Tag: Nobel Prize

The gardening gift

Sunday, 30 June, 2019

What a life! Diplomat, dissident, defector, poet, Nobel Prize winner… Czesław Miłosz did it all, and more. After World War II, he served as Polish cultural attaché in Paris and Washington but, disillusioned with Communism, he defected to the West in 1951. His resulting book, The Captive Mind, exposed the pernicious effects of Marxist orthodoxy on his generation of idealists. “Written before the Berlin Wall went up, The Captive Mind was a key factor in eventually bringing it down,” noted Clive James in Cultural Amnesia.

When the Polish intelligentsia was being “wiped out half by one set of madmen and half by another”, Miłosz found strength in the Bible because it “provided a standard of authenticity against a much more dangerous language, the language of legalized murder,” writes James, a confirmed atheist. Of his own position regarding the Good Book, James declares: “But without the scriptures we poor wretches would be lost indeed, because without them, conscience itself would become just another disturbance of the personality to be cured by counselling. We are surrounded by voices telling us that everything will come right if we learn to love ourselves. Imagine the torment of Jesus in his passion, if, on top of the sponge of vinegar and the spear, they had offered him counselling as well.”

From 1961 to 1998, Miłosz was professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of California, Berkeley, and he punctuated his stay in the USA by winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980. Fellow Nobel prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney, described Miłosz as “among those members of humankind who have had the ambiguous privilege of knowing and standing more reality than the rest of us.” Born on this day, 30 June, in 1911, Czesław Miłosz died on 14 August 2004 in Kraków.

Gift

A day so happy.
Fog lifted early, I worked in the garden.
Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers.
There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.
I knew no one worth my envying him.
Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.
In my body I felt no pain.
When straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails.

Czesław Miłosz (1911 – 2004)

Our garden


The Nobel Dylan

Friday, 9 June, 2017 0 Comments

Bob Dylan has delivered his Nobel Prize for Literature lecture. Finally. The format is audio-video and during the course of its 27 minutes, he talks about his musical and literary influences and then riffs on the differences and similarities between music and literature, from Buddy Holly to Moby Dick to All Quiet on the Western Front to The Odyssey. Snippet:

“If I was to go back to the dawning of it all, I guess I’d have to start with Buddy Holly. Buddy died when I was about eighteen and he was twenty-two. From the moment I first heard him, I felt akin. I felt related, like he was an older brother. I even thought I resembled him. Buddy played the music that I loved — the music I grew up on: country western, rock ‘n’ roll, and rhythm and blues. Three separate strands of music that he intertwined and infused into one genre. One brand. And Buddy wrote songs — songs that had beautiful melodies and imaginative verses. And he sang great — sang in more than a few voices. He was the archetype. Everything I wasn’t and wanted to be. I saw him only but once, and that was a few days before he was gone. I had to travel a hundred miles to get to see him play, and I wasn’t disappointed…

…Our songs are alive in the land of the living. But songs are unlike literature. They’re meant to be sung, not read. The words in Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be acted on the stage. Just as lyrics in songs are meant to be sung, not read on a page. And I hope some of you get the chance to listen to these lyrics the way they were intended to be heard: in concert or on record or however people are listening to songs these days. I return once again to Homer, who says, ‘Sing in me, oh Muse, and through me tell the story.'”


The death of an Irishwoman

Sunday, 12 February, 2017 0 Comments

“Limerick’s Lorca” is how Seamus Heaney, the Nobel Prize winner for Literature in 1995, described the poet Michael Hartnett. “I am the immense shadow of my tears,” said Federico García Lorca and Death of an Irishwoman echoes Lorca’s flamenco-inspired cante jondos (deep songs) that explore love and tragedy.

Death of an Irishwoman

Ignorant, in the sense
she ate monotonous food
and thought the world was flat,
and pagan, in the sense
she knew the things that moved
at night were neither dogs nor cats
but púcas and darkfaced men,
she nevertheless had fierce pride.
But sentenced in the end
to eat thin diminishing porridge
in a stone-cold kitchen
she clenched her brittle hands
around a world
she could not understand.
I loved her from the day she died.
She was a summer dance at the crossroads.

Michael Hartnett (1941 – 1999)

Mammy and friend


Bob Dylan: The Swedish connection

Friday, 14 October, 2016 0 Comments

Yesterday, Sara Danius, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, shook up the world of highbrow literature by announcing the awarding of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature to Bob Dylan. She seemed pleased with the outcome and there’s another Swede who’s happy with the news: Fredrik Wikingsson. Two years ago, Dylan performed a private four-song set for the Swedish journalist at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, prior to his show later that night at the venue. Wikingsson is a dedicated fan and has written at length about his personal experience with Dylan’s music.

Among the songs Bob Dylan performed for Fredrik Wikingsson were Fats Domino’s Blueberry Hill, Chuck Willis’ It’s Too Late (She’s Gone) and Buddy Holly’s Heartbeat.


Ko Un can win

Wednesday, 12 October, 2016 0 Comments

The Samsung catastrophe has made this a very bad week so far for Seoul, but the Nobel Prize in Literature will be awarded tomorrow and, according to Ladbrokes, Ko Un has a 14/1 chance of winning it. The South Korean poet was born on 1 August 1933 and among his works are haiku-like reflections with epigrammatic juxtapositions:

Some say they can recall a thousand years
Some say they have already visited the next thousand years
On a windy day
I am waiting for a bus

Other works, however, are longer. Much longer. There’s his seven-volume epic of the Korean independence movement under Japanese rule, Paektu Mountain, and this is topped by the monumental 30-volume Ten Thousand Lives, which was written during the years 1983–2010 to fulfil a vow Ko Un made during his imprisonment, when he expected to be executed following the coup d’état led by Chun Doo-hwan. If he lived, he swore that every person he had ever met would be remembered with a poem. Ko Un would be a deserving winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, but Japan’s running writer, Haruki Murakami, is our bet at 5/1.


The World Cup of Everything Else

Monday, 9 June, 2014 0 Comments

Most Nobel Prizes Per Capita: Switzerland. Biggest Drinkers: Russia. Most Women in Government: Costa Rica. Most Protestants: Ghana. The World Cup of Everything Else created by the Wall Street Journal is excellent pre-tournament data journalism.

The World Cup of Everything Else


City life and letters

Wednesday, 9 October, 2013 0 Comments

When it came to the future of his native city, James Joyce claimed that if Dublin was destroyed you could rebuild it from the detail in Ulysses. The New York author Paul Auster makes no such lofty claims regarding his hometown, but many of his books are maps of the Big Apple, particularly his adopted Brooklyn. Auster is more than urban fiction, though. His books also contain humanity in all its fragility. Oracle Nights Anyone who has fought back from major illness will feel at home in the introduction to Oracle Night:

“I had been sick for a long time. When the day came for me to leave the hospital, I barely knew how to walk anymore, could barely remember who I was supposed to be. Make an effort, the doctor said, and in three for four months you’ll be back in the swing of things. I didn’t believe him, but I followed his advice anyway. They had given me up for dead, and now that I had confounded their predictions and mysteriously failed to die, what choice did I have but l live as though a future life were waiting for me?

I began with small outings, no more than a block or two from my apartment and then home again. I was only thirty-four but for all intents and purposes, the illness had turned me into an old man — one of those palsied, shuffling geezers who can’t put one foot in front of the other without first looking down to see which foot is which.”

As our narrator gets stronger, his wanderings take him as far as a stationary shop in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn and he buys a blue notebook, which then puts him under its spell. The rest is a story about haunted lives.

Those who do get a second bite of the cherry of life and survive serious sickness will relate to this passage towards the close of Auster’s novel: “I had my face in my hands and was sobbing my guts out. I don’t know how long I carried on like that, but even as the tears poured out of me, I was happy, happier to be alive than I had ever been before. It was a happiness beyond consolation, beyond misery, beyond all the ugliness and beauty of the world.”

The ugliness and beauty of the world as captured by writers will feature in two cities this week: Frankfurt, where the annual Book Fair begins today, and Stockholm, where tomorrow the Nobel Prize for Literature will be announced. Prior to that, in our continuing urban week, we’ll look at the city as the battleground for future conflicts.


Political satire: EU wins Nobel Peace Prize

Friday, 12 October, 2012

“Political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.” Tom Lehrer That was 1973. Today, the Nobel prize committee went one better and gave what some call “its most prestigious prize” to the European Union. Less than pleased is Constantin Gurdgiev, who says that the EU worked its way towards the […]

Continue Reading »

The pompous, hypocritical hucksterism of Günter Grass

Tuesday, 10 April, 2012

What a tragedy that Christopher Hitchens is not alive at this hour. Back in August 2006, the late, great contrarian identified the German writer Günter Grass as a truly reptilian character in a Slate column titled “Snake in the Grass“. Snippet: “At the PEN conference in New York in the mid-1980s, for example, he had […]

Continue Reading »