OK, so the best way to win a Nobel Peace Prize is clearly to be an American president — the surprised fellow in the Rose Garden today; or an ex-president building a legacy — the Georgian negotiator; or an almost-president — the king of cap ‘n’ trade; or a reluctant presidential fighter of the war to end all wars, which didn’t work out so well — the namesake of yours truly.
Whereas the way to win a Nobel Prize in Literature is NOT to be an American novelist working at the top of your game, or anybody’s game, for many decades, as in the late John Updike, whose failure to get the prize is a crime. And as in Philip Roth, who, yoo hoo Stockholm, is still with us and still eligible. Or Thomas Pynchon or Don DeLillo, whose politics are presumably more to European tastes.
The way to get the writing award is to be a European leftist with an interesting personal story as opposed to pure novelistic chops, as the selection of Herta Muller shows — not that I’ve read anything she’s written, and only a couple thousand Americans can say they have, before this week at least.
No good just to be European — otherwise the late great Tory novelist Anthony Powell, my favorite writer ever, would have won simply on the massive strengths of “A Dance to the Music of Time.”
It’s all diminishing the prestige of the Nobel in the end. Then again, the failure to award the prize to any of the trio who were the greatest writers of the late 19th and early 20th century — James Joyce, Leo Tolstoy and Marcel Proust — went a long way toward diminishing it, too.
Sure, they get sensible sometimes. No discounting the pure poetry that is Seamus Heaney.