Updated: October 10, 2015 12:10:26 am
The Nobel season is closing with the delicious element of surprise. The prize for literature has gone to a Belarussian who is mostly known for her work as a journalist and filmmaker, categories which the Nobel committee generally sniffs at. And the peace prize has gone to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, which helped the country to emerge from the turmoil of the Arab Spring by restarting the public conversation which fuels democracy.
Svetlana Alexievich of Belarus, best known for her work on Chernobyl, has edged past perennial favourites like Haruki Murakami and Philip Roth. The Quartet has pipped world champions like the Pope and Angela Merkel. He gave a human face to the Church of Rome, she reminded Europe of its humanity, and yet a civil society network from Tunisia has won. Humanity would have been able to get its hive mind around this better if the prize had gone to Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey, the technological force multipliers behind the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, which served as the detonator for the Arab Spring. But then, it would have been rather cheesy of the Nobel establishment to celebrate some suits from Silicon Valley.
But journalists the world over have reason to cheer Alexievich. The second-oldest profession suffers from a mass hallucination. Journalists do not generally consider themselves capable of aspiring to the condition of literature. The world’s institutions, including the Nobel prize establishment, tend to support this delusion. Hacks are welcome to win peace prizes, as Tawakkol Abdel-Salam Karman, the face of the Arab Spring in Yemen, did in 2011. But literature? That’s too rarefied. But now the spell has been broken, and perhaps journalists the world over will recall that the redoubtable Gabriel Garcia Marquez found his feet in the world of letters as a newspaper hack.