SWEDEN HAS A REPUTATION for a high suicide rate. But a psychological crackup striking an ordinary Scandinavian, brooding in the long, dark winter, is merely a personal tragedy. By contrast, the moral suicide of a whole institution, like the Swedish Academy--which has responsibility for awarding the Nobel Prize in Literature--is messier and more disturbing.
Yet like a pack of lemmings drunk on home-made aquavit, the Stockholm snobs have continued their rush to fully discredit the literature Nobels, by selecting Harold Pinter as their 2005 laureate. Pinter is an exhausted English playwright whose sole and obvious current qualification for the prize is his strident participation in the America-baiting, Israel-hating protests against the liberation of Iraq.
Pinter himself admitted that his career no longer has anything to do with literary aspirations. Notified of his good fortune, since the prize includes a $1.3 million payout, he snarled today, "I have written 29 plays and I think that's really enough. I think the world has had enough of my plays." He then declared that he has given up playwriting altogether.
Given that Pinter has produced no significant work for the stage in 40 years, one should perhaps admire the candor of his self-criticism. But viewed from another perspective, the Swedes have written a new chapter in ignobility, presenting the world's top literary honor to an author who considers his own work irrelevant. That, at least, could not be said of some of the anti-democracy miscreants previously so recognized in Stockholm. They have included the 1999 choice, German novelist Gunter Grass, a veteran of the Nazi forces in the Second World War and unsparing foe of Western values; the 1998 laureate, the Portuguese Jose Saramago, a former Communist censor, and his immediate predecessor Dario Fo, a tireless enemy of religion. Some have never forgiven the ignominious past selection of Pablo Neruda, a fervent Stalinist and clandestine agent for the Soviet secret police. But, at the very least, none of those puffers and fakes would have disclaimed the importance of their writerly efforts.
Pinter, the George Galloway of literary London, has his eyes on bigger things than creative achievement. No longer a star in the world of theatre, he retains a theatrical personality. He is a pathological Bushophobe, whose hatred of our president is only exceeded by his disgust with Tony Blair. Pinter has called Blair a "deluded idiot." (With characteristic gentility, the prime minister's office commented, "Of course we congratulate Harold Pinter on the recognition that he has received.") Some in the media described Pinter's Nobel as "surprising," but the Swedes were actually reprising the scandal they perpetrated last year when they presented the award to an obscure Austrian pornographer, Elfriede Jelinek, whose only claim to fame was her production of a work attacking the U.S. intervention in Iraq.
That disgrace caused a rift within the Stockholm academy itself. This week Knut Ahnlund, a member of the once-august body, angrily announced his resignation, denouncing the Austrian termagant with the piquant argument that his fellow-academicians had not read any of her work at all.
But why should they have? She, like Harold Pinter, owes her Nobel to her posturing against American foreign policy. Jelinek herself has been quick to praise the Swedes for choosing another leftist as a recipient of the award.
Perhaps it is time to simply ignore, and forget, the Nobels.
Stephen Schwartz is a frequent contributor to The Weekly Standard.