Nobel Prize in literature

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The Nobel Prize for Literature is one of the five prizes donated by Alfred Nobel , which are "awarded to those who [...] have provided the greatest benefit to mankind". It is awarded annually by the Swedish Academy in Stockholm on behalf of the Nobel Foundation, founded in 1900, and has been endowed with nine million Swedish kronor since 2017 (around 905,040 euros at the exchange rate at that time, currently around 878,000 euros).

According to Nobel's will, which forms the basis of the statutes of the Nobel Foundation, the Prize for Literature is to be awarded to those who “have created the most excellent in an idealistic direction”. The award winner is announced annually from the beginning of October to the middle of October, and the award ceremony is presented by the King of Sweden on December 10, the anniversary of the donor's death. In the years 1914, 1918, 1935 and 1940–1943 the prize was not awarded. The prizes for the years 1915, 1919, 1925–1927, 1936, 1949 and 2018 were not awarded until the following year.

Selection process and award ceremony

Seat of the Swedish Academy in Stockholm
Announcement of the award winner

Nobel stated in his will that the Swedish Academy is responsible for allocating the literature prize. This delegates the selection in part to a Nobel Committee ; its members were elected from among the ranks of the academy for three years. On November 19, 2018, it was announced that the Nobel Committee for 2019 and 2020 will consist of ten members, five of whom are external experts from outside the Academy. It consisted of the following people:

Since October 20, 2020, the Nobel Committee has consisted only of members of the Academy again. However, a group of around ten people will be formed with experts from outside the academy to advise the Nobel Committee.

As early as September of the previous year, the Nobel Committee asked six to seven hundred selected people and institutions around the world to propose candidates for next year's Nobel Prize for Literature . Among them are, according to the statutes,

  • previous laureates of the Nobel Prize for Literature ;
  • Members of the Swedish Academy as well as other academies , societies or institutions that are comparable in their objectives and structure to this one;
  • University and college professors for literature and linguistics ;
  • Presidents of writers' associations representative of their country's literary production.

Those who have been contacted can submit their proposals to the Nobel Committee by January 31st - only the living are admitted. Usually around 350 suggestions are received. The committee sifts through the proposals and compiles a list for the Swedish Academy. If this list of candidates is accepted by the academy, the next step is to extract a selection of 15 to 20 names. After confirmation of this shortlist by the Academy, the committee draws up a shortlist with five names by May of the respective year. After the academy's final decision, its members have the opportunity in the summer months to familiarize themselves with the work of the five candidates before they debate the candidates and their work in September and finally vote on the Nobel Prize winner of the year in early / mid-October; this must unite more than half of the votes. Only the award winner is announced; the names of the other candidates, as well as information about the entire selection process, are subject to a 50-year blocking period .

The winners, along with the winners of medicine , physics , chemistry and economics, will be invited to Stockholm , where the Swedish King will present the awards on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel's death. In addition to a Nobel Medal and a personal diploma, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature will receive prize money of nine million Swedish kronor (since 2017; the prize money is adjusted at irregular intervals). If the prize is awarded to more than one person, this amount will be shared.

However, the division may only be divided between up to two different achievements and three different award winners. Therefore, there can only be three award winners in a year if at least two of the award winners are honored for the same award-winning achievement. This is common in other categories, but has never occurred in the Nobel Prize for Literature. It is also rare to split the award between two equal award winners with correspondingly separate achievements. So far, the literary prize has only been shared four times. This happened in the years 1904 ( Frédéric Mistral , José Echegaray ), 1917 ( Karl Gjellerup , Henrik Pontoppidan ), 1966 ( Samuel Agnon , Nelly Sachs ) and 1974 ( Eyvind Johnson , Harry Martinson ).

According to the statutes of the Nobel Foundation, the laureate is required to give a lecture on his work if possible. It usually takes place two days before the award ceremony in the Swedish Academy and, unlike the other award lectures held in Stockholm, is not open to the general public, but can be followed in the media. The Nobel Prize for Literature is often about speeches with a political dimension. Various award winners, who could not be present in person, sent their lecture in writing or as a video message.

Criticism of the Nobel Prize for Literature

Despite its importance, the Nobel Prize could never completely escape criticism. This is mainly because it is evident that the majority of the award winners came from northern and central Europe until well into the last quarter of the 20th century. One explanation for this is that the jury basically only consists of Scandinavians and that many literary masterpieces from other parts of the world were simply too unknown there during the lifetime of their authors. However, the proportion of non-European writers among the award winners has increased significantly in recent decades.

In a polemic written in the 1950s, Arno Schmidt scoffed at the honor for Henryk Sienkiewicz (“then you could just as easily have given it to Karl May !”), Paul Heyse (“sugar water”) and Winston Churchill (“an outspoken journalist from Mediocrity ”), which he contrasted with important writers who did not receive the award: Rainer Maria Rilke , Theodor Däubler , Franz Kafka , Alfred Döblin , Hans Henny Jahnn , August Stramm , Georg Trakl , James Joyce , Ezra Pound , Francis Ponge and Samuel Beckett (the latter received the award a few years later). The criterion for awarding the award is not the linguistically outstanding performance of the honoree, but rather literary simplicity: "What can be translated well gets a price!" Therefore, the award means a "stigma of mediocrity" for its winners.

Another frequently raised point of criticism is that the awardees are often better known for their (social) political engagement than for their literary works. In his will, Nobel expressly obliged the jury to use the idealism of the author or his work as a yardstick.

In 1938 the American Pearl S. Buck was awarded the literary prize. This award was received with incomprehension at the time and is still often viewed as a wrong decision up to the present day, as Buck's works have little literary value. The so-called "Lex Buck" arose from this criticism. This is the unwritten rule of only honoring authors who have been nominated at least once before. According to the former Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, Horace Engdahl, this guideline applies. How often it is adhered to can, however, be definitively determined at the earliest 50 years after the award of the award due to the closure periods of the Nobel Foundation. From the data published so far by the Nobel Foundation, which date back to 1950, it can be seen that both William Faulkner (1949) and Bertrand Russell (1950) received their Nobel Prizes after being nominated only once. However, this was an extraordinary situation: According to the statutes, the award can be postponed for one year if no suitable winner can be found. That was apparently the case in 1949, despite 35 nominations. If one had not found a worthy winner for 1949 among the 54 nominations made in 1950 - a record up to that point - the award would have gone back to the foundation.

In 2018, the award could not be awarded because ten out of eighteen members of the academy resigned as a result of a sexual harassment scandal by Jean-Claude Arnault . As a result, the body was no longer quorate until the king changed the statutes and allowed the members to resign. The 2018 award was awarded at the same time as the 2019 award. The decision to award the 2019 prize to Peter Handke sparked heated controversy because of his support for Slobodan Milošević and Serbian nationalism. In most of the Balkan countries in particular, the decision was met with incomprehension.

Award winners

Sully Prudhomme , first laureate in 1901
Selma Lagerlöf , first winner in 1909

Since it was first awarded in 1901 to the French poet and philosopher Sully Prudhomme , the Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded to 116 people to date (i.e. until 2019). The award was shared between two people four times (1904, 1917, 1966 and 1974). In the years 1914, 1918, 1935 and 1940 to 1943 the Nobel Prize for Literature was not awarded.

The English-speaking attributable authors represent the largest number among the winners, followed by authors from the French , the German , the Spanish , the Swedish , the Italian and the Russian-speaking world .

So far, 15 German-speaking authors have received the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 1902, at the second award, the historian Theodor Mommsen was honored. The philosopher Rudolf Eucken (1908), the German writers Paul Heyse (1910), Gerhart Hauptmann (1912), Thomas Mann (1929), Heinrich Böll (1972), Günter Grass (1999) and Herta Müller (2009) followed. In 1966, the poet Nelly Sachs , who lived in exile in Sweden, received the award, which she had to share with Samuel Agnon . In addition to Hermann Hesse (1946) of German descent, who lived in Switzerland for the first time in 1883 and who was definitively naturalized there in 1924 , the only Swiss prize winner to date was Carl Spitteler (1919). With Elias Canetti (1981), Elfriede Jelinek (2004) and Peter Handke (2019), who also often live in Switzerland, Austrian literature has so far counted three winners. The German-speaking authors include, at least in part, the Dane Karl Gjellerup , who lived in Dresden from 1893 and, with the help of his wife, who was born in Dresden, published for the first time in 1894 and almost exclusively in German from 1898; he received the Nobel Prize in 1917 together with his compatriot Henrik Pontoppidan .

Authors who wrote in the following languages ​​have been honored once each: Provençal ( Frédéric Mistral ; 1904), Bengali ( Rabindranath Tagore ; 1913), Finnish ( Frans Eemil Sillanpää ; 1939), Icelandic ( Halldór Laxness ; 1955), Serbo-Croatian ( Ivo Andrić ; 1961), Hebrew ( Samuel Josef Agnon ; 1966), Yiddish ( Isaac Singer ; 1978), Czech ( Jaroslav Seifert ; 1984), Arabic ( Nagib Mahfus ; 1988), Portuguese ( José Saramago ; 1998), Hungarian ( Imre Kertész ; 2002) and Turkish ( Orhan Pamuk ; 2006).

The award has already gone twice to writers who published in Japanese: Yasunari Kawabata , 1968 and Kenzaburo Oe , 1994; who work in the Chinese language: Gao Xingjian , 2000 and Mo Yan , 2012.

Women have received 16 awards so far: the first was Selma Lagerlöf in 1909 , followed by Grazia Deledda in 1926 , Sigrid Undset in 1928 , Pearl S. Buck in 1938 , Gabriela Mistral in 1938 , Nelly Sachs in 1945 , Nadine Gordimer in 1991 , Toni Morrison in 1993 , Wisława Szymborska in 1996 , 2004 Elfriede Jelinek , 2007 Doris Lessing , 2009 Herta Müller , 2013 Alice Munro , 2015 Swetlana Alexijewitsch , 2018 Olga Tokarczuk (awarded 2019) and 2020 Louise Glück .

Six award winners published in two different languages: Rabindranath Tagore of British India (award winner 1913) in Bengali and English, the Dane Karl Gjellerup (1917) in Danish and German, the Galician Jew Samuel Agnon (1966) in Hebrew and in Younger also in Yiddish, the Irish Samuel Beckett (1969) in English and French, the American of Jewish-Polish origin Isaac Bashevis Singer (1978) in Yiddish and English and the American of Jewish-Russian origin Joseph Brodsky in Russian ( Poetry) and English (prose). In addition, Frédéric Mistral (laureate 1904) translated his works, which were written in Provençal, into French himself.

As the only writer in the field of music poetry to date, Bob Dylan received an award in 2016.

It happened twice that a writer refused the award: 1958 Boris Pasternak under pressure from the Soviet leadership; the award was presented posthumously in 1989 to Pasternak's son. In 1964, Jean-Paul Sartre (France) did not accept the honor in order to preserve his independence. George Bernard Shaw , who was awarded the 1925 prize, which was initially not awarded, according to the statutes a year later in 1926, initially rejected the prize, but later changed his mind. He donated the prize money to the newly established foundation, the “Anglo-Swedish Literary Foundation”, which is dedicated to cultural cooperation between Sweden and Great Britain.

In 1907, at the age of 41 , Rudyard Kipling received the Nobel Prize for Literature. This makes him the youngest recipient to date. The oldest award winner to date is Doris Lessing , who was awarded it in 2007 at the age of 88.

Web links

Wiktionary: Nobel Prize for Literature  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikisource: Nobel Prize in Literature  - Sources and Full Texts

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Testament of Alfred Nobel., accessed October 19, 2019.
  2. Marco Weise, Georg Leyrer: Why the Nobel Prize for Literature will not be awarded this year. In: May 4, 2018, Retrieved May 4, 2018 .
  3. ^ The Swedish Academy postpones the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature., May 4, 2018, accessed October 18, 2019.
  4. Pressmeddelande från Svenska academies., November 19, 2018, accessed October 19, 2019 (Swedish).
  5. Horace Engdahl lämnar Nobelkommittén SVT, March 5, 2019, accessed on October 19, 2019 (Swedish).
  6. Författaren Kristoffer Leandoer hoppar av Nobelkommittén SVT, December 2, 2019, accessed on December 2, 2019 (Swedish).
  7. Gun-Britt Sundström lämnar Nobel Committee SVT, December 2, 2019, accessed on December 2, 2019 (Swedish).
  8. Förändringar i Nobelkommitténs arbetsformer press release of the Swedish Academy, October 20, 2020, accessed on October 20, 2020 (Swedish)
  9. Infobox in Dagens Nyheter , October 9, 2009.
  10. The Nobel Prize Amounts., accessed October 19, 2019.
  11. Tabular listing of the prize money and other values ​​(1901–2018)., accessed October 19, 2019 (PDF; English).
  12. § 9 of the statutes of the Nobel Foundation (English).
  13. ^ Arno Schmidt: Stigma of mediocrity. In: The raven . 9 (1985), pp. 9-13 (citation p. 11).
  14. Julia Kosbach: Nobody can ignore the “Lex Buck”. In: Berliner Zeitung. December 10, 2004.
  15. Nominations 1901–1950 - Nominations for the Nobel Prize in Literature each year (1901–1950)., accessed October 19, 2019.
  16. There will be no Nobel Prize for Literature in 2018 , Roman Bucheli, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, May 4, 2018
  17. Two Nobel Prize for Literature will be awarded in 2019 , NZZ, March 5, 2019.
  18. Nobel Prize for Peter Handke: Criticism does not stop , Adelheid Wölfl, Frankfurter Rundschau, October 14, 2019.
  19. ' A troubling choice': authors criticize Peter Handke's controversial Nobel win , Sian Cain, The Guardian, October 11, 2019 (English).
  20. Slobodan Milosevic Sympathiser Awarded Nobel Literature Prize , Milica Stojanovic, Balkaninsight, October 10, 2019 (English).
  21. Slavoj Žižek, Salman Rushdie, američki i britanski PEN osudili izbor Petera Handkea, austrijski predsjednik Alexander Van der Bellen smatra da 'imamo još puno toga naučiti od Handkea' , Slobodna Dalmacija , October 11, 2019 (Croatian).
  22. See exhibition of German-speaking Nobel Prize Winners for Literature in Münster 2008/09.
  23. Christian Linder: In 1964 Jean-Paul Sartre rejected the Nobel Prize for Literature. In: Calendar sheet from October 22, 2004, Deutschlandfunk . Retrieved September 18, 2013
  24. "From the archive, 23 October 1964: Nobel Prize refused by Sartre" , The Guardian, 23 October 2010 (English)