Wednesday, October 8, 2008

By Ted Burke
Permanent Nobel Prize Committee member Horace Engdahl must have been having a bad time of it on particular morning as he finished reading yet another Danielle Steele novel, choking down a bit of soggy toast with concentrated orange juice, and commenced to crack open a Dan Brown book."American literature is too awful, too insular, to fixed with American concerns to be really play in The Big Leagues" he must have gasped, his quaking hand spilling still-frozen ice crystles from his glass of would be orange juice onto his crisply pressed pajama bottoms, "Europe, oh our writers are so superior, so much more worldly,yes, we are the world, after all, ohhhh, ahhh..."

Has anyone who's read this man's remarks on American Literature not been struck how closely akin elitism is to provincialism; not to slight anyone , but there is a small town boosterism that resonates like small, thin bell that cannot produce anything more than a flat, metallic clanking. He doesn't have the arms, one guesses, to beat the big bass drum for his beloved European superiority. I'm reminded of the old Roger Corman movie Bucket of Blood where a preening , brain dead blonde ingenue berates a bus boy in a bohemian coffee house , telling him, in effect, " who are you but a mere bus boy? We're all sophisticated beatniks..."

How on earth can the slandering of an entire country, its people and the complex and diverse culture it contains be considered "enlightened"? It cannot, even if this sort of hubris-choked braying comes from the mouth of a permanent member of the Nobel Committee. It’d be one thing if this were something said in a bar or at a sufficiently boozed-up party where baseless claims are the norm and the revealed ignorance radiates no further than the next morning when hangovers and amnesia take priority over one’s global pronouncements to the insularity of American literature. Horace Engdahl’s remarks belie his own insularity; one has a hard time imagining someone so unaware that they’re fulfilling the rank stereotype of the half-cocked dilettante who cannot support his view with anything other than a snotty tone. I’ve my doubts that he’s read Roth, DF Wallace, Oates, August Wilson, Don DeLillo, John Ashbery, Kate Braverman; one may furnish their own examples of worthy Americans not given the and consider the Nobel Prize itself irrelevant.

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