Millennium Post

As Nobel as a Chinese man

The nobel Prize for literature usually draws more public attention than the other prizes perhaps because of the nature of literature itself and the fact that the other prizes, with the exception of the Nobel Peace Prize are usually esoteric and do not attract public attention beyond a sphere of experts and specialists. The literature prize usually attracts lot of eyeballs and some inevitable knee-jerk reactions. Also, more than the prizes in sciences, the literature prize is deemed to be political in a way that can be identified, thanks again to the nature of literature globally and its reception. In the last decade, there was more than one instance of a ‘political’ choice made by the Nobel Committee. The Nobel Prize to Harold Pinter was deemed to be a reward for his outspoken critique of American foreign policy as much as Orhan Pamuk’s was thought to be an acknowledgement for his talismanic role as cultural ambassador of the east-west confluence. Similarly, a decade ago V S Naipaul, just after 9/11, was deemed to be the fittest candidate by virtue of his being the most outspoken critique of political Islam in the literary world. These choices have provoked reactions beyond the literary merits of their writing.

So when the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2012 went to Chinese writer Mo Yan, it came as a surprise to some and not to others. Mo Yan is not so well known in the western world as one of the usual contenders, Haruki Murakami. Yan is also a Chinese citizen, unlike the 2000 Nobel Laureate Gao Xingjian who is a naturalised French though he writes in Mandarin and is considered a dissident. Incidentally China had frowned at the Swedish Academy two years ago when it gave the Nobel Peace Prize to dissident Liu Xiaobo. But now the same Chinese authorities are happy to praise the prize thanks to the choice of Yan, who China considers a chronicler of its own, a writer whose stories of grassroots struggle in rural China shows the world the challenges the country faces. That this template of development is suspect is what will keep the world guessing about the choice. There is also a lingering feeling that the Academy is placating China after the controversial step of awarding Xiaobao. If that is the case then it is indeed not a ‘literary’ choice. But it is also true that in some cases, the Nobel Prize has shown a lot of courage in going beyond the grain and selecting authors who may not be too well known beyond their borders but deserve to be. The best example is Tagore. So, unless Mo Yan is discussed widely and circulated among the literary cognoscenti, it is best to reserve judgement, either way about the choice of the prize.
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