The Birdcage Archives

Thursday 5 January 2023

The Nobel Prize in Literature Nominations 1972

Hello Gentle Reader,

The 1972 Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to the German author Heinrich Böll:

"For his writing which through its combination of a broad perspective on his time and a sensitive skill in characterization has contributed to a renewal of German literature."

Böll was one of the most important Post-World War II German writers of the 20th Century. Born in 1917, Heinrich Böll's upbringing was tainted and framed by the backdrop of war, ruin, and exhaustion. He was raised in a catholic and pacifist family, who resisted and opposed the thuggish and dangerous ideals of the Nazis, where Böll refused to join the Hitler Youth in the 1930s. Nonetheless he was conscripted into the German army (Wehrmacht) regardless during the Second World War, and would serve the tail end of the war in a prisoner-of-warm camp. Heinrich Böll's experiences during the war, his religious convictions, and his pacifist views are the defining and influential components of his literary career. As a writer, Heinrich Böll is renowned for being a scrutinizer in grappling with Germany's recent history, especially that of the Nazi era, as the atrocities and human rights violations became public knowledge, such as the horrors of the holocaust and other state sanctioned and approved programs of eugenics, genocide, fascist violence, and the corruption of the national soul. This inevitably meant that Heinrich Böll was a controversial writer for the German people. As Post-War Germany was split between the democratic West Germany and the Soviet satellite state East Germany (the German Democratic Republic), the inevitable consequences of a polarized post-war landscape. Yet for the German people, how does one come to terms and reconcile the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis. As a writer Heinrich Böll wrote and worked to come to terms with the rubble, ruin, and aftermath of the Second World War and how the horrors of the war need to be tended too, preserving the memory and expressing both the profound existential guilt felt by the German people. Rather then let the horrors of the Second World War fall into silence and covered in the dust of taboo, Heinrich Böll took on the mantel of national conscience in order to curate the memorialisation of the Second World War's atrocities, grappling with the guilt, grief, suffering and regret of German society, and working towards reconciliation and remediation of this past through atonement. Heinrich Böll is one of the most important and venerated writers of his generation.

Through the late 1960's and into the 1970's, the Swedish Academy and the Nobel Prize for Literature had begun to mature in its mandate, as some of the greatest laureates and writers of the time were being recognized with the Nobel. Of course, controversy follows all Nobels in some capacity or another. The 1970 and 1971 Nobels were initially politically controversial in nature, but have since become recognized as standing recognition of both great poetry and literary as historically relevant, palpable and conscious. The Nobel Prize for Literature, is routinely criticized for its snubs, which includes classics such as Leo Tolstoy, James Joyce, and Vladimir Nabokov, and more contemporary writers such as: Adunis, Inger Christensen, and Philip Larkin. Perhaps the biggest challenge the Swedish Academy faces when it comes to the Nobel Prize in Literature, is not necessarily finding a worthy laureate, it’s a matter of agreeing on one. As the records for the Nobel Prize in Literature are released and available for public review, trends can be discerned from the findings. Including perpetual Nobel bridesmaids such as: W.H. Auden and Andre Malraux, who despite continued nominations and advocacy, were ultimately denied the Nobel Prize in Literature. As Jorge Luis Borges lamented: "Not granting me the Nobel Prize has become a Scandinavian tradition; since I was born, they have not been granting it to me." In 1972 W.H Auden received the most nominations for the prize with 10 nominations, and Andre Malraux received 6 nominations for the award. Furthermore, this was the 23rd year Malraux would be nominated for the prize.

In total 101 writers were suggested for the prize in 1972, which was higher then the previous two years (1971 had 91 writers; 1970 had 77 writers), but was still shy of eclipsing the 104 writers of nominated in 1969. Those nominated for this year's award included future laureates:

Patrick White – 1973                                       William Golding - 1983
Evyind Johnson – 1974                                    Claude Simon - 1985
Harry Martinson – 1974                                   Nadine Gordimer - 1991
Eugenio Montale – 1975                                  Günter Grass - 1999
Saul Bellow – 1976                                          V.S. Naipual – 2001
Odysseas Elytis – 1979                                    Doris Lessing - 2007
Elias Canetti – 1981                                        

Henrich Böll the laureate for 1972, received a total of 8 nominations, making him the second most nominated writer behind W.H Auden. Curiously, Günter Grass received 4 nominations as did Patrick White. 1972 also marked the first time many future winners would be nominated for the award, which included the aforementioned Doris Lessing, who once recalled the infamous story of a how member of the Swedish Academy informer her that she would never receive the prize. It also includes many perennial candidates who like W.H. Auden and Andrea Malraux would be considered Nobel bridesmaids. This included a young Philip Roth and Norman Mailer. Yet only five women were nominated for the prize in 1972:

Nadine Gordimer
Doris Lessing
Astrid Lindgren
Marie Under
Anna Seghers

Of the five women nominated, two of them would eventually receive the prize. The Estonian poet Marie Under would die in 1980. The German writer and memoirist Anna Seghers would die in 1983. Astrid Lindgren, however, proved to be a curious nomination. It is common knowledge that Astrid Lindgren was debated and discussed within the Swedish Academy for many years, with her supporters in the academy being Knut Ahnlund and Lars Gyllensten, and her detractors being Artur Lundkvist and Erik Lönnroth. Yet, 1972 would mark the first time Lindgren was nominated for the prize by four German academics, which began to affirm that Lindgren was being considered as a serious writer of truth, morality, humanistic vision, and pathos, who was able to deliver and discuss these existential questions with children, through accessible and deep narratives. In addition to her widely acclaimed and successful work in children's literature, Astrid Lindgren was an accomplished essayist, whose articles shaped and changed public opinion, advocated for policy changes or initiatives, and was a voice of progressive conscious within Sweden.

Once again two members of the Swedish Academy: Evyind Johnson and Harry Martinson were been nominated for the award, by another member of the academy and former laureate Pär Lagerkvist, proves to raise further questions and apprehensive responses from the academy itself, with Artur Lundkvist providing concern and forewarning to the notion. Pär Lagerkvist was a renowned 20th Century Swedish writer, known for his striking work in moralist fiction, exploring the complex nature of good and evil through such works as "The Dwarf," and "Barabbas." Despite using Christian motifs, symbols, and figures, Lagerkvist did not subscribe to promoting or spreading a specific indoctrinating Christian message, rather he explored the complexities of the nature of altruism and good against the shadow of evil and immoral actions. When Lagerkvist was awarded the prize in 1951, there was little to no controversy despite him being a member of the Swedish Academy. Time and circumstance may have played to the lack of controversy and criticism, as Europe still found itself recuperating from the Second World War, and the Nobel Prize for Literature was still gaining momentum in becoming the event that is today. By the 1970's however the winds have already changed and Artur Lundkvist cautioned the inward-looking perspective some members of the Swedish Academy were taking with the prize, which included Pär Lagerkvist who nominated by Evying Johnson and Harry Martinson for the 1972 prize. As Lundkvist states [rough translation]:

"It is not only highly respectable but almost inevitable that Mr. Lagerkvist, as a former Swedish Nobel laureate within the Academy, in this way insists on yet another Nobel Prize for an academy colleague. But in its ultimate consequence it involves the prospect of recurring rewards to academy members, and that is something that, in my view, should be avoided. [. . .] My opinion is that one should think very carefully before awarding the Nobel Prize in Literature to a Swede at all, and that in the current situation there is a special reason why this does not happen." 

When Evyind Johnson and Harry Martinson shared the prize in 1974, Artur Lundkvist's concern became prediction, as outrage poured in at how the academy could be so arrogant as to award its own members the prize. Lundkvist was wise enough to caution and discourage the academy from awarding its own members and colleagues, but also took into consideration further allegations of bias if Nordic (more specifically) Swedish writers routinely received the award. After the debacle of 1974 award, it would another 37 years before another Swedish writer would receive the prize, Tomas Tranströmer, whose award was heralded as recognition of one of the most important Swedish language poets of the time. A true poetic master of harmony and metaphor. With Lundkvist's forewarning about awarding academy members, it will be interesting to see what the deliberations looked liked for 1974, and if the academy was truly unified behind its decision, and if Evyind Johnson and Harry Martinson protested the decision as members of the academy.

The shortlist for the 1972 Nobel prize in Literature was as follows:

Heinrich Böll
Patrick White
Eugenio Montale
Günter Grass

There were discussions about sharing the prize between Heinrich Böll and Günter Grass in 1972, which is astounding considering Günter Grass was only 45 years old at the time, but had already published his foundational forming Danzing Trilogy ("The Tin Drum," "Cat and Mouse," and "Dog Days,"). It was decided not split the award between the two writers, as shared awards lead to the optics and speculation that neither writer was capable enough of receiving the award on their own merit. In essence a shared award cheapens the prize for both writers. The then Permanent Secretary Karl Ragnar Gierow did not feel that Grass completely comparable to Heinrich Böll. Though both writers wrote extensively about the postwar landscape of Germany, they both deviated in how to discuss it. Böll was a recognized pacifist, who became the moral compass and consciences for German society after the Second World War in order to prevent the atrocities from becoming taboo subject matter. Whereas Günter Grass is credited for being a major writer to introduce magical realism into European literature. His black fables incorporated fantastical imagery and scenarios into his work, which became a catalyst for German language literature in the 20th Century, marking both departure and new beginnings. Yet in 1972, the decision was to award the more statesmen Heinrich Böll. Günter Grass would wait a further 27 years before receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Curiously, all of the shortlisted writers for the year 1972 would go on to receive the prize. The Australian master Patrick White (who is ranked amongst some of the great late modernist and early postmodernists writers, such as Vladimir Nabokov and Samuel Beckett) would go on to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1973. Artur Lundkvist would be his champion in 1972, who openly admitted he would prefer to have seen White take the prize over Böll. The great Italian poet Eugenio Montale also found himself shortlisted for 1972 and would go on to receive the prize in 1975. Montale's Nobel is often overlooked, but at the time he was a crowning statesman of Italian poetry, a chameleon who changed colour, texture, and spirit through the tumultuous decades of Italian history in the 20th Century, each time venturing onto a new poetic course.

As for the 1972, Nobel Prize in Literature, Heinrich Böll remains a well received laureate who in addition to aging well, remains known for his contributions for Post-War German language literature, and being a moralistic figure of Germany coming to terms with the atrocities committed during the Second World War. In addition to this Heinrich Böll remains an associate of future Nobel Laureates in Literature, including the shortlisted Günter Grass and Peter Handke. It is also clear during this time, as evident in the shortlist, the Swedish Academy began to take a 'long game,' approach to the prize, reviewing authors of great interest and taking a wait and see approach, reviewing their continued outputs. This has been a speculated fact about the Swedish Academy for ages, as it has been reported that Tomas Tranströmer was nominated for the prize from 1990 and until 2011 when he finally won the award. Even then though, the Swedish Academy may have been motivated to award him due to his advanced age and poor health, and it would have been considered a now or never award. Thankfully they made the right call. All of the writers on this year's shortlist had been nominated frequently before—Heinrich Böll only missed being nominated in 1971 and 1967—but with the publication of his now classic novel, "Group Portrait with Lady," proved to be a decisive factor in his laureateship.

The Nominations and archives for the Nobel Prize in Literature for 1972, prove that the Swedish Academy and the Nobel Prize have begun establish themselves as a curating body seeking to take a global approach to recognizing accomplished writers. Their mandate is broad, ambiguous, with often flawed execution and mixed results, but these new glimpses and insights into their workings, exemplify the tremendous amount of effort they put into their deliberations and discussion, and the otherwise impossible task they shoulder. Unsurprisingly, there is a bit of bureaucratic back and forth and procedural processes and protocols, but in all observing the academy come into to its own mandate during these contemporary years gives some insight into how the current assembled academy operates.

Thank you for Reading Gentle
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

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