Louise Glück Should Refuse the Nobel Prize for Literature. Here’s Why.

The Intercept
October 7, 2020

I DON’T KNOW what the American poet Louise Glück said when the Swedish Academy informed her that she won this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature, but I know what she should have said: “Thanks, but no thanks.”

October is the season of the Nobel Prizes, when a handful of people are catapulted into fame and fortune due to the philanthropic legacy of the inventor of dynamite. Four of the six prizes named after Alfred Nobel are generally uncontroversial — physics, chemistry, medicine, and economics — but the peace and literature prizes arouse passions. There is good reason to be dubious of the peace prize, which has gone to some great people and organizations but also went to Henry Kissinger and Aung San Suu Kyi. Yet it’s the literature prize that, in its current form, has definitely outlived its usefulness and caused great damage.

Last year, the Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Peter Handke, an Austrian writer who created a set of impressive literary works in the first part of his career but since the 1990s fell into a morass of genocide denial. In recent decades, Handke wrote at least a half-dozen books and plays that downplayed and denied the genocide committed by Serbs against Muslims during Bosnia’s war. Handke even attended the funeral, and delivered an eulogy, for the former leader of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic, who died while on trial for war crimes.   

Literary awards have consequences in the real world. The Serb ultra-nationalists whom Handke defends are heroes to violent white extremists throughout Europe and in the United States. By giving a Nobel prize to Handke, the Swedish Academy, which selects the literature winner, essentially ratified a conspiracy theory embedded in his work: that Muslims represent a threat to Christians they live with. Handke’s genocide-denying books, rather than being relegated to the rubbish, were vested with the authority of the Nobel Prize.

The Swedish Academy is a strange organization. It has just 18 members who are appointed for life and who select new members by secret ballot — and the country’s king must approve them. The decision to give the 2019 prize to Handke is not the only evidence of the organization’s unfitness to manage the literature prize. The Academy had to postpone the 2018 award because of revelations that for decades it had abetted sexual harassment and rape by the husband of one of its members. Once that scandal broke open, thanks to the investigative work of journalist Matilda Gustavsson of Dagens Nyheter, the dismal response of the male-dominated Academy included forcing out a female member, Sara Danius, who was pushing for sweeping reforms in its ranks.

In a way, we can be thankful for these scandals because they are reminders of the need to implement a root-and-branch reform of the Nobel literature prize. For much of its existence, the prize generally served as a referendum on the best in Western literature. For that task, the 18 members of the Swedish Academy were a serviceable jury. But more than ever, the reach and aspiration of the Nobel literature prize is truly global. It is laughable and tragic that an award of such influence should be controlled by a tiny and secretive group of Swedes, let alone ones who have shown themselves to be abettors of sexual assault and genocide denial.

The Nobel Foundation, which oversees all the Nobel Prizes, would do the world a huge favor by firing the Swedish Academy. I don’t have a precise proposal for a replacement, but it would seem wise for a world literature prize to be decided by a diverse jury for whom non-European languages — such as Chinese, Hindi, Arabic, and Urdu — are first or second languages. And it would be wise to not have these jurors appointed for life, because unassailable privilege is an inherent force of rot.

It was expected that the Swedish Academy would announce a “safe” choice today who would not invite criticism — that is to say, an individual who unlike Handke does not support genocide and is not European and is not male. Glück, a celebrated and uncontroversial poet who lives in Massachusetts, checks every box. The Academy, in this scenario, hopes it will have ridden out its scandals and shown that it can do the job. But let’s not be fooled. The Swedish Academy is fatally flawed. It will do wrong again because it cannot surmount its inherent limitations

 ...  (Read more)

Trump Built His Own Green Zone. He Got the Wall He Deserves.

The Intercept
June 5, 2020

An array of what might be described as the accessories and devices of dictatorship have expanded with infectious ruthlessness in American cities. The police swinging batons wildly, the paramilitary forces refusing to identify themselves, the hysterical president trying to ...  (Read more)

The King of Sweden Gives Peter Handke a Disgraceful Nobel Prize

The Intercept
Dec. 10, 2019

A Nobel Prize that will live in infamy was officially presented today to Peter Handke, who is a genocide denier. There was no sign of protest or discord inside the Stockholm Concert Hall as King Carl XVI Gustaf delivered a gold Nobel medal to Handke. After the Swedish monarch ...  (Read more)

Nobel Winner Peter Handke Compared My Questions About Genocide in Bosnia to a “Calligraphy of Shit”

The Intercept
December 6, 2019

The Swedish Academy held a press conference on Friday for Peter Handke, the writer it selected as the winner of the 2019 Nobel Prize for Literature. Handke’s lifetime work includes about a half-dozen books that downplay Serb massacres of Muslims in Bosnia, and his critics ...  (Read more)

The Nobel Prize, a Rape Camp in Bosnia, and Peter Handke

The Intercept
November 28, 2019

What does it mean to spend a night at the Vilina Vlas hotel?

The answer to this seemingly odd question reveals the moral and intellectual collapse of the Swedish Academy, which last month bestowed on Peter Handke the 2019 Nobel Prize for Literature. Handke is an Austrian-born ...  (Read more)

The Nobel Prize Organization Is Now Fully Engaged in the Business of Genocide Denial

The Intercept
November 20, 2019

It has come to this: The Nobel Prize organization has not merely selected a genocide denier for its 2019 literature award. The organization itself has become an open skeptic of the mass murder of Bosnia’s Muslims.

In a letter to a group of publishers in Bosnia, the Swedish ...  (Read more)

Peter Handke Won the Nobel Prize After Two Jurors Fell for a Conspiracy Theory About the Bosnia War

The Intercept
Nov. 14, 2019

This is a story about a conspiracy theory that was born in the 1990s, hibernated in obscurity for two decades, and in 2019 appears to have duped jurors into awarding the Nobel Prize for Literature to Peter Handke, who has denied the Serb genocide of Muslims in Bosnia.

The ...  (Read more)

Peter Handke Won the Nobel Prize. Then His Publisher Circulated a Defense of His Genocide Denialism.

The Intercept
Nov. 9, 2019

IT IS NOT typical for a publishing house, after its author wins a Nobel Prize for Literature, to feel obliged to issue a private 24-page defense of his work, but that’s what it has come down to for Suhrkamp Verlag, the publisher of Peter Handke.

Newspapers in Germany and ...  (Read more)

Why Did Nobel Winner Peter Handke Have a Secret Passport From Milosevic-Era Yugoslavia?

The Intercept
November 6, 2019

The spring of 1999 was a busy time for Peter Handke, the controversial Austrian writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature last month.

Back then, Handke was already criticized for several books that were regarded as denying the Serb genocide of Muslims in Bosnia. But ...  (Read more)