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Nobel Prize in literature 2007
October 11, 2007 7:20 AM   Subscribe

The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2007 is awarded to ...

...the English writer Doris Lessing, “that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny”.

Doris Lessing has been discussed earlier on Metafilter, see for instance here and here.
posted by Termite (93 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yay!

The New York Times has collected all their articles about Lessing and reviews of her work on this handy page.
posted by Kattullus at 7:26 AM on October 11, 2007


wow, that's not a shock actually. I was in a restaurant where someone I work with suggested Dave Eggers would win it. He was roundly told off.
posted by parmanparman at 7:29 AM on October 11, 2007


Eggers would win the Nobel Prize for publishing neat things. Literature? No.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:34 AM on October 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


ME!

no? SHIT.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:36 AM on October 11, 2007


I hope she doesn't let it get to her head and lose her Moorings.
posted by DenOfSizer at 7:38 AM on October 11, 2007


American literary critic Harold Bloom called the academy's decision ".. pure political correctness. Although Ms. Lessing at the beginning of her writing career had a few admirable qualities, I find her work for the past 15 years quite unreadable ... fourth-rate science fiction."
posted by stbalbach at 7:41 AM on October 11, 2007


Me! Me! Pick me!

Damn.
posted by LarryC at 7:43 AM on October 11, 2007


Harold Bloom also can't stand Hemingway.

So Harold Bloom can go suck it.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:44 AM on October 11, 2007 [2 favorites]


fourth-rate science fiction

Well, now I'm even more intrigued! I just finished Stephen Fry's autobiography on metafilter's recommendation; perhaps Ms. Lessing will be next!
posted by Greg Nog at 7:44 AM on October 11, 2007


Oh, screw Harold Bloom. Doris Lessing is a writer of great intelligence who is willing to take risks. She hasn't been willing to pander to the literary establishment and she's female. I'm delighted with this choice.
posted by theora55 at 7:46 AM on October 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


Excellent. Glad she got it.
posted by nickyskye at 7:47 AM on October 11, 2007


Her SF is actually pretty good.
posted by Artw at 7:48 AM on October 11, 2007


It seems that every day brings new buttresses to my argument that Harold Bloom is an odious windbag. I really need to get around to making that t-shirt that says "Harold Bloom is an odious windbag."
posted by Kattullus at 7:49 AM on October 11, 2007 [2 favorites]


Oh, screw Harold Bloom.

Yup.

Doris Lessing is a writer of great intelligence who is willing to take risks.

Yup.

But they're both boring as dirt, and irrelevant as telegraphy. No surprises.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:49 AM on October 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


Holy cow, Ladbrokes didn't even have odds on Lessing.
posted by breezeway at 7:50 AM on October 11, 2007


The grass is singing! (this is also a recommendation for Greg Nog) What does Harold Bloom know?
posted by Myeral at 7:50 AM on October 11, 2007


Harold Bloom also can't stand Hemingway.

Odd. He recommends Hemingway in his The Western Canon and lists a number of works in the "canon list". He does mention Lessing in the same book saying "Even if one passionately agreed with the crusade against male human beings urged by Doris Lessing and Alice Walker, their rhetoric of exclusion gives no pleasure." (p.324)
posted by stbalbach at 7:52 AM on October 11, 2007


She hasn't been willing to pander to the literary establishment

Actually, I'd say she is the literary establishment, it's the people like Bloom who are anti-establishment these days.
posted by stbalbach at 7:55 AM on October 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


The four rates of science fiction:
First-rate: Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein
Second-rate: Hubbard, Ewoks Pop-up Adventures series, I, Robot The Book Of The Movie
Third-rate: Haunted Mansions of Dune by Frank Herbert's Ex-Wife's Chiropractor, 2004
Fourth-rate: Lessing, Colbert
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:56 AM on October 11, 2007 [9 favorites]


She was out shopping when she found out... which amused the newsreader on News24. No mention that she wrote sf, of course.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:58 AM on October 11, 2007


Thanks, Myeral! But as someone who also periodically joneses for fourth-rate sci-fi, any other recommendations? How's Mara and Dann? How's The Cleft?
posted by Greg Nog at 7:58 AM on October 11, 2007


I agree on the estalishment point. Lessing is about as safe and boring a pick as they could make. Kudos! I really couldn't care much less, however. Literary/artistic prizes seem awful silly.
posted by mrgrimm at 7:59 AM on October 11, 2007


Is it just me, or are the Nobels turning out remarkably Eurocentric this year?
posted by Skeptic at 8:02 AM on October 11, 2007


Haha. When I saw this FPP, I thought, "Oh, they pulled some Time Magazine shit, right? We're all splitting the prize!"
posted by klangklangston at 8:04 AM on October 11, 2007 [2 favorites]


She hasn't been willing to pander to the literary establishment and she's female.

But yeah, no political correctness involved.
posted by DU at 8:04 AM on October 11, 2007


Yeah, something like "The Good Terrorist", with it's sympathetic view of a member of a terrorist cell carrying out a car-bombing campaign in London, is totally safe/boring.
posted by Artw at 8:04 AM on October 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


Haha. When I saw this FPP, I thought, "Oh, they pulled some Time Magazine shit, right? We're all splitting the prize!"

She narrowly beat "YouTube Commenters".
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:05 AM on October 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


MeFi's own ed has a great collection of links, which include 4 interviews and a link to her MySpace page.
posted by Kattullus at 8:07 AM on October 11, 2007


Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein

Mefites about to rush out and buy her Science Fiction work should perhaps be warned that her work is more metaphyscial new-wave SF type stuff than the Classic SF writers listed above.
posted by Artw at 8:08 AM on October 11, 2007


Better than first-rate: Bester.
posted by breezeway at 8:11 AM on October 11, 2007 [2 favorites]


Odd. He recommends Hemingway in his The Western Canon and lists a number of works in the "canon list".

In his recent book Genius, Bloom includes a chapter on Hemingway, but virtually the entire chapter is spent explaining why Hemingway is just barely a genius, and his work doesn't stand up over time, and I guess he's an okay writer but his novels totally blow. At no point (that I can recall) does Bloom actually say why Hemingway should be in his book, which gives the distinct impression that he's included by Bloom wholly begrudgingly.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:18 AM on October 11, 2007


Is it just me, or are the Nobels turning out remarkably Eurocentric this year?
Let's see if Gore gets one. : >

I've never read Lessing, but will now (i use the Nobels as one of my personal recommendation services--from Mahfouz to Saramago to Haxness, they haven't steered me wrong.)
posted by amberglow at 8:20 AM on October 11, 2007


Mefites about to rush out and buy her Science Fiction work should perhaps be warned that her work is more metaphyscial new-wave SF type stuff than the Classic SF writers listed above.

Also that it's atypical of her body of work, and can be hard to find (Canopus in Argos: Archives is long out of print, I believe).
posted by Prospero at 8:25 AM on October 11, 2007


Wow, Roth and Updike are gonna be so pissed off.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:28 AM on October 11, 2007


Gene Wolfe writes better on his bad days than Doris Lessing writes on her best.

I read the whole goddamned Canopus in Argos doorstop and kept waiting for the book to start. But it didn't. Five billion words of backstory.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:32 AM on October 11, 2007


But yeah, no political correctness involved.

Ah the joy of attacking political correctness. It lets you be an aspersion casting asshole with plausible deniability.
posted by srboisvert at 8:32 AM on October 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


If a woman won a prize it must be from political correctness!
posted by shakespeherian at 8:34 AM on October 11, 2007


An early epitaph for Dorothy Lessing.

Here lies Dorothy Lessing
(more or less).
She lost her moorings.
We've lost our Lessing.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:35 AM on October 11, 2007 [2 favorites]


First-rate: Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein

No.
posted by enn at 8:40 AM on October 11, 2007 [4 favorites]


Were Marie Curie's Nobel Prizes for Physics (1903) and Chemistry (1911) also awarded because of political correctness?
posted by u2604ab at 8:52 AM on October 11, 2007 [2 favorites]


"But they're both boring as dirt, and irrelevant as telegraphy. No surprises."
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken

Read The Fifth Child, have you?

I'd be genuinely astonished if you could plausibly finish the sentence: "The Fifth Child is as boring as dirt because..."!!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:58 AM on October 11, 2007


Canopus in Argos wasn't all that bad, BitterOldPunk. Sure, volumes 1 and 3 were backstory, and The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 was kind of a slog with all that ice and snow, but I really enjoyed the social structure and the characters interaction in The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four, and Five.
posted by zhwj at 9:00 AM on October 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


Oh, please let it be George W. Bush. *fingers crossed* He was nominated, right?
posted by gc at 9:08 AM on October 11, 2007


breezeway - seconded.
posted by notsnot at 9:11 AM on October 11, 2007


Excellent.

I saw her read at the Folger Shakespeare Theater a few years ago. She was signing books, and a member of our group, a fellow classmate, got to the front of the line, praised her effusively, and then asked, "Do you have any advice for a young writer?"

Ms. Lessing finished signing the book, looked up, smiled, and said, as sweetly and as firmly as can be, "No."
posted by atayah at 9:13 AM on October 11, 2007 [5 favorites]


Stav, don't be greedy. You were already Time's Person of the Year.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:16 AM on October 11, 2007


I hope I'm alive when there will be a nobel prize awarded to a writer whose work has never been in hardcopy or not much anyway.
posted by infini at 9:17 AM on October 11, 2007


Awesome! I loved Canopas, but I haven't read the rest of her work. Will be rectifying this shortly.

I fear this may hurt Atwood's chances for picking up a Nobel one of these years, though. :(
posted by longdaysjourney at 9:17 AM on October 11, 2007


Ah the joy of attacking political correctness. It lets you be an aspersion casting asshole with plausible deniability.

The problem is "political correctness" is itself a pejorative. I can't imagine anyone defending the term, other than as a subversive way to make a pejorative seem objective.
posted by stbalbach at 10:02 AM on October 11, 2007


Unfortunately I haven't read Doris Lessing, so I can't comment on that, but I did read Orhan Pamuk's "Snow" as it was the Nobel committee's selection last year, and it was a big bag of not very good.
posted by taliaferro at 10:24 AM on October 11, 2007


taliaferro - IMHO My Name Is Red is much better, and I would urge you to give it a go.
posted by Artw at 10:42 AM on October 11, 2007


but I did read Orhan Pamuk's "Snow" as it was the Nobel committee's selection last year

The Nobel in Literature goes to a person for their entire body of work. They don't "select" any one individual work by that person. I know nothing of Orhan Pamuk or his work, just sayin'.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:55 AM on October 11, 2007


I do have a slight suspicion that it was being oppressed by the Turkish goverment that got him that Nobel, even though I personally enjoy his work.
posted by Artw at 11:08 AM on October 11, 2007


I'm pretty sure the establishment has room for both Lessing and Bloom.

Well, most of Bloom. Zing!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:40 AM on October 11, 2007


A woman! A white European woman! Who write science fiction! It's political correctness gone mad!
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:45 AM on October 11, 2007


I heard next year they're gonna give it to Delaney.
posted by mr. remy at 11:54 AM on October 11, 2007


Bloom knows from fourth rate sci-fi, as anyone who read his crappy gnostic novel can attest.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 11:57 AM on October 11, 2007


Coming back to this thread, it surprises me how SF-centric Metafilter can sometimes be. Canopus in Argos seems to be the Lessing work that's most read by MeFites (and I've read it, too--some parts I found to be better than others). Yet focusing on that at the expense of The Golden Notebook is something like focusing on Melville's Mardi at the expense of Moby-Dick.
posted by Prospero at 12:35 PM on October 11, 2007 [2 favorites]


I wonder who Bloom would have chosen instead of Lessing -- and whether they'd even qualify for the prize. I mean, aren't most of the writers he idolizes dead?

And I'm kinda shocked it's Lessing. Outside of Harold Pinter, the committee lately has been picking major writer of non-English speaking culture, preferably non-Western. I was expecting "the greatest living Azeri poet" or "writer of the Great Guinea-Bissauan Novel."
posted by dw at 12:43 PM on October 11, 2007


amberglow: start with her Children of Violence series (five books starting with Martha Quest)

These lead directly to the much-maligned (perhaps rightly) science fiction.

I don't care if this is politically correct, or boring or whatever. Doris Lessing is one of my very favorite authors and this put a big smile on my face this morning.
posted by nax at 12:56 PM on October 11, 2007


LONDON - Doris Lessing pulled up in a black cab where a media horde was waiting Thursday in front of her leafy north London home. Reporters opened the door and told her she had won the Nobel Prize for literature, to which she responded: "Oh Christ! ... I couldn't care less."
posted by Prospero at 1:47 PM on October 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


Looks like they picked the wrong ingrate.
posted by breezeway at 1:51 PM on October 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


Reporters opened the door and told her she had won the Nobel Prize for literature, to which she responded: "Oh Christ! ... I couldn't care less."


That made my day. Really.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:24 PM on October 11, 2007


Gene Wolfe writes better on his bad days than Doris Lessing writes on her best.

This bears repeating. Although I am in a sense gratified that a former Worldcon Guest of Honor has won the Nobel Prize in literature, I sorta wish it wasn't awarded to such a mediocre science fiction author.

In what sense is Lessing's fiction better than Wolfe's Book of the New Sun? .
posted by Justinian at 2:26 PM on October 11, 2007


"I can't say I'm overwhelmed with surprise, I'm 88 years old and they can't give the Nobel to someone who's dead, so I think they were probably thinking they'd probably better give it to me now before I've popped off."

Good for her.
posted by Artw at 2:27 PM on October 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


Bloom didn't.

There is nothing I know of in English, on the other hand, to match the cold, inhuman brilliance of Lessing's short stories, the Grass is Singing, and the Four Gated City. The Golden Notebook still gives me existential vertigo when I think about the way it turns itself inside out through a previously unknown higher dimension at the end, and it also matured my politics and lit my way toward whatever understanding of women and sexuality I have been able to achieve.

She flung me off the bus with the sharp turn she took with Briefing for a Descent into Hell, however, but this was still the only Nobel Prize announcement in my lifetime which pulled a visceral 'YES!' out of me before my conscious mind even registered what had been said.
posted by jamjam at 2:40 PM on October 11, 2007


Although I am in a sense gratified that a former Worldcon Guest of Honor has won the Nobel Prize in literature, I sorta wish it wasn't awarded to such a mediocre science fiction author.

Not to be all Captain Obvious here ("he wears his underpants on the inside!) but Lessing won primarily for her non-science fiction work. While I'm also pleased that a Worldcon Guest of Honor has won the Nobel, Lessing's primary work are The Golden Notebook, The Good Terrorist, the Child of Violence series and her short fiction (which is excellent, by the way).

And one of many reasons why I hold the Literature Nobel above the others is that its recipients nearly always give the best interviews and acceptance speeches.
posted by Kattullus at 2:41 PM on October 11, 2007


Far as I can tell, all the quotings from her are taken immediately after she were told she had won, by the journalists at her house. I would give her some slack for whatever she has said, at a moment which probably was a bit confusing for her.
posted by Catfry at 2:45 PM on October 11, 2007


I hope I'm alive when there will be a nobel prize awarded to a writer whose work has never been in hardcopy or not much anyway.

If you mean in English translation, there have been a bunch, i think. It was winning that got them onto shelves here.
posted by amberglow at 2:51 PM on October 11, 2007


Far as I can tell, all the quotings from her are taken immediately after she were told she had won, by the journalists at her house. I would give her some slack for whatever she has said, at a moment which probably was a bit confusing for her.

See, the amazing thing about those quotes is that they reveal not the studied pretense of indiffence to success that we expect from top-tier artists, but actual, honest-to-God, down-to-the bone indifference to the rarest kind of critical acclaim. The rest of us can only hope to attain the complete dedication to our craft that would breed such complete disinterest.

She's my hero.
posted by Prospero at 2:56 PM on October 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


She acknowledged the $1.5 million cash award was a lot of money, but still seemed less than thrilled.

"I'm already thinking about all the people who are going to send me begging letters — I can see them lining up now," she said. The phone in her house, audible from the street, rang continuously.


Crusty old broad, isn't she? I like that.
posted by Atom Eyes at 3:00 PM on October 11, 2007


Once after getting home very late at night, I accidentally blocked Harold Bloom's driveway by parking my car in front. The bastard had me towed. Upon finding my car gone the next morning, my reactions went something like this:

1) Oh shit! My car got stolen!

2) What? It only got towed? What a relief.

3) Man, I do feel a little bad about blocking someone's driveway in the morning. What if I made them late to some important meeting?

4) Wait - that was Harold Bloom's driveway? Ah, what's a few minutes more or less of bloviation? No big deal. Hell, I probably did his listeners a public service.

5) Damn! I can't believe I got my car towed by Harold Bloom.

True story. I was never a big fan in the first place, and now I consider him a mortal enemy.

Also I have never read anything by Doris Lessing but I'm inclined to try The Golden Notebook.
posted by chinston at 3:26 PM on October 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


Then, chinston, you'll probably like the zinger quote by Joseph Epstein that Harold Bloom looks "as if he were poured into his clothes and forgot to say when."
posted by Jody Tresidder at 3:51 PM on October 11, 2007


chinston - Tell Doris Lessing that for $1.5 million you'll fuck him up.
posted by Artw at 3:51 PM on October 11, 2007


Harold Bloom looks "as if he were poured into his clothes and forgot to say when."

So. True.

Doris - Have your people call my people, babe.
posted by chinston at 4:01 PM on October 11, 2007


Read The Fifth Child, have you?

Yes, I have. Boring as springtime dogshit.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:40 PM on October 11, 2007


I wonder who Bloom would have chosen instead of Lessing -- I mean, aren't most of the writers he idolizes dead?

Well, naturally - according to Bloom, genius is rare, there are a few thousand years to choose the best, it would be suspicious to see a cluster of genius in the late 20th century at the expense of the rest of history. He also says the closer to the present you get, the harder it is to guess who will be among the immortals. For example. Pierre Loti was idolized by Proust and James and was extremely popular - but he has lapsed into near obscurity just 100 years later and will be largely forgotten in another 100. Finally, Bloom does "idoloze" some living authors, Cormac McCarthy for one.
posted by stbalbach at 5:50 PM on October 11, 2007


Coming back to this thread, it surprises me how SF-centric Metafilter can sometimes be.

Does it really surprise you? Internet nerds are notorious for reading science fiction to the exclusion of pretty much anything else.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 7:14 PM on October 11, 2007


Internet nerds are notorious for reading science fiction to the exclusion of pretty much anything else.

That's the most ridiculous thing I've read this week. You base this statement on what exactly?
posted by signal at 7:45 PM on October 11, 2007


Bloom does "idoloze" some living authors, Cormac McCarthy for one.

See? Bloom likes his SF writers too.
posted by Artw at 7:56 PM on October 11, 2007


Internet nerds are notorious for reading science fiction to the exclusion of pretty much anything else.

I'm an internet nerd. In some circles, I'm notorious.

I don't read science fiction, and outside of a few Stephenson and Gaiman novels, I never have.

So, hey, there goes your stereotype, right down into the event horizon.
posted by dw at 8:02 PM on October 11, 2007


the zinger quote by Joseph Epstein that Harold Bloom looks "as if he were poured into his clothes and forgot to say when."

I'll be generous and say that at best, Epstein borrowed and reapplied the line -- that's Wodehouse.

posted by booksandlibretti at 9:08 PM on October 11, 2007


I'm on the Internet all the time, and I haven't even read Stephenson and Gaiman! I knew I was missing something.
posted by the cydonian at 9:18 PM on October 11, 2007


Sci-fi is where it's at, eh?
posted by breezeway at 9:59 PM on October 11, 2007


Clawing Your Way to the Nobel Peace Prize

I hope the Burmese monks get it. It might just keep some of the survivors from being killed and burnt.
posted by homunculus at 11:42 PM on October 11, 2007


Well, this post is older than dirt already but I have a few remarks:

1. I have never read anything of hers but I recently found and bought "The Golden Notebook" at a used bookstore in Seoul recently because it was discussed frequently and with high regard in another book I recently read and loved.

2. Here is the video if her finding out. It's different from the the other video posted above.
"One can't get more excited than one gets, you know."
3. WTF does Doris Lessing need a goddamn Myspace for?
posted by Brittanie at 7:42 AM on October 12, 2007


Jesus Christ, could I use the word "recently" more often? No more gin-n-tonics for me tonight.
posted by Brittanie at 7:46 AM on October 12, 2007


Internet nerds are notorious for reading science fiction to the exclusion of pretty much anything else.

That's the most ridiculous thing I've read this week. You base this statement on what exactly?


DO NOT TAKE AWAY MY NOTORIETY!
posted by srboisvert at 11:47 AM on October 12, 2007


Anyone who has only read Lessings so-called science fiction should not be commenting on her body of work. They are so untypical of her mainstream fiction (if you can call it that) that you just have no idea what her writing is like. The Children of Violence series, The Golden Notebook, the Diaries of Jane Somers, The Good Terrorist; these are the books that will tell you what she is about. They are searing, mind-expanding, and absolutely my favorite books ever.

For what it's worth, how many Nobel-level authors can you think of who have had the courage to delve into so-called "genre" fiction (romance, mystery, sf, thriller, whatever). Lessing had something she wanted to say that she felt couldn't be said in straight fiction and she went for it. The sf books are uneven and sometimes clumsy, but good for her for understanding that "genre" fiction is worthwhile as well.
posted by nax at 6:47 PM on October 12, 2007


taliaferro, I've heard that Pamuk's work suffers from relatively poor translations into English, which might explain your reaction. Never having read him in Turkish (or the relevant Swedish translation), I can't speak to the truth of it.

Also, every year I hope it will be Vargas Llosa, and every year it isn't, and right around this time of year I start hoping again.
posted by bijou at 9:22 PM on October 12, 2007


Bloom does "idoloze" some living authors, Cormac McCarthy for one.

Yet another hunk of evidence that his judgments are seriously suspect. Blood Meridian is a decent read and all, but Bloom's gushingly fanboy intro to it is completely wacky.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:49 AM on October 13, 2007


Adam Roberts writes about Lessing as a science fiction author in The Valve. The Nation and Open Democracy on the political Doris Lessing.
posted by Kattullus at 1:59 PM on October 13, 2007


Doris Lessing puts Sept. 11 attacks into perspective, calls Blair a "showman" and Bush a "disaster".

She's got almost half a century on me, but I think I might ask her to marry me.
posted by Skygazer at 10:01 AM on October 23, 2007


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