Just when we thought that Bob Dylan winning the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature was as far out on a limb as the prize would ever go, we now find that this year's Nobel Prize for Literature will actually be put to sleep for a year.
There won't be a Nobel Prize for Literature in 2018, courtesy of a sudden coma caused by corruption and #MeToo abuse in the Swedish Academy. Two prizes will be presented in 2019--one supposedly to take care of 2018. You wouldn't think such things could happen to the award so many think the great granddaddy of them all, but so it has.
Why? Get this now: The Swedish Academy that gives the literary prize has been plagued by allegations of corruption and sexual harassment by French photographer Jean-Claude Arnault, who is married to the Academy's most prominent woman, Katarina Frostenson.
Both managed a club together that was funded by the Swedish Academy. It's accused of getting funny with the money, as jazz musicians sometimes used to say about some greedy club owners. Arnault has not only been accused of sexual abuse by 18 women, along with fiduciary malfeasance, he has also been alleged to have leaked the names of Nobel Prize for Literature winners ahead of time.
It has been such an unholy mess in Sweden that some members of the Academy resigned (even though no one knows if they're allowed to) and the Academy at large decided to take the world's most prestigious literary prize completely off the table for award time in the fall. The last time that kind of prize postponement happened was in 1949 when the Academy decided nobody was worth the world's most prestigious literary prize that year. A few months later, William Faulkner's "A Fable," for some reason convinced them to reconsider and give it to him.
Wrong book, but good move anyway. He's now thought of as not only a great 20th century American modernist writer, but one of the most influential authors on all sorts of subsequent Caribbean and Latin-American writers -- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for one.
When I was a kid I revered the Nobel Prize for Literature. Oscar and World Series winners were all very nice. So were Super Bowl winners. But I cherished the opportunity to learn about new writers -- Greek Poet George Seferis, for instance, Italian poet Eugenio Montale and Polish poet Wislawa Szymbourska. I felt ratified when personal favorites Samuel Beckett and Elias Canetti won.
Then, in my mid-teens, I realized that truly idiotic politics steered the award to prodigies of international literary mediocrity -- Mikhail Sholokov instead of Vladimir Nabokov, Miguel Angel Asturias instead of Jorge Luis Borges, and Salvatore Quasimodo instead of Italo Calvino.
I began to suspect early on that Hemingway and Faulkner be damned, a musty, anti-American spine lurked inside the prize which, among many other things, would always play havoc with winners and losers.
Then, in 2008, one of the stupidest things ever said in public about a subject of controversy (outside of American politics, of course) was said by a fellow named Horace Engdahl, who was then called the "Permanent Secretary" of the Swedish Academy Nobel Prize committee. It turned out that whatever they're called, Permanent Secretaries don't last that long. Engdahl lasted 10 years and there have been two replacements since.
In 2008, Engdahl told the literary world that "the U.S. is too isolated and too insular to win the prize. They don't translate enough and don't really participate enough in the big dialogue of literature." Our "ignorance" was just too pronounced to give prizes to, you see.
Not only were Engdahl's convictions thunderously false in the case of such American writers Philip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates and John Updike, but it smacked of dimwit social club maneuvering, not artistic assessment of any integrity.
Courtesy of Engdahl's blowing open the doors on the Swedish Academy's own hilarious isolation and insularity, we were now able to understand how they were so insanely eager to minimize writers revered by American readers and as well as any American writer suspected of political conservatism -- not to mention sanguine in any way about American society.
If they'd been smarter and less pitifully provincial about the way they read Updike and Roth, for instance, maybe the Swedish Academy wouldn't now find itself the laughingstock of the world for having to climb off their high horse and get clean from a whole lot of financial and sexually errant muck.
In general, readers are now forced to admit that it was only a matter of time before the great sexual reckoning of our time -- what we now call the #MeToo moment -- hit the world of literature and hit it hard. It has hit writers who have been familiar in our and adjoining ZIP codes.
Writer and professor Zinzi Clemmons responded to Junot Diaz's extraordinary New Yorker piece about being sexually assaulted at the age of 8 by telling the world that Diaz assaulted Clemmons when she was a graduate student of 26. In his New Yorker piece about the terrible psychic wounds he exhibited in his life from the early assault, he admitted problems with rage and sexual behavior. Says Clemmons, "Diaz has made his behavior the burden of many women -- particularly women of color."
Diaz is a wonderful novelist and short story writer who just came to Buffalo for a hugely successful performance in the Babel series.
In the current issue of Jezebel, memoirist ("The Liar's Club"), essayist and poet Mary Karr -- who teaches at Syracuse -- said that in her relationship with the late David Foster Wallace (who died by suicide), he once tried to push her out of a moving car and "that’s about 2% of what happened." Wallace's stalking, she said, was so blood-freezing that he once "followed my son age 5 home from school."
Anyone anywhere who thinks that literary talent has, in any way, automatically connoted moral impeccability has, I think, misconstrued our entire species.
Monsters of all sorts have always been well-represented by artists and writers.
It was Gore Vidal, bless him, who once wrote a semi-appalling piece about Norman Mailer and Henry Miller that compared their attitude toward women to that of Charles Manson. That, of course, was part of the American literary period that Engdahl and his navel-gazing, anti-American Swedes would no doubt consider "insular" and refusing a dialogue with the rest of the world's literatures.
You want to know something funny? When I think about a Swedish Academy so bent out of shape by corruption and #MeToo sexual abuse that it actually has to skip putting out a Nobel Prize in the fall, three of the writers that occur to me who could actually have handled it best in fiction are John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates and Philip Roth.
But that's just little old American me, being isolationist and insular again in a whole world that suddenly seems depressingly American.