The Nobel Prize is now an insult to literature


Isn’t it time we called bullshit, once and for all, on the Nobel Prize? I’m not talking about the Peace Prize — though that’s a parcel of yuks all of its own. First Barack Obama — who hasn’t made peace anywhere at all, and whose prosecution of the war on terror has seen him described as “George W Bush on steroids” — and now the European Union. Already, I’m imagining tense negotiations in Brussels over who, exactly, gets to put the diploma into his downstairs loo.

But no: it’s a given that the Peace Prize is kind of a joke. What about the Nobel Prize for Literature? Has there ever been an instance of so manifest an absurdity accorded such reverence — such a tottering edifice of pomp erected on such shallow foundations?

It’s not that I think the wrong person tends to get it — though history seems to suggest they do. I take no pride in never having heard of this year’s winner, the Chinese writer Mo Yan; I shall seek his work out. I’m sure Elfriede Jelinek is dandy.

I think Seamus Heaney and Harold Pinter are jolly good too. Nor is it the worry that it’s “excessively political”. Rather, it’s the idea that such a prize will have anything whatsoever to tell us about literature, still less represent some sort of global literary gold standard.

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