The Patron's Post
Patrons of the Pollak Library
California State University Fullerton
Prize and Prejudice
by Albert R. Vogele
Pontoppidan? Echegaray? Gjellerup? Sillanpaa? Perse? Who are these people? Try these: Eucken, Reymont, Andric, Jelinek, Fo. And these: Carducci, Oi, Elytis, Deledda, Spitteler. All fifteen of these obscure writers are winners of the most prestigious award in literature, the Nobel Prize. Now consider this list: Leo Tolstoy, Henry James, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf, Joseph Conrad. And these names: Anton Chekhov, D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov, Arthur Miller. And these: Rebecca West, W.H.Auden, Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg, Aldous Huxley. Not one of these fifteen renowned authors received the prize. What is happening behind the tightly-closed doors of the Swedish Academy?
Virtually everyone familiar with the Nobel Prize in literature has been perplexed by many of the awards, dismayed by many of the non-awards, and frustrated by the impossibility of finding out how the decisions were made. But if we look more closely at the list of winners and dates of awards, bringing to the task a familiarity with cultural currents of the last hundred years, some explanations can be inferred, suggestive patterns discerned, and ironies and oddities revealed. There is no better vantage point than the Nobel Prize from which to observe the high politics of the literary marketplace.
When Alfred Nobel drew up his will in 1895, he defined on one sheet of paper five subjects for prizes he wished to see awarded from the fund based on his vast fortune in explosives manufacturing. A chemist himself, he listed three sciences, chemistry, physics, and biology, together with literature and works in behalf of peace. The prizes were inaugurated in 1901, five years after his death, and his hand-written charter, in all its brevity and arbitrariness, remained holy writ. Mechanisms for awarding the literature prize have survived more or less unchanged for a century. The first half of every year the Nobel Committee of the Swedish Academy receives nominations, hears expert advice on their merits, and debates the issues. Its chairman submits a report of its recommendation, written during the summer, to the Academy, which usually accepts it; the award is announced in October, and the presentation ceremonies in Stockholm occur in December.
Embedded in this neat scenario, innumerable disputes, bargains, compromises, standoffs, postponements, and unforeseen complications have arisen. Dozens of nominations pour in every year, multiple (chiefly professorial) experts weigh in, and fractious factions form alliances. Occasionally the Academy has rejected the Committee’s recommendation. A sanitized report of the deliberations is issued, but a closed door policy frustrates further inquiry while fomenting unconfirmable rumors.
Nobel explicitly wanted to recognize living authors of outstanding works of an “idealistic tendency.” His predeliction for “idealism,” understandable in its time, was vague enough to generate endless debate, but still absolute enough to exclude many notable authors of realistic, pessimistic, radically inventive or experimental work. Slowly relaxed but still invoked, this stricture seems to have disqualified dangerous authors in favor of safe ones.
In 1903, for example, Bjornstjerne Bjornson won, but not Henrick Ibsen or Emile Zola; in 1906, Giosue Carducci, but not Mark Twain or Leo Tolstoy; in 1910, Paul Heyse, but not Thomas Hardy or August Strindberg; in 1919, Karl Spitteler, but not Joseph Conrad or Franz Kafka; in 1926, Grazia Deledda, but not D. H. Lawrence or Arnold Bennett; in 1931, Erik Karlfelt, but not Edith Wharton or John Masefield; in 1939, Frans Silanpaa, but not James Joyce or Virginia Woolf; in 1956, Juan Jiminez, but not Somerset Maugham or Aldous Huxley; in 1966, Nelly Sachs, but not Simone de Beauvoir or W. H. Auden; in 1974, Harry Martinson, but not Vladimir Nabokov or Rebecca West; in 1984, Jaroslav Seifert, but not Graham Greene or Arthur Miller; in 2004, Elfriede Jelinek, but not Salman Rushdie or Tom Stoppard. Are such decisions merely repeated lapses of judgment?
It is obvious that many seemingly safer authors have also failed to make the cut, Henry James, H. G. Wells, E. M. Forster, George Santayana, Robert Graves, C. P. Snow, George Meredith, Robert Lowell, Robert Frost, and Jorg Luis Borges among them. Here, personal and political issues--sexual habits, unconventional behavior, alcoholism, leftist leanings--may have contaminated the Committee’s judgment—who can know?--when presumably they should only have been reading texts. Or some of these writers may simply have had no adequate champion on the Committee and were overwhelmed by the claque of another candidate. Repeated failed nominations of a writer seem to reflect long-lasting bias. and personal dislike. The official reports of the Committee’s deliberations suggest entrenched factionalism even as they muffle the discord.
Nobel had specified, without realizing the consequences, that the Prize should be awarded each year for an author’s work “published during the preceding year.” Literally interpreted, that would have made the award system impossible, since no work more than a year old would qualify, and all the nominees would be competing every year with a new work. The one-year limit was quickly abandoned, though occasionally a single work was identified as the basis of the award. But in the long run, an author’s life work, or greatest works, were take into account . This left, and still leaves, unanswered the question of whether weak or inappropriate works by an otherwise highly qualified author are implicitly being endorsed by the award. The Committee has wisely chosen not to pursue this issue.
Nor has Nobel’s failure to define what should be considered “literature” inordinately vexed the Committee. Poetry, novels, drama, and short stories are the obvious categories. But do history or philosophy qualify, if written with grace and power? Apprently, yes, since the Prize was awarded to two very different historians, Theodor Mommsen (1902) and Winston Churchill (1953), and to two totally dissimilar philosophers, Bertrand Russell (1950) and Jean-Paul Sartre (1964)—the only person to decline the Prize.
The Nobel Committee’s effort to avoid public controversy in a politically polarized world is suggested by its awards during and after the First World War. From 1916 through1920, only writers from neutral countries—Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Switzerland—won the prize. French, German, and British authors reappeared thereafter, along with others, until the Second World War. Then, as happened in 1918, no prizes at all were awarded from 1940 through 1943, and the next two were awarded to Denmark and Chile, followed by the post-war return of Britain, France, and the United States as leading winners.
By precluding posthumous prizes and awarding only one per year, the Nobel Committee made an author’s birth date and longevity important factors in the contest. Early losers like Ibsen, Zola, and Chekhov had very little time to get into the race—that is, to be nominated--and it was a crowded starting gate. For the next cadre passed over--Tolstoy, Twain, Strindberg, and James--this situation was less pressing. But longevity as such will always be an issue. Had Kafka lived another decade or two, he would have come to the Committee’s attention. Had George Orwell not died within months of the publication of his masterwork, 1984, he would have been a contender. Paul Valery and Franz Werfel missed probable awards by a year or two. Virginia Woolf might have been seriously considered had she survived into the 1950s. But D. H. Lawrence would probably have remained indefinitely beyond the pale.
The absence of a significant popular readership was no impediment to Nobel Prizes for Saint-John Perse, Wislawa Szymborska, Salvatore Quasimodo, Karl Gjellerup, Odysseas Elytis, Eugenio Montale, and Juan Jiminez. Indeed, the movers and shakers of Western literature complained over the years that hardly anyone had ever heard of these poets, and the Nobels in Literature acquired a reputation for lapses into elitism and obscurantism. But too much popular success is thought to have undermined the candidacies of Arnold Bennett, H. G. Wells, and perhaps C. P. Snow. Curiously, the immense celebrity of John Galsworthy was not held against him, nor was that of Pearl Buck, Shaw, Hemingway, Steinbeck, or Solzhenitsyn.
It was obvious from the beginning that the Nobel Prizes in Literature would go primarily to writers in the major European languages, since these alone were familiar to the Western reading public and to the Nobel Committee. (A Scandinavian bias was also predictable.) Experts in, and translations from, other languages gradually became available. The first breakthrough into “world” literature came with the Bengali poet
Rabindranath Tagore in 1913, but it would be another fifty-three years before another non-European writer would win the award, the Hebrew poet Shmuel Agnon. Since then, two Japanese and one Chinese, one Arabic, and one Turkish author have received the award. It is not clear whether Alfred Nobel envisaged such a world-wide community of literature; nor can we know what he might have thought of the fact that so far ten of the hundred Prize winners have been women.Each October brings a surprise from Stockholm: justice at last? or another misjudgment? Nobel knew that time alone will tell.
BOOK SALE CENTER REPORT
By June Pollak
With the start of the academic year, the Patrons and Emeriti Book Sale Center has reopened, fully restocked. We sell used books, both from donations and excess volumes from the CSUF Library. Our very low prices of $1, $2, or $3 per book are set to help the CSUF students and others purchase books which are usually extremely expensive. All proceeds from sales are designated to purchase books for the Library, vitally important in this era of slashed state budgets.
Our regular hours are 11 to 3 on Tuesdays, 11 to 7 on Wednesdays, and 1 to 5 on Thursdays. Please visit us regularly. We’ll be open throughout the fall and spring terms, but not during intersession or summer.
As always, we need your donations to keep the shelves stocked in L 199. Please call Lorraine Seelig at 714-278-2182 to make arrangements. If you are interested in joining the Patrons and Emeriti volunteers working in the Book Sale Center, please call June Pollak at 949-661-0463.
By Nancy Holmes
Welcome to the more than 100 individuals who became new members of the Patrons in 2007/2008. This group consists primarily of Alumni (36%) and Basic (56%) members. Our membership continues to grow steadily. The most significant increase of 25% was in 2006/07 with the initiation of the Alumni category. This year, the increase was close to 10% for a total of 242 members. Of this, 80 are Life members, 44 Alumni, 100 Basic, 1 Benefactor, 5 Enhanced, 3 Family, 4 Faculty/Staff, and 5 Students.
The Patrons of the Library provide significant enhancements for the Pollak Library via purchases, digital cataloging of the Roy V. Boswell Collection for the history of cartography and other support services. Membership in the Patrons offers borrowing privileges and various discounts at Titan shops and CSUF performing arts and athletic events. There are stimulating lectures and activities sponsored by the Patrons as well as the Student Book Collection contest.
Please share information about our valuable organization with friends, family and colleagues. Invite them to join us at a lecture or consider a Patrons gift membership or Lecture Series tickets.
Our website provides a wealth of information regarding the Patrons. It includes membership applications and a calendar of events and activities. The site can be accessed from the Library web site: www.library.fullerton.edu, under Information, Patrons of the Library. Should you need additional information, please feel free to contact me via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone 714.738.5590.
MEET OUR NEWEST BOARD MEMBER: JOANNE GASS
By Joyce Mason
Chair of Nominating Committee
Voted in June to serve on the Patrons’ Board of Directors, faculty member Joanne Gass already has strong ties to the university. She earned both her B.A. and her M.A. degrees in Comparative Literature at CSUF, then moving on to the University of California, Irvine, where she received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature with a specialization in the contemporary novel, especially the Latin American, American, and English novel. Her dissertation focused upon the relationship between history, fiction, and love in the works of John Barth, Carlos Fuentes, and Angela Carter.
Dr. Gass’s publications include articles on Angela Carter and
Virginia Woolf, Jamaica Kincaid, Helena Parente Cunha, Don DeLillo and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Carlos Fuentes, Manuel Puig, and Joseph Conrad. Currently, Dr. Gass teaches courses at CSUF in World Literature, American Literature, and the Contemporary Novel in English.
Joanne brings energy and enthusiasm to her position on the Patrons’ Board, and Board members look forward to working with her.
Since its founding over 40 years ago, the Patrons has focused on enhancing the Pollak Library in numerous ways. These range from purchases to augment library holdings to supporting services such as photocopying. Further, the Patrons sponsors endeavors and activities that include the digital cataloging of the Roy V. Boswell Collection for the history of cartography, field trips to libraries and other cultural venues, lectures by writers and other artists, the Book Sale Center offering used books and periodicals at low prices, a well attended book discussion group and the student book collection contest, which was established this year.
Membership in the Patrons aids this wide range of support for the library. It also accords borrowing privileges at the library plus discounts at Titan shops, campus eateries and CSUF performing arts and athletic events.
In the past five academic years, the Patrons Annual membership has increased from 116 to 171 and the Life member number from 76 to 80 for a total membership rise from 192 to 251, over 30%. This year, the total membership has grown by 12% and now includes 47 Alumni, 107 Basic, 1 Benefactor, 5 Enhanced, 3 Family, 3 Faculty and Staff, 5 student and 80 Life members. An expansion of membership categories initiated several years ago, coupled with a reduction in the cost of a Life membership, has been significant factors in this membership increase.
We hope that you maintain your membership in this valuable organization and participate in its wealth of activities. Should you need additional information, please feel free to contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone 714-738-5590 or visit our website for additional information, membership applications and a calendar of our events and activities. The site can be accessed from the Library web site: www.library.fullerton.edu, under Information, Patrons of the Library.
By Howard Seller and Lis Leyson
Special activities for members of the Patrons will begin with a field trip to the International Printing Museum in Carson on Saturday, November 15, 2008. Directions to the Museum (since transportation will be by carpool) and specific information about the cost and time of the Museum tour will be available in the near future.
Our 2009 lecture series, “Sundays in the Library,” will begin on Sunday, January 25 at 2:00 P.M. Ron Carlson, a prominent writer and director of the Master of Fine Arts Creative Writing Program at the University of California, Irvine, will be our first speaker. He has authored nine books, including Five Skies (2007), which was selected as the Editors’ Choice by The New York Times. Mr. Carlson’s short stories have appeared in Harpers, Esquire, and The New Yorker and have been included in The Best American Short Stories and The O.Henry Prize Stories. His short story “Keith” was recently made into a film to be released in 2008. One of his recent books, Ron Carlson Writes a Story (2007), focuses on the craft and process of writing.
Our second speaker, on February 22, will be Professor Jackson Putnam, who taught for many years in the Department of History at CSUF. He has written numerous articles that often focus on California and completed three books on politics and major political figures in California. His books are Old Age Politics in California: From Richardson to Reagan (1970), Modern California Politics, 1917-1980 (1980), and his most recent book, published in 2005, Jess: The Political Career of Jesse Marvin Unruh. Professor Putnam will speak about Jesse Unruh, Governor Ronald Reagan, who was the subject of his last article (2006), and his current research to explore some of today’s dilemmas in California politics.
On March 29, our final speaker will be Professor Raphael Sonenshein, who teaches in the Division of Politics, Administration, and Justice at CSUF and will begin a term as chair of the Division in 2009. He has written and commented extensively about political and social issues, especially in connection with Los Angeles. His two books, Politics in Black and White: Race and Power in Los Angeles (1994) and The City at Stake: Secession, Reform, and the Battle for Los Angeles (2004), were both published by Princeton University Press. Professor Sonenshein has been a frequent guest on radio and television, including The News Hour, and his op-ed pieces have often appeared in the Los Angeles Times. He is spending the fall 2008 semester as a visiting professor at a university in Paris. He will speak on a topic of political interest.
We hope you will join us for all of these activities.
California Map Society
2009 Southern California Meeting
CSUF and the Pollak Library will host the Southern California meeting of the California Map Society on Saturday, January 31, 2009. The digitized Roy V. Boswell Collection for the History of Cartography will debut in the opening presentation.
Details about past meeting programs can be found at the CMS website: http://www.californiamapsociety.org/. Additional information about the January meeting will be posted in the near future, along with registration information. We expect the presentations to be as diverse as the presenters’ backgrounds. Cartography professionals and scholars may be represented, but so also will be map enthusiast with expertise in a variety of academic disciplines, professions, and businesses.