Sunday, October 23, 2005

The deafening silence

While the scientific Nobel prizes certainly have a value, the peace and literature prizes are rather ridiculous. The peace prize is awarded by a committee elected by the Norwegian parliament, and is consequently unabashedly politicized (also see here), while the literature prize, as recently noted by Christopher Hitchens in the Wall Street Journal (requires subs., see here for an exerpt) tends to reward mediocrities:
The Nobel committee allowed Borges and Nabokov to go to their graves unrecognized, while choosing writers who it is difficult to remember without wincing. Last year's selection, of a mediocre Austrian Stalinist named Elfriede Jellinek, caused a few winces even in Stockholm. And Dario Fo? What can one possibly say -- except that the theater of the absurd is apparently always on the road. Jose Saramago can certainly write -- just as Frau Jellinek can certainly not -- but one is compelled to suspect that without his staunch post-1989 membership of the unusually degenerated Portuguese Communist Party he would not have been considered. As with the Peace Prize, the award of the laureateship for literature has come to approximate the value of a resolution of the U.N. Special Committee on Human Rights. The occasional exceptions -- I would want to instance Sir Vidia Naipaul in spite of his own toxic political views -- only throw the general sinister mediocrity into sharper relief.
As Jean-François Revel sarcastically says in his excellent book Anti-Americanism (my translation, from page 121 of this French edition):
[The idea that poverty justifies anti-American terrorism] is also held by Nobel laureate Dario Fo who writes (Corriere della Sera, 15 September 2001): "What are the 20,000 dead in New York (sic) compared to the millions of people who every year are victims of the great speculators?" The attribution of the Nobel prize in literature to a literary nonentity such as Dario Fo had raised doubts about the competence of the Swedish Academy. The misunderstanding is finally cleared up: they must have intended to award him the prize in economics.
Having said this, receiving such prizes should not result in automatic condemnation: at times, almost by accident, it is actually awarded to worthy individuals. An example is José Ramos Horta, East Timor's minister of foreign affairs, who received (via Normblog) the peace prize in 1996. Last week he had an excellent editorial in the Asian Wall Street Journal (requires subs., excerpted in The Australian, via Tim Blair):
Time and again as I watch the barbarity inflicted on innocent Iraqi civilians, often women and children, pass with seeming silence and indifference from the rest of the world, I ask where are those who are so quick to take to the streets to protest every alleged U.S. sin -- be it real or imaginary? If they are so appalled at the graphic photos showing the depraved acts committed by a small number of American servicemen -- photos that, never let it be forgotten, were unearthed as a result of the U.S. Army's own investigation -- surely they should be even more appalled by the daily carnage inflicted on the Shia majority in Iraq. Instead, those who hate the U.S. seem to believe that every wrong committed by an American serviceman must not only be loudly condemned but portrayed as a deliberate act by the U.S. government, while the systematic and daily barbarities perpetrated predominantly by Sunni Muslims upon their fellow Muslims pass without comment.
Do read the whole thing.

No comments: