October 13, 2007


Lessing's joined-up utopianism makes her a natural to join the dynamite authors' brigade (STUART KELLY, 10/14/07, Scotland on Sunday)

[R]ecent appointments have been criticised for a certain ideological bias. Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish writer who has spoken out against the Armenian genocide, and the dissident Chinese writer Gao Xingjian were both considered flagrantly political choices. Much the same was said about Pinter, who opposed the Iraq war. This is singularly unfair to Pamuk, one of the most ingenious novelists writing today.

But the prize has always had a political dimension, ever since the old dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel decreed the winner must be "of an idealistic tendency". In earlier years, this manifested itself as a love for worthy, "epic" treatments. Selma Lagerlöf was awarded it for her "lofty idealism, vivid imagination and spiritual perception", Wladyslaw Reymont for his "great national epic, The Peasants". Sartre, Bellow, Steinbeck and Grass follow the pattern, while Zola, Tolstoy and Ibsen were excluded because of the pessimistic bent of their writing.

Lessing fits perfectly. As A S Byatt sagely observed this week, Lessing has always been a joiner, signing up for feminism, socialism, Jung, R D Laing, and frequently writing a work inspired by zeal, then one retracting the enthusiasm. There is a strain of utopianist fervour in her novels, perfectly in keeping with the Nobel aesthetic. Her citation calls her "epicist of the female experience".

Perhaps this is the key to why there has not been a Scottish laureate. McIlvanney, Kelman, Spark and Gray may have many differences, but their works have an underlying scepticism about humanity's capacity to change for the better.

Significantly, while none of the authors are Scottish, all of th economy Nobelists are...essentially.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 13, 2007 6:50 PM
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