Where is Mr. Greene’s Nobel Prize for Literature?

I used to think the Nobel Prize was the greatest honor this corrupt little world had to bestow upon a person. That was a while ago. Some time before Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize for threatening to bomb North Viet Nam into the stone ages if they wouldn’t hold their fire long enough for America to get the hell out and pretend they settled for peace with “honor” in Viet Nam.

greene01.jpg (8190 bytes)

  • End of the Affair
  • The Third Man
  • Heart of the Matter
  • Power and the Glory
  • The Quiet American

So I’m being fey. I don’t have illusions about the Nobel Prize for literature.

And you shouldn’t either. You should know that the writers listed below have received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Not a bad bunch, I suppose. Some of them, like Sartre and Solzhenitsyn seem rather dubious in light of historical developments. was Sartre really all that important? And Solzhenitsyn turned out to be Hester Prynne’s bad uncle and nobody wants to invite him to parties anymore. William Golding? For what? Saul Bellow?

Sure I’m being irreverent. In my opinion, Solzhenitsyn was a good writer who stood up to the authorities and thus became regarded as a great writer. Now that the Berlin Wall is down, we can go back to thinking of him as a good writer. A fine writer. A decent writer. He was also a Russian Nationalist and an anti-Semite.

But then, is the Nobel deserving of grandeur?

John Galsworthy? For “The Forsythe Saga”? You’ve got to be kidding.  “The Forsythe Saga” is grandfather of the modern soap opera.  Sure, he has his rustic charms, but it’s still soap.

Eugene O’Neill? Even Solzhenitsyn is never as boring as “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” (although “The Iceman Cometh” was entertaining, at least, when Lee Marvin played Hickey.).

Steinbeck is the American writer that most resembles Solzhenitsyn, though even he is more interesting. He was important, at least, as the dramatist of the depression. Hemingway is deserving, for his innovations in style as well as for the acutely modern sensibility he brought to his work, so clearly missing from Galsworthy and Steinbeck. T.S. Eliot? I never liked him much, but even I have to admit that the line “I have measured out my life in coffee spoons” deserves some kind of special recognition, if not Eliot’s fondness for fascism and idiotic obscurantism and anti-Semitism.

Toni Morrison is the weakest entry on the list. In ten years, everyone will finally get over the novelty of race and come to know just how uninteresting her work really is. I rarely give up on a book once I’ve started reading it, but I had to slog through “Tar Baby”, and I can’t remember anything about “Song of Solomon”. Is she really better than Richard Wright or James Baldwin, neither of whom made the list?

Isaac Singer is a brilliant choice– one of the most distinctive voices of the 20th century. V.S. Naipaul? I honestly don’t know. I’ve always liked his writing, especially his travel pieces, and he is unfailingly thoughtful and perceptive, and provocative.

William Golding? “Lord of the Flies” is undoubtedly a brilliant book, but I’ve never liked it. I always wondered where the girls were. I was never able to make sense of his other books. I always felt that if he hadn’t been famous for “Lord of the Flies”, nobody would have cared about “Pincher Martin”.

Besides, there are some historical examples of boys being trapped in an isolated environment: distressingly (to every high school teacher), they tend to end up cooperating and building little peaceful communities together.

You may have noticed an astonishing omission from the list. An omission so monumental that it is stunning in it’s audaciousness: Graham Greene.

I have read somewhere that Graham Greene would have won the Nobel Prize but for the objections of the Americans, who hated him for criticizing their actions in Central America, and elsewhere. I’m puzzled by the story. I don’t know where it comes from, or if it is true. I am flabbergasted by the idea that the Americans can block the selection of the Nobel Selection Committee. How do they do it? Who do they phone?

I have also heard that Arthur Lundquist, a member of the Academy, had it in for Greene. “Over my dead body” was the phrase someone used, to describe Lundquist’s feelings about Greene getting a Nobel prize.

But one thing is obvious: on merit alone, Greene should have been selected miles ahead of Morrison, Gordimer, Golding, O’Neill, Faulkner, Galsworthy, or half a dozen others.

It is probably appropriate that Greene never won. One of the most remarkable traits of his work is its utter lack of sentimentality, and prizes–even big ones– especially big ones– are all about sentimentality. There is a way of being correctly incorrect, and there is Greene’s way, which is to dissect why we need to believe that we are somehow appreciative of “incorrect” writers, like Naipaul and Solzhenitsyn. There is a subplot in “The Power and the Glory” about a book a pious mother reads to her children, about a great Catholic martyr, and his heroic life and death. It’s all phony, of course, and Greene contrasts this phony iconography with the “real” adventures of the whiskey priest, who believes himself worthy of damnation. He also contrasts the whiskey priest to “Padre Jose”, who obeys the edict of the revolutionary government and marries and sells out the faith in order to save his own life, and present the people with a living, breathing illustration of the corruptibility of the church.

Is there any other way to imagine a speech at the Nobel banquet, than as the imprimatur of acceptance, respectability, and public honor? Is there anything that would make a writer safer for all of us?

While Solzhenitsyn was a virtual prisoner within the Soviet Union, he was honored with a prize, because he stood up to the godless, inhuman communist government, with courage and conviction. After he moved to Connecticut, he stood up to the inhuman, godless materialism of the West… and promptly disappeared from view.

Novelists Who Have Won the Nobel Prize for Literature

V.S. Naipul
Gunter Grass
Seamus Heaney
Toni Morrison
Derek Walcott
Nadine Gordimer
Joseph Brodsky
William Golding
Isaac Singer
Saul Bellow
Heinrich Boll
Jean-Paul Sartre
John Steinbeck
Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn
William Faulkner
T.S. Eliot
Andre Gide
Earnest Hemingway
Herman Hesse
Eugene O’Neill
John Galsworthy
George Bernard Shaw

Why Conspiracy Theories Persist

Is FBI Director Hoover now seen as incompetent for just chasing after Oswald in the JFK assassination?  (Question on Quora.)

No, because all evidence is quite clear that Oswald, acting alone, assassinated JFK.

FBI Director Hoover is now known to have been corrupt, for thousands of abuses, and misuse of his office, to use his FBI agents to spy on and compile files on every possible President, and on every possible Cabinet Member, and on every possible member of Congress, so he could later “control them.”

But, none of that has anything to do with the JFK assassination, which was investigated by the Warren Commission, exhaustively.

Now, you see why some people continue to suspect a conspiracy?  Because of idiots like this who make statements like “No, because all the evidence is quite clear that Oswald, acting alone, assassinated JFK.”

The question was, was Hoover wrong to limit his investigation to one suspect (thereby ignoring all other possible suspects).   The responder seems to believe that once you have a suspect, no other possible suspect should ever be considered, and no evidence that contradicts the guilt of your one suspect should be investigated.

The evidence for Oswald’s guilt was anything but clear, and the idea of Oswald being a patsy for a broader conspiracy is, without a doubt, within the spectrum of possibility.

So if someone like Bruce Spielbauer dismisses conspiracy theories like that, I immediately think, well, clearly he has no evidence for this argument: he’s just a believer.

The Assassination of Robert Kennedy: Why is There Always a Conspiracy?

Why can’t these things be clear?

You don’t want to be accused of paranoia. You want to be reasonable. Sirhan Bishara Sirhan shot Bobby Kennedy four times on June 5, 1968 in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

He was grabbed by Bobby Kennedy’s body guards, and George Plimpton, and wrestled to the ground, and handed over to the police. The gun was right there. Everyone was in one small room, a kitchen. Seventy-seven people, seventy-six suspects. It should have been open and shut. Every bullet could be traced.

But if you do a search on the internet, or at any book store, you will see a cornucopia of websites and books claiming to prove that Bobby Kennedy was killed as the result of a conspiracy. Sirhan was hypnotized or brain-washed. There was a woman in a polka dot dress who fled the scene saying, “we got him”, like most assassins do. There were all the people in the world who hated Bobby Kennedy.

Right. Now, we know there is are substantive reasons why some smart people suspect there was a conspiracy to kill President John F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s followers certainly had cause for suspicions about a government role in his killing, but isn’t it getting a little ridiculous to start seeing conspiracies everywhere?

But it’s not simple. The autopsy stated, with great clarity and forcefulness, that Bobby Kennedy was shot from behind, at a range of “inches”. There were black power burns on his skin and his jacket. The angle of the gun was upwards, at a very steep incline.

Sirhan, as everybody knows, was standing directly in front of Kennedy, facing him, a few feet away. Kennedy never turned. He was shot, he dropped to his back, he said, “is everyone all right”, and that was it.

There are additional questions about how many shots were fired. A door jam that was removed from the kitchen because it may have had bullet holes in it was senselessly destroyed by the Los Angeles police. They claimed it didn’t have real bullet holes in it. So some genius said, “let’s destroy it, so people will forever suspect we got rid of it because it proved there was more than one gun man.”

Why are police officers or detectives never fired for making stupid decisions, like that one? If it really was just innocent stupidity, surely it was stupid enough to justify firing the officer responsible for incompetence? No? And you wonder why people go off on conspiracy theories?

Not one of the 77 people in the room can explain how Sirhan got behind Kennedy and got his pistol inches away from his ear and killed him. There are no photographs showing anything useful– at least partly because the Los Angeles Police decided to destroy more than 1,000 of them before the trial.

There is no adequate explanation. Something sucks here. I don’t want to be a paranoid conspiracy theorist but I’d like to hear a good explanation of why the autopsy doesn’t correspond to the eye-witness testimony and the government’s explanation of what happened in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel, on June 8, 1968.

You know, it would do wonders for public confidence in the police and government if just once– just once!–a closely observed investigation by the police would show them to be diligent, authoritative, rational, and objective. But it seems that every time we get a close-up look at how the police operate, we find misplaced evidence, incorrect procedures, sloppiness, prejudice, and incompetence. In the Robert Kennedy assassination, for example, you have the mishandling of the gun. You have the fact that no search warrant was obtained for the search of Sirhan’s room. You have the destruction of evidence before the trial, and broken chains of possession.

By the way, some web pages state that Robert Kennedy “likely” would have been the Democratic nominee for president in 1968. In fact, Kennedy did not have enough delegates– Hubert Humphrey was in the lead. Thanks to the way most political conventions were “fixed” back then, barring some extraordinary back-room maneuvering, Kennedy was not going to be the nominee. (Most delegates were controlled by party figures who would broker a deal that would determine who the nominee would be.)

Did you know who told Bobby Kennedy that his brother, John, had been shot? Do you know who passed on this devastating news? The much despised J. Edgar Hoover! I’m not surprised, I suppose, but I do wonder why the Secret Service didn’t contact Bobby in person, or Kennedy aide Kenneth O’Donnell, or Lyndon Johnson.

Robert Kennedy was at a meeting at the time, sitting around his pool, apparently.

J. Edgar Hoover was emotionless. I wonder if he might have said, “I’m sorry, Bobby– we failed to do our job.” But a man like that doesn’t say that. He says, “there’s nothing you can do if he’s going to drive around in an open convertible.” The guy we caught will be guilty.

Oh Neil Simon! Oh Mary Tyler Moore!

Neil Simon is not exactly Chekov. In fact, he’s not even Neil Simon anymore, having long ago sold-out on his quirky if tired stereotypes and embraced “playwriting for people who think that writers think about things that matter while they don’t.”

In other words, his characters have dilemmas that you think you might have if you were in a play by a rich and pretentious play-write. You won’t be surprised by this dilemma. You won’t be disturbed by it. You will leave the theatre, amused at being amused.

So I find it ironic that he was upset when he discovered that Mary Tyler Moore, who was starring in his most recent play, had not memorized her lines. She was wearing an earpiece at rehearsals, so she could receive prompts. The article about this in the New York Times was not clear as to whether or not the play was actually into production at this time, but it is clear that Neil Simon believed that Mary Tyler Moore was going to wear the ear-piece during performances. He sent her a note saying, get rid of the ear piece or get out of my play.

Mary Tyler Moore got out of the play.

Well, isn’t that a sad story? Mary Tyler Moore is, like, about 80. Well, 60 or something anyway. It must be hard to memorize lines at that age. It must be hard for her to have a famous play-write tell her she wasn’t good enough for his play. Neil Simon is pretty old himself. He hasn’t had a hit in years. He has a feel for dialogue and character-based humour and a person’s idiosyncrasies, but he hasn’t written anything really important, ever. But he is good enough to fire Ms. Moore.

Neil Simon, bless his naïve little heart, admitted that he didn’t know that many other actors were now using ear-pieces during actual performances. Simon said that if he had only known that, he wouldn’t have been so harsh on Mary Tyler Moore.

It sounds a lot like Mr. Simon is reacting to the blowback of him rudely firing an esteemed elderly actress.  Mary Tyler Moore, after all, is a celebrity.  People want you to think they have a relationship with her and really care about her, when what they really care about is being perceived to not be heartless.

My sympathy for Ms. Moore is limited by the fact that she was in the play in the first place because her celebrity status would attract ticket-buyers despite the fact that many better actresses could have played that role more convincingly.  Doing live theatre confers status on celebrity actors who are primarily known for television roles.  She shouldn’t have “auditioned” for the play if she couldn’t memorize lines.

I doubt that Mr. Simon did not mean it: get out of my play.

[As I write this, I think: you see why I’m not popular?]

So next time you pay $65 for a seat at a theatre somewhere, don’t think for one moment that it is mightily impressive that the actors learned their parts.

They might have.

They might not have.

Barry Bonds might have hit all those home runs without the assistance of chemicals. He might not. Madonna might be singing— it might just be dubbed. Those might be Demi Moore’s natural breasts, or they might not be. (Check out a movie called “About Last Night” if you’re seriously wondering).  Beyonce might have great pitch: it is very likely her vocals are autotuned (in fact, judging from radio play, the vast majority of vocalists today are autotuned.)

I know some people think that being concerned about honesty and authenticity nowadays is really rather quaint and precious. Aren’t we all little frauds in our own way? Do any of us admit to our friends and family that we’re really not as smart or good or wise as they think we are?

Sure we are.

But we don’t charge people $65 a seat to come and listen to us.