Friday, October 22, 2010

Satre and the Nobel Prize

So, John Bennett writes me to say: It was on this day in 1964 that Jean-Paul Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, which he turned down. A week earlier, Sartre had written a letter to the Nobel Committee asking to be removed from the list of nominees, and politely explaining that he would not accept the prize if it was offered to him. But no one managed to read his letter in time, and the Swedish Academy officially announced their choice, much to the embarrassment of everyone.
Sartre wrote a public letter explaining his decision, pointing out that if anyone had noticed, he had turned down every official honor offered to him during the course of his career. And he said: "This attitude is based on my conception of the writer's enterprise. A writer who adopts political, social, or literary positions must act only with the means that are his own—that is, the written word. All the honors he may receive expose his readers to a pressure I do not consider desirable. If I sign myself Jean-Paul Sartre it is not the same thing as if I sign myself Jean-Paul Sartre, Nobel Prizewinner. The writer who accepts an honor of this kind involves as well as himself the association or institution, which has honored him. My sympathies for the Venezuelan revolutionists commit only myself, while if Jean-Paul Sartre the Nobel laureate champions the Venezuelan resistance, he also commits the entire Nobel Prize as an institution. The writer must therefore refuse to let himself be transformed into an institution, even if this occurs under the most honorable circumstances, as in the present case."

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