How to collect a Nobel prize for literature

All writers belong to the class of non-orators,” Thomas Mann warned his audience at the outset, accepting the Nobel prize for literature in 1929 in a self-described state of “festive intoxication”. In a paradox the 2017 laureate, Kazuo Ishiguro must be keenly aware of as he undergoes this week’s induction process, the Nobel honours authors for their books but asks them to appear in person (though some, such as Bob Dylan last year, refuse) and morph into celebrity performers expert in the very different art of rhetoric.

The contrast was starkly exemplified 20 years after Mann by William Faulkner, whose brief speech (calling for writers to return to the anguish of “the old verities … of the heart”) was little understood even by anglophone listeners when delivered – he had a heavy southern accent and zero microphone technique – but once it appeared as a text was hailed as an inspirational classic.

It’s a formidable challenge, and one winners have to undergo twice (usually, as with Ishiguro, delivering a lecture and a “banquet speech” three days later). But most attempts include at least three of the following elements: profuse thanks to the Swedish Academy; equally lavish expressions of humility and unworthiness (but don’t overdo this passive-aggressively, like Luigi Pirandello); confessing a personal debt to Scandinavian literature (WB Yeats’s entire speech, for example, consisted of tributes to Swedenborg and Ibsen); a potent childhood memory and a recent anecdote showing how grounded in mundane reality you are. (William Golding talked of being given a parking ticket and congratulations by the same policeman on the day of the prize announcement).

Evocations of the heroic torment of a writer’s life, exemplified by Faulkner and Hemingway’s speeches, are out of fashion, as is lofty prophesying about the future of humanity and literature’s role in shaping it that mid-20th century laureates (such as Albert Camus) went in for. But taking up the cudgels on behalf of your own stigmatised ethnic group, or nation, or region (Gabriel García Márquez urged his audience not to view Latin America through a European lens) is still fine, though the fact that so many non-white and/or developing world winners chose that option in the 1980s and 90s might explain why there have been fewer such laureates of late.

Great Mysteries of Art and Literature, Explained

What is the Mona Lisa thinking? (fifteen-hundreds)

• Enigmatic happiness is the best happiness.
• A flattering portrait of a wealthy merchant’s wife—a bit mercenario, Leonardo, no?
• I don’t mind the name “La Gioconda,” but “jocund” puts ten pounds on your midsection.
• Thanking God that Leonardo did not want me to hold the Vitruvian Man’s pose.
• I’m not staring, mio caro, I’m buffering.

What is Nora trying to say when she slams the door at the end of “A Doll’s House”? (eighteen-seventies)

• I have passionate feelings about egress.
• Society’s scorn seems a high price to pay for an act of light forgery.
• Self-fulfillment: sometimes noisy.
• Lying about your macaroon consumption is the bellwether of marital discord.
• A hasty exit is the “disable comments” of my era.
• Doll wife, out.

What does the green light at the end of Daisy Buchanan’s dock symbolize? (nineteen-twenties)

• “The orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us.”
• Old Money, upstaged by New.
• The essential ludicrousness of party-hosting as a romantic gambit.
• The Eighteenth Amendment’s choke hold on the crème de menthe industry.
• How everything we want seems to lead to everything we despise.
• Zelda.
• Zelda’s jealousy.
• Zelda’s jealousy of Fitzgerald’s jealousy of Hemingway.
• Minnesota, the Land of Authenticity and Wholesomeness.
• Mrs. T. J. Eckleburg.

Vampires: Why? (two-thousands)

• The notion that vampires in their dotage are beautiful and aristocratic provided solace to graying baby-boomers.
• Lowered social standards, as evidenced by voters’ avowal that George W. Bush was someone they’d “like to have a beer with,” devolved into outright biting.
• Depictions of survival-based bloodletting mirrored most Americans’ initial experiences with Internet chat rooms.
• The “Twilight” saga promoted the highly consoling idea that, at our greatest moment of vulnerability (i.e., having been bitten), our skin will magically bloom with Swarovski crystals.
• Individuals who can morph from human to vampire or wolf pay silent homage to the beloved Jane Fonda’s metamorphosis from Hanoi Jane to filmic everywoman to exercise guru.
• It was all pre-publication publicity for Nora Ephron’s “I Feel Bad About My Neck.”
• The image of Dracula travelling on a ship in his coffin allayed the public’s long-held anxieties about budget airlines such as People Express and ValuJet.

Abraham Usque

Abraham Usque was born in Portugal, where educated with the precepts of the Talmud by his Pays, sahio one of the majors teachers of the errors of the Synagogue. His eloquence was to penetrate the Litteral sense of the Bible, and to make it more intelligible to the Jews, who assisted in the salvation of Spain and Holland, the translation of the Hebrew text into the Spanish language, and dedicated it to Hercules of this Duke of Ferrara, and sahio printed in gothic character with this title:

Biblia en lengua Española translated word for word of the Hebrew truth by very excellent Lawyers, seen and examined by the Officio of the Inquisition. in fol. Ferraræ. Sumptibus Yom Tob Atias anno mundi 5313. Christi. 1553.

This translation is word for word of the Original, and it is no longer obscure to perceive by the use of a Hespanola language, which is only to be found in the Synagogues. Foy second time printed in Ferrara, and in the end have these words. With industry of Duarte Pinel Portuguez stampata to coast, and speza of Geronimo de Vargas Spanish on March 1, 1553. In this edition sahio with a few words changed to be more intelligible, but the first is much more valuable. as Father Richardo Simon writes in Hist. Crit. V et. Test. liv. 5. chap. 19. Sahio third time printed by diligence of Manasse Ben Israel in Amsterdaõ fifteenth Sabbati 5390, which corresponds to the year of Christo 1630. Bartoloccio in Bib. Rabbin. Part. I. pag. 49. n. 103. & Part. 3. p. 785. n. 706. writes that Abraham Usque had done this translation together with his companion Yom Tob Atias, but Wolfio in the Bib. Hebræa pag. 31. n. 49. they oppose this opinion by affirming that it was made by other Jews, being printed by diligence of Abrahus Usque, as is taken from the edition of Ferrara, which in the end has these words.

To glory, and praise of our Lord, this Bible is finished in the Spanish language translated from the real Hebraic origin by very excellent lawyers with industry, and diligence of Abrahan Usque Portuguez stamped in Ferrara at cost, and speza of Yom Tob Atias son of Levi Atias Spanish on 14 de Adar de 5313. Porém always reconceives Wolfio, who naõ pòde Abrahõ Us to be private gives glory of travalhar muito mesta traducçaõ, as Richard says. Simon in Di sq. Crit. of var. Bib. Edition. chap. 14. dizendo: Verisimile est Abrahamum Usque Judæum è Lusitania in adornanda hac translatione Hispana sibi prævios habuisse Doctors, who before illius tempora Bible in Sinagogis hebraicè, & hispanice perlegerant, adeò ut plerasque illorum voices usurpaverit. Compoz mais

Order of the Rites of the Feast of the Year; New, and Atonement. Ferrara 1554. 4.

Além de Wolfio, Barolocio, and Simon became lembraõ of Abrahõ Usque, Le Long. in Bib. Sacr. Part 2. pag. 124. Morery Diccionair. Historique, Magna Biblioth. Eccles. p. 32. co. 1.