Adonis’s Nobel Run (2011)

Banipal has devoted a large section of its current issue to brief "appreciations" of Adonis. There is a funny shot of Adonis in a cowboy hat.

Without the swell of uprisings that sparked in Tunisia on December 17, 2010, this might well have been Adonis’s Nobel year.

The Syrian poet’s German translator, Stefan Weidner, argues in Qantara that there have been a “flood of awards for Arab writers this year” and these “can only be explained by the democratic awakening in the Arab world.” However, Weidner goes on to name just four, one of which was an award for a publisher.

There have indeed been a flood of Arab/Arabic literary events in Europe and the U.K. But awards have been relatively few. Weidner says: (1) Francophone Moroccan author Tahar Ben Jelloun won a literary peace prize. Ben Jelloun is so accomplished that awards for him shouldn’t be a surprise, although yes, “particular emphasis was placed on his latest collection of essays, Arab Spring (2011).”  The Peace Prize of the German book trade (2) went to Boualem Sansal, a Francophone Algerian author whose The German Mujahid links Nazism and Islamism in perhaps a too-straightforward way. Dar Merit publisher Mohammed Hashim (3) took a long overdue Hermann Kesten Prize from the PEN club.

After (4), the Goethe Prize for Adonis, Weidner writes, “The only one that’s missing is the Nobel Prize.”

Well, no, there’s also the Man Booker International and the Neustadt and a host of other international literary awards.

But in any case, if there’s anything that glues together this rather short list of Arabs who’ve won international literary prizes in 2011 it’s that all of them are over 50, all of them are pretty strongly secular, verging on anti-religion, and—with the exception of publisher Mohammed Hashim—none live in Arab countries. If this is a way to salute the so-called “Arab spring,” it’s a rather odd one.

Indeed, if the Goethe judges intended to “salute” the Arab uprisings—considering Adonis’s strange relationship to the protests in Syria, noted both by Weidner and Sinan Antoon—then their salute is rather more of a head-pat, an insistence that we all go secular down here, you hear?

Adonis has been up for other awards this year: He was shortlisted for the prestigious Griffin Poetry Prize, along with translator Khaled Mattawa, and Mattawa won a PEN translation award this year for his work on Adonis: Selected Poems. But those, I believe, were just because Adonis is good (and beautifully translated by Mattawa) and not because of his somewhat outdated politics.

In another world, without the hope that uprisings have brought us, and with a gorgeous new English-language collection under his arm, Adonis might finally have had a chance at attracting the Nobel committee’s attention. His chances now were in any case much better than they were in 1988, when the “Arabic” Nobel went to Naguib Mahfouz. Indeed, Yale University Publishers had noted, back in fall 2010, that they planned to send a whole box over to the Swedish committee.

But then other things happened at the end of 2010.

So, 2011 is the year of many (many!) things, but I doubt it’s the year of Adonis’s Nobel.

Of course, Arab writers are up for international literary prizes every year because, among other reasons, they write good books every year. Scanning through my literary-prize category from last year, I find, among others, El-Mahdi Acherchour, Fouad Laroui, Fady Joudah, Khaled Mattawa, Adania Shibli, Amin Maalouf, Bahaa Taher, Hassan Blasim, Elias Khoury, and Joumana Haddad being listed for or winning international prizes.

Categories: Nobel Prize for Literature

4 replies

  1. Adonis reminds me of another “intellectual” Enoch Powell, both felt they could comment with little regard for the plebs amongst us.

    The intellectual world is unable to use the dilettante excuse of “they do not understand our thoughts” in the 21st Century.

    Gigantic intellects, but a failure to appreciate humanity and so exclude themselves from further consideration for elevation/awards.

  2. In a way, this email is unworthy of its sender. The remark is a travesty.
    Adonis has been a major world class poet for decades. He, along with Darwish (and the greatly underrated Samih Al Qasim and Mohammed Magut, not to menton Qabbani), has helped not only to redefine Arabic poetry, but to redefine world poetry.
    There are few poets anywhere else in the world who come close to his gifts.
    And I did not know that political leanings were a qualification for the Nobel Prize In Literature. Certainly, there are many leftist/progressive writers who have won this award- Asturias, Neruda, Saramago, Mahfouz, and others, but I thought they won it more for their literary gifts and, in some cases, a trujl original way of writing.
    I will add that, over the years, had Adonis not been proPalestinian, and had Darwish not been Palestinian, they probably wouldve both won the Nobel Prize years ago since racism towards Arabs was even worse then.
    And to compare Adonis with the fascist Enoch Powell is absolutely disgraceful. I dont think Adonis ever advocated removing all Indians and Pakistanis from Britain, do you all?

    • Although politics is (sort of?) part and parcel of the Nobel Prize in Literature. The guidelines demand that the winner have written “literature in an ideal/idealist direction.” Who knows what they mean by this. Or how they interpret it. But it does add something to the mix beyond just “world’s finest literature.”


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