The Ig Nobel Award

Aug 28, 20165 min read

The Ig Nobel awards had been established as a reaction against the Nobel Awards. The aim was "to first make people laugh, and then make them think", probably because the Nobel Awards make us wonder if we should laugh or cry. Ig Nobel is organized by the bi-monthly magazine 'Annals of Improbable Research'.

The Ig Nobel for literature had been awarded in 1999 to the British Standard Institute for its six-page specification of 'the proper way to make a cup of tea'. In 2009, to Ireland's police force for writing 50 traffic tickets to a Polish driver 'Prawo Jazdy'. Prawo Jazdy is the polish term for driving license, as reported by BBC.

If Alfred Nobel had not been called "a merchant of death", by a French newspaper, publishing his obituary before his death (mistaking the death of his brother Ludvig), and had he not read his own obituary, would he have altered his will to create the Nobel Awards?

Nobel stipulated in his will that most of his estate, more than SEK 31 million (today approximately SEK 1,688 million) should be converted into a fund and invested in "safe securities."

The original citation of this Nobel Prize has led to much controversy. In the original Swedish translation, the word idealisk can mean either "idealistic" or "ideal." In earlier years the Nobel Committee stuck closely to the intent of the will, and left out certain world-renowned writers such as Tolstoy and Ibsen for the prize because their works were not deemed "idealistic" enough. In later years the wording has been interpreted more liberally, and it is claimed that the prize has been awarded for lasting literary merit. (New World Encyclopedia)

On December 10th 1913, when the Nobel prize was awarded to Ravindranath Tagore, the presentation speech by Harold Hjarne, Chairman of the Nobel Committee, had begun with the words, "The Anglo-Indian Poet, Rabindranath Tagore", even though in terms of Nobel's will, "no consideration should be paid to the nationality to which any proposed candidate might belong". Thus there was no need to attach the "Anglo" to his nationality, or to insult him further by saying, "Tagore has been hailed from various quarters as a new and admirable master of that poetic art which has been a never-failing concomitant of the expansion of British civilization ever since the days of Queen Elizabeth."

Tagore did not attend the award ceremony. The award had been accepted by a British official which was later presented to Tagore in Calcutta. If Tagore was aware of these insults, why did he accept it?

In 1964, Sartre said "Literature functioned as a bourgeois substitute for real commitment in the world" and declined the Nobel Prize for Literature, stating that "It is not the same thing if I sign Jean-Paul Sartre or if I sign Jean-Paul Sartre, Nobel Prize winner. A writer must refuse to allow himself to be transformed into an institution, even if it takes place in the most honorable form." He was the only person to ever decline a Nobel Prize.

Boris Pasternak at first accepted the 1958 Nobel Prize in Literature, but was forced by Soviet authorities to decline it because the prize was considered a "reward for the dissident political innuendo in his novel, Doctor Zhivago". Nobel Foundation had later awarded the medal to his son.

The Prize in Literature has a history of controversial awards and notorious snubs. Major authors have been ignored by the Nobel Committee, including James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, John Updike, Garcia Lorca and so many others, often for political or extra-literary reasons, while "inconsequential or transitional" writers won the prize.

Albert Camus when he won the prize in 1956, believed that Andre Malraux was more deserving. According to Burton Feldman, the Nobel committee sometimes "was against honouring too well-known writers....why bother to celebrate the celebrated?"

The 1974 prize was denied to Graham Greene, Vladimar Nabokov and Saul Bellow in favor of a joint award for Swedish authors Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson who were unknown outside Sweden, but happened to have served as judges of the Nobel committee. Bellow won it two years later, but neither Greene nor Nabokov took home the prize. There were also other members of the Swedish Academy (Which picked the Nobel Prize), and also won the prize, Verner von Heidenstam (1916), Erik Axel Karlfelgt (1931) and Par Lagerkvist (1951).

Churchill was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953 "for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values" and he was "a Caesar who also had the gift of wielding Cicero's stylus". Who the other nominees for the 1953 Award were, have not been officially revealed yet, even though it could be held secret for 50 years after the award. That is transparency by the Nobel committee. Among authors shunted aside to award Churchill this prize probably were many giants in the literary world like Bertolt Brecht.

The "impartiality" of the Nobel Awards for literature is evident from their own published data that out of 107 winners to date, 80 have been from Europe (including Russia 5), raising the question, which is the real 'Ignobel' prize.

Daily News 03/08/2011 Life into Arts

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