Again, in vain (and vanity), I waited for that middle-of-the-night phone call from the Nobel committee on literature to inform me that they had finally seen the light, at the last elevated their standards and criteria, realized their past errors, and awarded this year’s Nobel Prize for literature. To Sebastian Gerard. Like Olga Tokarcszuk of Poland, and Peter Handke of Austria, who you probably never heard of, or pronounced properly, Sebastian would be discovered, like some literary gem that had been buried right under your nose on Amazon.com, and you would be logging on at first light to order your copy of The River Dragon’s Daughters or one of his earlier works about which critics would now be saying Gerard had been overlooked as a pathbreaking literary genius, a wizard of words, a magician of the metaphor, a superannuated scribe who has been belatedly brought to public acclaim.
Not to take anything away from Olga Unpronounceable or Peter Kleenex. I confess that I have not read either of them, despite the fact that it will now be claimed by literary critics who are scrambling to do so that they have always been on their “shortlists”.
But in fact, I really don’t give a rat’s ass about not receiving the Nobel, or the Man Booker, or the Pulitzer, or the National Book Award, or the little label on my book cover that says “New York Times bestseller”. These prizes and awards are, in the final analysis, a cocktail composed of the literary critic’s obsequious snobbery and a marketer’s wet dream. There are zillions of writers out there who don’t make anything close to a living or get anywhere near having their name in a larger font than their book’s title. Maybe they write with some restrained hope of literary fame and fortune, but most know what the odds are, and for most of them it is probably not the reason they ever put pen to paper.
Okay, you’re right, who am I to speak for the motivations of the millions of writers who have dared to record their thoughts and imaginings from cuneiform impressions on clay tablets to pixelated prose on MacBook Pros (alliterative, eh?). But I really do think that the impulse derives from something deeper than making rent and putting food on the table (indeed, sometimes it’s in contravention of such necessities). There have always been intersections between art and commerce. Creativity can acquire value, but it’s initial, non-monetized value, is what the artist discovers within—and of— him, or her, self, from a reassembly of the elements of reality that never existed in quite that way before. It is a maniére d’être of finding our own uniqueness. It is not likely to be revealed by committee.
Yeah, I know that sounds a little fussy and preachy. But at least my annual rejections by the Nobel committee remind me of its veracity. It reminds me of the real reason that I get up in the morning and start writing: that I am waiting to be discovered—by me.