Friday, June 18, 2010

A World Literature Assignment on Nobel Prize and More

A World Literature Assignment on Nobel Prize and More

By Kevin Anthony Stoda,

Project and other ideas for high school teachers

A curriculum unit on the Nobel Prize in World Literature using the internet resources and primary readings (The unit will include this paper and bibliography.)


The idea of promoting and recognizing great humanitarian contributions to the world in terms of sciences, medicine, literature, and society, i.e. in the form the international prizes for peace, came to Alfred Nobel near the end of his life. However, it is likely that the one person with the singular important influence on Alfred Nobel was Bertha Kinsky von Chinic und Tettau (later von Suttner). She had originally signed on to become the great philanthropist’s personal assistant in 1876. The subsequent two decades of written correspondence between Nobel and von Suttner, helped leading him to use most of his great wealth to found what the world sees now as it’s most prestigious peace prize. In short, a chance meeting in Paris and the eventual hiring of a Miss Tettau, (later von Suttner) as Alfred’s personal assistant in 1876 has certainly proven to be beneficial coincidences in modern humanity.

The first stages of Alfred Nobel’s life had been less than easy. Born 1833, in the very year that his father’s first firm went bankrupt, Alfred eventually moved with his family to St. Petersburg , Russia , where his father had started working under the Czars as a mechanic. By 1850, young Alfred moved on his own to Paris and began to work in a private laboratory. Soon he was establishing his own business contributions to the family’s new found wealth, especially after his travels to Germany and Italy in the early part of that decade created for him important business and research connections. With his family firm’s patenting of nitroglycerine in 1863, great profits were beginning to come in for the Nobels.

However, tragedy soon hit Alfred and his family again in 1864 as his own brother, Emile, was killed in Heleneborg , Sweden . Emile had been working on nitroglycerine at the time. Looking for a new way to handle nitroglycerine more safely, Alfred’s laboratories invented dynamite, patenting the invention in 1867. By the 1870s, Nobel had become a wealthy man. He had established firms, not only in his homeland, but in France , Italy , Germany , the UK , and the United States . He had, meanwhile produced a series of patented blasting camps that had enabled him to move back to Paris , where he established Société Générale pour la Fabrication de la Dynamite. Although the killing power of his inventions were well-known in his own day, Nobel saw himself as a businessman and observed that his original intentions for such explosive inventions was in industry and mining, not in war-making, which was becoming too common in his own day.

As noted above, Paris is the city where in 1876 the pacifist, Bertha von Suttner crossed paths with the wealthy patriarch, Alfred Nobel, head of many international corporations and the great Nobel family estate. Born with the family name Tettau, Von Suttner had many military men in her family. Bertha von Suttner eventually became the first female recipient of the Nobel Peace prize in 1905. Importantlly, becides being an activist, she was also an author, who used her fictional writing skills to help finance many great peace conferences, such as in Den Haag, excursions to encourage peace education in the USA, and peace campaigns in the decades leading up to the turn of the century(—and right through WWI).

One of von Suttner’s more serious writing efforts was Das Maschinenzeitalter [The Machine Age], which, “when published early in 1889, was much discussed and reviewed. This book, criticizing many aspects of the times, was among the first to foretell the results of exaggerated nationalism and armaments.” That very same year, she also published, Die Waffen Nieder [Lay Down Your Arms]. This work struck a chord with even more hearts and minds—i.e. as Suttner had intended. In this particular novel, Bertha von Suttner created a novel whose “heroine suffers all the horrors of war; the wars involved were those of the author's own day on which she did careful research. The effect of published late in 1889, was consequently so real and the implied indictment of militarism so telling that the impact made on the reading public was tremendous.”
Meanwhile, through a series of now-famous correspondences with Alfred Nobel, von Suttner was making major contributions leading to continued debate on the merits of his own inventions and the chances of helping the peace movement with his legacy, especially in terms of promoting greater individual and societal sense-of-responsibilities for waging peace as well as war in the Nobel name.


According to Sven Tagal, “When Alfred Nobel's will was made known after his death in San Remo on 10 December 1896, and when it was disclosed that he had established a special peace prize, this immediately created a great international sensation. The name Nobel was connected with explosives and with inventions useful to the art of making war, but certainly not with questions related to peace.”

Legend had it, “[e]ven if Alfred Nobel for a long time [had] maintained a certain cool distance to the international peace association's methods, his interest in a donation to the promotion of world peace was influenced by Bertha von Suttner. In his last will, signed on November 27, 1895, we find the well-known peace prize formulation ‘to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.’ Alfred Nobel promptly informed Bertha von Suttner of his decision, and she expressed her delight: ‘Whether I am around then or not does not matter; what we have given, you and I, is going to live on.’”

The idea of using a sort of global competition to promote peace, rather than having competiveness with explosives and armaments leading to war was truly an important goal at the beginning of the 20th century. Alfred Nobel passed away in 1897 but his name lives on—and is even more-often linked to peace than to explosions and violence in modern times. At the time of the creation of this magnificent set of prizes through the will and financing of its benefactor, Alfred Nobel, though, the Scandinavian leadership was fairly weak in evaluating one of the key areas that both von Suttner and Nobel had realized was important to peace: This was the area of the literary prize. In the age before radio, TV, and the internet, both Nobel and von Suttner had realized that ideas were important to waging peace--especially the written word had shown itself in the works of von Suttner to be have greatest affect on motivating people and the the human spirit.


According to Kjell Espmark, “Among the five prizes provided for in (1895) Alfred Nobel’s will, one was intended for the person who, in the literary field, had produced ‘the most outstanding work in an ideal direction". As a goal, this was obviously a bit too vague. Initially, there were seeral other guiding rules in determining the criteria for who could or should receive such a literary prize. For example, the Swedish Academy was Nobel’s preferred to group of individuals to make final recommendations and determination which of the candidates nominated in February in any one year would be recommended in April for the annual Nobel Literary award.

Nobel had emphasized in his will that the selections of works nominated should be published the preceding year, but this was quickly revised as the focus of his other prizes were more holistic. The literary prize thus became not what was newest but what had become (or was becoming) the most influential in improving literature (and what had improved the world of thought and human development) for a more global and peaceful understanding of man and his life.

Meanwhile, until 1949 nominations might have come from a variety of sources, such as the favored readings of a particular government. At the turn of the century, however, it was determined that a new “special regulation gave the right of nomination to members of the Swedish Academy and [only] other academies, institutions and societies similar to it in constitution and purpose, and to university teachers of aesthetics, literature and history.” Thus, after 1949, those who could nominate an author were reduced to specialists in literature, i.e. “professors of literature and philology at universities and university colleges.”

A set of problems hurt the selection process of literature during the early decades of the Nobel Prize’s inception. For example, early on political trends, especially very conservative forces in Sweden , discolored much of the wide acceptance of the Nobel Literature Prize for much of the first half of the century. According to Espmark, “The [Swedish] Academy which got this exacting commission [from Nobe’s will] was simply not fit for the task. It was deliberately formed as ‘a bulwark’ against the new radical literature in Sweden and much too conservative in outlook and taste to be an international literary jury. It was not until the 1940s - with Anders Österling as secretary - that the Academy, considerably rejuvenated, had the competence to address the major writers of, in the first place, the Western World.” For this very reason, Tolstoy was never nominated seriously in 1901 (or thereafter), even though he was the most influential writer of his age—and a man who was very interested in improving chances for long term peace on the continent of Europe. For these conservative memories and the politicization of the Literary Award in its first half-century, Jean-Paul Sartre turned down his Literary Nobel Prize in 1964.

Interesting, even during the Cold War, the literature prize continued to be seen as largely political, especially by Eastern European governments who believed that every time a dissident was nominated, it was evidence that the West was attacking their people and nation. On the other hand, through the last half of the 20th Century, the Literary Prize continually became more-and-more international, i.e. less visibly blown by winds of peace and war on the European continent. This, in a sense, has pushed the Literary Prize to be considered less-and-less political in recent years, and it is now seen more as a means of shining light on ideals of progress or developments in global literature as well as a recognition or appreciation of man’s predicaments in a fast changing modern planet.


For several decades, Rabindranath Tagore (1913) was the only winner of the Literature Prize from outside Europe . Tagore was born in Bengal and could write in many languages. Although he proved to be a great writer in a variety of genres and languages, in the West he is best known as a poet. As the Nobel committees have noted, “Tagore had early success as a writer in his native Bengal . With his translations of some of his poems he became rapidly known in the West. In fact his fame attained a luminous height, taking him across continents on lecture tours and tours of friendship. For the world he became the voice of India 's spiritual heritage; and for India , especially for Bengal , he became a great living institution.” In addition, he founded his own educational institutions and Ashrams, which likewise influenced Mahatma Gandhi and others.

As noted above, experimentalism was not weighed heavily by the early Swedish- Academy-dominated selections. This bias was clear, when Tagore received the Nobel Prize for a collection of his poetry published in English with the chairmen of the committee noting in praise: “Concerning our understanding of this poetry, by no means exotic but truly universally human in character, the future will probably add to what we know now.” In a sense, the committee was pushing the clock backwards by choosing Tagore as a poet of love and a representative of a particular people. In the West, Tagore is currently no longer looked at as a very great poet. In short, retrospectively, Tagore is seen in the Western world of poetry as having offered very little innovation. On the other hand, in South Asian politics Tagore’s world view, his poetry, and his educational and cultural philosophies remain ever-current. In summary, Tagore remains a giant in any language he is published in any of these areas—even as his poetry is now ignored in the West to too great a degree.

Looking back over the first half of the 20th Century, many Nobel Laureates were noteworthy for their affects on developments in literature both in European and outside the continent. However, due to the politics of the day in Scandinavia , which preferred conservatism, authors were not always promoted for their recent and most inflectional works—but simply for their decades-long popularity. For example, in 1929, Thomas Mann became the Nobel Laureate for Literature with the novel Buddenbrooks, which had been published nearly three decades earlier. “The book is generally understood as a portrait of the German bourgeois society throughout several decades of the 19th century. The book displays Mann's characteristic detailed style, and it was this novel which won Mann” the Nobel Prize, but Mann considered his own masterwork at that time to be Magic Mountain . In Buddenbrooks, the conflict between the artist’s world and the world of a businessman is prominent. This is a common theme throughout modernism and post-modernist literature, it is also why his later work was not chosen by the Nobel Committee.

It was the legacy of war and the search for peace-of-mind that played a major role in Magic Mountain , a novel begun by Thomas Mann prior to WWI, but not finished till nearly a decade later. “The conflict and its aftermath led the author to undertake a major re-examination of European bourgeois society, including the sources of the willful, perverse destructiveness displayed by much of civilized humanity. He was also drawn to speculate about more general questions surrounding personal attitudes to life, health, illness, sexuality and mortality.” This story of Magic Mountain takes place in the safe world of Switzerland as war-clouds try and call the main protagonist back to world insanity. The work is notable for the fact that it was simultaneously realism-oriented in its details while at the same time filled with symbolic (psychological) narrative and background.

By the time the Nazis took over Germany in the late 1930s, Thomas Mann and many of his Central European colleagues had had to flee their homelands. Only after WWII did a now rejuvenated Swedish Academy really proceed in moderate tempo to try and inculcate more and more diverse perspectives into its world literary prizes. First, however, in 1946 a bow was made to some of the pre-war Literary Greats who had been ignored by the conservative selection committees of the first 4 decades of the 21st century. In that particular year, Hermann Hesse—another German, who had moved to Switzerland ,--received the literary award for his classic (1927) Steppenwolf. The work was the result of a “personal crisis [which] found its magnificent expression in the fantastical novel. . . ., an inspired account of the split in human nature, the tension between desire and reason in an individual who is outside the social and moral notions of everyday life. In this bizarre fable of a man without a home, hunted like a wolf, plagued by neuroses, Hesse created an incomparable and explosive book, dangerous and fateful perhaps, but at the same time liberating by its mixture of sardonic humor and poetry in the treatment of the theme.”

Again, one must admit from the case of Hesse ’s, Mann’s and other laureate’s selections that the Nobel Prize committee is consistently not interested in one-hit wonder. Hesse had already written another classic in 1922, entitled Siddhartha. “ Hesse 's maternal grandfather was the famous Indologist Gundert. Thus even in his childhood the writer felt drawn to Indian wisdom. When as a mature man he travelled to the country of his desire he did not, indeed, solve the riddle of life; but the influence of Buddhism soon entered his thought, an influence by no means restricted to Siddhartha . . . the beautiful story of a young Brahman's search for the meaning of life on earth.” It has been charged that Hesse is an eclectic who chooses “influences from Buddha and St. Francis to Nietzsche and Dostoevsky” but does not really integrate them. However, throughout several other works, Hesse sincerity and his seriousness [in integrating Eastern and Western ideas] are the foundations of his work and remain in control even in his treatment of the most extravagant subjects.”

At the award ceremony in 1946, the Permanent Secretary at the Swedish Academy indicated his fondness for one of Herman Hesse’s more recent and creatively developed works, Magister Ludi (1943), “In a period of collapse it is a precious task to preserve the cultural tradition. But civilization cannot be permanently kept alive by turning it into a cult for the few. If it is possible to reduce the variety of knowledge to an abstract system of formulas, we have on the one hand proof that civilization rests on an organic system; on the other, this high knowledge cannot be considered permanent. It is as fragile and destructible as the glass pearls themselves, and the child that finds the glittering pearls in the rubble no longer knows their meaning.”

Many decades later, the world would continue to deal with the collapse of European centered colonialism, revolutions, and the destruction of cultures and traditional worlds as magical realism came to the fore. Under the destructive capacity’s of both WWI and WWII, the young Gabriel Garcia Marquez was coming of age as a writer. In 1967, Marquez would published his One Hundred Years of Solitude (Cien anos de Soledad ). In 1982, Marquez would receive the Nobel Prize in Literature for it and many related shorter works of magical realism, such as The Incredible and Sad Story of Enrindira and Her Soulless Grandmother (1972).

Interestingly, Marquez had been born in a small town in Colombia before going to work abroad to live, write, and work (especially in the film industry where he was also scene as a prolific scriptwriter) for most of adult life. Marquez’s imaginary tale of Macondo, set at the cross-roads of Nowhere-Latin-America telescopes more than 500 years of history into a few generations of family life and many reoccuring memories. Marquez had picked up where decades earlier,Thomas Mann had been delving into, i.e. a place where symbolism and realism meet. Like Mann, Marquez was interested in “general questions surrounding personal attitudes to life, health, illness, sexuality and mortality.”

As well, similar to Hesse , Marquez also dealt specifically with the fragility of tradition and cultural knowledge. To this dialogue, Marquez’s and Sartre’s (1964) generation of global authors were adding specific concerns about man’s ability to remember, comprehend knowledge, and forget important concepts over time. Finally, Marquez has added a very Latin American sort-of-narration, i.e. one with a great sense of humor and irony mixed with shopping lists of tall-tales and magical realism.

In short, as the Cold War came to a close in the early 1980s, radical breaks with the past were being promoted throughout the literary world and what had once been avante gard in cinema and literature were now at the center of the Nobel Prize selection committees efforts. Angel Flores explains, “magical realism involves the fusion of the real and the fantastic, or as he claims, ‘an amalgamation of realism and fantasy’. The presence of the supernatural in magical realism is often connected to the primeval or ‘magical’ Indian mentality, which exists in conjunction with European rationality.”

Naturally, the Indian mentality mentioned here by Flores was intended to refer to “Native American” peoples, but in the modern awarding of Nobel Prize, the literary committee’s nominations and selections have made it clear that Indians of South Asia and other Asians and even Africans also have and deserve voice and articulation world-wide. This is just as Marquez called for the committee to do in his own acceptance speech in 1982.

Marquez had called for Europeans to stop seeing Latin America as a land of illegitimate cousins and had asked for greater global integration of the arts.


“The term ‘magical realism’ was first introduced by Franz Roh, a German art critic, who considered magical realism an art category. To him, it was a way of representing and responding to reality and pictorially depicting the enigmas of reality. In Latin America in the 1940s, magical realism was a way to express the realistic American mentality and create an autonomous style of literature.” However, observing the supernatural stories of Edgar Allen Poe in the mid- 19th Century, for example, one recognizes that the mode or genre is not truly new. However, the humor and well-developed-hybridism of the New World cultures enabled a native flavor to dominate in Latin American modern and post-colonial literature to an ever greater degree over the last six decades.

This world of magical realism, fully supported in the 1980s and 1990s by the Nobel selection choices, is not a world without terror as wars have remained with us all through this current age. However, terror is attacked by time and irony by author with a thoughtful reader encouraged to play along with the multi-layered narrations in such fiction. As Lindsay Moore has noted, in magical realism, “the idea of terror [in society and culture] overwhelms the possibility of rejuvenation in magical realism.” Moore adds that “prominent authoritarian figures, such as soldiers, police, and sadists all have the power to torture and kill. Time is another conspicuous theme, which is frequently displayed as cyclical instead of linear. What happens once is destined to happen again. Characters rarely, if ever, realize the promise of a better life. As a result, irony and paradox stay rooted in recurring social and political aspirations.”

Especially in Latin American literature, the role of carnivals, dances or balls are portrayed with a special mission to the literary community. This is why one “particularly complex theme in magical realism is the carnivalesque.” According to Moore , “The carnivalesque [in magical realism] is carnival’s reflection in literature.” She adds that the “concept of carnival celebrates the body, the senses, and the relations between humans. ‘Carnival’ refers to cultural manifestations that take place in different related forms in North and South America, Europe, and the Caribbean , often including particular language and dress, as well as the presence of a madman, fool, or clown. In addition, people organize and participate in dance, music, or theater. Latin American magical realists, for instance, explore the bright life-affirming side of the carnivalesque. The reality of revolution, and continual political upheaval in certain parts of the world, also relates to magical realism.”


So, starting with William Faulkner’s selection in 1949, the idea of time, carnival and decades of family history have been paraded before Nobel Literary audiences. In Faulkner, who focused on the decline and disintegration in the South, we observe a similar “[t]heme and technique - the distortion of time through the use of the inner monologue are fused particularly successfully in The Sound and the Fury (1929), the downfall of the Compson family seen through the minds of several characters. The novel Sanctuary (1931) is about the degeneration of Temple Drake , a young girl from a distinguished southern family.”

A generation later, one African American author, Toni Morrison began to write and her mode of tale-telling often clearly can be labeled as a North American form of magical realism, with works like Sula, The Bluest Eye, and Beloved, a ghost story, to her name. In her 1993 Nobel Prize Lecture, Morrison gave the audience one perspective on her narration-style by talking about a clairvoyant old women-- much like the matriarch Ursula in the house of the Buendia household of Macondo as told in Marquez’s award-winning novel of over a decade earlier.

Morrison begins her award winning speech by noting, “"Once upon a time there was an old woman. Blind. Wise."

Morrison interjected into her own narration to the Nobel audience the warning that this tale was simply her own version of a retold tale: “In the version I know the woman is the daughter of slaves, black, American, and lives alone in a small house outside of town. Her reputation for wisdom is without peer and without question. Among her people she is both the law and its transgression. The honor she is paid and the awe in which she is held reach beyond her neighborhood to places far away; to the city where the intelligence of rural prophets is the source of much amusement.One day the woman is visited by some young people who seem to be bent on disproving her clairvoyance and showing her up for the fraud they believe she is. Their plan is simple: they enter her house and ask the one question the answer to which rides solely on her difference from them, a difference they regard as a profound disability: her blindness. They stand before her, and one of them says, ‘Old woman, I hold in my hand a bird. Tell me whether it is living or dead.’”

Morrison continued “She [the old women] does not answer, and the question is repeated. ‘Is the bird I am holding living or dead?’ Still she doesn't answer. She is blind and cannot see her visitors, let alone what is in their hands. She does not know their color, gender or homeland. She only knows their motive. The old woman's silence is so long, the young people have trouble holding their laughter. Finally she speaks and her voice is soft but stern. ‘I don't know’, she says. ‘I don't know whether the bird you are holding is dead or alive, but what I do know is that it is in your hands. It is in your hands.’”

In short, there may be a repetition as such in any tale we tell or retell using our own memory and narrative skills. This is true whether we read ghost stories or of supernatural events in the Japanese Yasunari Kawabata’s (1968) Thousand Cranes, Colombian Marquez’s Solitude (1982), Egyptian Naguib Mahfouz’s (1988) many short stories , or the North American Morrison (1993) in her Beloved, we are hearing different ghost stories framed in different ways, but the magical imagery of fiction meeting realistic narration is ever-present.

What we as the audience do with the story from this point in our memories, e.g. our retelling or reframing of these tales, is up to us. In this way, the tale is all in our hands, as Toni Morrison told her audience.

By reading and contemplating stories, the art of telling, the history of story telling, and how we soon have the possibility to rewrite or retell of our past, present, and our futures are options that the not only these great authors provide us. We as individuals are invited to participate in the great contests of narration, like the Nobel Prize offers. What we do with our stories and our histories is the most important point, in terms of literary and historical developments. Such narrations offer all of us a chance to participate in enjoying in these vary developments in an ongoing way in the new millennium.

Will the rest of the 21st Century bring us only more war and terror or will it be an era filled with important and uplifting opportunities brought to us through authors and narrators of the arts seeking to reveal and celebrate the expanding interaction of man and memories--in the present and future? These are serious questions and starting with William Faulkner’s 1949 banquet speech at his awarding of the Nobel Prize for literature reminds us what the stakes are for our’s—and every generation.

Faulkner was speaking the very year it was confirmed that the USSR had successfully exploded hydrogen bomb and the Cold War armaments race was on. Faulkner somberly stated that day, “I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work - a life's work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand here where I am standing.”

Faulkner continued, “Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.”

Most importantly, he voiced his deepest faith in the coming generations, “He [the younger generation] must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed - love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands. Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man.”

Such is the choice of every generation—to fear or to grow. Does it wish to be a generation that has thrown up its hands to endless terrors or will it fight for a longer lasting peace and the promotion of art and the spirit of man as Alfred Nobel had hoped for in his establishment of this literary--and several other international prizes, promoting peaceful competitions of mind and spirit? Will the individual with his or her individual voice were along with those promoting human development worldwide (as a focus of man’s natural tendencies to compete) rather than to seek vengeance as too many generations have done in the past?


Among the most recent Nobel Prize for Literature (2009) awarding events, the recipient Herta Mueller spoke of reoccurring themes under both Soviet-occupied- and Ceausescu’s Romania. In her speech, the reoccurring theme was a handkerchief. Mueller spoke of the need to have a handkerchief for every crises. For her, a handkerchief was both a memory of lobe and a symbol of security. For her, the handkerchief symbolized a memory of love, a memory of caring, a memory for times of sickness, a memory for days of sorrow and sadness, as well as a memory of nostalgia and melancholy.

What memories is this generation going to create? Will it be a peace-waging or a revenge mongering culture and a community? The Nobel Prize has thus always sought to promote peace movements rather than writers who degrade man’s and nation’s paths over time.

Gao Xingjian spoke of this need to create free cultural space and where the voices for individuals (as well as voices for greater communities made up of individuals) can be promoted. From Xingjian’s 2000 acceptance speech, as first Chinese prize winner in literature, we find out what as author’s role in our present day continues to be. Xingjian noted at the beginning of this address, “I have no way of knowing whether it was fate that has pushed me onto this dais but as various lucky coincidences have created this opportunity I may as well call it fate. Putting aside discussion of the existence or non-existence of God, I would like to say that despite my being an atheist I have always shown reverence for the unknowable.”

In the very next paragraph of his speech, Xingjian made allusions to Sartre and many other Nobel Prize winners and authors dating back to the time of Alfred Nobel. Xinjian stated: “A person cannot be God, certainly not replace God, and rule the world as a Superman; he will only succeed in creating more chaos and make a greater mess of the world. In the century after Nietzsche man-made disasters left the blackest records in the history of humankind. Supermen of all types called leader of the people, head of the nation and commander of the race did not baulk at resorting to various violent means in perpetrating crimes that in no way resemble the ravings of a very egotistic philosopher. However, I do not wish to waste this talk on literature by saying too much about politics and history, what I want to do is to use this opportunity to speak as one writer in the voice of an individual.”

Xingjian concluded this introductory section of his speech by reminding listeners of the role of authors in all ages. Xingjian said with modesty, “A writer is an ordinary person, perhaps he is more sensitive but people who are highly sensitive are often more frail. A writer does not speak as the spokesperson of the people or as the embodiment of righteousness. His voice is inevitably weak but it is precisely this voice of the individual that is more authentic.” In turned he warned listeners to that speech, “What I want to say here is that literature can only be the voice of the individual and this has always been so. Once literature is contrived as the hymn of the nation, the flag of the race, the mouthpiece of a political party or the voice of a class or a group, it can be employed as a mighty and all-engulfing tool of propaganda. However, such literature loses what is inherent in literature, ceases to be literature, and becomes a substitute for power and profit.” This warning against either ultra-nationalism or any other ideology taking the place of the individual or individual writer is a core belief of the practice of awarding all Nobel prizes.

VII. LEARNING OUTCOMES: Realism and Symbolism and their Role in Nobel Prize Literature in terms of Peace Making and Human Development in the 20th and 21st Centuries

Upon successful completion of this project, students will be able to :

(A) Describe the historical background for the creation of the Nobel Prize, and specifically explain how the literature prize fits in with the overall goals of the competitive global contests as established by Alfred Nobel.
(B) Explain some of the developmental phases in 20th and 21st century world literature as revealed by the literature and authors selected by the Nobel committees in their 110 Year history.
(C) Compare and contrast two or more Nobel Prize winning authors and their Nobel lectures.
(D) Identify characteristics of functional and dysfunctional families and communities in the Nobel winning literature of at least one author.
(E) Discuss literature relating to diverse cultures and lifestyles, especially remaining cognizant of human variability.
(F) Demonstrate the ability to work well with a partner or partners in carrying out a presentation that compares and contrasts 2 or more authors and/or their literature.
(G) Recognize the relationship between magical realism and one other (or more) literary modes or themes, made popular in the last two centuries in world literature.


Internet web links noted below (in the NOTES section) and books by the following authors:

Boell, Heinrich, Billiards at Half-past Nine / translated by Patrick Bowles. – London : Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1961

Boell, Heinrich, Group Portrait with Lady / translated by Leila Vennewitz. – New York : McGraw-Hill, 1973

Faulkner, William The Sound and the Fury. – New York : Cape & Smith, 1929

Faulkner, William Absalom, Absalom! – New York : Random House, 1936

Fuentes, Carlos, The Death of Artemio Cruz (1962).

Grass, Guenther, The Tin Drum. Transl. by Ralph Manheim. – London : Secker & Warburg, 1962.

Grass, Guenther,Cat and Mouse. Transl. by Ralph Manheim. – San Diego : Harcourt Brace, 1963.

Grass, Guenther,Dog Years. Transl. by Ralph Manheim. – New York : Harcourt, Brace & World, 1965.

Golding, William, The Lord of the Flies, London : Faber, 1954

Hemingway, Ernest, The Old Man and the Sea – New York : Scribners, 1952

Hesse, Hermann Steppenwolf / Translated from the German by Basil Creighton. Rev. by Walter Sorell. – New York : Modern Library, 1963

Hesse, Hermann Siddhartha / translated by Hilde Rosner. – New York : New Directions, 1951.

Hesse, Hermann Magister Ludi / translated by Mervyn Savill. – New York : Holt, 1949.

Kawabata, Yasunari, Thousand Cranes / translated by Edward G. Seidensticker. – New York : Knopf, 1959

Kawabata, Yasunari, The Master of Go / translated by Edward G. Seidensticker. – New York : Knopf, 1972

Mahfouz, Naguib, Sugar Street / translated by William Maynard Hutchins and Angele Botros Samaan. – New York : Doubleday, 1992.

Mann, Thomas, The Magic Mountain . – 2 vol. – translated by H. T. Lowe-Porter. – New York : Knopf, 1927.

Mann, Thomas, Buddenbrooks : the Decline of a Family / translated by John E. Woods. – New York : Knopf, 1993

Marquez, Gabriel Garcia, One Hundred Years of Solitude / translated from the Spanish by Gregory Rabassa. – New York : Harper & Row, 1970

Marquez, Gabriel Garcia Love in the Time of Cholera / translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman. – New York : Knopf, 1988

Morrison, Toni, Beloved- New York: Knopf, 1987.

Morrison, Toni, The Bluest Eye. – New York : Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1970.

Pamuk, Orhan, My Name is Red / translated from the Turkish by Erdağ M. Göknar. – New York : Knopf, 2001 ; London : Faber & Faber, 2001. – Translation of Benim Adım Kırmızı

Pamuk, Orhan, Snow / translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely. – New York : Knopf, 2004 ; London : Faber & Faber, 2004. – Translation of Kar

Pamuk, Orhan, Istanbul : Memories and the City / translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely. – New York : Knopf, 2005 ; London : Faber & Faber, 2005. – Translation of İstanbul : Hatıralar Ve Şehir

Sartre,Jean-Paul, The Words / translated by Bernard Frechtman. – New York : Braziller, 1964


A short bibliography of additional resources and links for the teacher/student on Nobel, the prize, the essay above, and/or individual authors studied that could be used in the classroom.

Alfred Nobel Biography

Alfred Nobel Timeline

Another Forgotten Hero

Another Century Looking for Sartre

Bertha Suttner Biography


40 Years with Morrison’s Blue Eyes

Gao Xingjian Nobel Lecture

Gabriel Garcia Marquez Nobel Lecture

Herman Hesse Presentation Speech

Herta Mueller Nobel Lecture

Magic Mountain

Magical Realism

Naguib Mafouz Presentation Speech

Naguib Mafouz, The Supernatural

Nobel Biography

The Nobel Prize

The Nobel Prize in Literature

The Oddcouple: Alfred Nobel and Bertha Suttner

Poems of Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore Biography

Suicide, Art, Beauty, and Ceramics

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison Presentation Speech

Why the Words of Gabriele Garcia Marquez Need to Be Reader Better, especially by Europeans

William Faulkner Banquet Speech

William Faulkner Biography

Yasunari Kawabata Presentation Speech



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