This Day In Literary History
On October 22nd, 1964, the legendary French writer and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre won the Nobel Prize for Literature, which he declined. He was the first person to ever decline the award.
When Sartre learned that he was in contention to receive a Nobel Prize, he wrote to the Nobel Institute and asked that his name be removed from the list of candidates. The Swedish Academy had already made its decision to give him the prize.
Sartre didn't want to cause a scandal by refusing the Nobel Prize, nor did he want to offend the Swedish Academy, so he prepared a statement explaining that he always turned down "official distinctions."
He turned down such honors because "A writer must refuse to allow himself to be transformed into an institution, even if it takes place in an honorable form."
Sartre believed that if a writer carried the authority of an institution along with his name, it wasn't fair to the reader, saying that "It is not the same thing if I sign Jean-Paul Sartre or if I sign Jean-Paul Sartre, Nobel Prize winner."
He had previously turned down both the French Legion of Honor - the highest award given by his country's government - and a tenured teaching position at the prestigious College de France.
Jean-Paul Sartre was not only a novelist; he was also a playwright, a screenwriter, and most famously, an existentialist philosopher and founding father of the existentialist movement in 20th century literature.
As a young man studying at the elite École Normale Supérieure from 1924 to 1929, Sartre met legendary writer Simone de Beauvoir, who would become his lifelong companion. They would spend hours in cafes, talking and writing.
Sartre's first novel, Nausea, was published in 1938. A year later, he was drafted into the French Army. During World War II, he was captured and made a prisoner of war for almost a year.
After he was released and France fell to the Nazis, he became a fighter for the French Resistance. During the war years, he published his first major existentialist work, Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology (1943).
Sartre's most famous work was his classic 1945 novel, The Age of Reason, the first in a trilogy of existentialist novels called The Roads to Freedom. The other two novels in the trilogy were The Reprieve (1947) and Troubled Sleep (1949).
In the 1960s, Sartre became a political activist. A communist sympathizer, he sought to reconcile his existentialist philosophy and ideas of free will with communist principles. He went to Cuba to meet Fidel Castro, and also met the legendary revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara.
Following Guevara's assassination, Sartre said of him, "[He was] not only an intellectual but also the most complete human being of our age." Back in Paris, Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir supported the radical student uprisings.
Jean-Paul Sartre died in 1980 at the age of 74.
Quote Of The Day
"Words are more treacherous and powerful than we think." - Jean-Paul Sartre
Today's video features a lecture on the life and philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre. Enjoy!