Friday, July 13, 2007

The Malaysian Nobel

So why aren't Malay language authors winning the Nobel Prize for Literature? Utusan Malaysia asks the question and consults a couple of experts in academia.

And if I understand this correctly (and remember my Malay is baaaad), the writer seems to come away with the impression it's all about successfully promoting the product.

I'm no expert, but I suspect that there might be a little more to it than that.

I rather think that you need an author who speaks not only to the concerns of the nation, but also to the hearts and minds of international audience.

The Nobel has also a strong political element. How many Malay language authors are prepared to fight in some sense for social justice?

And did I mention, the author should also be not only a good, but a truly great writer and usually one who has produced an impressive body of work?

Anyone spring to mind who fits the bill?

The Malaysian Nobel for Literature is actually a concern that keeps resurfacing and seems to really bother the literary establishment (as does the desire to win the prize in other fields too). Is it a mere kiasu twitch?

The situation seems to be paralleled elsewhere: Julia Lovell wrote a whole book about China's preoccupation with the prize and perhaps in this country also:
... the Nobel complex reveals the pressure points in an intellectual community not entirely sure of itself.
Cecil Rajendran I think is the only Malaysian to have been nominated so far. The Utusan article doesn't even mention him. It doesn't even seem to want to even consider the fact that a Malaysian Nobel prize winner might write in a language other than Malay!

16 comments:

Thaatchaayini said...

Sad to say, but it is part and parcel of the "Malaysia Boleh syndrome" (which is kiasu-ism in disguise). The aim is: name, fame and gain. Why else would the newspapers boast of Tash Aw as the 3.5 million ringgit man!

Greenbottle said...

cecil rajendran?...what bloddy rubbish...

but i thik malaysia should stick to what we excel in...building the longest keropok lekor, the first to play batu seremban and making teh tarik in space ...that sort of thing.

Ted Mahsun said...

The article also mentions that Malay literature should benefit from cross-cultural concepts, and to be open to new ideas from "the outside". Malay literature should also export Malay values as a part of the world's literary heritage so as to highlight the Malay image on the world literary stage.

So look out everyone! Those Malays are gonna take over the world with their lit full of Malay Values™!

Personally, I don't know why the Malay Literati are so obsessed with the Nobel. Are they so insecure that they want the recognition that bad? Are they so afraid of the people who think Malay Literature is nothing but "Mal-lit"?

And yes, they need more promotion. With terrible (TERRIBLE!!!) English translations of Malay works by DBP and zero contact with foreign publishers in NY and London, how will the world ever "discover" them?

animah said...

What are Malay values?

Sharanya Manivannan said...

"Cecil Rajendran I think is the only Malaysian to have been nominated so far. The Utusan article doesn't even mention him. It doesn't even seem to want to even consider the fact that a Malaysian Nobel prize winner might write in a language other than Malay!"

That's ridiculous. How can the writer of this article expect it to be taken seriously after making such an oversight? Whether out of ignorance (poor research) or agenda (ahem), s/he shoots all credibility to hell right there.

Madcap Machinist said...

Just pointing out that the article is focusing on Malay literature--or more appropriately, sastera Melayu--not Malaysian literature. So I don't think Cecil Rajendra would have been mentioned...I think he only writes in English?

Jen said...

Ok, this is random, but speaking of Melayu vs Malaysia, is it Bahasa Melayu or Bahasa Malaysia now? I never figured that one out.

-Jen

Greenbottle said...

i'm feeling grouchy again...pardon my french but bugger bahasa malaysia...

why the hell they want to take away 'melayu' from their own bahasa...
do i hear bahasa seri lanka, or bahasa india? even china don't have bahasa china, they have mandarin, hokkien or whatever...

and as to cecil rajendra and nobel...and language...

egypt's naquib mahfouz wrote in arabic, turkey's orhan pamuk in turkish, japan's kawabata in japanese, tagore in punjabi(?) -not bahasa india , mind, why even singer wrote in his own language-yiddish...etc etc...

so why the hell malaysia - if in a thousand years- ever get a nobel for lit want to write in english???
ok..i can accept malaysians win a booker in english ...may be in 50 yrs time...

rojakgirl said...

Typical Malaysian mindset... We study to pass exams, so it follows that we write to win the Nobel???!?

Caught Oprah's interview with Muhammad Yunus, the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. One of her questions was "Did you ever envision winning the Nobel when you first set out?". At the time, I thought that it was a ridiculous question - how could anyone have the reserves of determination and courage to leave such a legacy based on the ambition of winning a Nobel alone???

But guess I might be wrong?

bibliobibuli said...

i do think oprah's question was a daft one! no-one can set out right from the beginning intent on winning the nobel ... although all writers of course want their work to do well, win recognition, awards ...

Anonymous said...

I saw a book at Borders The Curve the other day (I think it was in the Science section) called "How to Win the Nobel" or "How to Bluff Your Way to a Nobel"... something like that. Memory fails me.

I'm thinking that I might put it on the hunting list now

- mad machinist

Han said...

There's no actual way to confirm or deny Cecil Rajendra was nominated for a Nobel Prize. If it was for literature, the nomination process is clarified here.

The earliest reference to the nomination I could find was The Sun interview you link to, which, I'm sorry, makes the claim highly suspect.

bibliobibuli said...

i wonder too, han. that was the first i heard too ...

Han said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Han said...

Rather, I should say, there's no way to independently confirm or deny the nomination. We could always ask Rajendra himself.

The right to submit proposals for the Nobel Prize in Literature shall, by statute, be enjoyed by:

1. Members of the Swedish Academy and of other academies, institutions and societies which are similar to it in construction and purpose;
2. Professors of literature and of linguistics at universities and university colleges;
3. Previous Nobel Prize Laureates in Literature;
4. Presidents of those societies of authors that are representative of the literary production in their respective countries.

Perhaps Rajendra's friend submitted a proposal to the Nobel Committee. Then told him about it.

Swami said...

Rajendra was nominated by his publishers and colleagues in UK & Europe, without his knowledge.

He told me so himself, and I know the man well.