Jean-Paul Sartre Rejects the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1964: “It Was Monstrous!”

In a 2013 blog post, the great Ursula K. Le Guin quotes a London Times Literary Supplement column by a "J.C.," who satirically proposes the “Jean-Paul Sartre Prize for Prize Refusal.” “Writers all over Europe and American are turning down awards in the hope of being nominated for a Sartre,” writes J.C., “The Sartre Prize itself has never been refused.” Sartre earned the honor of his own prize for prize refusal by turning down the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1964, an act Le Guin calls “characteristic of the gnarly and counter-suggestible Existentialist.” As you can see in the short clip above, Sartre fully believed the committee used the award to whitewash his Communist political views and activism.

But the refusal was not a theatrical or “impulsive gesture,” Sartre wrote in a statement to the Swedish press, which was later published in Le Monde. It was consistent with his longstanding principles. “I have always declined official honors,” he said, and referred to his rejection of the Legion of Honor in 1945 for similar reasons. Elaborating, he cited first the “personal” reason for his refusal

This attitude is based on my conception of the writer’s enterprise. A writer who adopts political, social, or literary positions must act only with the means that are his own—that is, the written word. All the honors he may receive expose his readers to a pressure I do not consider desirable. If I sign myself Jean-Paul Sartre it is not the same thing as if I sign myself Jean-Paul Sartre, Nobel Prize winner.

The writer must therefore refuse to let himself be transformed into an institution, even if this occurs under the most honorable circumstances, as in the present case.

There was another reason as well, an "objective" one, Sartre wrote. In serving the cause of socialism, he hoped to bring about “the peaceful coexistence of the two cultures, that of the East and the West.” (He refers not only to Asia as “the East,” but also to “the Eastern bloc.”) Therefore, he felt he must remain independent of institutions on either side: “I should thus be quite as unable to accept, for example, the Lenin Prize, if someone wanted to give it to me.”

SartreNobelNYT

As a flattering New York Times article noted at time, this was not the first time a writer had refused the Nobel. In 1926, George Bernard Shaw turned down the prize money, offended by the extravagant cash award, which he felt was unnecessary since he already had “sufficient money for my needs.” Shaw later relented, donating the money for English translations of Swedish literature. Boris Pasternak also refused the award, in 1958, but this was under extreme duress. “If he’d tried to go accept it,” Le Guin writes, “the Soviet Government would have promptly, enthusiastically arrested him and sent him to eternal silence in a gulag in Siberia.”

These qualifications make Sartre the only author to ever outright and voluntarily reject both the Nobel Prize in Literature and its sizable cash award. While his statement to the Swedish press is filled with polite explanations and gracious demurrals, his filmed statement above, excerpted from the 1976 documentary Sartre by Himself, minces no words.

Because I was politically involved the bourgeois establishment wanted to cover up my “past errors.” Now there’s an admission! And so they gave me the Nobel Prize. They “pardoned” me and said I deserved it. It was monstrous!

Sartre was in fact pardoned by De Gaulle four years after his Nobel rejection for his participation in the 1968 uprisings. “You don’t arrest Voltaire,” the French President supposedly said. The writer and philosopher, Le Guin points out, “was, of course, already an ‘institution’” at the time of the Nobel award. Nonetheless, she says, the gesture had real meaning. Literary awards, writes Le Guin---who herself refused a Nebula Award in 1976 (she’s won several more since)---can “honor a writer,” in which case they have “genuine value.” Yet prizes are also awarded “as a marketing ploy by corporate capitalism, and sometimes as a political gimmick by the awarders [….] And the more prestigious and valued the prize the more compromised it is.” Sartre, of course, felt the same—the greater the honor, the more likely his work would be coopted and sanitized.

Perhaps proving his point, a short, nasty 1965 Harvard Crimson letter had many, less flattering things than Le Guin to say about Sartre’s motivations, calling him “an ugly toad” and a “poor loser” envious of his former friend Camus, who won in 1957. The letter writer calls Sartre’s rejection of the prize “an act of pretension” and a “rather ineffectual and stupid gesture.” And yet it did have an effect. It seems clear at least to me that the Harvard Crimson writer could not stand the fact that, offered the “most coveted award” the West can bestow, and a heaping sum of money besides, “Sartre’s big line was, ‘Je refuse.’”

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Speech Accent Archive: The English Accents of People Who Speak 341 Different Languages

Over the years, I've met with several foreign speaking partners. Through conversation, I learn their language — Spanish, Korean, Japanese — and they learn mine — English. Many of them first got serious about their study of that more-or-less-international tongue with the goal of completely eliminating their native accent which, while demonstrably possible, takes so much additional effort as an adult that I've always advised them to just spend that time learning another language (or two) instead. Many, of course, come to that conclusion themselves, realizing that English speakers all over the world have created a legitimate culture of speaking English in all kinds of different ways, with all kinds of different accents, whether or not they learned the language from childhood. But it still makes one wonder: how many different accents do people speak it in? And what do they all sound like? Wonder no longer, for we have The Speech Accent Archive, created by Steven H. Weinberger of George Mason University's Linguistics department, who introduces it in the video above.

The site, "established to uniformly exhibit a large set of speech accents from a variety of language backgrounds," collects audio samples of native and non-Native English speakers all reading the same paragraph. This lets the user "compare the demographic and linguistic backgrounds of the speakers in order to determine which variables are key predictors of each accent," demonstrating that "accents are systematic rather than merely mistaken speech." You can browse by the speaker's native language, by their region, or (presumably exciting for the linguists) by their "native phonetic inventory." You'll find English as spoken by native speakers of everything from French and Chinese to Urdu and Chaldean Neo Aramaic. Here in Seoul, South Korea, where I write this post, I certainly do meet people who sound just like this sample speaker, a 19-year-old woman from the city who began learning English at 17 and spent a few months studying in America. The page describes her accent as characterized by, among other things, "final obstruent devoicing," "vowel shortening," and "obstruent deletion." But don't let the site's linguistics jargon deter you; the salute to the Speech Accent Archive just above will give you an idea of just how much fun you can have there. You can enter the The Speech Accent Archive here.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Watch 1990s Video of Sacha Baron Cohen Playing Christo, the Proto Borat (NSFW)

In 2005, a hirsute Kazakh journalist named Borat Sagdiyev ventured to America to make a documentary about “the Greatest Country in the World.” Along the way, he had extremely awkward conversations with politicians Bob Barr and Alan Keyes, unwittingly participated in a Gay Pride parade, and accidentally destroyed a gift shop filled with Confederacy memorabilia. When he visited a Virginia rodeo, he nearly caused a riot. Prior to the event, he praised the War on Terror -- which got cheers -- and then wished that “George W. Bush will drink the blood of every man, woman and child in Iraq,” which got fewer cheers. He then sang the lyrics of the Kazakh national anthem to the tune of the “Star Spangle Banner.” That got boos.

Borat is, of course, a fictional character played by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, made famous in his hugely successful 2006 movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. While his brand of gonzo comedy might not be everybody’s cup of tea, you have to admit he’s brave and weirdly dedicated to his craft. The cops were called over 90 times during the production of Borat and Baron Cohen never broke character once.

Of all of Baron Cohen’s characters – the dim-witted wannabe gangster Ali G and the equally oblivious gay fashionista Bruno, Borat is perhaps his most likeable, and therefore his most dangerous, character. He’s so naively ignorant, so benighted by provincial prejudices that he evokes a tone of kindly condescension from just about everyone he encounters – at least before they call the cops on him. And that condescension can prove to be a trap. Borat’s casual, jarringly overt homophobia, sexism and anti-Semitism can often lead interviewees to say things out loud that they wouldn’t normally say in front of a camera. When Borat stated, “We hang homosexuals in my country!” Bobby Rowe, the producer of that rodeo quipped: “That’s what we’re trying to do here.”

The first incarnation of Borat was a Moldavian journalist named Alexi who appeared on the Granada TV show F2F in the mid-90s. For the BBC Two show Comedy Nation, Baron Cohen turned Alexi into Christo from Albania. You can see a couple of his early skits as Christo. In the one up top, he tries the patience of famed socialite Lady Colin Campbell by insisting on carrying the train of her haute couture dress. Below that, Christo stumbles uncomprehendingly into the world of S&M. Both videos, as you might expect, are NSFW.

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.

Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us

Caffeinated-cover

Journalist Murray Carpenter has written a new book about the world's most popular drug -- caffeine. And it answers questions that many coffee drinkers surely wonder about: Is caffeine addictive? What exactly does it do to our biochemistry? How does it gives us a jolt? And what health consequences does it have (or not have)? These questions all get answered in the book, Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us. And much of them were discussed when Carpenter recently visited my favorite radio program in San Francisco, KQED's Forum. You can listen to the interview below:

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Digital Dubliners: Free, 21st Century Ways to Read Joyce’s Great Story Collection on its 100th Anniversary


Read nearly any critical commentary on James Joyce’s Dubliners, his 1914 collection of short stories that chronicle the lives of ordinary Irish residents of the title city, and you’re sure to come across the word “epiphany.” This is not some academic jargon, but the word Joyce himself used to describe the way that each story builds to a shock of recognition—often in the form of painful self-awareness—for key characters. Short-circuiting the typical climax-resolution-dénouement of conventional narrative, Joyce’s epiphanies give his stories a verisimilitude that can still feel very unsettling, given our typical expectations that realist fiction still obey the rules of fiction. Dramatic moments in our lives rarely have neat and tidy endings. But in stories like “Eveline,” “Araby,” “A Little Cloud,” and the collection’s capstone piece, “The Dead,” the often feckless characters find themselves paralyzed in states of existential dread by sudden flashes of self-knowledge, unable to assimilate new and painful insights into their limited perspectives.

That final story (adapted into John Huston’s final film) “elevates the book to the level of the supreme artworks of the 20th century,” writes Mark O’Connell in Slate. O’Connell’s essay commemorates the centenary of Dubliner’s publication this month. Dubliners remains, he writes, a book that “writers of the short story form seem basically resigned to never surpassing.” Written in the author’s early 20s, the stories, as Ulysses would eight years later, “reveal something profound and essential and unrealized about the city and its people": “Dublin can feel less like a place that James Joyce wrote about than a place that is about James Joyce’s writing.” All of us non-Dubliners can enter the city through Joyce’s exquisite stories, and in an increasing variety of ways, thanks to digital technology. At the top of the post, find a digitized first edition of Dubliners. Just above, we have a reading of “Eveline” by “velvet-voiced” Dubliner Tadhg Hynes, and below, hear Irish actor Jim Norton read “The Sisters.”

You’ll find many more readings of Dubliners’ stories online, such as this deadpan reading of “Araby” from one of our favorites, Tom O’Bedlam, a Bloomsday reading of "Eveline" by award-winning Irish playwright Miriam Gallagher, and this Librivox collection of readings from various voices. I think Joyce would have very much appreciated the use of technology to keep his work alive into the 21st century. Part of his literary mission—certainly in many of Dubliners’ stories—was to illustrate the stultifying effects of clinging to the past. An eager adopter of new technologies, Joyce in fact brought the first cinema, The Volta, to Dublin in 1909. So it seems fitting that 100 years after the publication of Dubliners, his book receive the multimedia app treatment in the form of Digital Dubliners, a free, “engaging and authoritative edition” of the book designed by Boston College students and featuring “three hundred-odd images, seven hundred or so notes and explanations, two dozen videos, critical essays and hyperlinks, interactive maps sourced from contemporary newspaper, sound, film and photographic archives, with essays, film, recordings, background and expert discussion.” Watch a short promo video for Digital Dubliners below, and download the book on iTunes here.

Finally, you may wish to read the text in a more late-20th-century, and more open, format with this fully searchable “hypertextual, self-referential edition” prepared for Project Gutenberg. Whichever way you read Joyce’s Dubliners, you should, I presume to suggest, read Joyce’s Dubliners. And if you have read these stories before, even “somewhere in the double figures,” as Mark O’Connell has, then you’ll know how richly they reward re-reading, or hearing, or studying along with other readers and lovers of Joyce and a well-worn map of Dublin, or its shimmering touch-screen digital equivalent.

Dubliners also appears in our two collections, 900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free and 800 Free eBooks for iPad, Kindle & Other Devices.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones & The Beatles Played on a 3-String Electric Mountain Dulcimer

My parents always seemed to me to represent two very different strains of sixties counterculture. My mom loved Peter, Paul and Mary, Appalachian folk and bluegrass, and played the dulcimer and autoharp. My dad loved psychedelic rock, and had an extensive collection of Zeppelin, Beatles, Floyd, and Hendrix records. It wasn’t a Dylan-goes-electric-level disagreement, but their fond reminisces of the glory days could sometimes get a little tense. But as we’ve seen in decades since, folkies, hippies, and psych-rockers can come together, and not only in 70s folk-rock bands from California. Take Robert Plant and Allison Krauss’s fruitful and unlikely collaboration, for instance, or the dozens of Led Zeppelin and Rolling Stones covers by dozens of flannel-clad indie folkers.

In the past decade or so, it almost came to seem like psychedelic blues-rock and mountain folk music had always made comfortable bedfellows, and maybe they had. (After all, Zeppelin included folk instruments on several of their classic songs, like John Paul Jones’ mandolin on “Going to California.”) As further evidence we have 3-string electric mountain dulcimer player Sam Edelstein, who covers classic rock songs on an instrument usually thought of as particularly gentle, delicate, and sweet, as its name implies. At the top, see Edelstein rip through a searing version of Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” Just above, he does a killer take on the Rolling Stones’ “19th Nervous Breakdown,” and below, Edelstein plays an increasingly rocking cover of The Beatles’ “Come Together” at the National Mountain Dulcimer Competition. As uploader Contemporary Dulcimer states on Youtube, “the dulcimer’s roots may be in folk music, but it’s a natural rock & roll instrument.” Indeed. Who knew?

via Ultimate Classic Rock

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Free Archive of Audio Interviews with Rock, Jazz & Folk Legends Now on iTunes

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Back in 2012, we told you about how the Library of Congress launched the Joe Smith Collection, an audio archive featuring 200+ interviews with legendary music artists, all recorded during the 1980s by Joe Smith while researching and writing his book Off the Record. The audio collection, still available on the web, has now been brought to iTunesU. And the iTunes collection has a virtue that the web archive doesn't -- it lets you download instead of stream the audio files.

If you're a music junkie, you won't want to miss the longform interviews with legendary figures like Dave Brubeck, Lou Reed, Paul McCartney, Joan Baez, Herbie Hancock, David Bowie, George Harrison, Yoko Ono, James Brown, Bo Diddley, Jerry Garcia, Christine McVie, Mick Jagger, Linda Ronstadt and more. Each interview runs 30-60 good minutes. You can enter the archive here.

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