False Dichotomies

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Archive for May 20th, 2011

Ain’t No Best

“Ain’t no best,” Nas says, weighing in on the question of who’s the greatest rapper of all time. It’s a truism, of course, and one worth remembering when thinking about the soap opera provided by contemporary literary awards. 

The latest literary prize to cause controversy is the awarding of the 2011 International Man Booker (awarded bi-annually to a writer for their collective body of work, as opposed to the single novel award of the Commonwealth-based Booker Prize) to America’s finest, Philip Roth. Following the decision, author and publisher Carmen Callil withdrew from the judging panel, arguing that “he [Roth] goes on and on about the same subject in almost every book. It’s as though he’s sitting on your face and you can’t breathe.” The first charge seems rather banal, and could be levelled at most great authors, while the second seems to be a back-handed compliment, one that recalls the famous face-fuck scene in The Dying Animal. Finally Callil asks, “in 20 years time will anyone read him?” as if this is the sole measure of greatness. Taken together, it makes her seem rather churlish – with the decision taken collectively, there was always a possibility that she would be disappointed with the decision. But controversy sells, and literary prizes need all the publicity they can get. Read more

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