasznahorkai
Annie Ernaux
Jamaica Kincaid
While the lower rungs for this year’s speculation consists of the possibilities of:
JK Rowling
Joni Mitchell
Patti Smith
Martin Amis
Salman Rushdie
Of course, the entire betting sites lose any sense of credibility when they also list writers who are no longer eligible for the prize because they are dead: Amos Oz (2018) and Friederike Mayröcker (2021) – though this is an otherwise disappointing reminder as both writers would have been deserving Nobel Laureates, Amos Oz has polite politics backing him, while Friederike Mayröcker was one of the most unconventional, groundbreaking, and experimental writers at work. It’s hard to imagine any writer currently working who observes such a strict devotion and adherence to personal craft and form, regardless of publication or readership.
All in all, though the betting sites lists are conventional. They are insipid and lukewarm. They do not inspire any dazzling new heights, merely tread the usual suspects who may or may not be in consideration for the prize.
The Nobel’ s social media campaign is equally as repetitive as it rehashes the same posts. They do seem to love Nadine Gordimer, Rabindranath Tagore, William Faulkner and Grazia Deledda. Though in the defense of Grazia Deledda she has been almost abandoned on the shores of oblivion with the company of Erik Axel Karlfeldt, Roger Martin du Gard, and Jaroslav Seifert. Then there is the point that the Nobel Prize social media campaign literally repeats itself from the previous year, referencing the famous voice mail left for Alice Munro which was posted on September 26, 2021 (September 10th, 2020); or a list of eight books by an individual Nobel Laureate: Olga Tokarczuk, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ernest Hemingway, Nadine Gordimer, William Golding, Alice Munro, Toni Morrison, and Rabindranath Tagore, which was posted on October 1st, 2021 (September 25th, 2021).
This year, however, they also posted an interview with a new Swedish Academy member: Ellen Mattson of Chair No. 9, who is also a member of the Nobel Committee, which has seen some changes this year as well:
Anders Olsson (Chair)
Ellen Mattson
Anne Swärd
Per Wästberg
Jesper Svenbro
Mats Malm (Associate)
I believe the outgoing members of the Nobel Committee were Horace Engdahl and Tomas Riad. No matter, Anders Olsson is still the chair, and has taken on a powerful role within the Swedish Academy since the 2018 crisis, acting as the temporary Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy after Sara Danius’s resignation, at which point Olsson was to weather what remained of the Swedish Academy to weather the transition and hold the fractured institution together, and arguably Olsson succeed. Groundbreaking reforms were instituted, and concessions accepted. Perhaps one of the most groundbreaking reforms was granting members the agency to resign rather then become inactive. What followed was a flurry of resignations which included: the former Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius, Lotta Lotass, Jayne Svenungsson, Klas Östergren, Sara Stridsberg, and Kerstin Ekman. Of course, Kerstin Ekman and Klas Östergren were inactive decades previously due to the Rushdie Affair, the agency to resign merely allowed them to finalize their emancipation from the institution. Lotta Lotass was also inactive prior to her resignation as well. Then of course there is the case of Katarina Frostenson, who also resigned with encouragement from the Swedish Academy. The behaviour of her husband and by extension the accusations that she violated the Swedish Academy’s statues of confidentiality, proved she was a liability. As two other members have since died, the Swedish Academy has achieved a full roster, which is a first since the late eighties. Here’s hoping this makes for lively deliberations and complex conversations regarding who shall receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Still, one can’t help but ache for Sara Danius. What an icon. Being the first woman Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy was a difficult task, but for the few years in which she conducted the role, she was marvelous at it. Poised and professional at each turn, Danius maintain regality and reticent professionalism when executing the duties of the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy. Through grace and charm Sara Danius always introduced a warm and welcoming atmosphere when it came to the Nobel Prize for Literature. Unfortunately, after resigning from the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius succumbed to breast cancer, which she had been battling for some years.
Which of course brings us to the current Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy Mats Malm, who is just a little wooden in his duties as Permanent Secretary. Since his orientation and inception as the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, one has noticed in the two announcements for three laureates that Mats Malm is either slightly lifeless in his delivery or being managed backstage. After announcing the laureate for the Nobel Prize for Literature, Mats Malm immediately defers to Anders Olsson—Chairman of the Nobel Committee—and members of the Nobel Committee, who will present the laureates and answer questions from journalists. The entire affair which once was filled with bustling energy and barely contained excitement, is now eclipsed with a looming shadow which casts an otherwise muted atmosphere on the affair. Where Sara Danius maintained grace and decorum when delivering the duties, which were always followed with applauds and praise (even the blight of Bob Dylan), and what followed suit was an even more admirable interview where Sara Danius majestically answered the questions, provided an insightful introduction and overview of the writer, and shared personal recommendations of books for eager readers to consider reading. Then there was of course Peter Englund who was as completely energized when announcing the Nobel Prize for Literature, where he was positively beaming and bouncing to make the announcement, and finally let loose when discussing the writer in interviews later. Peter Englund was infectious in his deliberations and delivery. Even respect can be paid to Horace Engdahl, who was equally as respectable in the role, where he acted as master of ceremonies with dignity and even statesmanship (if albeit slightly smug). Yet, when it comes to the due of Mats Malm and Anders Olsson it recalls a ventriloquist and his puppet. The performance is neither enjoyable nor spectacular. One can’t help but think that Mats Malm is limited in his ability to conduct his duties as Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy because Anders Olsson maintains some influence over the execution of those duties. Then again, the more this is discussed the more it comes across as some literary tin foil hat conspiracy. Yet, one can’t help but wonder if this year once again if Mats Malm will once again pass the floor to Anders Olsson or not.
With Nobel Week now thoroughly underway, with today’s Prize in Medicine & Physiology announced, there are only two more prizes before the Nobel Prize for Literature is set to be announced this Thursday. As we begin to lead up to this year’s prize announcement date, it is difficult to imagine who will be fortunate writer to receive the golden phone call. Not to mention, how will the newly minted Laureate react. There is the famous Doris Lessing response from 2007 when she snapped: “oh Christ!” but then again when one does reach a certain age, they are less inclined to observe social niceties, especially when you’re trying to bring in the groceries. Who can forget the apprehension in Mats Malm’s voice last year when asked if he got in touch with Louise Glück; and the subsequent interview with Adam Smith from the Nobel Foundation which can only be described as brisque, but admirably honest (though at the time, I found Louise Glück’s behaviour unbecoming, which was an unfair assessment). Other laureates have been delighted and irritated in the same turn, its merely the nature of the award and the publicity that goes along with it.
Of course, leading up to this week, friends have inquired about who I want to win the Nobel Prize for Literature as if my own desires are to be taken into consideration (which they are not). This is usually a difficult question to answer.  For me the greatest Nobel Laureates in Literature have are the surprises; an introduction to a writer previously unknown to the English language speaking world, or who had little exposure to the English-speaking world. Of course, this is not entirely fair to other writers who are recognized and established and are equally as deserving. Finding that balance is difficult if not impossible. Yet I am asked of all my speculation and learning about new writers from across the job (at least that I can find) who do I wish to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. Of course, I have no proper answer on the upfront. It’s a matter of taste and preference, which are always in fluctuation and can change day by day or within the hour, let alone in the immediate minute. So of course, when asked I can’t possibly answer. Even after considerable time to think any list I produce is immediately discarded. Though I always seem to have a soft spot for the Finnish poet Sirkka Turkka, whose poems always struck me as graceful, lived, and without pretense. Her poetry often showed respect and admiration for the natural world, and slight side eyed glance to people in general (though not misanthropic in nature; but rather distant). She is perhaps one of the most important poets of Finland, and yet so underappreciated aboard and so underrepresented. The natural grace I find with Sirkka Turkka’s poetry is what makes it so attractive. It eschews all pretense and pompous predilections that may other writers attempt to enact to showcase and boast their own intelligence or creative ingenuity, while Turkka remains completely earthbound in the intimacy of her poetry, once again denying the fits of grandiose maximalism that is so paramount today. Speaking of the intimate reminds me of Gyrðir Elíasson and his work of concentrated and condescended short stories, which read almost like prose poems and vignettes. Only one of his books have translated into English “Stone Tree,” and it was a treat to read, but the desire to read more is still there and no other publications have been made so far. Gyrðir Elíasson is certainly a writer’s writer, there’s no denying that, but his work has such careful attention to the economics of form and precision, he’s simply masterful; and he’s great foil to Halldór Laxness and Iceland’s literary heritage with their epic Sagas. As I hear the leaves of autumn rustle and scamper down the street their paper edge scratching against the pavement, I’m reminded of Yōko Ogawa. I wouldn’t mind if she won. I think the lacking representation of Yōko Ogawa in English stems from Haruki Murakami’s monopoly, though she has quite the devoted translation into French. I find Yōko Ogawa’s themes are more interesting, developed, and deeper than Murkami’s themes of solitude, isolation, disassociation, and modern alienation, have become increasingly caricaturized. Whereas Yoko Ogawa’s themes of memory, loss, absence, the agony of transience, a tint of the grotesque, macabre, and violent, along with acute psychological observation make her far more interesting. Yōko Ogawa’s work maintains a diverse delivery of preoccupation and form, while Haruki Murakami is retreading his previous preoccupations again and again without the accumulative effect of say Patrick Modiano or Kenzaburō Ōe. The list inevitably will continue to grow, already I’m reminded of Annie Ernaux, Jon Fosse, Mia Couto, Doris Kareva, Kim Hyeson, Agi Mishol, Ibrahim Al-Koni and Pierre Michon.
Today though also showed significant movement in the betting sites predictions, which can be considered rather unique as the previous premature disclosure was due to Jean-Claude Arnault advertising privileged information provided to him by his wife Katarina Frostenson. Yet, today the betting sites exploded with an activity with the bookies stating she was the most likely writer to be crowned as the Nobel Laureate for 2021. Yet ever in flux, the Romanian master of the postmodern and slightly surreal Mircea Cărtărescu has overtaken Annie Ernaux as the favourite. Jon Fosse also made noticeable gains today according to the bookies. While Anne Carson also remains incredibly favoured amongst those who enjoy betting on a blind horserace.
The thought of Annie Ernaux becoming this years Nobel Laureate in Literature is neither surprising nor unwarranted. Annie Ernaux is perhaps one of the most accomplished French language writers currently at work. As a writer, Annie Ernaux is renowned for her ‘autofiction,’ that is autobiographical fictional works, which misappropriates a sense of narcissism onto Annie Ernaux, whose work transcends the pitfalls of hedonistic debauchery into the realm of scandalous histrionics and melodrama, by maintaining a devout adherence to social examination. By maintaining a socially engaged and politically aware sense of self, Annie Ernaux’s intensely personal work becomes an intrapersonal chronicle and observation of the social and political shifts of French society and global attitudes.  The examination of the self in conjunction (or by extension) of the societal, reinvites and invigorates the autobiographical narrative.
In the end, who will win this years Nobel Prize for Literature? We won’t know until Thursday; and to be honest it seems the day can’t come soon enough! This sudden intensity in speculation ignited a contagious sense of excitement, as Thursday can’t come soon enough!
Until Thursday Gentle Reader, until Thursday!
Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
M. Mary
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