Diary Poem: Uses of the Nobel Prize

By | 1 February 2020

In her comment on my poem about Borges in Geneva
—where he and the Archetypal Critic from Australia,
on the blue shores of the Lake, haunted each other,
both bluely haunted by the Nobel Prize—a reviewer
remarked she could think of no better contender
for the Nobel than I was. How could any responder
not revel in the mischief that would cause? I wonder
how it would fit in with the real Prize’s agenda,
as seen in its history, such as conflict between Russia
and the CIA in the Fifties: Operation AEDINOSAUR
was what the CIA called their careful strategy for
creating Boris Pasternak’s anti-Soviet persona
to win the Nobel Prize, which the Russians in their
turn blocked but got it for Sholokhov (who was better
actually at writing, but that’s perhaps a lesser matter).
John Maury, AEDINOSAUR’s busy Director,
wrote in a memo to CIA Operations Head, Frank Wisner,
establishing a credo: ‘The heresy[against Russia] which Dr.
Zhivago preaches—political passivity—is,’ he can reassure:
‘fundamental.’ So it must have caused bother later
when the great acceptance-speech by Pinter,
in his 2005 Nobel Prize lecture, defied America:
‘Hundreds of thousands of deaths…Did they take place? The answer
is yes…But you wouldn’t know it. It never happened. Nothing ever
happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t…It didn’t matter.
You have to hand it to America…a quite clinical manipulation of power
…masquerading as a force for universal good,’ said the Nobel winner:
‘a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis…A writer’s
life is a highly vulnerable, almost naked activity…You find no shelter,
no protection—unless you lie…When we look into a mirror
…the image changes. We are actually looking at a never-
ending range of reflections. But sometimes a writer
has to smash the mirror—for it is on the other side of that mirror
that the truth stares at us…the real truth of our lives,’ concluded Pinter,
‘and our societies is a crucial obligation…It is in fact mandatory.’ There
the CIA clearly had conniptions. There, might have gone forever
the attempt to turn the prize to pure introspection. Neruda,
quoted succinctly by Pinter, wouldn’t have helped that either,
before he died mysteriously in Chile. Lord, would I rather
a Mercedes or the Nobel? Lord, the Mercedes is safer,
although the CIA have now devised a controller
of car electronics from a distance, the revealer
of this being Wikileaks’ Vault Seven. Paul Robeson’s fear
that they’d damage his brakes seems gentler
in comparison. At any rate some accusation of mild gender
molestation meant the Nobel was postponed until later
this year, this time, and that gives a double chancer
to the Company, if their act is quite together,
the Russians being more involved in Syria.
In my poem, Borges seemed jealous a Salusinszky manoeuvre
would win Murnane the prize, but the Critic could reassure
him that this meant nothing sinister. And labyrinths of art never
preclude mirroring any blackness behind the mirror.
I am dazzled by glass fragments trodden under,
rippling light as blue as mountain lakes, but colder.

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