In an article on Haruki Murakami once again being “passed over” for the Nobel Prize in Literature (or, you could argue that he’s not being passed over but just doesn’t deserve it), one of his translators, Jay Rubin, puts forward an interesting theory about the Prize being a curse:
For the second year in a row Haruki Murakami has upset the bookies and been passed over for the Nobel Prize in Literature. For his translator, Jay Rubin, it’s an indication that the Japanese author is still a literary force to be reckoned with.
The Harvard professor emeritus referred to the idea that authors who receive the prize do not write great work afterwards, whether because of the pressures of being a laureate or because the Swedish Academy often hands the prize to writers late in their career.
“It can be a curse to a writer,” Rubin said of the prize. “I am kind of hoping for him to hold them off for a few more years,” he said in a phone interview from his home in Seattle.
Murakami has transcended cult status to become Japan’s best-known contemporary author. Media attention on the author reached such a peak in 2012 after the English translation of “1Q84″ that Rubin was convinced he would win.
Of course this is convenient reasoning for a partisan of Murakami, but it’s also worth thinking about: do Nobel laureates tend to do poor work after the prize? Let’s look at the last 15 years of laureates, going back to Jose Saramago in 1998.
José Saramago (1998). I doubt that anyone would dream of arguing that he didn’t do impressive, influential work after his win, namely The Cave and Seeing. There are also some smaller and/or less impressive works, but that also typifies Saramago’s career before the Prize.
Günter Grass (1999). Obviously the major work here is his three-volume memoir. Seems that this would be a significant piece of work after the prize.
Gao Xingjian (2000). He hasn’t written much since the prize, although plenty of people would argue that he didn’t deserve to be a laureate.
V. S. Naipaul (2001). He hasn’t done much since the Prize.
Elfriede Jelinek (2004). Hard to say since she’s primarily a playwright, and few of her plays have been translated, but she has written plenty of dramas since the Prize. Her Not All Her, one of the few works after the Prize in English, was well-received.
Harold Pinter (2005). He didn’t do much after the Prize, but he was more or less retired from writing by the time the decided to give him the Prize, which at the time was seen as a very politically motivated award.
Orhan Pamuk (2006). The Museum of Innocence was published in 2008, which, if Pamuk is your thing, is obviously a major work. He still continues to produce.
Doris Lessing (2007). Another case of giving the Prize to a writer who was more or less retired (and who didn’t seem to really care).
JMG Le Clézio (2008). Hasn’t done much since the Prize.
Herta Müller (2009). The Hunger Angel, published in the year of her win, is highly regarded. She continues to write.
Mario Vargas Llosa (2010). Continues to write quite a bit. The Dream of the Celt, his only novel after the Prize, doesn’t seem like his best work but definitely isn’t a clunker either.
I’ll stop here since the rest really haven’t had time to do much of anything since their Prize. Despite some obvious exceptions, seems to me that the evidence would contradict Rubin’s claims. And especially in the case of Murakami, who is prolific, legendarily hard-working, and still relatively young at 64, I doubt the Nobel Prize would slow him down.
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