This month, it was announced that the 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature would be awarded twice — to compensate for 2018, when a sexual harassment scandal forced the Swedish Academy to suspend the prize. Upon hearing this news, my immediate thought was: What a perfect opportunity. What a perfect opportunity to give the Nobel Prize in Literature to the one writer who really deserves it — but whom the powers-that-be might never dare honor, unless it could be alongside a more traditional voice, a more obviously “sensible” Nobel winner like some French guy whom no one has heard of before. What a perfect opportunity to give the Nobel Prize to Dril.
At first blush this might sound stupid. But, counterpoint: no it isn’t. The Swedish Academy should absolutely give the most prestigious prize in world literature to the semi-anonymous author of a Twitter account, whose sole physical book, Dril Official “Mr Ten Years” Anniversary Collection, was self-published in August last year. A writer whose output, far from resembling the sort of thing that might normally be considered for the Nobel Prize, consists almost solely of posts such as “I burned 100 extra calories today just by thinking aobut asses,” “my dick is a beak now,” and “live free or die. kfc.”
i burned 100 extra calories today just by thinking aobut asses— wint (@dril) August 21, 2014
my dick is a beak now— wint (@dril) October 25, 2013
The point of the Nobel Prize in Literature is — according to its own stated aims — to honor an author from any country who has produced, as the original Swedish puts it: “den som inom litteraturen har producerat det mest framstående verket i en idealisk riktning,” or, as this line is usually translated: “in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.”
In the past, this translation has been fraught with controversy. The Swedish word “idealisk” can apparently be translated either as “ideal” or “idealistic”, but either way, no one is quite sure what it means. In the award’s early years, writers who had dedicated their careers to aesthetic realism (as opposed to idealism) tended to be passed over. Thus the French poet and essayist Sully Prudhomme won the award in the Nobel's first year, 1901, but his countryman Emile Zola, whose work has proved far more enduring, was never honored. More recently, the phrase “ideal direction” has been interpreted to mean something more like the championing of certain liberal, humanitarian ideals, hence why so many laureates seem to be awarded the prize, at least in part, for their political commitments and beliefs — Russian novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn or Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka challenging the authoritarian regimes they lived under; British playwright Harold Pinter taking a vocal stance against the Iraq War.
So does Dril's work move in an “ideal direction”? Upon proper consideration of his work, it would be hard to argue that it doesn't. Dril is a remarkable writer whose work not only helps us understand but helps us to respond to the world in which we are forced to exist.
live free or die. kfc— wint (@dril) January 13, 2012
We live in an age completely dominated by the fact of the internet, by the historical consequences of the advent of Online. This fact has had seismic effects on how the economy works, on how we communicate with one another, on how we think. The internet has radically transformed human consciousness and is continuing to do so in innumerable, impossible-to-predict ways. Recently, I wrote about this in relation to the #cheesechallenge meme, in which people started filming themselves throwing cheese slices at babies: a metaphor for our perennially baffled, precarious condition amid the endless, barely contextualized rush of information we receive from our smartphones.
Dril, as a writer, does not simply capture the ways we think and talk: he is also helping to shape them.
On the most basic level, Dril's Twitter feed portrays a certain character — a character that “Dril” as a writer, is almost completely identified with (only at the level of authorial intention — the actual writer's clearly ironic detachment from his character's utterances — can we talk coherently of a “Dril writer”). This character is not some single, unified being with a single, consistent physicality or a single, definitive history. Dril is an entity alternately young and old; at once married and divorced (I mean technically there's no deep metaphysical mystery here, but I've always assumed his wife and his ex-wife are simultaneous, the same woman, who he is both married and not-married to at the same time). Sometimes Dril’s ass is “tiny and malnourished”; at others it seems to be large enough to be struck by a meteor without killing Dril himself. What is however consistent about Dril is a certain affect: pompous, gluttonous, self-righteous, perennially diapered, always ready to engage with brands, and constantly at war with the trolls.
In the words of the poet Patricia Lockwood, who incidentally is one of the few writers to engage with the internet with anything like the same level of sensitivity as Dril, the character is “the anonymous psycho of the comments box. He has been banned from every forum. He is all-present, and nothing-knowing .” Dril is the infantile subjectivity of the internet: the internet as it eats, shits, jerks off to porn, gets into fights, and posts a link to its Soundcloud in respose to a viral tweet. Perhaps the sole argument against the idea that Dril's work moves in any “ideal direction” would be that, in a way, he can be considered the internet's ultimate realist: he holds up a mirror, albeit grotesque one, to how we — the internet's first (and, one can only hope, worst) children — really are.
But then it is precisely for this reason that Dril, as I have argued at greater length elsewhere, can be thought of as the one true poet of the internet age, the one writer who really makes manifest the internet as a world — to paraphrase Heidegger, Dril’s work “lets us know what the internet is in truth.” By revealing what the internet is in this way, Dril’s writings allow us to critique it. The practice of posting Dril tweets next to the utterances of others, to show them up, is well-established. He has given us the racism dial; the phrase “Politic's”; the idea that we should “spend less on candles”. He has made “to corncob” a literal canonical word — a word that may as well be in the dictionary.
Food $200— wint (@dril) 29 September 2013
someone who is good at the economy please help me budget this. my family is dying
These are just some of the ways in which Dril, as a writer, does not simply capture the ways we think and talk: he is also helping to shape them (there are countless other examples I could have used; I could expand this piece to around 3,000 words and still feel guilty that I'd left some of my favorites out). It's not just his vocabulary either. His syntax — that shoddy, pompous grammar, imitating and exaggerating the speech patterns of the forum buffoon — has also helped shape the ur-texts of posting (when retired soccer goalkeeper Neville Southall tweeted, following a series of improbable events, that “The adult babies takeover is off. Goodbye,” it was almost as if Dril was speaking through him). “His accidents are not accidents,” Lockwood wrote, “and his spelling mistakes are not mistakes.” I wouldn't be at all surprised if Dril ends up making as significant a contribution to the English language as Shakespeare.
Philosophers have traditionally had a pretty hard time trying to come up with a workable definition of what counts as art, with most old theories (art is beautiful, art is representational, etc.) being blown out of the water by works like Duchamp's ‘Fountain’ or Andy Warhol's plywood facsimiles of Brillo cartons.
Assuming we need a theory at all, perhaps the only one that makes any sort of sense is Arthur Danto’s institutional theory of art — that art can only be recognized as art by virtue of its standing within a particular set of practices and traditions, called an “artworld.” “To see something as art requires something the eye cannot decry — an atmosphere of artistic theory, a knowledge of the history of art: an artworld.” Thus, the answer to the question: “ah, but is it art?” becomes: “yes, if it is accepted as such by art theorists and museums.”
Dril does not yet feature on the reading list for English Lit courses; does not get interviewed in literary magazines; does not get invited to universities to give guest lectures. But the parameters of institutions can change — and if the internet has caused human consciousness to undergo a seismic shift, then presumably it should cause the literary world to do so as well. Warhol's Brillo cartons, Danto wrote in 1964, “could not have been art 50 years ago.” “But then,” he added, “there could not have been... flight insurance in the Middle Ages, or Etruscan typewriter cases. The world has to be ready for certain things, the artworld no less than the real one.”
I think the world is ready to consider Dril as literature. He, perhaps more than anyone else, has made us ready. It could even be argued that giving an internet-based writer the prize would, in the year 2019, make an important political point. Once radically open, the internet is now becoming increasingly closed — both as a result of how it is being regulated, and the disproportionate influence of companies such as Amazon and Facebook. Given the importance of the internet to human consciousness and life, the political decisions we make around the internet will likely determine the future of the human species. A powerful reminder of this was given to us early last week, when MySpace announced they had lost 12 years worth of music uploads, approximately 50 million tracks by 14 millions artists, in a server migration; a huge loss of material which may quite simply not exist elsewhere: who knows what future generations could have discovered in that archive? The writer Kate Wagner has compared such losses to the destruction of the Great Library at Alexandria, in which much of the knowledge of the Ancient world was lost.
There are no laws (as far as I know) protecting the heritage of the internet, but these losses are every bit as barbaric as the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamyan by the Taliban, or of Assyrian heritage sites by ISIS. The internet, more than anywhere else right now, is where culture takes place. If I were the Swedish Academy I would show I understand this, by simply awarding one of the two 2019 Nobel Prizes in Literature,, to Dril.