Being Exceptional the right way

November 15, 2017

Being Exceptional the right way

by Azmi

Image result for Azmi Sharom

Mustafa Akyol and Azmi Sharom

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 hyper intelligent 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.

Image result for Kazuo Ishiguro

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?

Image result for Bob DylanMusical Genius Bob Dylan and a Man of Peace


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.

Image result for the best of v. s. naipaul quotes

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 ( is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

6 thoughts on “Being Exceptional the right way

  1. As i’m writing this from someplace far away from Malusia, i think the writer of this piece got it all outta joint. While i would agree with his comments on Dylan, it is because of the intrinsic familiarity of his lyrics which we had heard since the 1960’s.

    Ever since i read Ishiguro’s novel “An Artist on the Floating World”, i realized that his work’s were much more than mundane prose or story telling. It was about the struggles of ‘Existing’. The Struggle to Live – the very ‘human’ lapses, hope, joys and disappointments – and ultimately closure, whether by natural or unnatural means.

    Reading it then, gave me profound appreciation of what it meant to be Man and not just another cog in our imagined reality, as opposed to solid reality. Especially in Today’s Tramped up Virtuality without the Vitality.

    It encompasses the meaning of Existentialism and Being as of this moment and why we can’t persist in the Past as a Reality. Ishiguro may not have given it much thought but his plots then and now – but it’s always refreshing balm for anyone who has a smidgen of deep introspection.

    Exceptionalism is not ‘out there’ but ‘within’ each of us. Some call it individualism, others just plain ‘Self’.

    So much for so called ‘public’ intellectuals.

    Here’s the quintessential Dylan:

    If you understood what he was mumbling about, he deserved the Nobel..

  2. Do a survey among the Japanese population, and I will bet my bottom Ringgit that only 10%, at most 15%, have read Kazuo Ishiguro. The 90% will say “Kazuo who?”

    Ask a Nigerian who was Albert Chinụalụmọgụ Achebe and you’ll get a large percentage of “…. who?” response.

    Ask the average American Joe whether he has read “East of Eden” by John Ernst Steinbeck, Jr. who won the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature “for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception”?


    I am not sure in what sense Azmi use the word “elitist”, but I beg to differ. Literature, or literary works to be considered Nobel Prize material, or indeed of any significance, nationally or internationally, is elitist. It cannot be otherwise, otherwise it would not be “Literature”, it would be “pulp fiction”, that is if we do not use the word “elitist” in a pejorative sense.

    BTW, I also do not agree that “All people are created equal”, because if so then Azmi wouldn’t conclusively conclude that “Some are just stronger or smarter or more talented”

    • Wayne, Ishiguro is an Englishman, with Japanese parents.
      Why would any Nippon Japanese wanna read English literature? They’d rather contemplate on their navels or watch granny porn.
      Their birthrate has tanked due to obsession with ‘Robots’ and being overly careful not to soil the linen.

  3. Latest klepto-land news :

    Zimbabwe military launches coup to prevent FLOZ from taking power (stealthily) in preparation for demise of their number one klepto.

  4. //And so it is in politics. I want leaders who are smarter and more able than me.
    @BraveNewWorld you are the one.
    Stop beating around the bush like Moses, and be the man. @BraveNewWorld, we look up to you.
    //But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

  5. To me, there’s a difference between accomplished and exceptional individuals. Accomplished people are able, talented, skilled and expert at something. They get things done. Exceptional people are extraordinary, incomparable and unique. Exceptional people handle their talent with reverence, work hard at perfection and shape their worlds with a brilliance that is almost godly.

    Being exceptional, in my opinion, doesn’t necessarily mean that you are the most gifted in your area or profession. I’ve met exceptional people amid the squalor in some remote and small Chinese villages – young people who are innovators in their own right, medical doctors doing their very best with the least amount of resources, teachers instructing pupils under the trees in the farms. You can be exceptional in the middle of desperation and among the destitute. It means that you’re more bent on going all the way to help the less fortunate to make a difference in the world – a path that many who may be more gifted aren’t willing to pursue.

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