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October 09, 2009



[ other words, the worst sort of patronizing "right on" politics. It is an absurdity to award a prize for peace-bringing to a man who hasn't actually done anything yet...]

Yes, but the entire platform on which Obama ran, that of numinousity, has inhered within it, the assumption that he doesnt need to do anything to qualify for honour and accolade. Its a protestant thing: I am not aware that within polytheistic cultures, deity qualifies for worship as deity: the gods are rigorously functional. But some Negro, numinous, and rightly occupying his place within the current morality play need not do anything. He is Numinous - Hail. Its weird: The mere fact that one confronts and overcomes the racist strictures of white society is seen as an achievement in itself and to be rewarded: By whites themselves (weird mix of self loathing and self congratulation)- kind of like all those "prizes for effort" awarded to African American Kids in high school.


If I were in Obama's shoes, I'd turn this award down in embarassment: who wants to receive the Nobel Peace Prize simply for showing up with the "right" skin color?


Interesting that you should say this. I have followed your blog for a while now, and when you have, you have spoken in approving tones about a certain Mr. Wole Soyinka - who to my knowledge, was accused by several of his own kinsmen of winning the Nobel simply because he showed up in the right skin color: Chinweizu being the most notorious of this contigent: Others like Biodun Jeyifo tacitly noting this fact but complying with the patronizing racism underlying it for a larger purpose: the dismantling of apartheid and the establishment of some notion of black intellectual equality. When Soyinka won his prize, there were several, including Nigerians, who did not believe he deserved it: seeing it as yet another example of Osloesque leftist activism: Not just Nigerians, Ghanaians too (Awoonor comes to mind) - yet, today, after the fact (at least looking at an NYRB review of You Must Set Forth at Dawn) - many claim that Soyinka has won his prize several times over - though some still demur (the Nick Steyn review in Salon is a prominent example of this mocking view). The point is that Soyinka's prize was less for his literature and more for his symbolism and politics: His opposition to apartheid and deep strident sensitivity to racism was legendary even in his Leeds days, and unlike Achebe, Soyinka wore a preening cosmpolitanism on his sleeve (a facet of his personality that always amuses me, anytime Skip Gates invokes it, protege wise, to explain his own intellectual posture) - It is these that the committee rewarded (not that he actually *did* anything extraordinary literature wise) - In The Western Canon, Bloom lists only one of Soyinka's works as being canonical, as opposed to several of Achebe's (dunno what to make of this). My point is that blacks that engage and are rewarded by international white insitutions will almost certainly engage them primarily as blacks - a representatives of a blackness that is transcendent, one that has embraced cosmopolitanism and invariably they end up being rewarded for this blackness without blood stance - for as long as said institutions find use for them. Youd be embarassed by being in Obama's position - as would several Nigerian writers have been to be in Soyinka's ("The undesireable honouring the unreadable") - I dont know what to make of all of this. I dont know if I should regard Obama's situation as being peculiar: If I were hired on a quota / affirmative action basis - would I want to perform or would I just take the money and skip town - whats the more rational decision?


Whatever it is I might have written about in "approving tones" with regards to Wole Soyinka, I doubt it was on the occasion of his being awarded the Literature Prize, so I don't see the relevance of that to this topic, any more than my speaking in the future in "approving tones" about something Obama does will mean I'll change my mind about the absurdity of his being given the Peace Prize this early in his presidency. In any case, I think the President of the United States of America is rather more important than some writer who holds no political position and propagates no ideology of his own.

As for the argument as to whether Soyinka "deserves" his prize or not, I have no opinion one way or another, as I'm not a fan of theatre and haven't read most of his work. All I will say is that a lot of what you repeat here smacks of the tiresome ethnic jostling that Nigerians are all too fond of, and which I don't give a damn about. All the "Achebe deserved it more than Soyinka", "No he didn't!" crap is just so much b.s. pulled from the same trash heap as the "Yorubas are lazy", "Hausas are stupid" and "Igbos are greedy" rubbish I've heard more than my fill of.

Finally, let me say here that I don't really give a damn about critics like Bloom and their "canons" of "Western" [sic] literature either. I like what I like regardless of where it comes from, and I'll still think more highly of Soseki and Mishima than James Joyce no matter what pompous self-appointed canonizers of Great Literature (TM) like Harold Bloom may say; no bow-tie wearing chauvinist who is convinced that "The West is always Best" gets to decide for everyone what constitutes great literature and what doesn't.


Yikes - I'd forgotten how caustic you could be.
I was just saying that the reasoning behind Obama's prize was pretty much the same reasoning behind W.S's - to give support / encourage to a work in progress and not reward per se.
On the other stuff in your post - I am going to let sleeping dogs lie.
I dont think anybody takes the Peace Prize seriously anyhow. I am interested in the prizes for medicine / physiology (where much of the contributions to the human fund of knowledge is going to occur over the next couple of years) and economics - perhaps literature.

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