The Birdcage Archives

Thursday 20 January 2022

Dora Bruder

Hello Gentle Reader,
Without a doubt there is an elegiac tenderness to the works of Patrick Modiano. Wistful and melancholic gazes review the past with apprehension rather then nostalgia. There is an attempt at scrying the past to gain insight into the present and foretell the future. The past is always in flux. It’s merely a collection of testaments, witness statements, recollections, questionable records, adulterated documents, revisionist perspective and glory, and the set standard of what is deemed acceptable of the historical account. In short: history is a layered state, one where the idea of truth exists to maintain a collective understanding of the events. Therefore, history is broad, a wide sweeping gesture that summarizes the events with both glory and sacrifice. There are no personal details within these narratives. They are lost, buried, denied, or considered contrary to the acceptable record of events. Therefore, they are unpublished and left neglected, tucked away on shelves in banker boxes between yellowed folders. Yet, records are produced everywhere, and are not exclusive to a singular format or housed within the institutional archives or libraries of authority. They can be transient and wayward, providing elusive information that echo into ellipses. Dead ends and nowhere that is where they lead. Despite this, they are enticing. Elusive and noteworthy, even if they are not substantial. Yet their cryptic overtones provide enough material to springboard off into the world of speculation and senseless searches. To the uninitiated this may appear self-indulgent, yet for Patrick Modiano it has been a career of exploration and exhumation of the personal and the national, as demands are made to acknowledge and reconcile the realities of then, contrary to the collective memory and imaginings that are steadfast to be believed in. In this, Modiano has made a career out of plunging into the depths of the black hole that is known as the Occupation. This amnesiac abyss of modern memory remains unacknowledged or deliberately left unexplored, as it holds national shame, regret, and misery of an otherwise dark time. The word collaborator becomes the highest grade of insult. In the wake of liberation and defeat there was an administrative reckoning. Purges and trails become shows of justice in the post-War wake. Afterwards the point in history became a redacted blind spot. Neither reviewed nor revered; mentioned only in passing of praise for the French Resistance. Yet for Modiano, the Occupation and the severance of acknowledge of this time became a symbol of the moral bankruptcy and hypocrisy of the failure of the governing to institutions to declare themselves authorities of justice. It is here in the shifting soft shadows of the historical blind spot Modiano’s narratives, characters, and novels spring forth as they ruminate on an era destinated for oblivion or obfuscation, while posing further questions regarding the nature and art of memory, the test of authenticity, and the corrosive touch of revisionism as erasure in the collective memory bank.  
The mature works of Patrick Modiano’s literary bibliography are noted for their languid legato style circumventing and waltzing with simple elegance, all the while moving with indirection, cloaked with cobwebs, gossamer, and fermented melancholy. Memory is crucial, yet answers and solutions are in finite supply, and always cause further apprehension then clarification. To read Modiano is to be enveloped in atmosphere: the sodium orange haze of streetlights glowing ominously down darkened streets, the sky low suffocating with light pollution, the forecast threatens rain, but only a breeze stirs in the air. The shops locked up, the windows dark and absent. There’s a search for someone, who is all but unknown. An enigma if we will, a passing thought or memory, which even then is brought into further doubt. Paris, the home turf of the majority of these novels becomes a mercurial no-mans-land, a place of shifting shadows, darker alleys, and backroom deals; where in other circumstances the times have caught up and progress is in full swing, expediting the process of expunging the past. An architectural gesture to literary wipe the slate clean. Leaving neither relic, sanctuary, or evidence of the darkest days of the republic, which makes any investigation all that more difficult to find trace evidence of the individuals who lived, conspired, and suffered during these times. Such is the real case of Dora Bruder, the 15-year-old Jewish girl whose story calls out specifically to Patrick Modiano from one of those dispossessed records, forgotten and circulating throughout Paris, providing a silhouette, a figment of a neglected era ringing out an otherwise mundane plea now aged with cryptic mystery. The announcement provides the introductory information regarding Dora Bruder and the circumstances to how the narrator (Modiano himself) came to research her:  
“Missing, a young girl, Dora Bruder, age 15, height 1 m 55, oval shaped-face, gray-brown eyes, gray sports jacket, maroon pullover, navy blue skirt and hat, brown gym shoes. Address all information to M. and Mme. Bruder, 41 Boulevard Ornano, Paris.”
The above passage was published in the now defunct newspaper Paris Soir, which ceased to be published as it became known as a collaborationist newspaper during the Occupation. There is a twisted irony that Ernest Bruder, Dora’s father would seek the public assistance with a newspaper sympathetic to the Vichy Regime, considering that they were Jews and considered persona no grata by the occupying forces and by extension the collaborating government and law enforcement. Yet in times of desperation there few options.
Throughout the autobiography/memoriam, Patrick Modiano does his best to scrape together a narrative regarding the life and circumstances of Dora Bruder and her family. As if he were one of his own characters, be a detective, investigator, journalist, or sleuth, Modiano combs through records and registries, providing commentary on what may be alleged as the systematic erasure of these records for existence, to further perpetuate a redaction of history, to sever the years from memory, especially that of an otherwise incriminating nature. Yet, as Modiano comments: traces still exist. Even when the eraser all but obliterates the scribblings, traces and phantoms persist.
“It takes time for what has been erased to resurface. Traces survive in registers, and nobody knows where these registers are hidden, and who has custody of them, and whether or not these custodians are willing to let you see them. Or perhaps they have quite simply forgotten that these registers exist.”
Through time, patience, and persistence Modiano pulls together enough information regarding the Bruders. There is little that can be remarked on in the essence of character or personality. Photos reveal the Bruders to be normal and average people. Ernest Bruder (Dora’s father) was an Austrian Jew, who worked as a general labour. His features are hawkish and handsome. Cecile Bruder is less angular than her husbands, her features are softer, refined with a hint of regality of the era, though she appears exhausted. Dora herself lacks her fathers sharp and handsome features but also the refined character of her mother. Her features are fuller, her eyes sharp, and a mischievous look crossing her face, with an air of being headstrong and determined. It’s a pity to contemplate the end they each met.
As for Patrick Modiano, he is able to sketch an idea of the timeline of events that led to the disappearance of Dora Bruder, and the fate of the entire Bruder family during the Occupation. What can be deduced is Ernest and Cecile sent Dora to a catholic boarding school within Paris, which can be assumed to avoid detection by the authorities and discriminated against for being a Jew. Dora inevitably ran away from the catholic boarding school, hence the notice by her parents’ seeking information regarding their daughter’s whereabouts. These two events become the undoing of Dora. Modiano is able to learn that both Ernest and Cecile have left her as unregistered in the Nazis and Vichy Government’s Jewish Registry system. When Dora Bruder ran away from the boarding school and her parents reported her missing, they were also forced to concede that she herself was Jewish and enter her into the Registry system. Ernest was deported to Drancy; while Dora was found and arrested in April of 1942, where she would also end up in Drancy. On September 18th, 1942, with Transport 34, Dora Bruder would be sent to Auschwitz/Birkenau, where she would (presumably) be accounted amongst the others who fell victim to the genocide driven machine of the Holocaust.
As a work of literature or fiction (a term in this instance that should be used very lightly with discrete distance) “Dora Bruder,” is best described as an anti-novel of sorts. Its not a work of fiction; refuses to be called reportage or New Journalism; though it has components of Modiano’s own ruminations, wanderings, and reflections on the Parisian landscape, one in in which both he and Dora both inhabited:
“In another part of Paris, when I was twenty, I remember having the same sensation of emptiness as I had had when confronted by the Tourelles wall, and without really knowing the reason why.
[ . . . ]
Once again, I had sense of emptiness. And I understood why. After the war, most buildings in the district had been pulled down, methodically, in accordance with a government plan.”
Despite the real events that frame “Dora Bruder,” and the namesake individual and subject of the book, it falls flat. The details surrounding Dora Bruder are thin scaffolding, which have been henpecked and bleached. One can’t help but praise Patrick Modiano for his consistency in presenting the facts that he unearthed regarding Dora Bruder and her family without embellishment or speculation, ensures that the book is founded on the grounds of authenticity and recorded tangibility. Yet, it fails to encapsulate the poignancy of the times; the paranoia that hung over the city with an arrogant and oppressive prominence, the very same shadow that would turn Pétain from hero cum traitor.
In reading the presentation speech, Jesper Svenbro remarked on the evolution of Patrick Modiano’s writing style and singled out “Dora Bruder,” as a significant piece in his bibliography, going so far as call it a masterpiece within his oeuvre. Personally, I would hesitate to call “Dora Bruder,” (also known as: “The Search Warrant,”) as a masterpiece of Modiano’s literary canon. Patrick Modiano has shown his strength resides within his novels and their repetitive qualities providing ghostly inclinations regarding their intertextual relationships, but truly cementing his place as a writer concerned with place both geographically and historically, no different then James Joyce’s Dublin, or the Southwestern Ontario landscape of Alice Munro’s short stories, or the South of William Faulkner. As a book “Dora Bruder,” occupies a strange place refuting any literary classification, especially in Patrick Modiano’s literary oeuvre that is built on short novels, with the exception of his screen writing credits, and three (loosely defined) memoirs: “Pedigree,” “Such Fine Boys,” and “Family Record.” “Dora Bruder,” as memoriam fits in with this trilogy of outsiders, but also remains distant and elusive. The book itself maintains the motifs and characteristics of Modiano’s style that elusive waltz, languid and limpid maintaining the same tepid tone and temperament through the duration of the book, and yet provides real details and evidence of Dora Bruder as an individual, but it does not provide any testimony regarding who she was, or what her personality was like. In turn the book does not provide the same atmosphere of the times, beyond mentioning curfews, rations, and police patrons, one in which Dora herself would be caught up in. In all, “Dora Bruder,” is best described as a thin book. The details provided are henpecked, basic, and bleached. The notice provided by Ernest Bruder to Paris Soir soliciting information regarding his daughter’s whereabouts is as unique as the details get. In this Dora Bruder becomes a shadowy reminder of one of those individuals who were lost in the tides of time, unjustly persecuted by warped and twisted ideology as well as blatant antisemitism. The poignancy and tenderness of the book comes from the reminder that Dora Bruder was a real person who inevitably was caught up in the horrors of the Holocaust, and whose life is accounted for amongst all the others who found themselves exterminated in the concentration camps.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
M. Mary

Thursday 6 January 2022

F. Sionil Jose, Dies Aged 97

Hello Gentle Reader,
The national treasure and writer of the Philippines, F. Sionil Jose has died at the age of 97. F. Sinoil Jose, was one of the most widely read Filipino writers on the international stage, which maybe partially due to the writer’s literary language being English. Jose’s work was renowned for its depiction of class divisions underpinning Filipino society and the lasting detrimental affects of colonialism, which supports and encourages these social divisions. His novels and short stories were almost exclusively set in urban environments, espousing social change by detailing and criticizing the social inequalities of the Philippines. His well-known novel: “The Pretenders,” recounts the story of a man alienated in society due to his poor background, which is then contrasted to his wife’s family and their affluent exuberance in wealth. “The Pretenders,” is also part of F. Sinoil Jose’s renowned pentalogy, “The Rosales Saga.” The historical series of novels recounts generations of two families, the poor farming Samons and the wealthy Asperri, through both the Spanish and American Colonialism before ending during the Philippines Independence. “The Rosales Saga,” is an epicist account of the Philippines modern history, and is a classical chronicle of the times, like Naguib Mahfouz’s depiction of modern Egypt in his “Cairo Trilogy,” or Honoré de Balzac’s chronicle of the Post-Napoleonic France in “La Comédie humaine,” or Emile Zola’s cartography of the Second Empire, or Charles Dickens study of the Victorian England, or John Galsworthy’s cycle of novel recounting the Edwardian Era. Throughout his decades long writing career, which includes extensive essays, columns, and journalistic pieces in addition to his novels, short stories, children’s book, and poetry, F. Sionil Jose became the most recognized and read Filipino writer, whose work had been translated into 28 different languages including: Korean, Czech, Russian, Dutch, Spanish, and Indonesian. As a writer, F. Sionil Jose combined both social and political preoccupations with historical accounts in his novels, in order to provide a detailed understanding of the social, historical, and political understanding of the island nation. Linguistically speaking, F. Sionil Jose exercised complete authenticity in writing in Filipino English.
Rest in Peace F. Sionil Jose, your contributions to Filipino Literature and culture will endure for generations to come.
Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
M. Mary

The Nobel Prize in Literature Nominations 1970 & 1971

Hello Gentle Reader,
I regrettably missed the opportunity last year to write about the Nobel Prize for Literature decision for 1970, when the Swedish Academy’s archives became public. Knowing I had missed the opportunity, I decided I’d wait until this year to provide an overview of the information for both 1970 and 1971.
The 1970 Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to the Soviet/Russian writer and Gulag Prophet Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, today is regarded as a mammoth of Soviet and Russian literature of the 20th Century, sharing the company of fellow Nobel Laureates Boris Pasternak and Ivan Bunin, Anna Akhmatova, Mikhail Bulgakov, Vladimir Nabokov, and Lyudmila Petrushevskaya. Yet, what separates Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn from the others is his literary sensibilities are not exclusively literary, as they are photorealistic documentation of history, blatant political dissidence, and advocating for basic principles of human rights and political dignities. Literature was merely the form in which he propagated and advocated such initiatives, but a form Solzhenitsyn respected and mastered in turn.
In awarding Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel Prize for Literature, the Swedish Academy provided the following citation:
“the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature.”
A fitting citation for a writer whose literary pursuits are intertwined with ethical concerns, and despite the Soviet Union's best efforts to censor, silence, and dismiss his writings, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is now recognized and regarded as a classic of Russian Literature.
Retrospect is always clearer than the immediacy of the times. Solzhenitsyn is now regarded as a monolith of Soviet Era Russian Literature, whose testimonial works, strive for integrity, depiction of injustice and oppression, and affirm the human resolve to resist the corrosive indignity of political corruption. In the moment, however, Solzhenitsyn was considered a rabble rouser, a disgruntled citizen, and a nuance; while in contrast the Soviet Union was viewed as the slumbering bear, one which needed to be appeased by its neighbours in order to avoid conflict or tense political manoeuvring (think if you will, Finlandization). Certain members of the Swedish Academy during this time argued for similar principles when contemplating invoking the ire of the Soviet Union, one such member: Artur Lundkvist, strikingly argued in favour of such a stance. Afterall, Lundkvist’s politics were far-left leaning with communist sympathies. It should come as no surprise that Lundkvist opposed Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn receiving the prize. Though there is reason for apprehension regarding Solzhenitsyn’s award. Previously, Solzhenitsyn had only been nominated for the prize once before in 1969, and now to be nominated a second time and receive the award is enough to raise eyebrows on its own, when other writers such as: W.H. Auden, Graham Greene, and André Malraux were routinely denied the award, despite being nominated with such dedicated devotion.
According to members of the Swedish Academy they sought to expedite Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s award as a matter of time, especially concerning the authors controversial relationship with the Soviet Union’s government who may view his dissidence as a irreconcilable inconvenience and take steps to expunge him not only from public discourse but existence, especially considering the writers ability to draw further attention to the Soviet Union and their oppressive practises utilised against their populace, which only besmirches their international reputation. Artur Lundkvist, however, maintained a position that sought to take politics out of the equation and view Solzhenitsyn through a purely literary lens. This means any concern of the writer’s safety would also need to be overlooked or taken out of the context for consideration. Once again, Lundkvist was in the minority against the Swedish Academy, who in itself acknowledges that any award to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn would encompass both humanistic visions as well as political sensitivities in conjunction with the literary accomplishments. Lundkvist acknowledges in turn the meritable work Solzhenitsyn has accomplished as a dissident and disingenuously praises it, but remains obstinately opposed to award Solzhenitsyn the award on a purely literary basis, as political predilections are no substitute for literary merit and endeavours. Furthermore, Lundkvist argued that the award may in itself damage or harm Solzhenitsyn further within the Soviet Union and pit the Swedish Academy as the battle arena for contrary political perspectives, which in itself detracts from the organizations function, as well as the basis of the Nobel Prize for Literature. There is no deying Lundkvist made salient points in his opposition and rhetoric, just as there is no denying Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn received the award on unadulterated literary aesthetics alone, no, Solzhenitsyn received the award in large part due to the strength of his dissidence and character. Unfortunately for Lundkvist, any insight and perspective he made was lost in part and parcel to his priggish politics and absolute asphyxiating arrogance.
The case of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was positioned on the stage cast by the shadows of both Boris Pasternak and Mikhail Sholokhov. In order to refute Artur Lundkvist’s rhetoric regarding the incompatibility of politics and literature, Henry Olsson argued that if a Stalinist apologist and sympathiser such as Mikhail Sholokhov could receive the award, then so in turn could a dissident and critic like Solzhenitsyn. While in turn the Swedish Academy sought to avoid another Pasternak problem, where the author due to political interference and pressure is coerced to refuse or decline the award out of fear of further retribution. The Swedish Academy uses the precedence set by both authors in their deliberations. Lundkvist is steadfast in his promotion of Pablo Neruda or Patrick White as reasonable alternatives to Solzhenitsyn, while the rest of the academy contemplates their stance regarding the Soviet Union's blatant oppression of its people, persecution of dissident intellectuals and writers, as well as its continued production of propaganda and polluted politics. Awarding Solzhenitsyn could be seen as a redemptive award from Mikhail Sholokhov, while in turn establish the Swedish Academy of being able to send political messages without being politically engaged or encumbered by them. That is, if one considers exemplifying and promoting the defence of fundamental human rights such as freedom of speech, thought, and expression from political control and censor a political gesture.
In the end, as history dictates, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn won out and would be announced as the Nobel Laureate in Literature for 1970. Yet it was not entirely smooth sailing from there. Despite being acknowledged as the Nobel Laureate in Literature for 1970, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn did not travel to Stockholm to receive the award, out of fear he would be stripped of his citizenship and unable to return. When proposed at receiving the award in the Swedish embassy Solzhenitsyn rebuked the offer with insult. The then Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy Karl Ragnar Gierow, sought to travel to Moscow and deliver the Nobel Prize to Solzhenitsyn, but Gierow was denied a visiting visa by the Soviet authorities. Once again, the Soviet Union did its part to muscle into the proceedings and initially succeeded. Yet, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn remained steadfast in his own resolve, refusing to leave the Soviet Union and refusing any demand that he renounce the award, going so far to say even if he died, his son will go and collect the award in his memory. Ultimately, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was expelled from the Soviet Union (this is after a failed assignation attempt in 1971) and all measures and methods were deemed exhausted. In 1972, before his expulsion, Solzhenitsyn’s Nobel Lecture was smuggled out of the Soviet Union and published. Solzhenitsyn’s Nobel Lecture became a resounding testament to the horrors and cruelties of communism with the Soviet Union, and provided an extensive treatise on the gulag system.
When reviewing the 1970 Nobel Prize for Literature the question of politics and literature are soon to become intertwined. If Literature is to be the advocate for freedom of expression and speech, the right to have and disclose an opinion, the agency to write and read without repercussion or threat, and to openly criticise, question, and discuss ideas contrary to the established principles and perspectives of the time, then yes, literature can have (and does) have a place within the political sphere, but not in exclusive terms. Literature can be an agent of change; not the political administrator. In the case of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, as was the case with Mikhail Sholokhov, politics played an intricate part in the award. Solzhenitsyn was a famous, renowned, and vocal opponent and dissident of the Soviet Union, but also a fierce chronicler of the gulag system utilised by Soviet political administration. His writings were socially and politically aware but composed with literary sensibilities. Being an exceptional chronicler, documentarian, recorder, historian, and philosopher played equal parts in Solzhenitsyn receiving the award along with this political agreeableness and dissidence. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is not the first writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature who in turn was ensnared, influence, or participating (be it directly or indirectly) in political matters, and he certainly will not be the last, as many other writers both great and mediocre, have received the award and had political components.
The Shortlist for the 1971 Nobel Prize for Literature consisted of the following writers:
W.H Auden
André Malraux
Eugenio Montale
Patrick White
When reviewing some of the greatest poets of the last century there can be no denying Pablo Neruda is always included. Neruda’s poems were diverse as they were prolific, providing treatises on the matters of love, to the anxieties of existence, to the complexities of time, and the ache of loneliness. In awarding Neruda the Nobel Prize for Literature, the Swedish Academy bestowed him with the following citation:
"For a poetry that with the action of an elemental force brings alive a continent's destiny and dreams."
This is once again a matter of retrospect, as at the time the Swedish Academy had reservations regarding Pablo Neruda. At the time it appears that Neruda was an outsider with only two members advocating for his laureateship: Lars Gyllensten and Artur Lundkvist, while the other members of the Swedish Academy were less oriented to his work, or in the case of others openly opposed to the nomination and recommendation of Pablo Neruda, as in the case of Anders Österling. Due to a lack of information regarding Neruda’s output the Swedish Academy solicited the advice and expertise of Knut Ahnlund (a future member of the Swedish Academy) to provide expert context regarding Pablo Neruda’s work.
Pablo Neruda was a frequent flyer for nominations for the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was first nominated in 1956 and then again in 1961. In 1961, however, an assessment was to be conducted regarding the author’s work (interestingly enough by Artur Lundkvist, who was not a member of the Swedish Academy yet), and throughout the 60’s was nominated, where in 1963 was considered a shortlisted candidate, but faced opposition from Anders Österling whose gravitas voice echoed throughout the Swedish Academy. Once again, these objections were political in nature. Neruda was a devout supporter of communism, he called Lenin a genius of the 20th Century, and had composed poems praising Stalin. Anders Österling made it clear in his opposition that he did not view Neruda’s political sympathies with suspicion, rather the fact that these political sentiments leached into his literary output, becoming in themselves poetic subjects, hymns to Stalin, odes to communism, a complete production of propaganda-oriented material praising an ideology and system which had been revealed as an oppressive, tyrannical, and authoritarian, completely deprived of respect for humanistic ideals or dignity. Yet, Artur Lundkvist, Neruda’s Swedish translator and communist sympathiser remained a steadfast proponent and advocate for Neruda to receive the award.
The then Permanent Secretary Karl Ragnar Gierow was equally hesitant of awarding Pablo Neruda the award, and preferred the idea of awarding W.H. Auden, who throughout the past decade was the permanent Nobel Bridesmaid, always being considered and contemplated, but ultimately turned down. W.H Auden was not alone in this situation; Andre Malraux was once again nominated for the 22nd year in the row. Perhaps in the case of W.H Auden, he did not receive the Nobel out of convention and tradition. While Malraux had an illustrious career as a statesman, whose award will inevitably drag the award into the public sphere of political discourse. Neither Auden nor Malraux would receive the award.
In 1965 both Pablo Neruda and Jorge Luis Borges were considered to share the award, but were denied. In the case of Jorge Luis Borges, it came down to his writing, which Anders Österling viewed as singular and solitary, entombed in its own intellectual sense of superiority, and in the case of Pablo Neruda once again the issue of political decrees within his literary sensibilities provide cause for concern. The 1965 Nobel Prize for Literature instead went to the controversial Soviet supporter and communist approved Mikhail Sholokhov, whose award would play in deliberations regarding the 1970 award for Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Since then, Pablo Neruda remained a consistent peripheral fixture within the Nobel Prize for Literature nominations, appearing once again in 1968 and 1969. In the case of poetry and reviewing Neruda’s work severed from its political sympathies, allegiances, and sentiments, members of the Swedish Academy questioned the authors continued outpour and publications, naming the factors of quality over quantity a matter of concern. There is no denying Neruda’s prodigal prolific poetic output, which then Permanent Secretary Karl Ragnar Gierow named W.H. Auden as a more suitable (and less political) writer, whose proclivity for the production of poetry was equal match to that of Neruda's. Or on the complete contrary, what about the poetry of the Italian poet Eugenio Montale? His output slow, measured, deliberate, and selective, the complete antithesis to Pablo Neruda’s manic poetic publications. Furthermore, in the case of Eugenio Montale and W.H. Auden they were not dogged by politics, they were not at risk of being smeared, insulted, or criticised through their political perspectives. Rather if they were to be criticised at all it would be based on their literary output, the merit of their work, their contributions to literature. In spite of Neruda’s vitality, poetic sensibility, voluptuous writing, and enduring beauty, politics remained a cancerous subject infecting his merits. One can only imagine the imperious retort Artur Lundkvist would have leveraged in return.
In return it was the assessment composed by Knut Ahnlund as a third-party expert which I suspected played the largest part in swaying the Swedish Academy’s opinion. Ahnlund’s overview became the guiding map to navigating the poetry of Pablo Neruda’s dense and diverse variety of poetry, from the sensually compositions of love to the mistakenly political. It further helped Pablo Neruda to have both Lars Gyllensten and Artur Lundkvist continually advocate on his behalf. Even, when Anders Österling sought to invoke the words of Alfred Nobel’s will regarding the suitability of Neruda and the benefit of mankind in an ideal direction, Lars Gyllensten presented a more pragmatic and broad view of Nobel’s wishes and what the awards can accomplish, rather than reduce it to a black and white polemic failsafe. In this the Nobel Prize for Literature became a more multilayered and multifaceted approach to reviewing potential Nobel Laureates in Literature, not reducing it to a common yardstick. This polynomial perspective helped the Nobel Prize for Literature move out of the narrow entrapments of following Alfred Nobel’s will to the letter, but allowed for them to interpret and apply their literary interpretation with both aesthetic and if necessary sociopolitical preoccupations. This is referenced in the presentation speech presented by Karl Ragnar Gierow when referencing Pablo Neruda and the challenges the ambiguity of Alfred Nobel’s will create in the application of determining literary merit. Following suit, Ragnar Gierow maintains a strong narrative to fixate on the purely literary works Neruda had composed, his elemental odes, his poetry of love and the shadow of destruction, his monumental collection “Residence on Earth,” and then eventually referencing the political output and idealistic visions Neruda wrote when witnessing the desolation of Spain during the Spanish Civil War and his own homeland of Chile entrapped in political divisions and bloodshed. Karl Ragnar Gierow seeks to manoeuvre through this period by referencing Neruda’s idealistic visions, dreams, and sensibilities for justice for all people, and makes no mention to the questionable allegiances and praise he offered to infamous dictators such as Stalin, afterwards summarising it as a mere drop in the eternal and diverse output of Neruda’s bibliography.
In reviewing the 1970 and 1971 Nobel Prize for Literature’s deliberations from the Swedish Academy, one can certainly pull out the complexities that politics plays in the award, proving what was already established as common knowledge: the award—despite its lengthy speeches, explanations, conclusions, and denials—of maintaining no political discussion, is in fact a prize which must take into account politics in a contextual understanding, depending on the writer. Throughout the Nobel Prize’s history including recent Laureates politics have become a major focal point and bone of contention, much to the Swedish Academy’s chagrin and the laureate’s disapproval. Yet, both prizes in 1970 and 1971, prove that context and circumstance in the politically sensitive will inevitably play a part. In the case of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, his literary output was informed due to the Soviet Union, being a political prisoner, observing and experiencing the gulag system, and being a vocal critic and dissident, whose literary works being smuggled and out and circulated in the Western Hemisphere only elevated his literary stature and appeal, providing for the most part a glimpse into the realities of the Soviet Union and expose the political repression and horrors of the gulags. There is no denying that Solzhenitsyn’s work was politically motivated, it was written to encapsulate, document, and provide a record of the account of the time, free from propaganda or censorship. In essence Solzhenitsyn's work has become the Iron Curtain Testaments and the Gulag Gospel. To his credit Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn happened to be a justifiably great writer. Still his political and dissidence activities were not appreciated by all members of the Swedish Academy, who in turn saw his work as being primitive in their conception, uninteresting, and lacking in any literary foray or achievement beyond promoting his own dissidence and criticism of the Soviet Union. Through strength of character, literary merit, as well as having agreeable political stances, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn would receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, though not without complications.
On the contrary, Pablo Neruda is renowned and respected as one of the most important poets of the 20th Century, and a remarkable poetic voice heralding from the Southern Continent, as well as being considered one of the most important poets of the Spanish Language. All of this was eclipsed by his questionable political allegiances of the time. Even his greatest opponent in the Swedish Academy, Anders Österling, had no issue with on a personal level. Afterall, Neruda's political conscious was a matter of personal taste. which Österling guaranteed as a freedom of right and expression for any individual and should not disqualify them from the award. What Österling took issue with is the fact that Pablo Neruda’s political opinions became subjects of his literary output, and therefore were open for discussion on a literary level and not just limited to a contextual evaluation.  In the case of Anders Österling, Pablo Neruda’s explicit political allegiances were concerning, having the potential to eclipse his literary accomplishments and in turn besmirch the Nobel Prize’s reputation as political pandering or showcasing sympathies for political causes. On both accounts, politics were a topic of discussion and became obstacles for both laureates to gain consensus with the Swedish Academy. These battles can still be observed with the present Swedish Academy as in the situation of Chinese writer Mo Yan (2012) and Austrian writer Peter Hande (2019). Both writers placed in a political context via their geographical location and writings taking place in a oppressive country or regime (Mo Yan); or the writer themselves made a political blunder and entered the foray of politics by providing support or an apologist perspective for a recognized and convicted war criminal (Peter Handke). This contextual review of a writer's work framed by politics is a unique deliberation for the Swedish Academy, it leaves a lot of room for debate. Thankfully in the case of Pablo Neruda his elemental poetry outlasted his political allegiances. In the case of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, his work remains a detailed testament and account of the Soviet Union’s brutal infrastructure both ideologically as well as physically to squash dissent and control the populace and have become both literary renowned as well as historically recognized.
In the late 1960s and 1970s we begin to see the Swedish Academy and the Nobel Prize become more mature in its perspective. The literary perspective and palate is becoming more diverse, broader, and chameleonic in its approach and interpretation of Alfred Nobel’s will. For 1971, many future Nobel Laureates are being nominated, which includes:
Eugenio Montale – awarded 1974 (was nominated 6 times in 1971)
Gunter Grass – Awarded 1999 (was nominated 4 times in 1971)
William Golding – Awarded 1983 (first time being nominated)
Claude Simon – Awarded 1985
Saul Bellow – Awarded 1976
Henrich Boll – Awarded 1972
Patrick White – Awarded 1973
Elias Canetti – Awarded 1981
Eyvind Johnson – Awarded 1974
Harry Martinson – Awarded 1974
Other writers nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature of note:
Philip Larkin
Elie Wiesel – Awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1986
Michel Butor
Eugene Ionesco
Alain Robbe-Grillet
The only woman nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971 is the Estonian poet Marie Under.
It is curious to note that both Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson both sit on the Swedish Academy as they are being nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature. The 1974 shared award between the two writers is now infamous and scandalous in the Nobel Prize’s history. It is also the last Nobel Prize for Literature which has been shared. Ironically, however, in 1951 Pär Lagerkvist received the Nobel Prize for Literature as well, and was a member of the Swedish Academy. Yet one doesn’t recall much controversy regarding his Nobel. Ironically precedence exists to award a standing member of the Swedish Academy the prize. As was the case in 1951 when Pär Lagerkvist received the award, and yet we don't hear much controversy about it then. Most likely because the award was still growing through its own growing pains, and Pär Lagerkvist has since fallen out of fashion, left to collect dust on the shelves. Lagerkvist is widely recognized and remembered as a moralist, whose preoccupations with the concepts of good and evil are framed within the lens of theological mysticism and philosophical reflection, yet due to his reliance and preoccupation with Christian mythology and figures, Pär Lagerkvist is often miscatergorized as a religious writer despite lacking a evangelistic  drive and attitude to covert or indoctrinate through demagoguery. In the case of Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson, the award remains impeccably weaponized by critics of the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Swedish Academy as evidence to their own bloated sense of self-importance. The criticism is not out of place. The decision to award two standing members of the academy with the Nobel Prize for Literature would be considered controversial at the best of times. Now pushing half a century since that decision was made, it has proven to be a demonstrative reminder of intellectual corruption, cronyism, and convenient evidence to utilise when seeking to discredit or diminish the golden gleam of the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Swedish Academy. Further tarnishes to their credibility and reputation will include the Rushdie Affair in the 1980’s, the Dario Fo misstep of 1997, the 2016 Nobel Prize fiasco, and then the 2018 scandal. The deliberations of the 1974 Nobel Prize for Literature will be interesting to read and review. Will the academy be in unison in their approval of the decision, or will there be apprehension in their decision?  Time will certainly tell.
In the case of the 1970 and 1971 Nobel Prize for Literature there is definitive evidence that neither the Swedish Academy or the Nobel Prize for Literature are insulated from politics. Some writers may have no political affiliation or form: Tomas Tranströmer, Alice Munro, Kazuo Ishiguro, Wisława Szymborska, Yasunari Kawabata, Olga Tokarczuk; while others be it directly in their literary work, interviews, political action, or endorsement maintain some element of political influence or opposition. On the contrary as well, the term and word political becomes a smarmy word, riddled with a dirty flare to slanderously diminish a writer's accomplishments, merit, or value in recognition of the award. The goal if the word ‘Political,’ is used in certain situations to denote a writer being awarded because of their positions and perspectives, not their literary quality, which therefore makes them inferior. Avoiding political connotations for an author is not always avoidable, at times they are inevitable, as is the case with both Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Pablo Neruda. In their case, however, both writers have aged exceptionally well, with most readers either ignorant of Neruda’s political inclinations or willing to overlook them; with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s work remains remarkably frank and necessary to understand the both the Soviet soul but also the common Soviet citizen, and the system’s ability to burden, break, and corrupt.
Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
M. Mary