Tim Parks on why literature is not a global sport

The interesting thing about the English refusal to participate in the early World Cups is that, although there was no real obstacle to measuring themselves against teams from far away, they did not feel that this competition for notional world supremacy was what the sport was for. What mattered was familiar communities confronting each other in the stadium—that would give meaning to the game.

Vice versa, what is fascinating about international literary prizes is that the obstacles to choosing between writers coming from different cultures and working in different languages are so evident and daunting as to render the task almost futile; yet such is the appetite for international prizes and for winners that people do everything possible to overlook this. So what is the underlying purpose of these prizes?

Photo: London’s Wembley Stadium, 1954 (Marc Riboud/Magnum Photos)

Tim Parks on why literature is not a global sport

The interesting thing about the English refusal to participate in the early World Cups is that, although there was no real obstacle to measuring themselves against teams from far away, they did not feel that this competition for notional world supremacy was what the sport was for. What mattered was familiar communities confronting each other in the stadium—that would give meaning to the game.

Vice versa, what is fascinating about international literary prizes is that the obstacles to choosing between writers coming from different cultures and working in different languages are so evident and daunting as to render the task almost futile; yet such is the appetite for international prizes and for winners that people do everything possible to overlook this. So what is the underlying purpose of these prizes?

Photo: London’s Wembley Stadium, 1954 (Marc Riboud/Magnum Photos)