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Rumblings of Controversy at the Swedish Academy


Moving now from one untold story to another, the winner of this year's Nobel Prize for literature will be announced this morning. The announcement usually comes with all the other Nobel winners, and that would have been last week, and when it was delayed rumors circulated there was a split among the judges. Earlier this week, a member of the Swedish Academy resigned over a seemingly unrelated matter. Seemingly. NPR's Neda Ulaby reports.

NEDA ULABY reporting:

When Austrian author Elfriede Jelinek won last year's Nobel Prize for literature, it took Katherine Arens by surprise.

Ms. KATHERINE ARENS (University of Texas): Completely.

ULABY: Arens teaches German at the University of Texas. She co-edited a book about Jelinek.

Ms. ARENS: Completely from the point of view of eminent Austrian authors, not surprised if one takes the last 20 years of the Nobel Prizes being responses to certain kinds of political correctness.

ULABY: Arens believes Jelinek was chosen because the Swedish Academy had decided to reward a postmodern European feminist.

Ms. ARENS: So she fit a lot of the bills.

ULABY: But such pigeonholing was not the complaint of Nut Onland(ph). He's an older, inactive member of the Swedish Academy. He quit Tuesday over Jelinek's selection. It's not clear why he waited a full year to do it, but Onland attacked Jelinek's work in a Swedish newspaper. He called it, quote, "a mass of text that appears shoveled together without trace of artistic structure."

Ms. ARENS: There is a point there.

ULABY: Katherine Arens.

Ms. ARENS: Even if you accept postmodern literature pastiche as a kind of deconstruction of an untenable political viewpoint.

ULABY: Snap. And there's a heated debate this year, according to international newspapers, over whether to honor Turkish author Orhan Pamuk. Erdag Goknar is an assistant professor at Duke University who translated one of Pamuk's novels into English.

Professor ERDAG GOKNAR (Duke University): He's young to get the Nobel. I mean, he's 53 years old. That would be young.

ULABY: Pamuk has written just seven novels. And Goknar concedes that most Nobel literature laureates are rewarded for a lifetime of achievements.

Prof. GOKNAR: But he's at a point in his career where he is both a cultural figure inside and outside of Turkey and he's now a very political figure inside and outside of Turkey.

ULABY: Pamuk is scheduled to stand trial in his homeland this December for publicly commenting on Turkey's role in the massacre of thousands of Armenians during World War I. Palmuk's selection would be additionally freighted because the European Union is deciding whether to include Turkey as a member.

But there's also speculation that delay came, not from international politics, but aesthetics; specifically, whether to choose a nonfiction writer as this year's Nobel literature laureate. Neda Ulaby, NPR News, Washington.

INSKEEP: You can find details about this year's Nobel winners, from peace to physics, at npr.org.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. With Renee Montagne, I'm Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.