Caxtonian visits Nobel Literature Chairman


Junie Sinson

n February 19, 2001, while in Stockholm, Sweden, I was granted an interview with Kjell Espmark, the Chairman of the Nobel Committee for Literature of the Swedish Academy. As a "Nobel-watcher," I found the experience both exciting and rewarding.

Since my presentation of "The Acceptance Speeches of Nobel Laureates in Literature" at a Caxton Club dinner meeting on September 20, 2000, I have been impressed by the interest of the Caxton membership in the activities of the Swedish Academy in their awarding the Nobel Prize in Literature. Accordingly, I am sharing some of the perceptions that I had and the facts that I learned during my recent visit with Mr. Espmark.

In a negative sense, I share the concerns of another Academy member, Knut Ahnlund. He believes that the Committee for Literature is gradually moving toward a form of literary criticism that deviates from the narrative to deconstructionist conceptual communications.

Such a new approach in evaluating literature emphasizes the positives in presenting conflicting dualities, as distinguished from the linguistic problems in the dynamics of the narrative. Mr. Espmark supports incorporating the best of both the old and the post-modern methods of literary criticism.

It seems probable that the literature awards and the standard for awarding the Nobel Prize will move closer to deconstructionist literature. The moving force is the new, youngish, Permanent Secretary of the Academy, Homer Engdahl, who also sits on the Literature Committee. His apparent support of the thinking of Jacques Derrida is for many a cause for concern.

I inquired if The Caxton Club could submit to the Academy a Nobel nomination for literature. I was advised that that would not be possible. I was told, however, that the club could have input by forming a committee consisting, in part, of English professors and having our Nobel Committee and The Caxton Club produce a nominee for consideration to be submitted through one of our club's English professors. I believe such a project and contribution would be exciting and would have significant benefit for The Caxton Club.

During my presentation at the club dinner meeting in September 2000, I reported erroneously that the Nobel Foundation had an endowment of three trillion dollars. Unfortunately, I failed to convert the krone into dollars, and the endowment is, in fact, three hundred million dollars.

Those who demean the Nobel Prize, due to slights to worthy authors, may soon have an opportunity to learn exactly why various authors were ignored during the 20th Century. The minutes of the Literary Committee meetings are being made public after a 50-year period. The release of these minutes will give insights into the awarding "and the rejecting " of authors of the post-World War II period. That data is now available in Sweden and is soon to be translated into English.

While discussing political considerations applicable to the awarding of the prize, Mr. Espmark stated, "Political considerations never affect our choice, but we are mindful that a choice can't be made without having a political affect."

I found interesting, but somewhat strained, the Academy's explanation for refusing to condemn the Iranian death-directive against Salman Rushdie after previously lobbying for the freedom of Ezra Pound.

I was advised that the Academy had been supportive of both Rushdie and Pound. I was further told that the Academy did not have as part of its mission the authority to take public positions on such matters. The Ezra Pound support had been accomplished through Dag Hammarskjold, who coincidentally was then a member of the Swedish Academy. (I guess where there's a will, there's a way!)

For those who are, like me, "Nobel-groupies," may I suggest for future viewing the Nobel Museum Exhibition, which has recently opened in Stockholm. The Centennial Exhibition will run through September 2004. The theme of the exhibition is "What is creativity, and how can it be promoted?" If traveling to Scandinavia, Caxtonians may wish to visit that exhibit. v

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Certificate awarded to Sully Prudhomme, first Nobel Laureate in Literature, in December 1901.