The 2017 Nobel Laureate in Literature is Kazuo Ishiguro
October 5, 2017 4:16 AM   Subscribe

English novelist Kazuo Ishiguro perhaps best known for The Remains of the Day has been given this year's Nobel Prize in literature. If you want to know more about Ishiguro, the British Council has a good profile on him, but it might also be a good idea to read these two dialogues, one between him and fellow Nobel Laureate Kenzaburo Oe and another with Neil Gaiman [previously] or the Paris Review interview in the Art of Fiction series. For live updates, analysis and reaction, head to The Guardian's liveblog and The Comlete Review's Literary Saloon blog.
posted by Kattullus (63 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've never read Ishiguro, so it's difficult for me to get worked up one way or the other, but I've had The Unconsoled on my to-read list for a couple of years, since I read how he described its style in a Guardian webchat:
It was more that I was telling a story, set in a particular kind of world a little removed from the one you and I normally live in, and I decided to borrow from the world of the dreaming mind. It was more like thinking, well, if the Dreaming Mind was a famous author, and I was allowed to plagiarize many of his/her signature stylistic quirks, what would they be? Which ones would I most want to nick? So yes, a lot of what happens is dream-like, and I did refer to my own dreams in working out how to do things. Not the content of the dreams, just the method by which my dreams went about unfolding a narrative, etc. The Unconsoled isn't about dreams. It just borrows a lot of the techniques and stylistic traits from the average dreaming mind. Far too many to list here, but you know what I mean. Old schoolfriends turning up out of context, with little sense of surprise. Being able to 'remember' or 'realize' a huge hunk of someone's backstory when you've run into them for the first time. The backward projection of intentions. Odd ability to witness things happening outside of one's normal field of vision, etc, etc.
posted by Kattullus at 4:34 AM on October 5 [4 favorites]


I was reading Alex Shephard's article Who Will Win the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature? earlier ('This time we know one thing for sure: It won't be Bob Dylan') and Ishiguro didn't even make his None Of These Brits and Irish Are Going To Win Either list!

I've likewise vaguely intended to read The Unconsoled, almost since it was first published, but have never done so, and was interested by the paragraph Kattullus quoted as the central defining feature of my own dreams is that any intentional actions within them are never completed, always being delayed, deferred, interrupted or postponed until I'm awake & it's too late; meaning that just as Ishiguro wrote the book using his dream techniques, I've been (not) reading it using mine...
posted by misteraitch at 4:54 AM on October 5 [3 favorites]


I read The Unconsoled while bingeing Ishiguro several years ago. It's one of my favourite books; it caught me completely by surprise. A swirling nightmare of deferred obligation and collapsed intentions.
posted by tss at 5:10 AM on October 5 [4 favorites]


I like this piece by Jim Windolf on Ishiguro. Here's an excerpt:
Your Rushdies. Your Amises. A Julian Barnes. The literature fan of the last twenty years has been conditioned to think these are the guys. Especially in England. The cream of the crop. Meanwhile, Ishiguro’s coming through each and every time, never writes a bad book. Never writes a bad line. And you’re not seeing him up there in the rankings. That I’m aware of. Why is that? I don’t know. Is he not playing snooker with the boys? I don’t know. Is he not at the lunches and the dinners? I don’t know, O.K. Like I said, I am not in his house. I don’t know what he does. I’m just putting this out there.

I’m looking through this Buried Giant book. Reads excellent, first couple pages. I don’t get what people are complaining about, O.K. You got the same strange spell Ishiguro always casts. Like he’s pulling you into a world. These characters in this one, looks like they are walking around in an icy mist in the year five hundred. I don’t care what year it is, but that’s the year. Five hundred. He can write about any year he wants to write about, as far as I’m concerned, O.K. They’re in the mist and we’re in the mist with them. And then he hits you with the sadness. And that’s Ishiguro.
posted by Kattullus at 5:13 AM on October 5 [12 favorites]


Huh, interesting. Seems like a strangely conservative pick. NPR was playing its teaser of possible prize winners the other morning and Ishiguro's name drifted through my mind, although they interviewed someone who was making the case for Haruki Murakami. I've not been impressed by Ishiguro's work. I found The Unconsoled impossibly tedious, and Louis Menand's review of Never Let Me Go confirmed my decision to give it a pass. I doubt the prize will induce me to give his works another look.
posted by informavore at 5:14 AM on October 5 [5 favorites]


He also wrote the original draft of the screenplay for The Saddest Music in the World!
posted by pxe2000 at 5:15 AM on October 5 [3 favorites]


Wow, second win in a row for an aging guitar-playing songwriter!
posted by chavenet at 5:28 AM on October 5 [1 favorite]


I'm cool with giving the Literature prize to writers, I guess
posted by thelonius at 5:31 AM on October 5 [10 favorites]


Katullus, ever dependable with the Nobel posts.

Never Let Me Go is the kind of book I should have hated by rights, yet I loved it. It's been a while since I read it but I found it very well-written. It's also one of the few books set in a school that I didn't want to throw at a wall, so there you have it. Good pick AFAIC.
posted by ersatz at 5:32 AM on October 5 [5 favorites]


Shoulda been Thiong'o, *sigh*. But I was firmly in the wtf Bob Dylan fucking boomers are the worst camp so maybe this prize has a different meaning than I thought it did
posted by dis_integration at 5:32 AM on October 5 [1 favorite]


I'm with informavore - The Unconsoled is very hard work for very little reward. We read it at my book group, and had an enjoyable hour bitching about how much we all hated it.
posted by DanCall at 5:40 AM on October 5


Amusing to me that Japan is claiming him as their own (and yet they give his name in katakana as if he were a foreigner, like ... me, for example). He moved to England at the same age as I moved from one state to another of somewhat different culture. In his case, it's clear he's thoroughly English. In my case, I still identify more as my state of birth (although I give the second state as my home when people ask).

Overall, I agree with those who say Murakami is more deserving. And yet it's obvious to me the committee will never select Murakami, because if they do then they'll just be going along with the consensus. And then why do we need the committee?
posted by oheso at 5:44 AM on October 5


I don't think Ishiguro has written a book about the inevitability of human conflict and how remembering history can doom us to repeat it. I think he's written a smug, sneering work whose primary purpose it to point and laugh at its readers for hoping that things might turn out better than that.
This is from a review of The Buried Giant from a week ago, before the Nobel was announced. But it wouldn't be a literary prize if everyone agreed.
posted by AndrewStephens at 5:46 AM on October 5 [2 favorites]


And just at this moment the darling of the news is a gymnast named Murakami (no relation as far as I know) ...
posted by oheso at 5:47 AM on October 5


Superb choice.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:21 AM on October 5 [5 favorites]


Fantastic choice! “The Remains of the Day” is an outstanding novel, and “Never Let Me Go” has been on my to-read list for ages.
posted by zooropa at 6:24 AM on October 5 [5 favorites]


EM Forester was nominated 20 times for the Nobel, he died in 1970, but his most ardent student won in 2017. I am not sure what that means. I also think his weird novel about ogres was a close reading of Vita Sackville West's weird novel about elves. I find it interesting that he is the most sacrificially English of the major novelists, and though he does well for himself, he is not considered as English as Amis, or Barnes, or Rushdie. I also am interested in his firting with genre, writing SF, high fantasy and dectetive fiction. Lastly, I am suprised at how small his output his for a laureate--7 novels, and a handful of short stories. Two of those novels being masterpieces, but still.

I wish that they would give it to more poets, esp. Adonis.
posted by PinkMoose at 6:30 AM on October 5 [4 favorites]


Overall, I agree with those who say Murakami is more deserving. And yet it's obvious to me the committee will never select Murakami, because if they do then they'll just be going along with the consensus. And then why do we need the committee?

Murakami not getting the Nobel prize is the Lucy-pulling-away-the-football of awards. Every year from now until forever people are gonna tall about how much he deserves it, and every year from now until forever he's not gonna win.

(Personally I do think he's deeply deserving, though I'd like to see him publish another book (literally, any other book) first, cause I would hate to see a Nobel prize come anywhere close to the trash fire that was Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki)
posted by Itaxpica at 6:31 AM on October 5 [4 favorites]


..cause I would hate to see a Nobel prize come anywhere close to the trash fire that was Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki

His last published book is actually 騎士団長殺し which has already been released in Japanese. Although reviews aren't too promising.
posted by vacapinta at 6:41 AM on October 5 [1 favorite]


I find Ishiguro pretty dull, myself, but *shrug*. I am not the arbiter of all opinion.
posted by kyrademon at 7:00 AM on October 5 [2 favorites]


I'm with informavore - The Unconsoled is very hard work for very little reward. We read it at my book group, and had an enjoyable hour bitching about how much we all hated it.
posted by DanCall


Me too. I think Ishiguro does exactly what he says in the Guardian quote:

The Unconsoled isn't about dreams. It just borrows a lot of the techniques and stylistic traits from the average dreaming mind.

...unfortunately the dreams he's talking about are those ones which are not exactly nightmares, but dreams where you wake up (in the dream) at 8:30 am and suddenly remember that you had some extremely important meeting to attend which started 30 minutes ago. The whole book just has an underlying feeling of dread and anxiety, but extremely mundane dread and anxiety. Too much of my waking life is like that already, so I hated the book from beginning to end.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 7:00 AM on October 5


Honestly, 'smug and sneering' is a completely bizarre assessment of The Buried Giant, which I recommend even to people who don't go much for high-flown literary stuff.
posted by Segundus at 7:04 AM on October 5 [11 favorites]


I don't see how "smug and sneering" could describe The Buried Giant at all. It was one of my favorite books of the year, and I recommend it frequently. I've never had anyone come back and tell me that they didn't enjoy it.
posted by bradth27 at 7:10 AM on October 5 [6 favorites]


I found The Unconsoled impossibly tedious, and Louis Menand's review of Never Let Me Go confirmed my decision to give it a pass. I doubt the prize will induce me to give his works another look.

Ishiguro's work is varied enough that it does him a disservice to judge his entire oeuvre from just one book. If you haven't read Remains of the Day, you should. I consider it a masterpiece, and it's short enough that if you end up not liking it you haven't invested much time. Never Let Me Go was not nearly as good, in my opinion, but still worth a read for the atmosphere alone.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 7:12 AM on October 5 [3 favorites]


My biggest takeaways from the Shepherd piece: Milan Kundera is still alive? And he hasn't won the prize?

I like Kazuo Ishiguro. Remains of the Day is fantastic, and Never Let Me Go is clever and touching and lovely. He's also written some real tedious crap like When We Were Orphans, after which I stopped reading him (luckily this decision was made in 2006, so I still got to read Never Let Me Go).

All that being said, Nobel week 2016 saw exactly zero female winners, and with this announcement I'm even more pessimistic about seeing anything different this year.
posted by telegraph at 7:13 AM on October 5 [4 favorites]


I love Ishiguro's writing, especially Never Let Me Go, but Remains of the Day and A Pale View of Hills (unsettling as hell) are close behind.

But I'll echo telegraph's observation about the Nobel's dismal track record with women. Only 14 women have won for Literature since 1901. There was a 21 year dry spell for women in literature between 1945 and 1966, and a TWENTY FIVE YEAR GAP between 1966 and 1991. Only four women have won since 2001, and we are nearly finished the second decade of this century. This isn't even addressing the other categories, which are equally dismal, or worse.

The people behind the Nobels (mostly men) could do much better. I'm disappointed they have chosen not to.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 7:36 AM on October 5 [7 favorites]


Strangely, I'm more surprised by this pick than last year's. I'm not a big fan of his work, but this has made me want to reread RotD.

I love the citation: "who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world." What a great thematic description!
posted by mixedmetaphors at 7:36 AM on October 5 [3 favorites]


Superb choice.

The "Remains of the Day" novel is very good, and is close to the movie. The ending was one of the very few times when I felt actual physical pain while watching a screen.
posted by Melismata at 7:45 AM on October 5 [3 favorites]


I've never totally got him. I get the idea that he's a sort of Henry James-like genius of narrative architecture, and I like that he does completely different stuff all the time, but there's something about the sentences that puts me to sleep - he seems to be a master of deliberate stiltedness, and sometimes deliberate bad, but not deliberate bad in a fun, George Saunders-like way. But I know this a probably a problem with me, not him.
posted by Mocata at 7:49 AM on October 5


informavore and others: Give Never Let Me Go another shot. In my opinion, that New Yorker article doesn't really do it justice. I didn't care for The Unconsoled, but Never Let Me Go is a book that I think about often, even though I read it years ago.

I'm also a big fan of Murakami, but I haven't felt the need to read any of his books in a while. I read a number of his books in my 20s and 30s, the last being 1Q84 shortly after it was released in the US (2011), but I feel like I maybe reached my limit of dream-like, light-on-plot, meditative books, just like I can't bring myself to read another sword-and-sorcery book after reading too many in my earlier years. Maybe my tastes will change again, who knows.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 7:50 AM on October 5 [3 favorites]


> But I was firmly in the wtf Bob Dylan fucking boomers are the worst camp

Don't do this shit. I'm firmly in the wtf Bob Dylan camp and I'm a fucking boomer, thank you very much. Boomers are just like you except they were born earlier (I presume you're sneering at them from below and not from above).

> Seems like a strangely conservative pick.

And thank god. I suspect the Dylan backlash scared them straight.
posted by languagehat at 7:52 AM on October 5 [8 favorites]


I saw David Mitchell and Kazuo Ishiguro in conversation together at the Southbank last year (like, it was a ticketed event, not just two mates chatting by the river).

I was there because I really like Mitchell's work, but I wasn't at all familiar with Ishiguro. It was amazing to see a writer I admire (Mitchell) fangirling over a writer he clearly worships (Ishiguro); and it really made me realise that I don't really understand the appeal of Ishiguro.

And now he's received the Nobel Prize. Which really underlines that I must be missing something. Huh.
posted by citands at 7:57 AM on October 5 [3 favorites]


Yeah, Mitchell wears his influences on his sleeves, no doubt. It's easy to see both Murakami and Ishiguro in Mitchell's works, especially the early ones (Ghostwritten and number9dream). Also, I think Black Swan Green owes a lot of its British pastoralness to Ishiguro.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 8:01 AM on October 5 [2 favorites]


Orthofer seems to think he's the first school-trained writer (think MA/MFA) to win the prize and I guess that explains why I find his work and this choice so boring.
posted by edeezy at 8:03 AM on October 5 [1 favorite]


I'm still pulling for Gerald fucking Murnane.

I've never understood why everyone thinks Murakami is such a great fit for prospective Nobel winner.
posted by kenko at 8:08 AM on October 5 [2 favorites]


Remains of the Day is a tour de force and nails the language and atmosphere of its era, but I've always wished that critics gave more attention to the this novel's liberal borrowing of material and character models from Upstairs, Downstairs, the early 70s British television drama set in Edwardian England. Several scenes in Remains, such as the butler Steven's clever avoidance of stating political opinions in the midst of his superiors, were influenced by episodes in the TV drama, and Stevens himself draws heavily on the character of Angus Hudson, the butler in "Upstairs, Downstairs." The fastidiousness, work ethic, and political opinions and world view of Hudson clearly influenced Ishiguro's development of the character of Stevens, though few or no critics seem to give this credit. What's more, the TV show as a whole, with its innovative layering of the lives of two classes, is the clear progenitor of Remains of the Day.. Without "Upstairs, Downstairs," there would have been no Remains of the Day--or "Gosford Park" for that matter.

This isn't a bad thing; all novelists are free to draw on sources. It's simply an unfortunate omission on the part of critics. "Upstairs, Downstairs," the DVDs of which are available on Netflix (or were at one time), is a rich, sumptuous feast of a drama, and deserves a full viewing by anyone who has cherished Remains of the Day or "Gosford Park."
posted by Gordion Knott at 8:10 AM on October 5 [5 favorites]


I think Never Let Me Go is a magnificent book. I'm still pissed off that it didn't win the Booker (or the Man Booker, or whatever it was called that year). The rumor was that the panel didn't choose it because it was science fiction, and lord knows we can't have something as base as science fiction winning a prestigious literary prize. To add insult to injury, they gave it that year to John Banville's The Sea, which I thought was a genuinely awful book (although I feel compelled to add that I love John Banville as a person).
posted by holborne at 8:14 AM on October 5 [4 favorites]


I've never had anyone come back and tell me that they didn't enjoy it.

Me! I didn't like The Buried Giant. I couldn't get through it. However, this was a huge disappointment for me, as I've read everything else he's written and consider him one of my favorite authors. Someday I will go back to it and try again. The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go in particular absolutely take my breath away.

The Unconsoled is one of the craziest things I've ever read - I hate and admire it in equal parts. My husband is obsessed with it and likes to give it to people as a gift, which I feel is not very nice.
posted by something something at 8:29 AM on October 5 [1 favorite]


Man, I was going to start An Artist of the Floating World this week but now I can't because people will be like "Hey, you're reading that because he won the Nobel Prize, right?" Even if they don't say it out loud, I'll know they're thinking it.
posted by goatdog at 8:32 AM on October 5 [1 favorite]


I'm still pulling for Gerald fucking Murnane.

I think he's too weird for them. But he's got a couple new books coming out next year, including what is supposed to be his last work of fiction, so maybe then?
posted by Gerald Bostock at 9:04 AM on October 5


Pleased to hear it. The Remains of the Day is one of my favorite novels of all time, I found it incredibly moving. I appreciate how Ishiguro uses clever postmodern constructions but never forgets the depth and humanity of his characters. I'd compare him to Woolf or Nabokov in that respect.
posted by Emily's Fist at 9:17 AM on October 5 [1 favorite]


Another vote for "Remains of the Day", which was quietly enthralling, and another "I don't get it" for "The Buried Giant". Maybe it was because I was listening to an audiobook, and words that were misty turned even more insubstantial.
posted by of strange foe at 9:17 AM on October 5 [1 favorite]


From the Guardian article about Remains of the Day:

I would, for a four-week period, ruthlessly clear my diary and go on what we somewhat mysteriously called a “Crash”. During the Crash, I would do nothing but write from 9am to 10.30pm, Monday through Saturday. I’d get one hour off for lunch and two for dinner. I’d not see, let alone answer, any mail, and would not go near the phone. No one would come to the house. Lorna, despite her own busy schedule, would for this period do my share of the cooking and housework. In this way, so we hoped, I’d not only complete more work quantitively, but reach a mental state in which my fictional world was more real to me than the actual one.

I hope a lot of young writers don't attempt this.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 10:27 AM on October 5 [2 favorites]


An Artist of the Floating World was very beautiful and tender and painful somehow. Very insightful about human nature. I think it's the only one I've read.
posted by latkes at 10:54 AM on October 5 [1 favorite]


Don't do this shit. I'm firmly in the wtf Bob Dylan camp and I'm a fucking boomer,

whereas I'm firmly in the Bob Dylan "nice call" camp ... and I'm only technically a f***ing boomer (ie: born at the end of the demographic, only ever got dog ends as a result).

In choosing Dylan, the Nobel crowd did a radical thing that can't be undone -- they expanded the popular definition of Literature. I now look forward hip-hop getting the nod ... eventually. Is there a more living poetry on the planet at this point in time?
posted by philip-random at 11:04 AM on October 5 [2 favorites]


The best reaction article I’ve read so far is What’s So “Inscrutable” About Kazuo Ishiguro? by Josephine Livingstone. It touches on the racist tropes that have conditioned his reception.
posted by Kattullus at 4:29 PM on October 5 [3 favorites]


I personally don't care for Ishiguro. Remains of the Day was great; his other books have left me cold. Like a lot of literature writers, I feel like when they dabble in other genres they do so completely unaware of the in-genre history and context. Reviewers of literature - equally ignorant - then often swoon over ideas and tropes that are decades-old and passe in the genre itself.
posted by smoke at 5:03 PM on October 5 [3 favorites]


Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I vaguely recall listening to a radio interview with Kazuo Ishuguru (with Eleanor Wachtel I think), where he told an interesting anecdote. While he was away at college, his parents were offered a buy-out from the council flat where they lived, on the condition that they move into a different unit. They moved all of their belongings across the lane into a facing unit. So, when Kazuo came home for college break, everything in his childhood home was identical, all the same furniture & same art on the walls, but everything flipped left/right in a mirror image.
posted by ovvl at 5:42 PM on October 5 [2 favorites]


... cause I would hate to see a Nobel prize come anywhere close to the trash fire that was Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki)

I felt that 'Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki..' was thought-provoking, probably not in a comfortable way. Requires a whole other discussion, apologies for the derail.
posted by ovvl at 6:04 PM on October 5


I...would not have expected Ishiguro, although I love The Remains of the Day (which I've also taught a few times) and like Never Let Me Go. The Buried Giant has been sitting on my Kindle for a while, so I'll take this as a sign that I should finally get to it.

Nina Revoyr's The Age of Dreaming is an extremely interesting response to The Remains of the Day, set in California during the silent film era; its protagonist is based on Sessue Hayakawa and a good chunk of the plot reworks the murder of William Desmond Taylor.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:08 PM on October 5


I love Ishiguro but I would have given it to Philip Roth
posted by grobstein at 7:04 PM on October 5


I don't read much litfic, but I was doing some research into fictional treatment of cloning in books that aren't strictly science fiction and read Never Let Me Go a couple of years ago. Loved it. He's a great choice for the Nobel.
posted by lhauser at 7:30 PM on October 5 [1 favorite]


Remains of the Day is one of only three books that I’ve read in my life in which a single sentence has brought me to real, sobbing, can’t-stop tears. I don’t think his other works reach that height, but hell, what does?
posted by tzikeh at 10:25 PM on October 5


To add insult to injury, they gave it that year to John Banville's The Sea, which I thought was a genuinely awful book (although I feel compelled to add that I love John Banville as a person).

It had an emotional resonance for me although I can see how if that part didn't connect, one wouldn't like the book. My favourite is The Shroud though, which is a bit particular but very rewarding.

Banville is a lovely person indeed. I had the pleasure of interviewing him for a small market once and he stayed for double the appointed time because he was enjoying the conversation with a stranger.
posted by ersatz at 12:58 AM on October 6 [2 favorites]


The phone interview with Ishiguro that the Swedish Academy posted online is quite charming.
posted by Kattullus at 8:37 AM on October 6 [1 favorite]


The big world / small world theme Ishiguro cites does tie his work (that I've read) together in a way I hadn't defined before.

Never Let Me Go and Remains of the Day have stuck with me long after reading. The Buried Giant hasn't as much, so far. I think it is so topical (if you can call literary fiction set 1500 years ago topical) that it took on a lot of what I brought to it.

Ishiguro's writing has apparently touched me deeper than I knew because I'm tearing up every time I read about his Nobel. I sat outside work and read that Francesa piece and cried yesterday. I agree with him that Ishiguro isn't writing genre as some kind of party trick. It is an accessible way to structure the big world / small world idea. (Although I also don't think that being a "genre" book is some kind of horrible crime that strips a work of merit.)
posted by momus_window at 4:36 PM on October 6 [2 favorites]


We ... might guess that the Nobel Prize in Literature wants to stay relevant at a time when the conditions integral to literature’s flourishing — and liberalism’s dominance — are no longer in place. First Bob Dylan, a celebrity singer, then Kazuo Ishiguro, an international superstar who so anticipates translations into dozens of languages that it informs his writing style (Rebecca Walkowitz calls his writing “born translated”). Many people who haven’t read his books are familiar with the film adaptations. These choices perhaps signal a certain awareness of the contraction of the high-cultural field. To select more obscure and difficult writer would at this moment signal an unpalatable irrelevance and elitism.

The literary industry is, in general, in a period of profound self-reflection and transformation. Some are circling the wagons, accepting that literary products and events are for a dwindling elite, and some are attempting to accommodate an audience that is younger, less white, and what we could call differently literate. They are differently literate because of a stagnant economy that is slowly collapsing the high-literary establishment, which was built around an educated and socially climbing readership and fair number of relatively decent livelihoods for literary professionals. The issue is diminishment of official institutional supports for ongoing cultivation of the literary sociolect — supports like state-backed higher education, library provision, arts and culture funding for individual creators. Consider Penguin Random House’s move to relax the requirement that their employees have advanced degrees, as they recognize that higher education in the arts is becoming less and less accessible to people who aren’t wealthy and disproportionately white. Gestures like these are efforts to transform the corporate culture to increase sales, and they also flatter an institution’s self-image by suggesting some will to address the industry’s whiteness and perpetuation of elite cultural power.

The Nobel Prize’s recent choices may reflect a similar will. Ishiguro is palatable to people who thought Dylan wasn’t literary enough, but he is also globally accessible to a middlebrow audience that hasn’t had a lot of training in cultivation of the literary disposition. They are not conceding that the whole literary establishment may depend upon modes of socialization whose availability and relevance are disappearing before our eyes, but they are prizing someone widely known and easy to read. They are also, we might surmise, flying in the face of the anti-immigrant racist right gaining force in the post-Brexit UK and beyond.
Sarah Brouilette, Tragedy Mistaken for Management Theory: On Kazuo Ishiguro and the Nobel Prize in Literature, Verso Books Blog (9 October 2017).
posted by Sonny Jim at 2:06 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]


What tosh. I don't care for Ishiguro but pretending he is no more or less middlebrow than other winners is silly, imho. He's a Whitbread and Booker Prize winner, FFS. Positing him as some kind of iconoclast against the literary establishment is poppycock.

He's a European man, which makes is pretty run of the mill for the Nobel, and in terms of establishment (or anti) cred, I'd argue he's indistinguishable from - off the top of my head - Coetzee, Saramango, Gordimer, Naipul, Oe, and didn't Grass get one too? Are these more, or less, middlebrow than Ishiguro??

"training in cultivation of the literary disposition" - spare me the fuck of this kind of elitism, hearkening as it does to a cloistered, racist, sexist yesteryear where prejudice was dressed up as intelligence.

He may be "Easy to read" on a sentence by sentence basis, but the Unconsoled is hardly a fucking page turner. And also, guess what? You can be easy to read, and still be a titanic writer. Honestly.

I mean, some of them I like more or less than Ishiguro, but I'd hardly say his nomination represents some kind of intellectual dumbing down of the award.
posted by smoke at 4:16 AM on October 10 [3 favorites]


Also the premise is unsupported: there are more English majors now than ever before, and dare I say it more criticism.

Of course, what the author means but is too cowardly to say, is the right kind of English majors, namely rich, white ones (talking to an audience of other rich, white graduates, with all the cultural amplification their privilege grants.)
posted by smoke at 4:33 AM on October 10


OK, I'd usually let this slide, but seeing as others are taking your comments seriously, smoke, I need to point out that you've completely misconstrued what Brouilette say here. She's a postcolonialist, and a Marxist to boot, not Harold Bloom. She doesn't care a whit for the Nobel and what it represents. In fact, it's pretty clear from her post that she detests it. Look again:
Specifying what counts as worthy in literature has long been about asserting the dominance of the advanced over the elementary — elite, trained, highly educated expression being more valuable than common speech and common forms, of course. Class power, in essence: the legitimation of bourgeois rule. The Nobel Prize in Literature has existed to protect this refined category of expressivity.
Whether Ishiguro's "nomination represents some kind of intellectual dumbing down of the award" is not the substance of her argument at all. What the post is about instead is how the Nobel (and the elite literary "field" it forms a part of) is attempting to stay relevant in an era in which readerships are shrinking and the cachet of "literary cultivation" is not what it once was. Brouilette does this by close reading the way in which the Prize committee chooses to valorize Ishiguro's writing—by emphasizing his stylistic qualities; his aestheticism; his timelessness; his apparently lofty separation from the political realm. And as she points out, all of this is nonsense. Ishiguro is at times intensely political (especially about class), but the way in which the award nomination is worded, and the way literary journalists are representing him, obscure these aspects of his work. He's being willfully misrepresented as, in Brouilette's words, an "individual genius creator" by an elite literary institution still invested in pretending that there are such things as "individual genius creators." This is where her calling out of the facile stylistic comparisons to Austen, Kafka, and Proust comes in. Brouilette's point isn't that Ishiguro is unworthy of these comparisons because he's "middlebrow," but rather that they help pen him off into some timeless aesthetic realm of "great writers" and thus deny the presentist, political urgency of his work. The Nobel's misreading of him as an apolitical writer is as much a distortion of Ishiguro as Jeff Bezos's apparent belief that Remains of the Day is about the importance of seizing the moment and finding joy in the work place.

Which brings me to:
"training in cultivation of the literary disposition" - spare me the fuck of this kind of elitism, hearkening as it does to a cloistered, racist, sexist yesteryear where prejudice was dressed up as intelligence.
As pointed out above, for Brouilette, "training in cultivation" and "the literary disposition" are negative things. She's handling those phrases with tongs. She hates them as much as you.
Also the premise is unsupported: there are more English majors now than ever before ...
Enrollments in traditional English courses are declining throughout the Anglosphere, as they are in many humanities fields, with a trend line downwards since the global implementation of austerity in 2010.
Of course, what the author means but is too cowardly to say, is the right kind of English majors, namely rich, white ones (talking to an audience of other rich, white graduates, with all the cultural amplification their privilege grants.)
At this point, you need to take a deep breath and wonder if your hot take is actually working for you. This interpretation is diametrically opposed to the argument Brouilette is making. She is critiquing the Nobel, "the literary disposition," and all the class, gender, and racial inequality bound up with it. This is the whole point of the piece.
posted by Sonny Jim at 8:30 AM on October 10 [2 favorites]


> He's being willfully misrepresented as, in Brouilette's words, an "individual genius creator" by an elite literary institution still invested in pretending that there are such things as "individual genius creators."

Oh, for God's sake. Of course there are such things as "individual genius creators"; if you say there aren't, you need to show either that Hamlet and Don Quixote were written by committees of sturdy proletarians who for some reason chose to go under the pseudonyms of "Shakespeare" and "Cervantes" or that the contents of every junior-high literary magazine are just as good as Shakespeare and Cervantes. I thought that kind of primitive folk-Marxist dumbing-down of literary analysis went out with the '80s.
posted by languagehat at 11:53 AM on October 10


My hot take is till mostly working for me, but thank you for clarifying. Honestly your summary was much more limpid than her whole piece.

I understand what's she arguing about, but I think her premise about what Ishiguro is and isn't - especially in relation to the literary establishment/academy - is wrong, deeply wrong. I don't believe he represents any meaningful shift in the trend of award receivers, at all, and thus I think just about everything else she writes in that piece is no better than tea leaf reading truly not very insightful at all. But I mean, that's close reading for you, in general, isn't it? Saying more about the reader than the text, let alone the author.

The Bezos stuff really stuck in my craw, actually, especially coming from someone who uses close reading - as if Bezos is the sole arbiter of the book's meaning or representative of its broader reception. He doesn't get to decide what the book means for anyone else, and I wouldn't really view the book, or its popular reading by the miniscule (comparitively, we're not talking Da Vinci Code, here) readership as another grenade in class warfare. I just thought that was a really one dimensional piece of crude marxist analysis that should have disappeared a long time ago - and I say this as someone whose done his fair share of crude marxist analysis!
posted by smoke at 3:32 PM on October 10


Reading Ishiguro in Tehran.
posted by misteraitch at 3:02 AM on October 17


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