The Nobel Committee Through a Glass Darkly
By Bernie Quigley
- for The Hill on 9/9/09
The choices of President Barack Obama to win the 2009 Nobel Prize for peace and Herta Mueller to win the 2009 Nobel Prize for literature make perfect sense, but only to a Swede or a German. Too other Euros too, but it must be said, now that Sarko has become Angela’s bitch, that every European east to the English Channel and west of the Urals is a kind of German or German to a degree. And Swedes most of all as they are to Germany much as Canadians are to us Americans. Harder working, better educated, smarter maybe, better looking, more sophisticated, better hockey players and certainly more polite, but still beholden to us vulgarians down below.
It has nothing to do with literature. It has nothing to do with peace. It never has. It never does. But the Nobel Committee’s selections this year form a perfect picture through a glass darkly of who the Swedes and Germans are and who they are not. But it is their world, not ours, and we should first only be bemused. Because we, as Americans, can never be Swedes or Germans and should not want to be.
Giving the peace prize to Obama – I think he does not want it yet but Bill wants it badly and he will never get it now – should not raise irony although the Nobel Committee cherishes irony. True, Obama has vindicated Cheney and Bush in Afghanistan and trumped Reagan with his new upgraded stars wars system. But this is not about America’s Obama. This is about Sweden’s Obama and they are different. Obama is to the Swedes and the Germans the kind of American they want outsiders (feringhee, foreigner, foreign devils, Americans) to be. They want them (us) to be nice light blue types like Desmond Tutu, Al Gore and Jimmy Carter.
Obama got this early, way too early, because they want to force him to be like that as well. But Obama is not a preacher. He may not be a president. It is too early to tell. But to be a real president requires more structure, character and substance than Tutu and Carter and most of the others and Obama has more. It would be a heroic moment for Obama to gracefully turn it down with the claim that he has not yet earned it. Obama still has potential for true grit and natural nobility – Eisenhower, Kennedy - but he will be held back by being bunched in with these guys.
The Nobels don’t like to be lobbied or anticipated. Bill – he of the 50 gold watches - probably overreached in his heavy lobbying for the peace prize. Hey, this is not suburban soccer when everyone gets a trophy. Not to the Swedes. But wait till they give one to Hillary in a few years. That will really piss him off.
And what they always say about literature, “If you are European it is easier to relate to European literature,” is true, even if it annoys the English department. Much as it is easier to relate to classical ballet if you happen to be a white Russian. The day has passed. It passed when John Ford, Buster Keaton, Hedy Lamarr and Sam Fuller superseded the masterful Willa Cather. And it was not an issue of taste or sophistication but one of simple demographics.
But this one thing should be cleared up. The Swedes, in choosing another European for the literature prize were not thinking about Philip Roth, Joan Didion, Maya Angelou, Lee Smith (my choice), Charles Frazier or Bob Dylan when they passed them by. They were thinking of one person: Stephanie Meyers, author of the Twilight series, whose novels have sold tens, probably 100s of millions of copies this past year, most to kids under 16. Because if the first image of the Goth Herta Mueller from Transylvania who’s “ . . . frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed . . .” doesn’t bring vampires to mind you are in denial. It is the core archetype of Europe’s post-Christendom age which the remarkable Angela Merkel has inherited – the myth of the “empty crypt” – the Christ unconjured and unconjurable. They will not turn this over to American vampires from Kurt Cobain’s Seattle, shining in the sun and with a work and family ethic as stringent as Mormons. Forget about that. Europe owns vampires. They will not give this to us. We are vulgar.
The most fundamental illusion of globalization is that America is not first in the world because of military conquest, but we are. Europeans, Germans especially, know that in their hearts and so do we. Asking Europeans who first conquered the world then had it taken from them by us is in one aspect like asking Richmond, Austin or Chapel Hill to provide their vision of us and them after the Southern conquest. You would get Faulkner and C. Vann Woodward. You would get John Hope Franklin, W.J Cash and Maya Angelou. You would get literature, obsession and guilt from the conquered but not from the conqueror. Because the conqueror is free and passes on in curiosity to Jimmy Cagney, 2 Pac, the Baghwan and Kurt Cobain or as Henry James wrote of New England, yields to decay. But the conquered, Germany and the South, are changed forever.