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Anamnesis on Nobel allergy
article [ Culture ]
stage I

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
by [Dutchess ]

2009-05-24  |     | 



When I started my journey into the Nobel world I expected things to be plain and obsolete. But I soon found myself wondering about lots of things. The search for the right answer proved to be a consumptive quest as risky as finding your way in the dark, walking on a spider’s web.
Most of us know that The Nobel Prize is considered to be the most important achievement, the ultimate recompense for a lifetime work of an individual in the field of chemistry, physics, medicine, literature, peace and later economics as well.
Despite the numerous publications about The Nobel Prize, very little is known about the man behind it. The man who died giving birth. On the 27th of November 1895, Alfred wrote his famous will that was the bone of contention in Sweden and abroad. Leaving a part of his wealth for a prize foundation scandalized the members of his family and the ones appointed to deal with the awards according to Nobel wish. This controversy caused a six year delay and the first Nobel Prize was awarded only in 1901.
The first question that crossed my mind was why?. Why should anyone leave a fortune to unknown people.
He never provided a reason for his choice regarding the categories but chemistry and physics must have come naturally since his work was closely connected to them. His conversations with several researchers, on blood transfusion experiments, confirm that he was interested in Medicine as well. And literature was his first love. He wrote fiction, poetry, drama, personal thoughts and interpretation on his readings and as a grown-up he enjoyed writing letters.
We’re tempted to see his writing as a consolation, a shelter for the young-old traveler always aiming and fighting for more (professionally) in detriment of achieving common personal satisfaction.
His reason for including peace among the five sections is ambiguous. Personally I agree with those who regarded it as a compensation for the destructive force of his dynamite. Peter Zander, the curator of The Nobel Museum thinks that he suffered a little from what people had said about him. They said that he was trading with death. And he wanted to make up. So that may be the reason why there is a peace prize. Of course, he never explained why.

What is the Nobel Prize?

I would not speak now about the childhood, education, the over 355 inventions, the numerous plants from several countries, the death of his brother or the enormous fortune of Alfred Nobel. I don’t find it relevant. But I will mention the one invention embodying the essence of Nobel Prize: dynamite.

A mixture of discrepancies
What Nobel thought would be used to help people and keep them safe also hurt them. Intended for work alleviation in construction, mining or railroad building, dynamite proved to be the very messenger of Death. But one of its compounds, nitroglycerin has a curative use in angina (Angor Pectoris) attacks, cardiac insufficiency and cases of severe infarct. Even then nitroglycerin was used in alcoholic liquors of various concentrations but Nobel refused any cure involving such medicine.
A confirmation of the fact that modern intelligence is able to create or destroy in accordance with those who make use of it for one purpose or another. (Teodor Baconsky)
A both ways cut symbol of power and authority intended as a contribution to the benefit of mankind.
We can ask ourselves a lot of questions but good and evil are subjective perceptions… like the one of G. B. Shaw who said: I can forgive Alfred Nobel for having invented dynamite, but only a fiend in human form could have invented the Nobel Prize.
The Nobel Prize is at once a relic of the past (evidenced by the Swedish king who bestows the awards) and a self admiring mirror of our democratized, secularized modern culture. After a century of existence, The Nobel has become a problematic part of the modern history: it helps shape our perception of ourselves, for better or worse. Like Monarchy, the Nobel Prize surrounds itself with mystery and extraordinary secretiveness. Indeed, the media have more easily breached the privacy of the British royal family than that of the Nobel Institution. The prizes present themselves as if handed down from eternity.(Burton Feldman, The Nobel Prize. A History of Genius, Controversy, and Prestige, Arcade Publishing, 2001, New York)
In his will, Alfred Nobel mentioned that the prize should be awarded to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind. A reward.
Nobel Prize is considered to be the most famous all over the world. Despite having the longest tradition and being the most remunerative of all, it’s prestige is due entirely to the winners list (Dilemateca, No. 13 / June 2007, Interview with Kjell Espmark)
The awards are often thought to bestow honor not only to their winners as individuals but also to their countries as a recognition of the success in producing innovators and developers. The brainchild of Alfred Nobel might be a symbol, an impulse, it can nourish hope and harden the will to go on, further and further, with the certainty that you have chosen the right path. It’s a dream, a feasible wish, a comfort that comes to quench the thirst after years of hard work. Because it doesn’t come right away, first the discoveries have to pass the test of time and prove their worth. Despite sometimes being a late harvest, the Nobel prize was never awarded posthumously.
Dalai Lama perceived it as a recognition of the true value of altruism, love, compassion and non-violence. (Dalai Lama Nobel Prize acceptance speech, University Aula, Oslo, 10 December 1989)
T.S. Eliot sends another reflection: Were the Nobel Award similar in kind to any other award, and merely higher in degree, I might still try to find words of appreciation: but since it is different in kind from any other, the expression of one's feelings calls for resources which language cannot supply. If this were simply the recognition of merit, or of the fact that an author's reputation has passed the boundaries of his own country and his own language, we could say that hardly any one of us at any time is, more than others, worthy of being so distinguished. But I find in the Nobel Award something more and something different from such recognition. It seems to me more the election of an individual, chosen from time to time from one nation or another, and selected by something like an act of grace, to fill a peculiar role and to become a peculiar symbol.( from T. S. Eliot speech at the Nobel Banquet at the City Hall in Stockholm, December 10, 1948, ). It can be a platform to promote beliefs, discoveries, actions. You have the privilege of being a seed and something valuable is springing from you.
Annually, on the 10th of December, the day Alfred Nobel passed away, Stockholm turns into a castle. The whole world is anxious to witness the ritual of knight investment. Because the winners are truly knights, champions of arms forged and long experienced in the field of physics or chemistry, medicine or literature or peace. Men or women who dotted the i's and crossed the t's, whose work proved to contribute to the benefit of mankind, to its development and balance. On this day they are raised to nobility - a rare distinction. The same goes for the knights to be in economy, but their investment takes place in Oslo.
It is a rare honor, indeed. Numerous are nominated only some are selected. Fewer are called and just the cream is chosen. The election takes time and is very severe. Proposals come from several thousand people, (teachers, academics, former laureates, important laboratories directors, newspapers editors, writers, etc.) usually before February the 1st. No candidate can be self nominated. They are sorted and examined by the competent committees: A five members jury elected by The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for Physics, Chemistry and Economics, for the Prize in Literature, the four of five members come from The Swedish Academy, for the Prize in Physiology or Medicine, the fifty members of The Nobel Assembly appoint five of them to deal with this matter. For the Peace Prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee also has five members elected by the Norwegian Parliament. After a long trial, the committees announce the names of the laureates and then it comes to vote. When the decision is final, the good news is telephoned to the laureate. Prize awarding ceremony is held on the 10th of December in Stockholm. It is very solemn and formal, the Royal family is present along with dignitaries and former Nobel laureates. All dressed up in tuxedos and glamorous gowns. There’s a concert, the king and queen take their place on the stage then new laureates enter in applause. The investiture is brief and the script never changes. The winners are called and a Swedish academician delivers a brief description of the achievement honored. The prize is received from the hands of His Majesty the King of Sweden. The Nobel Banquet follows. Only the Peace Prize ceremony takes place in Oslo. The prize is handed by the Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee in the presence of the King of Norway.
Most of the time personal talent is exaggerated in motivating the prize, especially in chemistry, physics and medicine where the achievement is based on experiments and collective effort. But the Nobel foundation perpetuates the popular view of lonely genius. The Nobel Foundation is the administrative body. It has nothing to do with the nomination or deliberation process. It manages the investments, adjudicates the statues, arranges the ceremony and coordinates everything. The money is managed by several bankers.
The prize is received from the hands of His Majesty the King of Sweden. The Nobel Banquet follows. Only the Peace Prize ceremony takes place in Oslo. The prize is handed by the Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee in the presence of the King of Norway.
A Nobel laureate receives a diploma, a medal and a grant that has reached the amount of ten million Swedish krona, the equivalent of 1.2 million U.S. dollars. If there’s more than one winner in a certain category, the grant is divided (equality is not a must).
Short afterward, gossip and some scandals are linked with the prize. The Nobel judges have also made mistakes. The wrong co discoverer of insulin may have been honored in 1923, a mistaken cure of cancer in 1926. In 1952 the co discoverer of streptomycin was omitted in the Nobel Prize for Medicine. The literature prize has sometimes started storms of complaints and the peace prizes, since they involve political matters, stirred official repression or dissident protest.
Before the announcement of the winners, no list of nominees is ever made public. (the secret is well guarded for 50 years). The decisions are final. No award was ever reversed. It looks like someone from eternity decides for eternity. The invisibility of the procedure may increase the majesty of the prizes. Everything seems to be bound by a silence oath. Indeed, leaks are extremely rare despite the fact that it is well known that consensus and especially unanimity is so hard to reach in Nobel committees.
After the world finds out who the lucky ones are, schools rush in claiming them, taking the matter seriously, reputation being an important criterion. The laureate’s hometown uses the opportunity as well. Busts, museums or street names appear over night and tourism agencies rapidly include them on tour.
Over the years the prize was assigned to 809 individuals and 20 organizations. Only 35 women succeed in winning this race. Between 1940 and 1942 no reward was given due to the beginning of the World War II. Four laureates, three from Germany and one from Russia couldn’t receive the honor because their government opposed. Only two refused it (J. P. Sartre -1964 and Le Duc Tho – 1973. Four people and two organizations had the chance to receive it more than once.
Usually, most countries have a good-spirited competition regarding their number of winners of Nobel Prizes. Here’s an attempt to compile the data in order to make a top ten of the noblest nations:

1. USA – 309
2. Great Britain – 113
3. Germany – 102
4. France – 57
5. Sweden – 28
6. Switzerland – 25
7. Russia – 23
8. Italy – 20
9. Austria – 19
10. Netherlands - 18


From the very beginning almost everything dealing with the Nobel Prize was subject to controversy and criticisms. Usually each year the proceedings, nominations, winners and those who were excluded were first page stories all over the world. The prize for economics was considered to be the outlaw and its validity, effectiveness and applicability seriously questioned. Things are also indefinite for the Literature prize because Alfred Nobel words, mentioning the fundamental criteria for awarding the prize for literature, have suffered a series of interpretations.

The Nobel Prize in Literature

It is well known that literature’s true value enhances in time. But how can one be the judge of the past if what’s worth isn’t published on severe criteria and preserved as it should be. Prizes begin to rot posterity and this tendency is more visible to naked eye each time they ignore talent. And yet they play an important role on the book market, they are crucial and volatile labels which turn writing into literature. The idea of a literary prize springs from the Greeks. Winning it was a captivating contest flavored with rivalry and crowned with prestige. After the classical era prizes lost their importance. Another matter preoccupied the writer. He could sell his books directly to the reader. This brought him wealth and fame.
Only with the 20th century the first truly modern prize arrived. And it was awarded by an impartial committee. The impact was huge and immediate. The first award was mentioned in over 100 newspapers. There was finally a real annual challenge.
Replicas were not long awaited: the Goncourt and Femina prizes in France; in 1917, the Pulitzer in America; in 1919, Britain's first, the James Tait Black Memorial prize, Britain's Booker prize and with them low literature. Having twenty best books of the year was confusing. Some of them were vital. They had a great deal of influence on booksellers. The only thing that confers greatness to a literary prize is the quality of its winners. And it comes as a result of proper expertise of the jury. (Tom Chatfield, The art of prize-fighting, 2009)
The Nobel Prize for literature is awarded annually for an outstanding body of work in the field of literature, a "lifetime’s achievement " for the author who has produced "the most distinguished writing in an ideal direction" and is never awarded for a single book, although some very good references get confused about this.
Those who can nominate candidates are the members of the Academy, members of academies and literary societies from each country, professors of language and literature, the presidents of the writer organizations and former Nobel laureates for literature. Their proposals reach the Committee for Literature in January. Usually there are more or less than 300 names. In springtime they are examined and a list of twenty is presented to the Academy for approval. The eighteen lifelong members of this academy are extremely secretive about the nominations and final selections. Even the date for the announcement of the recipient isn't known until two days before the event. Before summer, the list is usually reduced to five names. In October the question is set at rest and for this a candidate has to gather more than half of the votes. The laureate is announced by phone and he receives his prize, medal and amount of money on the 10th of December in Stockholm. Nominating a dead writer is strictly forbidden. He has to be alive in October when the winner is announced. It happened a few times that the laureate passed away in the interval between October and December when the Prize Ceremony takes place. Things happen alike for all the prizes. The sum is identical (10000 SEK), the winner also receives a diploma and a medal. Royal family attends the ceremony. There’s a concert, a banquet, laureate’s speech. Actually that whole week is filed with events. Usually on the 7th of December the winners hold their Nobel lecture. Literature in the context of the Nobel Prize should be thought of as something purely cultural, to which shifting national borders are nothing but a backdrop for the narrative. Often even cultural borders are irrelevant since many of these writers' works are of ecumenical significance. Several wrote in more than one language and/or translated their own works. Some of them are exiles or immigrants too so the matter of nationality becomes extra fuzzy there and in some cases only of statistical value.
The Nobel, the well-established literary prize, has the greatest repute. It has a dignified royal ceremony, grants the largest amount of money, and generates the most publicity for the winner. But the Swedish Academy - often blind to real distinction and unduly influenced by geography and politics, race and gender - has frequently awarded it to mediocrities. Most of the greatest authors of the twentieth century have not won the prize. Among the ones from 1900’ generation, Strindberg, Henry Adams, Thomas Hardy, Machado de Assisi, Joseph Conrad are just the ones who first come to mind and one must be really thick-eyed to miss such names from the list.
But the Nobel Committee insisted on looking elsewhere the next period too. Marcel Proust, R. M. Rilke, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, Theodore Dreiser, D.H. Lawrence, George Santayana, Jose Ortega, Stefan George, Robert Musil, Karl Kraus, H.G. Wells, Fernando Pessoa, etc. Presumably after 1945, began a sort of coming clean campaign and finally rewarded T.S. Eliot, E. Hemingway, Francois Mauriac, Juan Ramon Jimenez and Boris Pasternak. After 1970 the prize seemed to update to the writers whose careers were rising: Samuel Becket, Pablo Neruda, Saul Bellow, Toni Morrison, Naguib Mahfouz, etc. But again some were left behind since 1945: Robert Frost, W.H. Auden, Bertolt Brecht, Raymond Queneau, Andre Malraux, Eugene Ionesco, etc.

The Prize
Reading lyrics from gray-headed body he ran me over
for all the books I put him through.
cold faith dries blood on the nib and
Time is dropping short of intonation.

Now I own the chance to go
through his pockets,
lay hands on some days and buy
the 10th of December
just for a breath… to shake hands with the king,
mend my old pest with the Nobel
and win a million dollar ride
to the other side.


When writers like T.S. Eliot or E. Hemingway received their awards they were so famous, long over the climax of their fertile period, than the prize, basically the money was considered a back-set. Eliot described the prize as a nail in the author’s coffin and the critic Herbert Howarth affirmed that the Nobel Prize is like a death mask on fulfilled grandeur
Those were not isolated cases. José Cela was 73 in 1989 when he received the prize, Jaroslav Seifert was 83, Claude Simon was awarded at 72, Naguib Mahfouz the Egyptian novelist, at 77, Octavio Paz at 76, Wislawa Szymborska at 73, José Saramago at 75. Comparing to those Seamus Heaney was a lad at 56, the age he received the honor. The youngest laureate was Kipling at age 42.
Such long delays allow the Nobel judges to have their cake and eat it too, avoiding controversy yet claiming to honor boldness. (…) Long delays have made laureates of some who happened to outlive their unhonored contemporaries, and thereby became standings for them. Anders Österling, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy from 1941 to 1970, is supposed to have admitted that the Nobel Prize given to the Russian novelist Bunin in 1933 was to clear their conscience by the mistake of omitting Chekhov and Tolstoy.
The ceremony had its own deficiencies due to political setting. In 1914, 1918, 1935, 1940-1943 there were no awards for Literature. The prize still holds the same place above all others although there were some periods of amnesia and the Nobel avoided many weighty writers of the world. The Jury was constantly accused of selecting the winners on political or geographical criteria that are not the same with the literary ones. (Campionii Nobelului literar, Nicoleta Zaharia, Dan Boicea, 5 oct 2008, Ziarul Adevărul, http://www.adevarul.ro/articole/campionii-nobelului-literar.html)

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