Friday, June 18, 2010
Ah, fresh over enjoying watching my favorite NBA team, the Los Angeles Lakers, defeating their hated rivals, the Boston Celtics, in a tense, if not artistic (Artestic, though?) Game 7 to become back-to-back champions, I now have enough energy to write today's match-ups before the actual matches begin. Hopefully, there will be surprises and discoveries in store for you, as there have been for me (for example, I had a delightful Twitter conversation with two Brazilian writers, Romeu Martins and Ana Cristina Rodrigues, about Luso-African writers and now have two books on order, not to mention receiving yesterday Elizabeth Knox's The Vintner's Luck after ordering after her book had been recommended me to me by two New Zealanders) over the past three days. Now onto the three match-ups:
United States - Sports Nickname: The US Men's National Team (we suck at nicknames, it seems). World Cup Appearances, 8 (1930, 1950, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010). World Cup Championship, 0.
Strengths: Where do we start? With the hellacious sermons of Cotton Mather that bludgeon readers into piety? Or with Poe's poetry and masterful tales? Or with the Naturalists, like Theodore Dreiser or Frank Norris? Then there is the literary god that is Ernest Hemingway. Or how about Saul Bellow? Sylvia Plath? Shirley Jackson? Or how about we just claim Vladimir Nabokov for a few years, when he wrote his greatest novels? And if I want to be a dickhead, I suppose I could mention Philip K. Dick's best works here.
But I am a Southerner at heart and since the majority of my readership will likely be unfamiliar with Southern literature, here are some classics with which you ought to become familiar:
Robert Penn Warren
Thomas Wolfe (NOT Tom Wolfe) - in some ways, I think he's better, warts and all, than his distant cousin, Gene Wolfe.
Poe, of course
Zora Neale Hurston
James Dickey (Delieverance, anyone? Squeal like a pig!)
John Kennedy Toole
Edward P. Jones
As you can see, nearly an entire squad could be fielded by Southerners alone. We rule!
Weaknesses: Despite nearly cornering the market on bestsellers, the US team, loaded as it is with striking novelists, has virtually no knowledge of any other side and thus is very vulnerable to a counterattacking side. Oh, and the US inflicted itself and the world with Stephanie Meyer and Sweet Valley High.
Slovenia - Sports Nickname: Zmajceki. World Cup appearances, 1 (2010). World Cup Championships, 0.
Strengths: The Slovene side is virtually unknown to the Americans, thus they have the capacity of surprising the Americans with their poets and with Slavoj Žižek's capacity to baffle them with his bullshit...err, Lacanian philosophy. Oh, and they don't have Stephanie Meyer weighing down their side.
Weaknesses: If Žižek is the most famous contemporary Slovene writer, the Slovene side is suffering mightily.
Prediction: The American Southerners will enter as late subs and crack the Slovene poetic and philosophical defense with the deft application of a dead mule kick that scores the game's only goal.
England - Sports Nickname: The Three Lions. World Cup appearances, 13 (1950, 1954, 1958, 1962, 1966, 1970, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010). World Cup Championships, 1 (1966)
Strengths: English literature is inflicted on over a billion people each year, so it is very familiar to most literate people, either in the original English or in translation. Shakespeare, being or not being, doesn't keep him from being helluva strong manager here. Then there is Charles Dickens, devising characters left and right. And there's Anthony Trollope, William Makepeace Thackeray, D.H. Lawrence, Mervyn Peake, Saki, William Chaucer, Spenser, Gaskell, and of course, Henry Fielding, who perhaps is the best 18th century novelist.
Weaknesses: Just like their sports side, the English tend to choke in the latter rounds under the weight of their Victorian pretentiousness. That and the fact that the best Scots and Irish writers have proved to be more imaginative than their English counterparts over the past two centuries means that the English will falter before they can face off with fellow choke-artists, the Spanish, in the knockout rounds.
Algeria - Sports Nickname: Les Fennecs (Best nickname yet!). World Cup Appearances, 3 (1982, 1986, 2010). World Cup Championships, 0.
Strengths: Algeria has a century's worth of Francophone literature set in Algeria, especially stories written by Albert Camus. Since gaining independence in 1960, Algeria has produced some locally-renowned writers, some of which may be able to strike at the hearts of the English reading side.
Weaknesses: Since it is hard to justify claiming Camus for both the French and Algerian sides, there really are no other Algerian-born writers whose works are familiar on the international stage, although if there are some excellent ones, I would love to know of them.
Prediction: Despite their squeamishness about perspiration, the English side eventually stops being gentlemanly and scores a couple of quick goals in the second half as the Fennecs wish they could have claimed Antoine de Saint-Exupéry as well for their side.
Serbia - Sports Nickname: Beli Orlovi. World Cup appearances (including Yugoslavia's), 11 (1930, 1950, 1954, 1958, 1962, 1974, 1982, 1990, 1998, 2006, 2010). World Cup Championships, 0.
Strengths: Serbia has a very long tradition of poetry and sacred literature dating back to the early medieval period. Although the Turkish conquest in the 15th century slowed down Serbian literary development, by the mid-19th century, Serbian writers were producing a lot of well-regarded literature. This trend has continued to the present, with the following authors being worthy of international recognition: Ivo Andrić (with the understanding that he is also claimed by the Croats and Bosniaks), Goran Petrović, Zoran Živković, Danilo Kiš, Milorad Pavić, Svetislav Basara, and Dragan Velikić.
Weaknesses: Against most other literary sides, the Serb literary side's incorporation of Mitteleuropa influences would give them a strong advantage. However, they are facing the Germans...
Germany - Sports Nickname: DFB Elf. World Cup appearances, 17 (1934, 1938, 1954, 1958, 1962, 1966, 1970, 1974, 1978, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010). World Cup Championships, 3 (1954, 1974, 1990).
Strengths: In each of the three classic genres, Germans have outstanding writers. Poetry: Heine. Drama: Schiller, and Prose (and well as the other two): Goethe. Then there's Rilke, the Mann brothers, and a host of other Romantics.
Weaknesses: Adolf Hitler. David Hasselhoff by association.
Prediction: The Serbs will fight a hard, well-disciplined literary battle, but the Germans are the master of this and the combination of Goethe and Schiller will prove to be too much.