A Few Thoughts on the Nobel Prize for Literature
Not necessarily “terribly important” thoughts, but when I posted Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison’s quote on Saturday, I visited the Nobel Prize website.
The visual context of the site struck me in quite a profound way. Across the top is a header, which reads:
Physics … Chemistry … Medicine … Literature … Peace … Economics
The fact that Literature was there was “the thing” that struck me—not because I think it is in any way out of place, but because the impression one gets in discussions of higher education funding in our modern world is that the humanities are definitely seen as a third or even fourth class citizen to sciences, engineering and commerce.
Yet Alfred Nobel, who according to the site was a “Swedish chemist, inventor of dynamite, engineer, armaments manufacturer, [and] business man” endowed one of his 5 original prizes to Literature, alongside Physics, Chemistry, Medicine and Peace. (The Economics Prize was endowed later by the Sveriges Riksbank.) In Nobel’s eyes at least, therefore, Literature was perceived as both First Class, and equal…
Perhaps, in our contemporary consideration of what has value in societal and learning terms, we need to ask ourselves why Nobel might have given Literature that standing.
Or perhaps the answer comes from the citation for the very first Nobel Prize for Literature, awarded to the French poet and philosopher Sully Prudhomme, who in his poetry showed the “rare combination of the qualities of both heart and intellect”.
Heart and intellect—and offering us a lens perhaps, through which to examine ourselves…
Literature, a pursuit of equal value with Physics, Chemistry, Medicine and Peace.
Who’d have thought?