The Nobel Committee for Literature has changed course again, after the debacle over Bob Dylan last year, but it is still hostage to the impish notion that it must try to diddle the public. Traditionally, it has followed Alfred Nobel’s will and sought out the most important work which deserves a wider audience. Obviously, that takes the focus to good but obscure writers, and even well-read people have known nothing of most of the 114 laureates honoured so far. No wonder commentators trying to guess the year’s winner tend to do their spadework on betting websites, which are actually quite unreliable, because the odds are influenced by the current whims of the punters. They also peer through the lenses of quotas set by geography, language, colour and political relevance, though it is not known if the committee even considers these criteria.
Having had enough of that mug’s game, the committee swung a full 180o in 2016, and awarded Dylan, venturing out of the citadel of high literature into the streets of popular culture and activism. Unfortunately, Dylan turned out to be peevish old codger, and refused to acknowledge the prize for as long as common decency permitted. This year, the committee swung back, but not all the way, choosing a well-known writer while ignoring the claims of leading favourites Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Margaret Atwood and the ever-popular Haruki Murakami. When the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Kazuo Ishiguro, fans of Murakami, another writer with a Japanese name, were afound celebrating in the streets. Actually, neither writer is Japanese. Ishiguro is English, and even sports an Order of the British Empire. Murakami is
American, so very American that he used to run a jazz club. And he is more popular and has a wider body of work than Ishiguro. It just goes to show that the Nobel committee does not honour quotas, and has not lost its core competency: whimsicality.