Coffee House

The politics of the Nobel Prize for literature

11 October 2012

The Nobel committee have delivered their verdict on the literature prize: Mo Yan is new laureate. Over at the books blog, I explain why this is an important decision politically. Yan is the first Chinese citizen to win the award, a reminder that the country’s culture influence is growing together with its political and economic power. In that sense, the award has recognised that we are living in a new age.

Yan’s books have been banned from time-to-time by the Chinese authorities, but he is accused by many of being too close to the party line. Several human rights activists are appalled that he has won the prize. However, others say that he is subtly subversive in a society that limits freedom of expression, which brings to mind books like The Master and Margarita. Yan argues that censorship aids creativity by forcing the writer to explore his imagination in order to recast reality. This view is unlikely to endear him to free speech purists or indeed more openly dissident writers, but it is plausible.

The Nobel committee’s decision has prompted old questions about what political stances it has and has not adopted in the past. These questions are already in the minds of many given the recent publication of Salman Rushdie’s fatwa memoir, Joseph Anton. The Nobel organisers were reputed to have said in 1997 that a Rushdie victory would be ‘too predictable, too popular’. 15 years later, we’re still waiting for this predictable outcome.

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  • Fergus Pickering

    Of course the Nobel Literature Prize is political. Just look at who has it.And who hasn’t. Philip Larkin, the finest poet in the English language since the war, (all right then, who?) didn’t get it because he was from the wrong country and had the wrong politics. Have you ever heard of this fellow? Have you ever heard of half/most of the recipients in the last twenty years. Of course you haven’t unless you are a journalist. And if you are a journalist have you READ…? Will you read….? Thought not.

    • Dimoto

      Hmmm, right.
      So the Nobel prize for Literature can only be awarded to a writer who is familiar to the assorted trolls, ranters, xenophobes, and freaks who contribute to the Coffee House ?
      Interesting concept.

  • Curnonsky

    China’s cultural influence is growing? Here is an area where their influence is almost non-existent and likely to stay that way under the current klepto-Communist regime. This is just another example of right-minded Swedes cheering on the rise of the new, non-Western powers and the demise of the old order (but it still won’t save Malmo from sharia).

  • anyfool

    The Peace Prize awarded to a man because he was black and now a Literature Prize awarded to a man because he once said boo to the Chinese leadership who then shouted boo back, so he spends his time between writing approved trash and licking the ass of said Leadership.
    I notice Mr Blackburn did not comment on the literary merits of the book.

  • rb2

    the economics prize isn’t a real Nobel Prize, it wasn’t founded or endowed by Nobel and is officially called the Swedish National Bank Memorial Prize…

    • HooksLaw

      Good point but I think its officially, ‘Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel’ .
      A typical economic compromise.

  • ToryOAP

    I stopped taking the Nobel committee seriously when they gave Obama the Peace prize for what he was going to do. I doubt they thought he would bomb Libya, use drones to carpet bomb areas of Pakistan and assassinate Osama – all actions I agree with BTW. I really can’t see the point of the Nobels anymore except for Physics. The Economists who are Nobel Laureates are almost, to a man, beyong parody, the Peace Prize has gone to some very odd fellows and as for literature…..

    • mongoose

      Tell us which of the economists are “beyond parody”.

      • HooksLaw

        Any economists who predicted the outcome of the Communities Reinvestment Act (as amended by Clinton) deserve a medal of some kind.

      • ToryOAP

        Well Paul Krugman would be a good example but also all of the others who failed to raise the alarm when Europe and the US continued on the path of Mass Economic Destruction by borrowing to fund unsustainable welfare payments and excessive government spending.

    • dalai guevara

      Gore did not bother you?

    • ToryOAP

      And you couldn’t make this one up. It is being announced that the EU will be awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Words fail me.

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