Sunday, December 18, 2016

How Well Do You Know Your Literary Nobel Laureates? 10 Excerpts from Nobel Prize Acceptance Speeches

As I circulated amongst Dylan fans last weekend in his former hometown of Hibbing, the prevailing mood was that the selection of Bob Dylan for a Nobel Prize in Literature would generate a renewed interest in Dylan's significant body of work. In my case, however, there has also been a counter-current set in motion, a renewed interest in other prize-winners, especially recent authors with whom I've not yet been familiar.

As I explored the Nobel Prize website, especially the list of literary winners, it was gratifying to see how many of this writers I'd already become familiar with by having read some of their work. This week I enjoyed taking time to read many of their acceptance speeches or Nobel Lectures, and after a while found myself wishing to share a few. After further consideration I thought it might be fun to make a game of it.

Below I've listed ten quotes, excerpts from various Nobel Laureates in Literature. There is a list of names at the end, each one hot-linked to their respective acceptance speeches, or in two instances their Nobel lectures. 

Instructions: Take a sheet of paper and number it from one to ten. You can probably figure out what to do after that. The answers will be posted in a future blog post in the next day or two.


Pearl Buck
I wish, in this address, to consider certain trends, certain dangers, and certain high and exciting promises in present-day American literature. To discuss this with complete and unguarded frankness - and I should not insult you by being otherwise than completely honest, however indiscreet - it will be necessary for me to be a little impolite regarding certain institutions and persons of my own greatly beloved land.

Every man, and for stronger reasons, every artist, wants to be recognized. So do I. But I have not been able to learn of your decision without comparing its repercussions to what I really am. A man almost young, rich only in his doubts and with his work still in progress, accustomed to living in the solitude of work or in the retreats of friendship: how would he not feel a kind of panic at hearing the decree that transports him all of a sudden, alone and reduced to himself, to the centre of a glaring light?

All human activity is prompted by desire. There is a wholly fallacious theory advanced by some earnest moralists to the effect that it is possible to resist desire in the interests of duty and moral principle. I say this is fallacious, not because no man ever acts from a sense of duty, but because duty has no hold on him unless he desires to be dutiful. If you wish to know what men will do, you must know not only, or principally, their material circumstances, but rather the whole system of their desires with their relative strengths.

To profess my own unworthiness would be to cast doubt upon the wisdom of the Academy; to praise the Academy might suggest that I, as a literary critic, approved the recognition given to myself as a poet. May I therefore ask that it be taken for granted, that I experienced, on learning of this award to myself, all the normal emotions of exaltation and vanity that any human being might be expected to feel at such a moment, with enjoyment of the flattery, and exasperation at the inconvenience, of being turned overnight into a public figure?

Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer's loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day... For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed.

Andre Gide
It seems to me, gentlemen, that your votes were cast not so much for my work as for the independent spirit that animates it, that spirit which in our time faces attacks from all possible quarters. That you have recognized it in me, that you have felt the need to approve and support it, fills me with confidence and an intimate satisfaction.

I accept, too, for my country, the United States of America. We are a people still young and we know that we have not yet come to the fullest of our powers. This award, given to an American, strengthens not only one, but the whole body of American writers, who are encouraged and heartened by such generous recognition.

Since Alfred Nobel died in 1896 we have entered an age of storm and tragedy. The power of man has grown in every sphere except over himself. Never in the field of action have events seemed so harshly to dwarf personalities. Rarely in history have brutal facts so dominated thought or has such a widespread, individual virtue found so dim a collective focus. The fearful question confronts us; have our problems got beyond our control?

Albert Camus
It seemed as if the ancient world lay all about us with its freedom of imagination, its delight in good stories, in man's force and woman's beauty, and that all we had to do was to make the town think as the country felt; yet we soon discovered that the town could only think town thought... In the town, where everybody crowds upon you, it is your neighbor not yourself that you hate and, if you are not to embitter his life and your own life, perhaps even if you are not to murder him in some kind of revolutionary frenzy, somebody must teach reality and justice. You will hate that teacher for a while, calling his books and plays ugly, misdirected, morbid or something of that kind, but you must agree with him in the end.

My health has always been delicate, and I have been left a permanent invalid by the afflictions of the years since 1933 that have destroyed my life's work and have again and again burdened me with heavy duties. But my mind has not been broken, and I feel akin to you and to the idea that inspired the Nobel Foundation, the idea that the mind is international and supra-national, that it ought to serve not war and annihilation, but peace and reconciliation.

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I enjoy making games and quizzes. In fact, my first published article for which I was paid was titled, "Make A Game Of It." ($20, before taxes.)

During our annual Duluth Dylan Fest I also assemble the Dylan Trivia Contest that opens the week at Carmody's each year.


W.B. Yeats -- Bertrand Russell -- Pearl S. Buck -- Herman Hesse 

Sinclair Lewis -- T.S. Elliot -- Albert Camus

Sir Winston Churchill -- Ernest Hemingway --  Andre Gide

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Was it entertaining? What did you learn? 

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