It's unusual that I post back to back "Literature in the News" entries, but the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature was announced this week and the winner is Kazuo Ishiguro, the Japanese born British novelist. I have not read anything by Ishiguro, but by all accounts he is a worthy choice unlike last year when the Svenska Akademien (Swedish Academy) gave the prize to Bob Dylan.
I have never read anything from Ishiguro, but I found the academy’s press statement with the announcement rather baffling.
The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2017 is awarded to the English author Kazuo Ishiguro "who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world".
So there is an “abyss” beneath an illusion? Isn’t that a double metaphor? Or if not a double metaphor, overly metaphysical? The Nobel Committee for Literature has been a bit off the deep end for a while.
The Guardian has a fine article on the announcement. Ishiguro was apparently taken by surprised and learned of it through the media. They quote him here:
“You’d think someone would tell me first but none of us had heard anything,” said Ishiguro, who had been sitting at his kitchen table at home in Golders Green in London about to have brunch, when he got the call from his agent.
“It was completely not something I expected, otherwise I would have washed my hair this morning,” he said with a laugh. “It was absolute chaos. My agent phoned to say it sounded like they had just announced me as the Nobel winner, but there’s so much fake news about these days it’s hard to know who or what to believe so I didn’t really believe it until journalists started calling and lining up outside my door.”
While the selection of Ishiguro is not an outlandish pick like last year, it still raises questions as to whether he is the most worthy. Ishiguro himself in his statement said as much:
“Part of me feels like an imposter and part of me feels bad that I’ve got this before other living writers,” said Ishiguro. “Haruki Murakami, Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, Cormac McCarthy, all of them immediately came into my head and I just thought wow, this is a bit of a cheek for me to have been given this before them.
“And because I’m completely delusional, part of me feels like I’m too young to be winning something like this. But then I suddenly realised that I’m 62, so I am average age for this I suppose.”
Hmm, Atwood is seventy-seven, Murakami is sixty-eight, Rushdie is seventy, and McCarthy, who I would have given the prize to, is eighty-four. Since I haven’t read any of Ishiguro, I would have to say he’s probably right. As I researched his works, only The Remains of the Day seems to have been a unanimously great work. Still one shouldn’t take that as a measure of great works. Even the authors Ishiguro names as being more worthy have works of mixed approval in their histories.
Perhaps what pushed Ishiguro to the forefront of authors for the committee is the moral center that seems to be at the heart of his works. Ishiguro himself hinted at it in part of his statement:
“This is a very weird time in the world, we’ve sort of lost faith in our political system, we’ve lost faith in our leaders, we’re not quite sure of our values, and I just hope that my winning the Nobel prize contributes something that engenders good will and peace,” he said. “It reminds us of how international the world is, and we all have to contribute things from our different corners of the world.”
Interesting statement. I don’t get the leap from the “losing faith part” to “how international the world is” but I do appreciate how western culture, if not the world has lost faith. I don’t think, however, he is referring to a religious faith, but you cannot have values if ultimately they don’t connect with a divine source.
Along those lines, Joan Desmond posted in a blog at the National Catholic Register, “Why Every Catholic Should Applaud Kazuo Ishiguro’s Nobel Prize.” Desmond seems enthusiastic about the choice:
No doubt, Ishiguro’s many Catholic fans, myself included, heartily applauded the news. In striking contrast to many modern novelists, his deeply moral stories go to the heart of the human condition with a spare narrative style that hints at deeper forces beneath the surface. Though he does not deal explicitly with religoius faith, his moral vision is compatible with the Church's own insistence that the truth is knowable, and that we ignore it at great cost to our own human flourshing.
And she goes on to say that Ishiguro’s “characters’ struggles for clarity and for hope are enormously absorbing and ring true for readers who have traveled down the same path.” And Desmond provides a short summary of what she considers Ishiguro’s three greatest novels, The Remains of the Day, Never Let Me Go, and his most recent The Buried Giant.
Well, all that has made me want to read something by Ishiguro. I will make room to fit The Remains of the Day into the coming year’s reading schedule.