Member's abrupt resignation rocks Nobel Prize community
Timing a mystery; panelist cites '04 literature award
BERLIN -- A loud crack of dissent yesterday rattled the secretive world that hands out Nobel Prizes.
Days before this year's literature prize announcement, a member of the Swedish Academy, which gives the award, resigned in disgust over last year's unexpected winner, Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek. The scuffle in the august literary chambers of Stockholm resulted from a searing letter from a disgruntled 82-year-old academy member.
That member, Knut Ahnlund, sent a missive to the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet. He characterized Jelinek's work as ''whining, unenjoyable public pornography" and said her prize ''has not only been an irreparable damage to all progressive forces, it has also confused the general view of literature as an art."
He added: ''After this, I cannot even formally remain in the Swedish Academy. . . . I consider myself an outsider."
Ahnlund did not say why he had waited so long to voice his dissent. Horace Engdahl, the academy's permanent secretary, told the Swedish media that Ahnlund had not attended academy meetings for nearly a decade and had not been involved in Jelinek's selection. He suggested that Ahnlund had timed his letter to spoil the naming of the next recipient, set for tomorrow.
''This very possibly has something to do with the fact that this week the academy will announce this year's winner," Engdahl said. ''He knows nothing about the discussion that led to the choice of Elfriede Jelinek, so what he says in this article of his is empty speculation."
The resignation was submitted amid heightened anticipation of the 2005 prize.
The academy had been expected to name a recipient Oct. 6, but delayed the announcement. It gave no reason.
It will be the first time in years that the literature recipient will be named after the first week of October, although the academy's rules allow discretion to alter the timing of an announcement.
Some European literati have suggested an ideological or political split among members over a recipient. The academy has denied such reports. The prize carries an award of $1.3 million.
Public resignations from the 18-member academy are rare, but they can offer a glimpse into a collection of intellectuals viewed as everything from curmudgeonly, eccentric, visionary, clueless, politically motivated, and most often, unpredictable. In 1989, Kerstin Ekman and Lars Gyllensten quit after accusing the academy of not supporting Salman Rushdie against death threats from the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini over the novel ''The Satanic Verses."
Jelinek's prize reflected the academy's occasional preference for unconventional style and work that is not always widely translated. A tint of leftist politics, an allegation the academy denies, also surrounded her selection: Jelinek's most recent works were sharply critical of the Bush administration and the war on Iraq.
The academy cited Jelinek, whose semiautobiographical 1983 novel ''The Piano Teacher" was made into an award-winning film, ''for her musical flow of voices and countervoices in novels and plays that with extraordinary linguistic zeal reveal the absurdity of society's cliches and their subjugating power."
In his letter to the newspaper yesterday, Ahnlund characterized Jelinek's writing as ''a mass of text shoveled together, without artistic structure."
Attempting to guess the academy's choices has become an exasperating parlor game for writers and critics. The favorite of oddsmakers this year is the Syrian poet Adonis, whose given name is Ali Ahmad Said. Other contenders include poets Thomas Transtromer of Sweden, Ko Un of South Korea, and American writers Philip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates.
Another possibility is Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, whose books include ''Snow" and ''My Name is Red." Pamuk would present the academy with another bit of perplexing politics. Turkey recently started talks to join the European Union after promising to improve its rights record.
Meanwhile, Pamuk is awaiting a free-speech trial for statements he made in an interview that accused Turkey of genocide in its treatment of Armenians and Kurds in the early 20th century.