I wrote the following little essay for the now defunct Underground Literary Alliance website in 2004. Unfortunately, the essay is not as dated as it should be. This year's Nobel Prize in Literature announcement is scheduled for Thursday, so we'll see if this essay yet again holds true. Tomorrow I'll run another article, this one from 2005.
Every fall, literati worldwide look forward to the announcement of the winner of the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature. This year’s laureate is Elfriede Jelinek, an Austrian novelist. It’s been over a decade since an American won the prize. The last was Toni Morrison in 1993. Now, seeing as how Americans are constantly reminded by their domestic media that the United States of America is the “world’s lone superpower” and that our culture “dominates the globe,” it may strike the remaining Americans who can think (apparently not a large number seeing as about half the voting population still holds the wrongheaded notion that George W. Bush is doing a good job as president--memo to morons, the only “good job” he’s doing is of ruining the country) that it is odd that more of our writers (since our American literature, like the rest of our culture, is surely the best in the world!) haven’t been chosen as worthy of the Nobel Prize, world-class authors, winners of the most prestigious prize in literature. Among those who ponder the situation, three likely explanations arise:
(1) The kinder, gentler hypothesis. There’s a lot of countries in the world, and a lot of writers in each country, so it’s reasonable that even the best country in the world (U! S! A! USA! USA!) can only hog so many awards. One a decade is the best we can hope for.
(2) The it’s a conspiracy hypothesis. The Swedish Academy, like the rest of “old Europe,” hates us Americans because we kick so much arse worldwide (why look what we did to Saddam, we’d eat Stockholm for lunch), so they unfairly promote European writers such as Jelinek and other riff-raffish cultural inferiors over the likes of such American supergeniuses as Don DeLillo, John Updike, Philip Roth, Louise Erdrich, and so on (even with the odds stacked against him, Thomas Pynchon’s still got money on him in Vegas to be the next American laureate though).
(3) The American literature sucks hypothesis. In a society where such influential and important authors as Kathy Acker, Charles Bukowski, William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and Henry Miller usually are missing entirely from the standard literary canon (e.g., The Norton Anthology of American Literature taught in college courses) in favor of blander, less interesting writers culled from pyramid scheme/academic welfare Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing programs (out of politeness, just like our esteemed leader W., we won’t name names but take a look at some of the writers who appear in those anthologies where the aforementioned authors should), and where contemporary writers of similar merit are almost completely ignored by large, creepy corporations who’d rather sign the latest reality television star (o.k., fuck it, we will name names here, Paris Hilton anyone?) to a book contract in order to make a quick, shortsighted buck (and then it’s decades in the remainders bin, with the next stop the landfill) rather than nurture quality writers whose works would continue to sell and make profits (and whose early editions would end up preserved in libraries and rare and used bookstores) for decades, what the fuck do you Americans expect? You get a literary culture completely bankrupt of world class work, and the Nobel Committees recognize that fact and go looking elsewhere.
The Underground Literary Alliance favors the third explanation. So much for the Great American Novel, eh? At this stage, we’d bloody settle for a good one, and even that’s not too likely, except in the underground, far beneath the average reader’s and the Nobel Committee’s notice.