Why didn’t my favorite writer win a Nobel Prize in Literature?

This is what everyone seems to be wondering today. Why Mario Vargas Llosa and not Joyce Carol Oates? Why didn’t Nabokov ever get one? What about Flannery O’Connor or Salman Rushdie or Phillip Roth?

Please check this page before you register your own complaint.

Note that Alfred Nobel specified in his famous will that he leaves “one part to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work of an idealistic tendency…”

Work of an idealistic tendency. Meaning work that deals with politics, with social issues, with matters of conscience.

This is why Mario Vargas Llosa and Jose Saramago and Orhan Pamuk and Herta Muller qualify for the Nobel Prize, but Vladimir Nabokov, Flannery O’Connor, Salman Rushdie and Philip Roth sadly do not.

It’s hard to combine politics with art. You have to strike a very fine balance between the two. If you veer too much in either direction, you fail at both jobs at once.

A good example of this would be Tolstoy. Later in his career when he became very idealistic, his writing suffered a great deal. “Resurrection,” his most idealistic novel, is so filled with social commentary that the plot and the characters sink beneath the weight of it all, making the novel virtually unreadable to all but the most dedicated Tolstoy fans.

That’s one reason why Tolstoy never won the Nobel Prize. “Anna Karenina” is outstanding work, but it’s not idealistic. “Resurrection” qualifies as idealistic, but it’s not an outstanding piece of work at all.

It’s very difficult to combine art with a social conscience. Tolstoy found it so difficult that he issued a manifesto against all art. Shakespeare, Beethoven, his own earlier works, all of it.

Indeed, if Tolstoy had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, given his political beliefs in anarchism and his open disdain toward any form of organized authority, it is highly likely that he would have turned it down, and made such a huge public display of turning it down that those on the Nobel Committee who voted for him would have come to regret their decision deeply.

The Nobel Prize in Literature is reserved for writers who have managed to fight the battle between art and morality and win that battle by producing works of literature that are both outstanding achievements in art and also outstanding achievements in social conscience.

That’s a very difficult job and writers who manage to pull that off deserve to be singled out and honored in their own category apart from other great writers.

That’s what Alfred Nobel decided when he wrote his will and established the Nobel Prize in the first place.

One Response to “Why didn’t my favorite writer win a Nobel Prize in Literature?”

  1. Sean says:

    Well, I’ve been reading a book, “Special Relativity from Einstein to Strings”, and maybe it isn’t an artistic achievement, but it certainly is a well written book with an “idealistic tendancy” of its own. Thanks for the great work!