Nobel watch (literature): is Adonis the odds-on favorite?

Tomorrow, the Nobel prize for literature will be announced. The rumor mill has the Syrian poet Adonis (Ali Ahmad Said) as the frontrunner. But then, the rumor mill had him as the frontrunner last year as well. (Adam Shatz’s article on Adonis from a while ago in the New York Times is worth a read.) See here, here, and here.

“The Academy is secretive, leaving pundits to guess the winner based on whether the prize recently went to a novelist, poet or playwright and what was their gender, language and race.

Fredrik Lind of Hedengren’s book store in Stockholm is known for predicting whose works to have in stock. His tip this year is Ali Ahmed Said, the Syrian-Lebanese poet known as Adonis.

‘Arabic poetry is a tradition that has never got any prize and he is the greatest living Arabic poet,’ said Lind.”

Adonis is controversial in the Arab world. He’s been an opponent of Arab dictatorships (not that controversial), a reformer, and has raised the question of Arab attitudes towards Jews (controversial), while remaining critical of it. At once he’ll condemn Zionism and also indict Arab treatment of Jews.

“What is the difference between the position of the Serbian militias which ostracize the Muslim and annihilate him for being Muslim, and this ‘position’ which ostracizes the Jew for being Jewish?”

His near-pagan views of Arab poetry also elicit alarm. For example:

“For in its original, pre-Islamic sense, poetry is inspiration — which is to say prophecy — but without commandments, institutions or norms. However, starting with Islam — and this also deserves a separate study — poetry in Arab society has languished and withered precisely insofar as it has placed itself at the service of religiosity, proselytism and political and ideological commitments.”

We’ll see tomorrow.

Other contenders mentioned in the rumor mill of Nobel watchers include Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood, Thomas Transtromer, Doris Lessing, Hugo Claus, Milan Kundera, Philip Roth, Ismael Kadaré, Ko Un, Don DeLillo, and Mario Vargas Llosa.