Monday 14 October 2013

FIGURING OUT THE NOBEL PRIZE. Obama or Merkel? Borges or Munro?

How do the Nobel Prize judges make their decisions?

Why was Obama awarded a Peace Prize and Mother Merkel has so far gone empty-handed? Okay, I can see the rationale here. You have to be involved in a war in order to make peace. The US had several on the go recently -- Iraq, Afghanistan, and briefly, Libya. Germany hasn’t been involved in a war in sixty years plus. So unless the Germans go haywire, Mutti doesn’t have a chance of making peace or making the Nobel Prize.

Also, the judges had to seize the moment and get Obama before he could ruin it all by sending more troops to Afghanistan. You could say the Nobel Peace Prize is a kind of incentive, to give a person something to live up to. It’s like saying, okay right now you don’t have a stellar reputation for keeping the peace, but we believe you’ll improve along the way.

That definitely doesn’t happen with the Nobel Prize for Literature. Authors don’t get Nobel pats on the head just because they might eventually write an iconic novel. It seems unfair, but they have to prove their worth up front and write and write and write for fifty years minimum.

But why did Alice Munro get the Nobel Prize, while Luis Borges who wrote just as many short stories never got beyond being touted as the next Nobel Prize winner? Maybe it was the genre. Borges wrote in the style of fantastic realism, which no one can understand unless they are a little weird themselves. And there was Alice Munro offering accessible, moving stories with quiet epiphanies everyone likes except for the highbrows who read the bleak stories in the New Yorker.

Ditto with the respective bios of Munro and Borges. She stuck to books: a degree in English lit, summer jobs in libraries (we’ll overlook the tobacco picking), founding a bookstore and keeping it going. That’s what I call a perfect narrative arc. Now look at Borges – no degree and sticking his nose into politics, being anti-fascist, anti-communist, anti-Peronist, and after some hesitation, anti-military junta. I mean the guy was against everything. So of course the Nobel Prize judges shied away from Borges. Next thing you know he goes anti-Nobel!

Looking at Alice Munro, the Nobel judges were all smiles. Here was an agreeable woman who never caused trouble. And she won’t embarrass us in future, they thought, because she has vowed to retire from writing.

Of course Nobel Prize winners are notoriously unpredictable. Obama did send more troops to Afghanistan, and Alice Munro has changed her mind about retiring from writing. Let’s just hope she won’t get into that fantastic realism stuff!

1 comment:

  1. Julio Cortazar as Borges must be read with an open mind. They are enjoyed precisely because they write weird, abstract and fantastic stories.