But it does! The Nobel Prize in Literature 1964 was awarded to Jean-Paul Sartre "for his work which, rich in ideas and filled with the spirit of freedom and the quest for truth, has exerted a far-reaching influence on our age." All of which makes one wonder what his compatriot, Patrick Modiano, the 15th Frenchman to win the Nobel for literature earlier this month, did with his 8m kronor (about £700,000). Check. When we read, in his novel Nausea, of the protagonost Antoine Roquentin in Bouville’s art gallery, looking at pictures of self-satisfied local worthies, we can apply his fury at their subjects’ self-entitlement to today’s images of the powers that be (the suppressed photo, for example, of Cameron and his cronies in Bullingdon pomp), and share his disgust that such men know nothing of what the world is really like in all its absurd contingency. Plus, one might say 50 years on, ça change. In 1947’s What is Literature?, he jettisoned a sacred notion of literature as capable of replacing outmoded religious beliefs in favour of the view that it should have a committed social function. All the honors he may receive expose his readers to a pressure I do not consider desirable. Apparently, Sartre forgot what he wrote a few paragraphs earlier, namely:  “A writer who adopts political, social, or literary positions must act only with the means that are his own—that is, the written word. However the Nobel committee does not acknowledge refusals, and includes Pasternak and Sartre in its list of Nobel laureates. True, when we read such sentences as “the being by which Nothingness comes to the world must be its own Nothingness”, we might want to retreat to a dark room for a good cry, but let’s not spoil the story. Check) and in which scarcely anyone has the couilles, as they say in France, to politely tell judges where they can put their prize, how lovely to recall what happened on 22 October 1964, when Jean-Paul Sartre turned down the Nobel prize for literature. Only one other man in history rejected the prize in this manner – the Vietnamese Le Duc Tho in 1973. When we read the “Bad Faith” section of Being and Nothingness, it is hard not to be struck by the image of the waiter who is too ingratiating and mannered in his gestures, and how that image pertains to the dismal drama of inauthentic self-performance that we find in our culture today. Apparently, Sartre forgot what he wrote a few paragraphs earlier, namely:  “A writer who adopts political, social, or literary positions, LSE, Lakatos, and disappearing biographies. If I sign myself Jean-Paul Sartre it is not the same thing as if I sign myself Jean-Paul Sartre, Nobel Prizewinner. Learn more about Sartre’s life, works, and philosophy in this article. ( Log Out /  Jean-Paul Sartre declined the Nobel Prize. Finally, Sartre stressed that the Nobel Prize doesn't treat writers of all ideologies and nations equally, since it prefers Western models. Change ), You are commenting using your Google account. Finally, Sartre stressed that the Nobel Prize doesn’t treat writers of all ideologies and nations equally, since it prefers Western models. In 1964, Jean-Paul Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, but he wrote declining it, stating that "It is not the same thing if I sign Jean-Paul Sartre or if I sign Jean-Paul Sartre, Nobel Prize laureate. In his short story Intimacy, we confront a character who, like all of us on occasion, is afraid of the burden of freedom and does everything possible to make others take her decisions for her. Indeed, Derrida would spend a great deal of effort deriding Sartrean existentialism as a misconstrual of Heidegger. Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. ); still less by his appearance in Monty Python’s least funny philosophy sketch, “Mrs Premise and Mrs Conclusion visit Jean-Paul Sartre at his Paris home”. “I was not aware at the time that the Nobel prize is awarded without consulting the opinion of the recipient,” he said. He didn't want the Nobel Prize to transform him and associate him with The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. © 2020 Guardian News & Media Limited or its affiliated companies. Contemporary History (20th century onwards), 1936: Francisco Franco Takes Power in Spain, 1946: Nazi War Criminals Sentenced at Nuremberg, 1949: Communist State Established in China, 2000: Sinking of the Huge Russian Nuclear Submarine K-141 Kursk, Early Modern History (16th to 18th century). Sartre said that he might have accepted the Nobel if it had been offered to him during France’s imperial war in Algeria, which he vehemently opposed, because then the award would have helped in the struggle, rather than making Sartre into a brand, an institution, a depoliticised commodity. He deserves better. My sympathies for the Venezuelan revolutionists commit only myself, while if Jean-Paul Sartre the Nobel laureate champions the Venezuelan resistance, he also commits the entire Nobel Prize as an institution. Last modified on Wed 20 Sep 2017 07.04 EDT. Sartre’s argument is riddled with contradiction and nonsense. Still, the decision to award a Nobel Prize cannot be revoked, so that Sartre is still considered the 1964 recipient, despite his categorical refusal to accept it. This attitude is of course entirely my own and contains no criticism of those who have already been awarded the prize. His principled stand cost him 250,000 kronor (about £21,000), prize money that, he reflected in his refusal statement, he could have donated to the “apartheid committee in London” who badly needed support at the time. Regrets? Is this still the case? In this age in which all shall have prizes, in which every winning author knows what’s necessary in the post-award trial-by-photoshoot (Book jacket pressed to chest? Worse still, he flatly contradicted himself: During the war in Algeria, when we had signed the “declaration of the 121,” I should have gratefully accepted the prize, because it would have honored not only me, but also the freedom for which we were fighting. However, the last pages of his enduringly brilliant memoir Words, published the same year as the Nobel refusal, despair over that function: “For a long time I looked on my pen as a sword; now I know how powerless we are.” Poetry, wrote Auden, makes nothing happen; politically committed literature, Sartre was saying, was no better. Though he was lionised by student radicals in Paris in May 1968, his reputation as a philosopher was on the wane even then. As one of France’s most forthright proponents of existentialism and Marxism, and based on his previous views regarding accolades, Sartre’s refusal was to be expected. Backdrop of sponsor’s logo? When we watch his play Huis Clos, we might well think of how disastrous our relations with other people are, since we now require them, more than anything else, to confirm our self-images, while they, no less vexingly, chiefly need us to confirm theirs. Fifty years ago, Jean-Paul Sartre refused the Nobel prize for literature. He claimed that he had rejected the prize because a writer must stay independent of the institutions which award such prizes. This was written in 1964 when the leader of the Eastern bloc was Leonid Brezhnev, “the best man” whom Sartre wanted to win. He didn’t damn the Nobel in quite the bracing terms that led Hari Kunzru to decline the 2003 John Llewellyn Rhys prize, sponsored by the Mail on Sunday (“As the child of an immigrant, I am only too aware of the poisonous effect of the Mail’s editorial line”), but gently pointed out its Eurocentric shortcomings. ( Log Out /  Nobel Media AB 2020. Change ), You are commenting using your Facebook account. Change ). The existential plight of humanity, our absurd lot, our moral and political responsibilities that Sartre so brilliantly identified have not gone away; rather, we have chosen the easy path of ignoring them. In 1964 the philosopher, writer, and social commentator Jean-Paul Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Sartre had a few – at least about the money. All the honors he may receive expose his readers to a pressure I do not consider desirable.” Obviously, if Sartre thinks that accepting honors is undesirable for a writer, then it follows logically that he is criticizing those writers who do accept honors. The claim makes no sense whatsoever. He claimed that he had rejected the prize because a writer must stay independent of the institutions which award such prizes.