Thursday, October 09, 2008


Over the weekend Scott McLemee, that intrepid reporter critic and writer covering the life of the mind as practiced in and around modern universities, invited me to contribute a couple of paragraphs to an edition of his Intellectual Affairs column on the mini-uproar generated by Horace Engdahl, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, when he injudiciously stated last week that American literary culture is far too insular for its practitioners to stand a chance of winning a Nobel Prize in Literature in the near future.

You can read my thoughts on the matter, surrounded by those of a host of more qualified commentators, in this issue of Inside Higher Education. What I didn't tell Scott was that my first thought on reading Engdahl's comments was that if the Swedish Academy is effectively blackballing Americans then they're greatly increasing the odds of my waking up to find that my employer, the University of Chicago Press, has a newly minted Nobel Prize-winner on its list.

Lo and behold, this morning I arrived at my office to find that the 2008 Nobel Prize in Literature had been awarded to French writer J. M. G. Le Clezio, whose The Mexican Dream: Or, the Interrupted Thought of Amerindian Civilizations (1988, translated into English in 1993), published by Chicago, is one of only about half a dozen works by Le Clezio currently available in English.

I've not read Le Clezio yet, but I can at least pass along the dual assessments of my colleague Teresa Lavender Fagan, who translated the book for the Press: she says it's one of the best books she's ever translated, and Le Clezio is one of the most pleasant and kindly authors she's ever worked with.

{Housekeeping note: Since this is one of those unusual occasions when my work life and my blogging life openly overlap, I figure I ought to point out, as I have once or twice before, that the two are not connected in any official way. This blog is an entirely separate enterprise, driven solely by my various literary obsessions and written on my own time, under no direction or constraints from my employer. As my Blogger profile states, I do sometimes write about books published by my employer without identifying them as such. I hope that those of you who've been reading for a while know my tastes well enough to trust that my opinions here are truly my own; new readers are welcome to peruse the archives and see what they think. }


  1. "Intrepid reporter"? Really? This comes as a shock. No real reporter considers me one. Nor, for that matter, do I.

    Writer and critic, yes. Reporter, no.

    Given the academic tendency to label any non-academic writing about ideas as "journalism," the chances of this distinction being recognized are just about nil. I insist on it all the same.

  2. Fair enough, Scott. I meant it as praise, but I can see why you would want to make a distinction, and I'm completely willing to agree to your definition.