Nobel Pursuits

Already it’s October, when the leaves turn red and fall from the trees, the nights grow longer and the days colder, and the Nobel prizes are awarded.

The Nobel committee for lit does tend to go leftfield when possible. One is therefore required to read into their decisions, a little like ancient haruspices reading the entrails of chickens or 20th century Kremlinologists interpreting the gnomic actions of the politburo.

How then should we read the decision to anoint the sparse, harsh and uncompromising pseudo-autobiographical work of Annie Ernaux?

To me it seems like a commentary upon Michel Houellebecq and Karl Ove Knausgård. All three are known for writing their big books of me, but perhaps the men are better known than Mme Ernaux internationally. Equally, both Houellebecq and Knausgård have been heavily criticised, among other things, for their misogyny. Awarding Ernaux seems to me to be a reaction to their popularity and the fact that both have been tipped for this prize previously. Your mileage may vary.

(Full disclosure: I’ve never read Knausgård or Ernaux and have at best a passing familiarity with Houellebecq, who I found to be a very rude interviewee at the Dublin Impac Award in a previous millennium.)

Also elevated to laureate this year was Svante Pääbo, the man who proved that ancient hominid species such as Neanderthals did not entirely die out but in fact persist to this day within non-African human genomes. In fact, I likely owe some Neanderthal ancestor the gene which oversees my melanocortin-1 receptor proteins, which gave me my once russet beard.

What’s intriguing personally for me about this year’s Nobels for medicine and literature isn’t that I’d not previously heard of the literature recipient, nor that I had previously heard of the medicine recipient, but the fact that both these things occurred in the same year. I guess my interests have shifted over the decades away from solely literary pursuits, and towards scientific interests, especially in early hominids. This year’s prizes have brought that home to me, and congratulations to the winners.

I’ve long criticised the Nobel Prize for Peace, because the Norwegian parliament committee which awards it has a knack for often choosing inappropriate recipients. Hello Henry Kissinger, Aung San Suu Kyi, Barack Obama, UN “peace-keeping” forces, etc.

Nevertheless, I’d argue they got it right this year. The 2022 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to human rights advocate Ales Bialiatski from Belarus, the Russian human rights organisation Memorial and the Ukrainian human rights organisation Center for Civil Liberties. Congratulations to them too.

POST-SCRIPT: The newest Nobel physics laureates have also been announced and their award is for proving that reality, as we understand it currently, is not real in the ways we think it is. Not awarded, though clearly the forefather of all of this research (which aimed to prove his hypotheses) is my compatriot John Stewart Bell, who alas died in 1990 while the experiments proving him correct were still in process.

John Stewart Bell

Congratulations to Alain Aspect, John F. Clauser and Anton Zeilinger for proving once again that the universe is not only stranger than we think, but most likely as Heisenberg noted, stranger than we can think.