Paris, Oct. 11: Mystery surrounded the resignation of a member of the Nobel Academy today, 48 hours before the prize for literature is due to be awarded, amid speculation of a split over whether to honour a dissident Turkish writer.
Knut Ahnlund said he had resigned in protest against the award last year to the little-known Elfriede Jelinek, of Austria, whose work he described as “violent pornography”. Ahnlund, 82, did not explain why he had waited almost a year before lodging his protest, increasing talk of a rift among members over the award for this year.
The announcement of this year’s literary honours had been delayed for a week after the academy was reported to have disagreed on whether to anoint Orhan Pamuk, 53, who has upset authorities in his country by campaigning for official recognition that Turkey had carried out genocide against the Armenians after the First World War.
He has been charged with “public denigration of the Turkish identity”, and a prize for him would be certain to anger Turkey.
Ahnlund wrote in the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper that Jelinek’s work was “a mass of text that appears shovelled together without trace of artistic structure”. The 2004 prize, he said, “has not only caused irreparable damage to all progressive forces, it has [also] confused the general view of literature as art. After this I cannot even formally remain in the Swedish Academy.”
Jelinek is known to the Right-wing Austrian media and political parties as “the red pornographer”. The conservative US Weekly Standard said the academy had given the prize to “an unknown, undistinguished, leftist fanatic”.
In making last year’s decision, the academy cited the “musical flow of voices and counter-voices” in her writing, which draws heavily on sexuality and violence.
The Nobel Academy will announce this year’s winner on Thursday. In addition to Pamuk, other writers tipped for the $1.3-million prize include Philip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates of the US, Margaret Atwood of Canada, and Nuruddin Farah of Somalia.
Some Swedish insiders believe that the academy may award the
prize to a non-fiction writer. Two British precedents for this exist: Winston Churchill, in 1953, and Bertrand Russell, in 1950.
Horace Engdahl, permanent secretary of the academy, played down Ahnlund’s resignation, saying that he had not taken part in the academy’s work since 1996.
The debate over the 2004 award has been in keeping with the disputes that have often erupted around the sometimes quirky and politically correct choices of the academy, whose 18 members are appointed for life.
Ahnlund’s withdrawal reduces the active membership to 15. Two other members, Kerstin Ekman and Lars Gyllensten, left in 1989 in protest against the academy's failure to express support for Salman Rushdie after the fatwa against him by the Ayatollah
Ruhollah Khomeini, the late Iranian leader.
The academy, which has been awarding the prize since 1901, has often honoured mainstream authors such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Rudyard Kipling. It has also courted disfavour with governments by elevating anti-establishment writers, and perplexity by anointing figures little known in their own countries.
Boris Pasternak, the author of Dr Zhivago, was forced by the Kremlin in 1959 to reject the prize, which it deemed to have been motivated by anti-Soviet intentions.
Engdahl said that criticism of the academy came largely from the English-speaking publishing world. “A French or a German reader, or writer or critic, is more likely to have access to the great dialogue of literatures that Goethe called
Weltliteratur (world literature)," he said.
THE TIMES, LONDON