September 12, 2013

Dawkins: Why not Pinker for Nobel Prize in Lit?

Richard Dawkins is in the news a lot these days. Here's an idea he tossed out in an interview:
Why is the Nobel Prize in Literature almost always given to a novelist, never a scientist? Why should we prefer our literature to be about things that didn’t happen? Wouldn’t, say, Steven Pinker be a good candidate for the literature prize?

Nonfiction writers who won the Nobel Prize in Literature include politician / journalist Winston Churchill, mathematician / philosopher / journalist Bertrand Russell (those late Victorians could really write), German historian of Rome Theodor Mommsen, Henri Bergson (philosopher), and R.C. Eucken (an idealistic philosopher whom I'd never heard of).

Other winners who did both creative and well-known nonfiction writing include Jean-Paul Sartre (best known as a philosopher, although he was an entertaining novelist as well), Alexander Solzhenitsyn (whose most recent book before his prize, The Gulag Archipelago, was nonfiction after three novels), Elias Canetti (whose most famous books are a long autobiography, a novel, and a nonfiction study of crowd behavior), Czesław Miłosz (poet and essayist), George Bernard Shaw (dramatist and prominent critic and controversialist), Andre Gide (novelist and essayist), Albert Camus (novelist and essayist -- somebody recently put forward the argument that Camus was the better philosopher and Sartre the better novelist), and V.S.. Naipaul (novelist and travel writer).

But no science writers to speak of.

59 comments:

Dave Pinsen said...

Just so happens I got Canetti's memoirs last week from Amazon. I think it was originally published as 3 volumes, but it came as one huge hardcover (covered in plastic, as if Amazon got it from a shuttered public library). The odd thing is the guy died in 1994 and the last volume of these memoirs covers a period ending in 1937.

Anonymous said...

OT (well, maybe not so much OT since your post is about Dawkins and Pinker and they ought to be willing to talk about how evolution did not select for such things)...I saw this link on Drudge. It seems the CW Network is developing a tv series about a transgender teen.

You called it, Steve. Transgender replaces gay which replaced black.

http://www.deadline.com/2013/09/cw-developing-drama-about-transgender-teenager-produced-by-michael-london/

David said...

Snow's "The Two Cultures".

Dave Pinsen said...

I suppose the reason Russell was given a Nobel in literature was because there is no Nobel in math or philosophy.

Thursday said...

Pinker is a very good writer, but purely as a writer there are many, many better.

nooffensebut said...

"Why Not Pinker for Nobel Prize in Lit?"

Maybe it is because Pinker's non-fiction is non-factual.

Callowman said...

Don't give them any ideas. If he were still alive, the first science writer winner would be Stephen Jay Gould.

Anonymous said...

Most science books are for general readers. Real science literature is found in dense journals that don't make for good reading.

There was a time when cutting edge science was presented in book form. ORIGIN OF SPECIES for example.
Today, cutting edge stuff happens within the academia in academese. What passes for science books is watered-down stuff for people who don't know much about science.

In contrast, fiction and social critique thrive first and foremost in the literary format.

Btw, how about cook books for Nobel prize?
Or books of humor?
Charles Schulz should have gotten one.

Anti-Democracy Activist said...

Dawkins apparently doesn't understand what the word "literature" means.

Understandable. Scientists tend not to "get" art - not only to not understand it, but to not value it, either. You can see that in all sorts of places, from comments like this to the push for STEM universities - which will exist to produce scientists who, in a curiously Archie Bunker-like manner, don't need no frou-frou poetry learnin'.

So here we have Dawkins showing the blindness of scientists - their inability to understand that their way of looking at the world is a way of looking at the world, not the way of looking at the world. From that perspective, of course a book of statistics about DNA sequencing or the gravity fields of planetoids has more literary value than Dombey and Son - the first deal with the way to look at the world, the latter is some nonsense dealing with the transitory electrochemical reactions that the sort of people who Dawkins considers fools call the human soul.

This is what Dawkins means when he says "Reality is beautiful".

We lesser beings, however, might see this as dry, soulless, antiseptic, and typical of a man who, other than a deep well of spite and meanness, has all the humanity of a bunsen burner.

Anonymous said...

Steven Pinker's writing is superb, both what he conveys and how he conveys it. A great suggestion by Richard Dawkins. However the Nobel brand, to my mind, is somewhat tainted.

The Blank Slate is superb, I've yet to read The Better Angels of Our Nature.

In other news there seems to be something of a brouhaha in the atheist movement. PZ Myers has accused Michael Shermer of rape, without citing who Shermer is alleged to have raped and when. That is to say Myers is seeking to trash Shermer’s reputation by promulgating hearsay. Lawyers are involved.

Nick - South Africa

Anonymous said...

> [NYT:] Who are your favorite contemporary writers and thinkers?

> [Dawkins:] ... [Parentheses in the original.](Why is the Nobel Prize in Literature almost always given to a novelist, never a scientist? Why should we prefer our literature to be about things that didn’t happen? Wouldn’t, say, Steven Pinker be a good candidate for the literature prize?)


You see this comment is not directly related to question, and instead is offered by Dawkins on his own volition. It's not because he's crazy for Pinker's body of work.

Why is the Nobel Prize in Literature almost always given to a novelist, never a scientist? Why should we prefer our literature to be about things that didn’t happen? Wouldn’t, say, [the author of The Ancestor's Tale] be a good candidate for the literature prize?

In a Sailerite fashion: The most heartfelt comment by [Dawkins] was a demand that social values be overturned in order that, Come the Revolution, the [writer] h[im]self will be considered [Nobel material].

His other remark on the subject:

> [NYT:] Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel you were supposed to like, and didn’t?
> [Dawkins:] “Pride and Prejudice.” It must be my prejudice, and I am not proud of it, but I can’t get excited about who is going to marry whom, and how rich they are.

Amen, brother.

> [NYT:]What do you plan to read next?

> [Dawkins:] “War and Peace.”

Hah, he's in for disappointment, unless he can consider himself having read the book guilt-free despite skipping hundreds of pages. Most of a book, which is mistaken to be about Napoleonic wars, is indeed about St Petersburg babushkas and devushkas 'shuffling' to and fro in silk dresses 'coquettishly', and brooding and yapping endlessly about which of the teen debutantes would pair with which bachelors.

Steve Sailer said...

Sure. Dawkins is an all-time great science journalist. I worship the late William D. Hamilton, but Dawkins explains his ideas far better than Hamilton did.

Anonymous said...

If you are going to mention comics, science and Nobels, Gary Larson ought to rate a mention.

sunbeam said...

Anti-Democracy Activist said:

"So here we have Dawkins showing the blindness of scientists - their inability to understand that their way of looking at the world is a way of looking at the world, not the way of looking at the world."

What is the evidence that the scientists are wrong? If you want to wax poetic about it, science brings the Promethean Fire.

What is the track record of anyone using any of the other viewpoints? Seems to me it is much more muted.

"From that perspective, of course a book of statistics about DNA sequencing or the gravity fields of planetoids has more literary value than Dombey and Son - the first deal with the way to look at the world, the latter is some nonsense dealing with the transitory electrochemical reactions that the sort of people who Dawkins considers fools call the human soul."

Well A follows B and all. I don't see how it is possible for anyone who looks at the evidence to not come to some conclusion that is similar to this.

Look no one would be happier to see "The Ghost in the Machine," more than me. But as nearly as I can tell it's not there.

So what am I to do?

On another note, what is the fascination with Dawkins? I think I have read "The Selfish Gene." (Pretty sure anyway)

Didn't strike me as particularly memorable, neither in use of language or big ideas.

When you read things by someone whose intellect comes up with things you yourself couldn't possibly come up with, you know.

I don't get that with Dawkins. Seems like a hack to me. Love to see some IQ testing data and genetic analysis on him. Like to compare it to some other people.

(It'll come to that, you know.)

Honestly he seems to me like a more erudite version of Miley Cyrus twerking on stage for attention and the attention you can turn into big bucks.

Only thing is, the money Dawkins can make tossing his kind of firebomb is so very limited to what Cyrus, Aguilera, Shakira, Rihana, Beyonce and the rest can make doing the same thing conceptually.

Anonymous said...

" Dawkins is an all-time great science journalist. I worship the late William D. Hamilton, but Dawkins explains his ideas far better than Hamilton did. "


Agree, Hamilton did the ground work but dawkins did the PD better.

Anti-Democracy Activist said...

@sunbeam

"What is the evidence that the scientists are wrong? If you want to wax poetic about it, science brings the Promethean Fire."

False dichotomy - or, in fact, dichotomy where there is no need for it. There is no need to show that scientists are "wrong" to say that theirs is a way of looking at the world, and not the way of looking at the world. It is one way of thinking about the way the world works - one that is good at producing certain things (algebra, jet engines, polio vaccines, iPads) and not good at producing other things (art, moral systems, philosophy, literature, political order, reasons to live). It does what it does well, but that doesn't mean that it does everything well. It has some answers that are necessary in life - I like iPads and not having polio as much as anybody - but it doesn't have all the necessary answers to every question that life poses. And in fact, its attempts to provide some of those answers, such as Sam Harris's recent tome, have been no more than exercises in extreme rationalization.

Which brings us to the next point:

"What is the track record of anyone using any of the other viewpoints? Seems to me it is much more muted."

Track record at doing what, exactly?

"Well A follows B and all. I don't see how it is possible for anyone who looks at the evidence to not come to some conclusion that is similar to this.

Look no one would be happier to see "The Ghost in the Machine," more than me. But as nearly as I can tell it's not there."


Okay, so you're an atheist. Bully for you.

"On another note, what is the fascination with Dawkins?"

I dunno. Ask the New Atheists. They're the ones who promote him so much that you can hardly swing a cat without hitting a copy of The God Delusion anymore.

"So what am I to do?"

Are you sure you really want me to answer that?

Dahlia said...

Anti-Democracy activist,
Second your comment.

"So here we have Dawkins showing the blindness of scientists..."

I can think of another "blindness" exhibited by Mr. Dawkins...

There are tells and then there are TELLS. Epic. Kind of like Putin destroying Obama with that op-ed*, only Dawkins did the same thing to himself with just a few sentences.

*His "blunders" always make me thankful that we don't have Pres. McCain at the helm.

Anonymous said...

Nah Camus was better at both.

FredR said...

I like my Nobel Prizes to be highbrow. Pinker is a middlebrow writer. His conversational prose just doesn't cut it!

Anonymous said...

Dawkins really means 'why not me?'

dearieme said...

Jim Watson is still alive. Give it to him for The Double Helix, a wonderful book.

Anonymous said...

eo wilson

Anonymous said...

"Don't give them any ideas. If he were still alive, the first science writer winner would be Stephen Jay Gould."

Or Jared Diamond.

Anonymous said...

Haas biographer ever been awarded?

carol said...

I dunno, I just finishrd A Bend in the River. I don't know if Naipaul ever lived in Africa, bit tell me that story didn't really happen.

Sciency types have a really narrow notion of fiction. It ain't always.

John Mansfield said...

How about a physics, chemistry, or medicine prize going to someone for writing a really good book?

Thursday said...

Callowman has a point. The winner would most likely be some PC hack with a pleasing prose style.

Bruce Charlton said...

Leaving aside that the Nobel Literature Prize is discredited - who have been the very best prose writers (in English) among scientists?

I would say Jacob Bronowski and Erwin Chargaff - (both of them had English as a second language - but then Joseph Conrad was Polish, like Bronowski).

I cannot think of anybody alive who is in their class as prose writers.

As for who is the best living scientist writer (in English)... maybe the veteran Freeman Dyson?

But for a sheerly *enjoyable* read, as good as the best comic novels - The Double Helix by James D Watson takes a lot of beating.

Dutch Boy said...

Glad to see that Dawkins is taking time off from defending "mild pedophilia" to write about something else.
http://www.theatlanticwire.com/global/2013/09/richard-dawkins-defends-mild-pedophilia-again-and-again/69269/

Anonymous said...

Following on from my post above, I should also add that Steven Pinker's writing has surprised me in his candour, specifically his handling on non PC realities.

Though reading between the lines you can sense he's bending over further than the data suggests, over qualifying with respect to some of the dogmatic Blank Slater's holier Steven J Gouldesque cows; no doubt to avoid being 'Watsoned'.

Can't say I blame him, indeed it’s essential for him to maintain his post ….and audience.

He shares with Dawkins the ability to guide the reader through complex nuanced topics with extraordinary verbal finesse and dexterity.

This is thrown into even starker relief when one reads his – Pinker’s – critics. One recent example, to wit... http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/theory-knowledge/201309/steven-pinker-s-queer-take-scientism

Nick - South Africa

Dahlia said...

Let me be clear that the "tell" of Dawkins isn't that he's a pedophile, but that he is not right in the head.

I know Steve loves to hate the theory, but Satoshi Kanazawa's Intelligence paradox was, I swear to God, the first thing I thought of when I heard about Dawkins comments. In that poor man's case, this is just the worst and most embarrassing (to his followers who are similar and see a more erudite reflection of themselves) evidence of not being all there.
Secondly, of course I thought of our underappreciated "Agnostic".

The Cheshire cat did tell Alice we were all a little mad ourselves :) Unlike Dawkins, he was self-aware, lol!

Thursday said...

Let's play the Nobel game.

Dubious choices:

2009 -- Herta Mueller, Romania and Germany
2008 -- Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio, France and Mauritius
2004 -- Elfriede Jelinek, Austria
2002 -- Imre Kertesz, Hungary
2000 -- Gao Xingjian, France
1997 -- Dario Fo, Italy
1994 -- Kenzaburo Oe, Japan
1981 -- Elias Canetti, United Kingdom
1974 -- Eyvind Johnson, Sweden; Harry Martinson, Sweden
1955 -- Halldor Laxness, Iceland
1944 -- Johannes V. Jensen, Denmark
1939 -- Frans Eemil Sillanpaa, Finland
1938 -- Pearl Buck, United States
1937 -- Roger Martin du Gard, France
1931 -- Erik Axel Karlfeldt, Sweden
1926 -- Grazia Deledda, Italy
1924 -- Wladyslaw Reymont, Poland
1922 -- Jacinto Benavente, Spain
1919 -- Carl Spitteler, Switzerland
1917 -- Karl Gjellerup, Denmark; Henrik Pontoppidan, Denmark
1916 -- Verner von Heidenstam, Sweden
1915 -- Romain Rolland, France
1912 -- Gerhart Hauptmann, Germany
1910 -- Paul Heyse, Germany
1909 -- Selma Lagerlof, Sweden
1908 -- Rudolf Eucken, Germany
1905 -- Henryk Sienkiewicz, Poland
1904 -- Frederic Mistral, France; Jose Echegaray, Spain
1903 -- Bjornstjerne Bjornson, Norway
1902 -- Theodor Mommsen, Germany
1901 -- Sully Prudhomme, France

Thursday said...

Defensible choices:


2011 -- Tomas Transtromer, Sweden
2010 -- Mario Vargas Llosa, Peru
2007 -- Doris Lessing, United Kingdom
2006 -- Orhan Pamuk, Turkey
2005 -- Harold Pinter, United Kingdom
2003 -- J. M. Coetzee, South Africa
2001 -- V. S. Naipaul, United Kingdom
1999 -- Gunter Grass, Germany
1998 -- Jose Saramago, Portugal
1996 -- Wislawa Szymborska, Poland
1995 -- Seamus Heaney, Ireland
1993 -- Toni Morrison, United States
1992 -- Derek Walcott, Saint Lucia
1991 -- Nadine Gordimer, South Africa
1990 -- Octavio Paz, Mexico
1989 -- Camilo Jose Cela, Spain
1988 -- Naguib Mahfouz, Egypt
1987 -- Joseph Brodsky, United States
1986 -- Wole Soyinka, Nigeria
1985 -- Claude Simon, France
1984 -- Jaroslav Seifert, Czechoslovakia
1983 -- William Golding, United Kingdom
1982 -- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombia
1980 -- Czeslaw Milosz, Poland and United States
1979 -- Odysseus Elytis, Greece
1978 -- Isaac Bashevis Singer, United States
1977 -- Vicente Aleixandre, Spain
1976 -- Saul Bellow, United States
1975 -- Eugenio Montale, Italy
1973 -- Patrick White, Australia
1972 -- Heinrich Boll, Germany
1971 -- Pablo Neruda, Chile
1970 -- Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Soviet Union
1969 -- Samuel Beckett, Ireland
1968 -- Yasunari Kawabata, Japan
1967 -- Miguel Angel Asturias, Guatemala
1966 -- Shmuel Agnon, Israel; Nelly Sachs, Sweden
1964 -- Jean-Paul Sartre, France
1963 -- Giorgos Seferis, Greece
1962 -- John Steinbeck, United States
1961 -- Ivo Andric, Yugoslavia
1960 -- Saint-John Perse, France
1959 -- Salvatore Quasimodo, Italy
1958 -- Boris Pasternak, Soviet Union
1957 -- Albert Camus, France
1956 -- Juan Ramon Jimenez, Spain
1954 -- Ernest Hemingway, United States
1953 -- Winston Churchill, United Kingdom
1952 -- Francois Mauriac, France
1951 -- Par Lagerkvist, Sweden
1950 -- Bertrand Russell, United Kingdom
1949 -- William Faulkner, United States
1948 -- T.S. Eliot, United Kingdom
1947 -- Andre Gide, France
1946 -- Hermann Hesse, Switzerland
1945 -- Gabriela Mistral, Chile
1936 -- Eugene O'Neill, United States
1934 -- Luigi Pirandello, Italy
1933 -- Ivan Bunin, stateless domicile in France
1932 -- John Galsworthy, United Kingdom
1930 -- Sinclair Lewis, United States
1929 -- Thomas Mann, Germany
1928 -- Sigrid Undset, Norway
1927 -- Henri Bergson, France
1925 -- George Bernard Shaw, United Kingdom
1923 -- William Butler Yeats, Ireland
1921 -- Anatole France, France
1920 -- Knut Hamsun, Norway
1913 -- Rabindranath Tagore, India

Anonymous said...

sunbeam
Yes, scientifically Dracula and Shakespeare are wrong, but those incorrect viewpoints have good track records as well.

Thursday said...

There are some thoroughly deserving writers who have received the prize:

Transtromer
Llosa
Coetzee
Paz
Naipaul
Saramago
Heaney
Walcott
Seifert
Marquez
Milosz
Montale
Neruda
Pasternak
Faulkner
T.S. Eliot
Gide
Beckett
Hesse
Mann
Yeats
Kipling

However the list of writers who haven't received the prize is even more distinguished:

Achebe
Vallejo
Carpentier
Borges
Anne Carson
Robertson Davies
Adonis
Darwish
Paul Valery
Cavafy
Pessoa
Espriu
Cernuda
Lorca
Lampedusa
Amichai
Ekelof
Akhmatova
Mandelstam
Tsvetaeva
Isaac Babel
Chekhov
Tolstoy
Celan
Musil
Kafka
Brecht
Hofmanssthal
Rilke
Broch
Bonnefoy
Zola
Proust
Pynchon
Robert Penn Warren
Elizabeth Bishop
Marianne Moore
Philip Roth
Cormac McCarthy
Hart Crane
Cather
Wallace Stevens
Frost
Henry James
Mark Twain
Geoffrey Hill
Lawrence
Forster
Waugh
Auden
Woolf
Conrad
Hardy
Joyce
Ibsen
Strindberg

CanSpeccy said...

So Dawkins thinks that the science journal articles in what scientists naively call "the literature" that feature in citations for the Nobel science prizes are not literature.

Presumably he thinks all those science Nobel prizes should go to popularizers such as himself and Stinker Pinker, who can put the correct political spin on the wonders of science.

Glossy said...

> [Dawkins:] “War and Peace.”

Hah, he's in for disappointment


I liked War and Peace for two reasons:

1) You get a detailed look into old aristocratic life and mentality, from an insightful count no less.

2) For me it was a page turner. I always wanted to know what was going to happen to these characters next.

The only part I found boring was one of the afterwords, the philosophical one. Yes, some of War and Peace is about love and marriage, but he doesn't write about it the way a woman would. If Tolstoy lived today, he'd be called a disgusting mysogynist by most of the people who review books. In other words, those parts ARE very readable.

C. Van Carter said...

Why is the Nobel Prize in Literature almost always given to a novelist, never to Star Wars? Why should we prefer our literature to be about books without droids instead of movies with droids?

C. Van Carter said...

Louis Agassiz's science writing is exceptional.

Anonymous said...

Richard Dawkins is like a combination of the Onion's Autistic Reporter and that English woman on Arrested Development whose accent caused Americans to miss the fact that she was retarded.

Anonymous said...

Old "No Soul" Dawkins wrote this:

"We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness that are here."

Maxwell Power said...

Shaw was truly a man of letters, so much that he designed a new alphabet on the side

vinteuil said...

I agree with SS that Dawkins is "an all-time great science journalist." Explaining complex & difficult ideas in ways that people of average intelligence can understand is not easy, and it's very, very important, and *The Selfish Gene* is a masterpiece of the genre.

That said, I'm really taken aback by Dawkins' comment on *Pride and Prejudice*: "I can’t get excited about who is going to marry whom, and how rich they are."

I mean, where to begin?

In the first place, anybody who thinks that's a remotely adequate summary of what P&P is "about" just isn't even trying to read or to think seriously.

In the second place, anybody who can’t get excited about "who is going to marry whom, and how rich they are" will never understand women.

In the third place, anybody who dismisses a work of literature based on the alleged triviality of the subject matter is going to have a hard time appreciating many of the greatest achievements of Western painting - Vermeer, anyone? Chardin? - to say nothing of "absolute" music, where there's no subject matter at all.

Personally, I find the confrontation between Elizabeth Bennet & Mr. Darcy following his first proposal of marriage utterly awe-inspiring. The chick-lit equivalent of Achilles vs. Hector in the Iliad. One of the greatest things anybody ever wrote.

Tommy Jefferson said...

What is the track record of anyone using any of the other viewpoints? Seems to me it is much more muted.

How 'bout the Founding Fathers of the United States, you idiot?

Steve Sailer said...

The other irony of Dawkins saying he can't get interested in "Pride and Prejudice" is that it's probably the most cited work of fiction in evolutionary psychology.

James Kabala said...

Thursday: Some people tell me that Sienkewicz's trilogy of novels set in Polish history is quite good. I read and enjoyed his better-known Quo Vadis many years ago but wasn't really at an age when I could judge whether a book was actually great literature or not.

sunbeam said...

Steve Sailer said:

"The other irony of Dawkins saying he can't get interested in "Pride and Prejudice" is that it's probably the most cited work of fiction in evolutionary psychology."

Uhhh, why exactly? That is George Eliot right?

Hmmm just looked it up. I remember reading that vaguely now. I remember reading the two words "Mr. Darcy" over and over.

Tell me something: how do you know when something is really good, in it's own right, or is only celebrated because the people that teach classes on literature tell you it's great, just as someone told them?

Is it possible this is an emperor has no clothes case? I mean if this book weren't taught in schools how many people would pick it up?

Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Robinson Crusoe, The Three Musketeers, Man in the Iron Mask, etc. the list goes on. Books that have been around a long time, and have people reading them over and over to this day.

Crap, A Princess of Mars was published in 1912, has probably been pilloried by critics over the years, but has been in print and on shelves my whole life.

I've read that maybe 20 or 30 times. Books like Pride and Prejudice or Catcher in the Rye (my official WTF? book) get read once, and tossed on the meh whatever pile.

I have a theory. Many people have them. But I have one about books like this.

The theory runs like this: take upper class English folks, set them in a period piece where everyone "Walked wide of the Widow of Windsor, for it's half of creation she owns."

Even if the story is dumb as all get out, the motivations of the characters are as stupid as a bag of rocks, as long as you can get some posh sounding types wearing gorgeous clothes, people are going to fete it as being really intelligent.

Oh well, I'm better now. Just thinking about Pride and Prejudice was turning me all gay. I subjected myself to an emergency viewing of "American Bad Ass," by Kid Rock on Youtube.

Luckily that washed away the taint.

Only thing is I want a beer now.

anony-mous said...

There have been no Nobels for sci-fi writers, which you would expect to precede purely scientific literary works.

Actually huge areas of literature have been ignored by the Nobels, such as:

screenwriters (even though playwrights have won)

horror-mystery

lyricists/librettists (even though poets have won)

Anonymous said...

"Catcher in the Rye (my official WTF? book)"

A lot of young people read it and identify. Like HAROLD AND MAUDE, it presents and even 'privileges' the viewpoint of an oddball eccentric.

Short story PAUL'S CASE is like that too.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul's_Case

Anonymous said...

http://cather.unl.edu/ss006.html

Anonymous said...

"Actually huge areas of literature have been ignored by the Nobels, such as:
screenwriters (even though playwrights have won)

horror-mystery

lyricists/librettists (even though poets have won)"

Understandably so. As good as some screenplays and librettos are, their primary purpose is to serve the image or music.

Also, when talented writers work on movies, they tend to focus more on what will sell than on personal truth. Compare Hemingway as writer vs him as screenwriter. Mamet was more entertainer than artist with stuff like VERDICT and HOFFA.
HOMICIDE and HOUSE OF GAMES are great films but the words cannot be separated from the images.
With plays, just reading the text will give you a good idea of its worth.
But no screenplay alone can do justice to the movie.

As for horror-mystery, 99.99% are pure formula. More like literary watch-making than search for truth.



Mr. Anon said...

"Bruce Charlton said...

As for who is the best living scientist writer (in English)... maybe the veteran Freeman Dyson?"

Isaac Asimov. He actually wrote about fundmental science - chemistry, thermodynamics, mechanics, etc. Most popular science writing today focuses on far-flung stuff that has no direct impact on people's lives - black holes, Higgs Bosons, etc. The layman can read that stuff, but he'll never really develop any understanding of it, because he doesn't have the background. Asimov actually tried - and, I think, often admirably succeeded - in explaining the physics of the everyday world.

dufus maximus said...

"Dawkins is an all-time great science journalist. I worship the late William D. Hamilton, but Dawkins explains his ideas far better than Hamilton did."

No way, Mr. Sailer. It's true that MR Dawkins explains his sciency ideas very well -- I always feel that I've understood him. The problem is that his ideas are based on no known observed reality, and thus don't qualify as science. He really is an unfortunate poster child for militant atheo-Darwinism, but he's probably the best they got.

Anonymous said...

The greatest scientist and thinker of his generation is still alive and well in America. And he wrote books with big, revolutionary ideas.

So I'll take this over glib, puddle-deep bestsellers by Pinker, Dawkins, Diamond, et al. thank you very much.


"Syntactic Structures also introduced Chomsky's mentalist perspective in linguistic analysis. This had a massive influence on the psychological study of language. Before Syntactic Structures, psychologists treated human language in terms of conditioned responses to outside stimuli and reinforcement. Chomsky argued that humans produce language using separate syntactic and semantic components inside the mind, and presented TGG as a coherent abstract description of this phenomenon. This induced a flurry of psycholinguistic research in the following decades.

Syntactic Structures also initiated an interdisciplinary dialog between philosophers of language and linguists. American philosopher John Searle wrote that "Chomsky's work is one of the most remarkable intellectual achievements of the present era, comparable in scope and coherence to the work of Keynes or Freud. It has done more than simply produce a revolution in linguistics; it has created a new discipline of generative grammar and is having a revolutionary effect on two other subjects, philosophy and psychology".[3] Chomsky and Willard Van Orman Quine, a stridently anti-mentalistic philosopher of language and one of Chomsky's early influences, debated many times on the merit of Chomsky's linguistic theories. Most philosophers supported Chomsky's idea that natural languages are innate and syntactically rule-governed. In addition, they thought that there also exist rules in the human mind which bind meanings to utterances. The investigation of what these rules might be started a new era in philosophical semantics.
With its formal and logical treatment of language, Syntactic Structures also brought linguistics and the new field of computer science closer together.

Renowned computer scientist Donald Knuth has recounted he read Syntactic Structures during his honeymoon in 1961 and was greatly influenced by it: "I found the mathematical approach to grammar immediately appealing—so much so, in fact, that I must admit to taking a copy of Noam Chomsky's Syntactic Structures along with me on my honeymoon in 1961. During odd moments, while crossing the Atlantic in an ocean liner and while camping in Europe, I read that book rather thoroughly and tried to answer some basic theoretical questions. Here was a marvelous thing: a mathematical theory of language in which I could use a computer programmer's intuition! The mathematical, linguistic, and algorithmic parts of my life had previously been totally separate. During the ensuing years those three aspects became steadily more intertwined; and by the end of the 1960s I found myself a Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University, primarily because of work that I had done with respect to languages for computer programming."

Anonymous said...

"Before Syntactic Structures, psychologists treated human language in terms of conditioned responses to outside stimuli and reinforcement. Chomsky argued that humans produce language using separate syntactic and semantic components inside the mind, and presented TGG as a coherent abstract description of this phenomenon."

I don't think Chomsky's finding was so brilliant as the conventional wisdom was so stupid. So, Chomsky lucked out by stating the OBVIOUS.
Why was it not obvious? Because the behaviorist strain of psychology took over and enforced its orthodoxy on the entire academia.
Also, especially due to WWII and Holocaust, any notion of biological innate basis for human ability was suspect.
So, this made the job easy for Chomsky who only stated the obvious. I mean of course the human mind is hardwired for using grammar and what we call 'human language'.
If not, why couldn't a chimp learn language? Same thing with music. Human mind is hardwired to pick up sound patterns to recognize and appreciate music. To animals, what we call music is probably just weird sound.

Some people win the race not because they're better runners but because everyone else is running in the opposite direction.

It's like the concept of race is a scientific fact in that there can be no evolution without the creation of new races before new species are created, but the prevailing PC orthodoxy insists so much that 'race is a social construct' that most scientists are afeared to state the obvious. So, it's easy to be 'brilliant' and 'profound' on the issue of race. Just state the OBVIOUS, which will have to be accepted one of these days as the evidence is so overwhelming.

Sometimes, a scientist really does arrive at an astounding discovery. He is super giant among giants.
But there are times when a scientist arrives at a 'great' discovery because everyone is so willfully blind to the obvious. He is a 'giant' among blindfolded midgets. I'm not saying Chomsky is not a very smart guy. He is, but the point is he seems to have lucked out with his 'great discovery' because so many others had been hoodwinked by the politics of science in the 20th century.

Perhaps, Chomsky's theory of the mathematical structure of grammar is truly brilliant, but his notion of 'universal grammar' should have been a common sense fact to anyone with basic knowledge of the human mind.
But the orthodoxy of behaviorism and social conditionism prevailed so much so that any notion that humans had an innate BIOLOGICAL mechanism for picking up and using language was overlooked and even suppressed. Indeed, if a right-wing scientist/linguist had made the claim, it might have been more controversial and rejected. But since Chomsky is Jewish and leftist, he was able to make a biological argument for hardwired abilities in the mind.

Of course, Chomsky is willfully stupid in other ways, like denying racial differences in cognitive ability.
But that orthodoxy is so powerful that most people still remain mum about it.

But it's more permissible for a liberal Jewish scientist to touch on the topic, which is why Pinker got away with toying around with it. And the Jewish guy who recently wrote about black superiority in sports also seems to be tolerated cuz of his ethnicity and (probably liberal)ideology. Another case of OBVIOUS TRUTH that passes for 'profound discovery' because so many are willfully blind to it.

Anonymous said...

"There are some thoroughly deserving writers who have received the prize"

Where is Bellow?

Anonymous said...

Jim Watson is still alive. Give it to him for The Double Helix, a wonderful book.

An OK entertaining book full of lies. Would be a truly horrible choice.

FredR said...

@Thursday:

It's pretty pointless to argue about this, but it's also a lot of fun. My contribution: Sienkiewicz, Oe, and Buck are at least as good as many in your defensible column.

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous said...

The greatest scientist and thinker of his generation is still alive and well in America."

Chomsky? The greatest scientist and thinker of his generation? Not of his or any generation. What a complete crock of shit. Linguists are not scientists. You must be one of those Chomsky-fans, whose slavish devotion to Chomsky is roughly equivalent to that of thugee cult memebers for Kali.