Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Nobody's perfect

  • At Salon, George Rafael points out that other Nobel Prize winners haven't been saints, either.
Now that Gunter Grass has outed himself as being a member of the SS, it's time for more dirt on previous Nobel winners from decades past:
Knut Hamsun, Mikhail Sholokhov and Pablo Neruda scraped the lowest depths. A lifelong Germanophile whose pathological antipathy to modern life and much of Western civilization informed his oeuvre, Hamsun (Norway 1920) became a collaborator during the Nazi occupation of Norway. His enthusiasm was such that he gave his Nobel Prize medal to that prime specimen of the master race (and failed novelist), Joseph Goebbels; he also met Hitler. Unlike his infamous friend, Nazi politician Vidkun Quisling, Hamsun escaped the firing squad after the Second World War; he was judged insane.

According to scholars, notably Roy Medvedev, huge chunks of Sholokhov's prize-winning "And Quiet Flows the Don" (USSR 1965) were lifted from the works of Fyodor Kryukov, a Cossack and anti-Bolshevik writer who died of typhus in 1920. His victory was the crowning glory of a Communist Party toady whose rise in Soviet literary officialdom, as witnessed by dissident writer Vassily Aksyonov, was nothing "other than a supreme farce. Decade after decade his pen failed to create anything worth reading. Meanwhile, his mouth created nothing but propagandistic banalities."

The most shameful (and least known) episode, however, concerns Neruda, a lifelong, unrepentant Stalinist. During his stint at the Chilean Embassy in Paris dealing with asylum applications from Spanish Civil War refugees, Neruda is said to have heavily favored those who shared his hard-line beliefs when it came to issuing visas. One wonders how many of the rejected perished in concentration camps or wound up as slave laborers under Nazi and Vichy rule. There's also the little matter of Neruda's aiding and abetting under diplomatic cover an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Trotsky in Mexico in 1940, an action he defended his entire life.

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