The link below is to another article reporting on the fallout from Peter Handke’s win of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
The link below is to an article reporting on the reaction of Peter Handke to criticism of his winning of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Fresh from the controversy of having to “postpone” awarding the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature, due to a series of scandals that left the prize committee in disarray, the Swedish Academy – which gives out the literature prize – courted controversy again, naming Austrian novelist Peter Handke, as its laureate for 2019.
Over the past two decades, Handke has come in for savage criticism for his support for Serbia in the Balkans War in the 1990s and for delivering a eulogy at the funeral of convicted war criminal Slobodan Milosevic in 2006. In the same year, he withdrew his nomination for the Heinrich Heine prize before it could be revoked by politicians. There were also protests in Oslo after he was awarded the Ibsen Prize in 2014.
Less controversial, is the decision to award the delayed 2018 prize to Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk. She is the 16th woman and the fifth Polish writer to be named as a literature laureate. The judges described her as “a writer preoccupied by local life … but looking at earth from above … her work is full of wit and cunning.”
The pair receive 9m Swedish krona (£746,678), which – the judges confirmed – represents the full amount for each year’s prize money.
The Swedish Academy, which awards the Nobel Prize in Literature, has been mired in controversy for two years after several members of the committee resigned in 2018 following allegations of financial and sexual misconduct. French photographer Jean-Claude Arnault – whose wife, the poet Katarina Frostenson, was a committee member, was accused of rape in 2017 and was sentenced to two years imprisonment in 2018. His wife left the academy earlier this year after allegations of conflict of interest and the leaking of Nobel winners’ names.
At the time, the executive director of the Nobel Foundation, Lars Heikensten, said is was important the Swedish Academy “quickly solves their problems. If they manage to do that in a way that restores confidence, they will be able to continue to award the Nobel Prize in Literature”.
Whether or not the academy has heeded the implied threat in Heikensten’s words, it seems quite ambitious to demand a “quick” solution. Over the year, several additional points of needed reform have been suggested, from revising the statutes to reconsidering the eligibility criteria for the award.
Lofty ideals and purity of spirit
The Nobel Prize in Literature is one of the more mysterious awards. According to the will of the founder, Alfred Nobel, the prize is awarded to writers who “have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction”.
This has been interpreted since in different ways. French poet Sully Prudhomme, who won the first literature Nobel in 1901, was awarded for his poetry’s “lofty idealism”, while Norwegian poet Bjørnstjerne Martinus Bjørnson won in 1903 for “the rare purity of [his poetry’s] spirit”. The following year, French writer Frédéric Mistral was awarded for “fresh originality and true inspiration”. The first female literature laureate, Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf (1909), was given the prize “in appreciation of the lofty idealism, vivid imagination and spiritual perception that characterise her writings”.
Quite what Nobel meant by an “ideal direction” has never been decisively stated and the academy has, over time, selected and discounted work depending on a very fluid consensus on how the term might be understood and applied.
Most recently, Tokarczuk was awarded for “a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life”. Meanwhile, the judges said Handke won “for an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience”.
An ‘ideal direction’
The “ideal direction” that the prize should take, particularly after 2018, has been less ambiguous. As of yesterday, only 15 of 116 literature laureates have been women. And the desire for a “global distribution” of prize winners is equally out of step with the actual awards – winners from the global North overwhelmingly dominate the list of laureates, as do white writers. Works written in English have also been dominant – 29 laureates published their work in English and the next most awarded language is French at 14.
Things have changed, slowly, since the 1980s. Laureates have become more diverse in nationality and language, while eight of the 15 female laureates were awarded between 1991 and 2015.
The need for reform of the academy and Nobel prize judging had been building for some time. The Swedish Academy, founded in 1786 by Gustav III, is comprised of 18 members who were until 2018 elected for life and were not permitted to resign their position. There had, however, been a number of withdrawals – in 1989, two members quit the academy after it refused to condemn Iran after it issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie for The Satanic Verses. In 2005, academy member Knut Ahnlund quit in protest at the decision to give the 2004 prize to Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek whose work, he said, was “static and completely engulfed in cliché”.
Academy members can now voluntarily resign, which means that the seats of those who have withdrawn can be filled with new members. This will at least ensure regular injections of fresh blood and new energy. But real reform in the literary prize industry, if this year’s selection for the Nobel Prize is any indication, remains slow – and what is meant by “reform” is as vague as Nobel’s “ideal direction”.
The links below are to further articles concerning the winners of the 2018 and 2019 Nobel Prizes in Literature.
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The links below are to articles reporting on the 2018 and 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature, including articles explaining why two were awarded this year (one for last year) and none last year.
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The links below are to articles reporting on the winners of the 2018 and 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature.
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The link below is to an article that looks at the awarding of two Nobel Prizes for Literature (2018 and 2019) this year in the wake of last year’s scandal.
The link below is to an article with further reporting on the canceling of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at the suspension of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
The Swedish Academy has announced it will not select a Nobel laureate in literature for 2018. Instead, two laureates will be appointed 2019, one for 2018 and one for 2019. The decision is not unique. The prize has been withheld on no fewer than seven occasions in the past and it has also been postponed for a year five times previously – the last time being in 1949.
The reason for postponing the prize this time, however, is exceptional since it is not related to the academy’s inability to unify behind one single candidate, but is instead the consequence of a more general crisis in the academy in which a number of members resigned their posts over a scandal relating to allegations of sexual harassment made against the husband of one of the members.
According to the academy, the reason for the decision is more specifically the number of members who have withdrawn from participating in its work. Eight members of 18 are no longer academy participants, which will impede its work, and make it hard to evaluate the different authors nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature in particular. Another motive for the decision to postpone, the academy’s announcement said, was the necessity to restore the academy’s reputation after a few months filled with accusations and scandal.
Glancing through the list of Nobel Prizes in literature over the years, from the very first that was awarded in 1901 to French poet and essayist Sully Prudhomme, to the most recent winner, British author Kazuo Ishiguro in 2017, reveals a mix of world-famous authors and names hardly even remembered today by specialists.
French author François Mauriac, Nobel laureate in 1952, is probably not commonly read anymore, if he ever was. There are also a number of laureates who were rewarded more for their general contributions to human thinking and culture than their skills in literature – persons such as Bertrand Russell (1950), Winston Churchill (1953) and Jean-Paul Sartre, who was selected in 1964 only to decline the prize.
In 1914, when deliberations were upset by the beginning of World War I, the Nobel Prize was withheld. The following year, in 1915, the prize was postponed and was given to the French author Romain Rolland in 1916. The same thing happened in 1918 when the prize was withheld and then the selection of the 1919 laureate, the Swiss author Carl Spitteler, was delayed by a year. To award an author from neutral Switzerland seems to have been safe bet in a time of excited feelings following the end of the war.
In 1935, no prize was awarded and in 1936 it was postponed, because “the Nobel Committee for Literature decided that none of the year’s nominations met the criteria as outlined in the will of Alfred Nobel”. The 1936 award went to Eugene O’Neill. The same thing happened again during World War II when no prizes were awarded between 1940 and 1943. In 1944, the prize was again postponed to be given to the Danish author Johannes Jensen in 1945 after the war had ended (the 1945 prize went to Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral). The prize of 1949 was postponed by 12 months because the committee couldn’t find a suitable laureate. The 1949 prize was awarded to William Faulkner in 1950. Since then, Nobel laureates in literature have been selected regularly. But not any more.
The decision to postpone the Nobel Prize in literature 2018 for one year has surprised many commentators. The loss of prestige for the academy is considerable and the decision to postpone the Nobel Prize can only be interpreted as the recognition by the remaining ten members of the academy the need for reform.
The shortlist of authors nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature also changes only slowly from year to year. So the four members of the Nobel Committee for Literature (there should normally be five, but one is among those eight who have left the academy) should already know all about them. The work already done to evaluate earlier shortlisted authors, then, could surely have been used to select a laureate for 2018. So, the decision to postpone the prize should be taken as a sign of how serious the remaining ten members of the Swedish Academy view the turmoil that is disrupting their organisation.
The Nobel Foundation – which is ultimately responsible for administering the intentions of the will of Alfred Nobel – has said it supports the decision made by the Swedish Academy. The foundation has also made it clear that the postponing of the literature prize does not affect other Nobel Prizes in physics, chemistry, medicine and peace.
The links below are to articles reporting on the canceling of the 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature.
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