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Thread: Recent Nobel Prize misses

  1. #1
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    Default Recent Nobel Prize misses

    Sorry if you have got fed up by Nobel Prize talk by now but this is a question I just couldn't get out of my head.

    A recurrent critique against the Swedish Academy is of course the long list of authors who should have got the Nobel Prize but never did. It seems to me that the critique is just as often very justified (Joyce, Woolf etc.) as not fair at all (KafkaÖ).

    Interestingly the previois Permanent secretary Horace Engdahl once said that in retrospective about 75% (Iím not sure this was the exact figure but it was something like that) of the old laureates should not have been awarded and he also admitted that future readers and critics may well be just as hard to the contemporary Academyís choices. Naming those eternal classics already today is clearly not an easy task (Even though a few early choices of the academy were clearly the result of incompetence, everyone including the contemporary members can agree on this)Ö

    Anyway, in the last few years the age of the laureates have often been quite old and a guy like Harold Pinter was nearly missed (he passed away only three years after being rewarded). Neither Lessing nor Munro will probably be around for much longer either. This reminds me of another interview with the infamous Engdahl in which he mentioned a few names that he thinks would have deserved the prize but sadly had been missed. These were if Iím not incorrect Derrida, Kapuscinski and Sebald (I think that there was a fourth name there as well but I canít remember who).

    This brings me to the question: Which authors that has passed away more recently (Letís say that lived at least twenty years back in time) do you think will be judged by future readers as great misses by the academy?

    I myself have a soft spot for both Kapuscinski and Sebald. But I might also mention Inger Christensen (died in 2009), Marguerite Duras (1994), Chinua Achebe (earlier this year) and Gitta Sereny (2012).

    What do you think? Iím eager to hear!

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Recent Nobel Prize misses

    You should maybe reformulate your topic, as it is, it does not make much sense... what you really want to ask is probably which authors we think worthy of the prize even if they did not get it

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    Default Re: Recent Nobel Prize misses

    Carlos Fuentes (2012), Miguel Delibes (2010), Ernesto Sabato (2011), Harry Mulisch (2011), Antonio Tabucchi (2012)
    All of those losses happened in only 3 years. So sad.

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    Default Re: Recent Nobel Prize misses

    Quote Originally Posted by S Johnson View Post
    Sorry if you have got fed up by Nobel Prize talk by now but this is a question I just couldn't get out of my head.

    A recurrent critique against the Swedish Academy is of course the long list of authors who should have got the Nobel Prize but never did. It seems to me that the critique is just as often very justified (Joyce, Woolf etc.) as not fair at all (KafkaÖ).

    Interestingly the previois Permanent secretary Horace Engdahl once said that in retrospective about 75% (Iím not sure this was the exact figure but it was something like that) of the old laureates should not have been awarded and he also admitted that future readers and critics may well be just as hard to the contemporary Academyís choices. Naming those eternal classics already today is clearly not an easy task (Even though a few early choices of the academy were clearly the result of incompetence, everyone including the contemporary members can agree on this)Ö

    Anyway, in the last few years the age of the laureates have often been quite old and a guy like Harold Pinter was nearly missed (he passed away only three years after being rewarded). Neither Lessing nor Munro will probably be around for much longer either. This reminds me of another interview with the infamous Engdahl in which he mentioned a few names that he thinks would have deserved the prize but sadly had been missed. These were if Iím not incorrect Derrida, Kapuscinski and Sebald (I think that there was a fourth name there as well but I canít remember who).

    This brings me to the question: Which authors that has passed away more recently (Letís say that lived at least twenty years back in time) do you think will be judged by future readers as great misses by the academy?

    I myself have a soft spot for both Kapuscinski and Sebald. But I might also mention Inger Christensen (died in 2009), Marguerite Duras (1994), Chinua Achebe (earlier this year) and Gitta Sereny (2012).

    What do you think? Iím eager to hear!
    Joyce was hardly a "miss" going by the criteria used to select winners. To start with, he was never nominated. Considering that absolutely nobody sent in a nomination for him his reputation at the time of his prominence wasn't exactly splendid. Ulysses wasn't seen as being influential or groundbreaking and wasn't understood until many years after it was released. The Academy directly addressed this when awarding TS Eliot. They compared Ulysses to Eliot's The Waste Land and stated that both took 25 years to fully be appreciated. At this point Joyce was dead.

    Joyce also released Ulysses and then essentially did nothing until Finnegan's Wake was published 17 years later in 1939. So for that entire period of time he was essentially an inactive author. He released one or two small, poorly received poetry collections that added little to his reputation. Upon release Finnegan's Wake was basically seen as a nonsensical mess and academics still don't fully understand all of its intricacies.

    Should he have won? Sure, if he lived past 58 and had gone on to release more works. But given his relatively early death and long periods of inactivity I wouldn't really call him not winning a miss.

    Most "misses" that people like to complain about aside from like Borges, Nabokov, and maybe Achebe are explainable by age at death or lack of nomination. There's a section on the actual Nobel site where an Academy member addresses this. For many decades the Academy members didn't want to use their ability to nominate authors , which can partially explain why many famous authors were never nominated or chosen. For instance, the very first year the prize was awarded, when lots of people think Tolstoy should have won, he wasn't even nominated. Instead due to the early nature of the nominating system French literati flooded the nominations with ones for Prudhomme, who ended up winning.

    The Academy members have stated this recently, there's so many good potential laureates these days that choosing one will inevitably mean someone else doesn't get it who's deserving. That's just the nature of the prize. So say someone like Munro, or Doris Lessing, or Pinter hadn't won it and one these "misses" did instead.
    If the previously mentioned laureates had died without winning it wouldn't they now be "misses?"

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    Default Re: Recent Nobel Prize misses

    Quote Originally Posted by Isahoinp View Post
    The Academy members have stated this recently, there's so many good potential laureates these days that choosing one will inevitably mean someone else doesn't get it who's deserving.
    Accepting this fact will help to see the prize in the right perspective. In my view the list of laureates is a sample taken from a much larger population of great writers and poets.

    Yves Bonnefoy (2016) and Hugo Claus (2008) and all the other ones mentioned in this thread could just as well have fallen into the sample.

  6. #6

    Default Re: Recent Nobel Prize misses

    Quote Originally Posted by Isahoinp View Post
    Most "misses" that people like to complain about aside from like Borges, Nabokov, and maybe Achebe are explainable by age at death or lack of nomination. There's a section on the actual Nobel site where an Academy member addresses this. For many decades the Academy members didn't want to use their ability to nominate authors , which can partially explain why many famous authors were never nominated or chosen. For instance, the very first year the prize was awarded, when lots of people think Tolstoy should have won, he wasn't even nominated. Instead due to the early nature of the nominating system French literati flooded the nominations with ones for Prudhomme, who ended up winning.
    First of all, Tolstoy was nominated, as seen here. https://www.nobelprize.org/nominatio...le.php?id=9303 Unless you're referring specifically to 1901, though I have my suspicious he was nominated for the inaugural prize.

    Members of the Academy (specifically, the chair) didn’t agree with Tolstoy’s revolutionary stance and thought he was too dangerous to established societal conventions, so they wouldn’t “support” his beliefs by awarding him.

    “Since 1901, when the Swedish Academy awarded its first Nobel prize– to the aging French poet Rene Sully-Prudhomme, instead of to the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy (who never won it, because, in an assessment the committee later made public, he preached "theoretical anarchism and mystical Christianity")– it has become something of a tradition, in Sweden and beyond, to attack the decisions, motives, intellect, and ethics of the people who award the prize. (After Sully-Prudhomme's election, forty-two Swedish writers issued an open letter denouncing the prize and paying tribute to Tolstoy.)”

    As for Borges, “Politics was clearly a problem for Borges, and Knut Ahnlund, among many others, regards his omission as unforgivable. "Borges got an award from Pinochet as an old man," Ahnlund said, with genuine anger. "That was enough to keep Latin America's greatest writer from ever winning the prize." Ahnlund added, "Of course politics matters. Look at the list. If you celebrated Stalin in Sweden, that was fineyou could win the Nobel Prize. But God help you if you were infatuated with Nazi uniforms as a little boy. Because then you were disgraced for the rest of your life."

    I am quoting from this article, http://www.michaelspecter.com/1998/1...obel-syndrome/ which has soundbites from various members of the academy, before the internet took off, and they realized they couldn’t speak freely, though this surely didn't stop Ahnlund regarding a certain woman.

    One can heartily speculate Grass read this article.

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    Default Re: Recent Nobel Prize misses

    I was specifically referring to 1901 with Tolstoy, as I stated. That's the year you most see people citing when complaining about "misses", especially in online news articles. I don't really get how you "have your suspicions" about the inaugural year, you can check their site (which you've shown you know how to use) and quite clearly see that he wasn't nominated. Look for yourself:

    https://www.nobelprize.org/nomination/archive/list.php

    And yes, I realize Tolstoy was rejected for other reasons, this is well documented on the Nobel's site in the section where they discuss the changing ways the Prize has been viewed and awarded over the years. I was specifically discussing 1901. However it's still doubtful he would have won regardless of politics. He didn't want the prize and openly dissed it. Supposedly Saying:

    ""I was very happy to know that the Nobel Prize was not awarded to me," he wrote. "It deprived me of a big problem of how to use this money. I am certain that this money... can only bring evil.”

    Why would the Academy want to award someone who questions that type of prize that early into existence? Headlines would be like "World's Greatest Writer wins Nobel Prize, Disses It." Yes, Swedish literati complained, but that hardly matters if immediately after Tolstoy himself says he was glad he didn't win it. Again, there were other, proven reasons he didn't win but this still could have easily factored into it.

    I'd hardly cite Ahnlund's opinion as the end all be all of the Academy. He participated minimally for nearly a decade before outright quitting over being overruled by a majority of members on Jelinek. He's obviously bitter and just wants to shit talk the Academy as much as he can. By the time this was published he had mostly stopped participating in their work.

    That article features numerous factual inconsistencies and several of the arguments being made in it or the people they interview just seem odd to me. It has a lot of good bits in it, but a lot of it just seems silly.

    The authors claiming they were told would win are nonsense. In the past if authors made it to the shortlist their publishers or personal managers were often called and informed of this, to make sure the candidate woulds accept the prize if they were given it. This just sounds like a case of these authors' agents telling them "you've been nominated, you're gonna win." I don't take this as fact. Oe and Gordimer have commented on this and stated that they knew they were on the shortlist for years and that every years it was the same deal (be near the phone, you could win, expect a lot of press and people outside your home, etc).

    A similar situation occurs with that quote from Dario Fo's publisher when he claims that Academy members told him Fo was picked over Arthur Miller and Salman Rushdie because they were too popular and predictable. There is no proof anyone in the Academy ever actually said this and the quote, given by someone who works for Fo, not a member of the Academy, was only published in one newspaper. Of course now its all over the internet despite its factual fallacies.

    And right, Gunter Grass was a Nazi, but plenty of other winners have received domestic awards from questionable leaders. Alexievich has Soviet medals and awards she won decade prior to her Nobel win. The article directly states that Neruda was a Stalinist yet he won and didn't live in Sweden.

    I think you're missing what I said though. I said "aside from Borges..." meaning the age/nomination thing didn't play into why he was rejected. Borges also whined about not being given the prize, which seems pretty petty. I don't think most laureates openly whine about not being given the prize, only to suddenly win it the next year.

    This is surely less of an issue now, maybe decades ago it mattered, but I've always thought that aside from politics, perhaps his oeuvre was just too scattershot? He was brilliant, but he published literary criticism, essays, short stories, poetry, etc. He didn't focus on one specific thing.

    I understand the logic behind the Academy not openly condemning the Rushdie fatwa though (I also don't see how it plays into their selection of laureates). The Academy has never been known for openly declaring statements on issues like this. Aside from members helping to free Ezra Pound from a mental institution (though admittedly not awarding him because he was an anti-semite) they usually do not take political stances or issue political statements on issues like this. They're first and foremost a group created to help preserve and study the Swedish language. They have nothing to do with international relations on the grand scale and them issuing a statement just would have caused problems for Sweden.

    "but very few of the nation's best writers are among them. Neither are most popular writers, like Astrid Lindgren, the author of the Pippi Longstocking books, or the poet and novelist Lars Gustafsson, who now spends much of his time in Texas."

    And? Why would the author of a children's book series be an Academy member? What literary know-how and expertise to writing children's books entail (yes she wrote much else I realize)? The members are generally PhDs (obviously there are exceptions) who teach at universities. And "best writers" and "popular novelists" are often busy writing, not studying literary history and teaching. Gustafson lived in America for 30 years teaching in Texas, it's probably hard to participate when you live across the Atlantic Ocean.

    "In the Nobel's first forty-five years, only two people from outside Europe and America won the prize..."


    Right, but that's mostly due to a lack of translations from authors outside of the Western world and a lack of expertise on these topics. Globally they were also probably receiving few if any nominations from outside of the Western world. Kawabata for instance required them to bring in 7 individual experts to appraise his work.

    The author of this article acts and writes like he's some "holier than thou" white knight who knows everything and is going to "out" the Academy. In numerous instances he's wrong and just sounds like an idiot:

    "However, it has been noted that the Finnish writer Frans Emil Sillanpss won the Nobel in 1939, just as the Soviet Union was attempting to make his country disappear"

    He'd received 39 nominations occurring every single year in the 1930s. His win was hardly political. He had probably been on the shortlist for years.

    "
    and that Czeslaw Milosz's selection, in 1980, came in the year that Solidarity was born in a Gdansk shipyard."

    There's an entire section on the Nobel site where they discuss the absurdity of this. He had been on the shortlist for years and was going to win regardless of Poland's political situation:

    "
    During the last decades there is one seeming case of a "political" Prize, the award to Czeslaw Milosz. "Has Milosz been given the 1980 Prize because Poland is politically in fashion?" asked Der Tagesspiegel and many other newspapers joined in. The suspicions did not account for the time involved in each nominee's candidacy. As was disclosed by a member, Artur Lundkvist, Milosz had been on the list for three or four years and had been shortlisted in May 1980 - in other words, long before the Danzig strike. The strike caused several members to hesitate, said Lundkvist, but he added that it would have been equally impossible to drop Milosz because of the events in Poland."


    There's the section where he acts like he's calling them out on Naipaul despite Naipaul winning a few years later (meaning he had to have been on the shortlist at this point or shortly after).

    I think he's misunderstanding the quote on China. The quote to me implies that China had a cultural revolution that caused massive censorship of their works and that frequently bans books and hardly sentences authors to jail time. Gao Xinjiang had plays shut down and lived in exile in France because of this. Mo Yan had earlier works banned. Someone like Yan Lianke could potentially win someday but he self-admittedly censors what he writes to ensure that his books will be published in China.

    Chinese writer Shen Congwen would have won the 1988 prize but he died in May of that year.

    The entire section about Dario Fo is ridiculous. He wasn't compared to Pirandello because they did completely different things. Plenty of winners aren't compared to previous winners from their home country.

    Oh no, a biased US publisher who

    And again with the absurdity of the article. You have quotes like this:

    "The ideal candidate for a Nobel Prize today would be a lesbian from Asia," according to Mats Gellerfelt, who is one of Sweden's leading literary critics and a cultural conservative; he thinks the prize has become cheapened by publicity and popularity."


    Last edited by Isahoinp; 14-Dec-2016 at 08:35.

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