I WAS very surprised that Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize for literature this year. Don’t get me wrong, I think he is an excellent writer. Believe it or not, I do occasionally read things other than football reports, and I have enjoyed Ishiguro’s work tremendously.
However, I always thought that the Nobel Prize for literature was given to authors who are so complex and hyperintelligent that they seem to be from another planet. I have tried to read the books of some of these folks – Naipaul, Saramago and Gao, to name a few. And I haven’t managed more than 20 or 40 pages. It’s not because the books were awful. It’s just that they were too difficult.
Contrast this to Ishiguro’s breakthrough book The Remains of the Day. My Japanese mate introduced it to me and I read it in one night. It was a jolly good read, but it wasn’t particularly challenging.
But then, can we be surprised? After all, Bob blinking Dylan won the prize last year. Seriously? “How many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a man? ...The answer is blowin’ in the wind.” Seriously?
Again, I am not dissing Bob. I think that Blood on the Tracks is an awesome album; it’s the best break-up album money can buy. And I remember fondly hearing him sing unintelligibly at, of all places, the Putra World Trade Centre. But is he up there with Neruda?
Okay, at this point, you may be saying that I am being elitist. Maybe I am, but not in the way that you may think. After all, I freely admit that I am not smart enough to get the works of the Nobel winners that I have tried to read. How can I be elitist when I clearly don’t understand them?
I guess what I am trying to say is that it is good to have some crazy mad high standard of human achievement; something to look up to and admire. A gold standard that perhaps in our own small way we can aspire to.
The same goes for sport. As sweet as it is to see the Falkland Islands badminton team huff and puff away at the Commonwealth Games, it is the elite in sport that truly captures the imagination.
It is when we bring things down to a lower or in the case of television, the lowest, common denominator that we start to lose that aspirational element of human endeavour. Why train and work hard to be a good actor when you can simply be obnoxious and have your own reality TV show?
And so it is in politics. I want leaders who are smarter and more able than me.
They should be people who have a grasp of the world that I don’t have, in order for problems to be solved and governance to be good. If we just go for the popular and the lowest common denominator, then any Tom, Dick or Donald can be a leader and that could be disastrous.
All people are created equal. That is something I believe in. But not everybody can achieve equally. Some are just stronger or smarter or more talented.
It is one thing to acknowledge those who can be appreciated by a wider audience, who are more like “one of us”.
But if we do that all the time, then what is there to aspire to? What is there to inspire?
- Azmi Sharom (email@example.com) is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.