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Verleger Jo Lendle
Image: picture-alliance/Sven Simon

Postponing Nobel Prize 'the right signal'

Sabine Peschel
May 4, 2018

Writer Jo Lendle is head of Carl Hanser, the German publishing house whose authors have received 17 Nobel Prizes for Literature over the years. He told DW the decision to postpone the award saves its dignity.


DW: What do you make of the decision to postpone the Nobel Prize for Literature?

Jo Lendle: It is a powerful signal, one of a unique kind. The prize has always been awarded except in wartime and in a number of years in which the Swedish Academy was unable to find a suitable candidate.

We can be certain that it will be given out next year, belatedly. To begin with, this isn't good news for the literary world, in particular because there are many people out there who deserve to get it. And who are waiting. But still, if the prize will indeed be awarded retroactively next year, that's the right signal in my view.

The real scandal is not the postponement of this year's Nobel Prize. It's the goings-on within the Academy that are scandalous. When it comes to awarding the Nobel Prize for Literature, one certainly has to bear in mind that there are not only aesthetic categories to be considered, but also moral ones. A jury that is itself on slippery territory from a moral point of view is well advised not to award such a prize. Otherwise, the prize would be damaged. Although I think that there are so many people out there who absolutely deserve it and some of them may no longer be among us when the prize is awarded next time, I still feel that it is more important to save the prize's dignity in the long run, which makes it necessary to send out such a signal.

What can the Swedish Academy do to regain lost trust?

The Swedish Academy must find a way of coming to terms with those incidents in a way which suggests that it takes the difficulties it encountered over the last couple of months seriously, including the cover-ups, and throw light on everything.

Traditional institutions, which are extremely committed to their heritage, always encounter the problem that, within their structures, abuse is more readily swept under the rug — simply because they feel committed to continuing their tradition. Therefore I think it's fair to expect from an institution of that kind a statement along the lines of, "We don't regard this as a trifle, we will investigate."

Sara Danius
In October 2017, Head of the Swedish Academy Sara Danius announced the Nobel Prize in Literature winner was Kazuo IshiguroImage: Imago/E-Press

Do you, as a publisher, have any ideas how the selection process and the whole proceedings which surround the prize could be organized in a more transparent manner?

I don't think the awarding has to be transparent. I think it's OK that the whole procedure of decision-making and all discussions take place behind closed doors, as is the case with many other juries as well. I'm not in favor of transparency in every area of life. The Academy publishes its protocols after 50 years, which is perfectly satisfactory.

How could the Swedish Academy undertake internal reforms?

It's an academy which has no rules for such cases. The Nobel Prize, after all, is a civic award that is in some strange way linked to the Swedish Royal Family which, in turn, is merely standing on the sidelines. Alfred Nobel, as a member of civil society, has initiated the award, making a private sector commitment. The Swedish king may be the person who officially awards the prize, but it's his duty to remain silent during the ceremony.

Read more: Literature Nobel Prize delay gives Swedish Academy time to think

Within the Academy there are no rules for the sort of situation we're witnessing now. Membership in the Academy is granted for life; it's not possible to make a premature exit. Perhaps this could be compared to papacy, where, until recently, there were no examples of any dignitary stepping down. Perhaps we must realize that this idea of lifelong membership is not adequate and that it must be made possible for members to step down, so that vacant positions can be filled with other candidates. It would be the right step for the Academy to adopt such a set of rules at this point.

Do you think the huge monetary award that comes with the prize and which some voices call "absurd" is justified?

I think that's terrific! The Nobel Prize for Literature is an important award, simply because of its long tradition. However, it is also important because there's so much money at stake. This, in conjunction with the other Nobel prizes, provides visibility, which I think is crucial. The fact that each annual decision then becomes subject to debate is part of the game. People getting worked up and asking, "why not this person, what about him or her," that's fantastic, wonderful. And these discussions are more intense and more distinguishable than those which merely focus on loose change.

Swedish Academy postpones Nobel

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