Yesterday the most coveted award for literature--the Nobel Prize--was awarded to the French dramatist, novelist, psychologist, critic, and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre was notified of the selection while calmly eating lunch at a side walk cafe in Paris--a perfect set and cast for a production of Les Rhinoceros--but the actual setting for something far more absurd.
Sartre's big line was, "Je refuse."
Jean-Paul Sartre is afraid of compromising himself. In the light of fame it is becoming difficult for him to play the part of the troubled existentialist--the outcast the poor little French orphan with no place to go, nothing to do, and nothing to say. Ever since the first publication of La Nausee (1938) Sartre has subjected himself to a rigorous and naked self-examination and society to a penetrating cross-examination. He values nothing but life itself which at best seems to be nothing more than the meaningless least common denominator of the world around him. What meaning, then, could a little old' Nobel Prize have? Obviously none. So why not refuse it and prove a point? Well, that is just what he did, but just what did he prove?
Jean-Paul Sartre will not allow himself to be packaged, labeled, or delivered before the world as winner of the Nobel Prize for literature. People might under stand him then. But whether he likes it or not, whether he deserves it or not the award is his; and Sartre, unfortunately knows it. He has been labeled (God forbid), and it is only an act of pretension to deny that it has meaning and not to have the humility to accept this fact. Why must the absurd standards he sets for himself be our standards for judging his work? If he is only writing for him self, why does he publish? Presumably there is more involved; in which case it is absurd to pretend that he does not hear public opinion.
The truth of the matter seems to be that while Sartre may be flattered deer down in his heart, he fears that praise may alter his ego and corrode his style After all, he has been playing the part of the Voice in the wilderness for so long that it may disturb him to realize that people have been listening all along.
Then again, it may be that Sartre has been sitting around like an ugly toad since 1957 walling for the opportunity to spit at the Nobel Prize Committee. Albert Camus was their selection that year. Is Sartre just a poor loser? It seems hard to believe, for he had a deep respect for Camus. Besides Sartre has had Simone, a series of best-sellers, and seven years to recover. Now when the honor which was sooner or later to be his has come it seems a rather ineffectual and stupid gesture to refuse. Peter R. Berreill '65