We’ve complained in this space before that the Nobel committee isn’t the greatest fan of American literature. We’ve bemoaned the fact that Philip Roth probably isn’t going to win a dearly deserved Nobel Prize for Literature. In being denied this honor, one of Roth’s characters would probably observe that he would have had a better shot if he had grown up to be a doctor. Or a chemist. Or a physicist. Or an economist. Or whatever. Or just not Philip Roth.
Whatever. He didn’t win.
In the end, perhaps it is better that he doesn’t win. It’s not like he’s lacking for awards. The short list: Pulitzer, National Book Award (twice), Pen/Faulkner (three times), Pen/Saul Bellow Prize, the Man Booker International Prize. It’s not like his legacy needs validation from a bunch of cold Swedish fish. And it’s not hard to imagine a Roth-esque character: smart, accomplished, libidinous, persistent, lauded and yet still carrying the chip on his shoulder he’s been lugging around since the day he took his first step in the Weequahic section of Newark, New Jersey; who relishes the annual rejection from Stockholm; who needs to not win the Nobel prize every year; who needs to have at least that one door still closed to him in order to retain that sense of remaining on the outside. Sven and Gunnar aren’t impressed with the forging of identity in post-war America? Well screw them. Horace Engdahl and company don’t think a literary output producing compelling works more than fifty years apart warrants the Nobel? They can suck his StiegLarsson.
Nathan Zuckerman, Neil Klugman, Alexander Portnoy — those guys would have been bemused that the Nobel committee wants nothing to do with them. (And yet. With the same breath that they dismissed ever needing, ever wanting, ever coveting a Nobel; they admit to themselves that it wouldn’t be undeserved, wouldn’t be grandiose to expect, wouldn’t be beyond the scope of reasonable aspirations to think that one morning when, slumbering in the pre-dawn the phone pierces his slumber, and in the moment he catapults his half-dead arm — some sort of cramp from sleeping funny — he wonders as it arcs toward the handset, could this be the call from Stockholm, and if it is, will it be rude to ask them to wait while he runs to the bathroom to pee, because, frankly it is normally the highlight of his morning and while Nobels are fine, certain rituals ought to be respected and observed.) Those guys would rebound from Nobel rejection by sleeping with someone inappropriate — and likely not Jewish.
So, it’s another year with no Nobel for the seminal American-Jewish author of the last century and it turns-out a decent chunk of the current century as-well. That’s fine.
He’s doing just fine without it.