Relaciones Internacionales – Comunicación Internacional

Nobel’s Hits and Misses (The Atlantic, 1966)

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“Given the impossible task of rewarding people for a service that nobody has yet discovered how to perform, the Norwegians have acquitted themselves creditably.” Donald Fleming

Riddle: Tolstoy, Chekhov, Gorky, Ibsen, Strindberg, Zola, Proust, Kafka, Rilke, Brecht, Croce, Hardy, Henry James, Mark Twain, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, D. J. Lawrence, García Lorca – what do they have in common? Well, yes, but besides that, they were living after the Nobel Prizes got under way, and didn’t win in literature. Sully Prudhomme, José Echegaray, Rudolf Eucken, Paul von Heyse, Verner von Heidenstam, Wladyslaw Reymont, Grazia Deledda, Erik A. Karlfeldt, Frans Sillanpää, and Halldór Laxness did.

Mendeleev of the periodic table and Willard Gibbs of the phase rule didn’t win in chemistry; but Henri Moissan and Fritz Pregl did. Gandhi didn’t win the prize for peace; Bertha von Suttner did. Lister didn’t win in medicine; Johannes Fibiger did. Who was Fibiger? Who indeed?

Yet despite fantastic omissions and dubious awards, the luster of the Nobel Prizes has remained absolutely undimmed as the most glittering recognition of intellect that can come to a man or woman of the twentieth century. Soon the drama will begin all over again with a new cast of anywhere from three to ten people. The prizewinners and their biographers have left many accounts of the experience, only to be compared with the letting down of a ladder from heaven in the lives of the saints.

The golden moment will gild the rest of a lifetime. The prizewinner has been lifted up above his professional associates, authenticated as a world figure by the only genuine stamp. Why, exactly, have the Nobel Prizes riveted the attention of the twentieth century as no other distinctions have done? The answer is that they reflect and epitomize some of the principal historical transformations of the age, and more than this, they embody the psychological tensions that profound historical change produces.

In the century that has seen the waning of nationalism as an untroubled faith, the Nobel Prizes have symbolized the harmonious world community that cannot seem to get born but clearly must. One of them is actually for peace and harmony among nations, but in a larger sense all of them together undertake to single out contributions from any source to the welfare of the entire human race. At the same time, in a world where nationalism, however tarnished morally, is still the mainspring of practical affairs, the prizes lend themselves to tabulation according to nationality in a kind of spiritual Olympics.



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