I’ve finally made good on my promise to translate this. As always, comments/encouragement/critiques are welcome!
Original post (in French): https://didierbazy.wordpress.com/2014/12/08/sartre-refuse-le-nobel-de-litterature-en-1964/
In 1964, Sartre wrote and published The Words. A short time before it was officially announced the rumor circulated that Jean Paul Sartre was going to receive the Nobel Prize, Sartre wrote a letter of apology to the secretary of the Nobel academy around October 14, 1964.
According to certain news which I read today, I would this year have some chance of winning the Nobel Prize. Although it is presumptuous to decide a vote before it is cast, I am now taking the liberty to write you to avoid a misunderstanding. I assure you first, Mr. Secretary, of my profound esteem for the Swedish academy and the prize which has honored many writers. Even so, for reasons that are personal to me and for others that are more objective, I do not desire to figure on the list of possible laureates I can not and will not, not in 1964, not later, accept the honorific distinction.
Please, Mr. Secretary, accept my apologues and believe my highest consideration.
But the letter was not opened and, anyway, the vote had already occurred. On October 22, 1964 a member of the academy officially announced: “This year, the Nobel Prize in literature has been awarded to the French author Jean Paul Sartre for his work in the spirit of liberty and research on truth, which has exercised a great influence on our time.”
Sarte wrote a letter to the academy explaining why he was refusing this prize. Here are some extracts of that letter:
I deeply regret that the affair with the prize has an appearance of scandal: a prize was distributed and someone refused it.
[?] I have invoked two types of reasons: personal reasons and objective reasons.
The personal reasons are the following: my refusal is not an improvised act. I have always declined official distinctions. When after the war, in 1945, someone nominated me for the legion of honor, I refused although I had friends in government. Also, I never had the desire to enter the College of France like some of my friends have suggested to me. [?]
It is not the same thing if I sign Jean Paul Sartre or if I sign Jean Paul Sartre, Nobel Prize winner. [?] The writer therefore has to refuse to let himself be transformed into an institution even if it is under the most honorable form, as is the case. [?]
My objective reasons are the following: the only combat now possible on the front of culture is that for the peaceful coexistence of two cultures, those of the east and those of the west. I do not want to say that it is necessary for us to embrace one another, I know well that the confrontation between the two cultures necessarily takes the form of a conflict, but it has to have a place between the men and the culture, without institutional intervention. [?] My sympathies are undeniably with socialism and what is called the eastern bloc, but I was born and I was raised in a bourgeois family. [?] However, I of course hope “the best wins,” that is to say, socialism.
This is why I cannot accept any honor distributed by the high cultural authorities, no more east than west, although I completely understand their existence. Even though my sympathies fall on the side of the socialists, I would however be incapable of accepting the Lenin prize if someone wanted to give it to me, but that is not the case. [?] During the war of Algeria when we had signed the “Manifesto of 121,” I would have accepted the prize in secret, not because it would have honored me but also the freedom for which I struggled. But that did not happen and it was not until the end of combat that I was awarded the prize.
The refusal was a lot of talk, and it was also a bit of a scandal. André Maurois asserted the same, and that if Sartre had to refuse the Nobel Prize, it was that he knew he was unable to mask himself.
[Maurois, presumably:] Why did you refuse the Nobel prize in literature in 1964?
I refused the Nobel prize because I refused to be consecrated as Sartre before death. Any artist, any writer, any man does not deserve to be consecrated while alive, because it has the power and freedom to change everything. The Nobel Prize was going to put me on a pedestal where I was not going to accomplish things, to take my freedom to act, to commit myself. All acts would be futile afterwards, as already recognized retrospectively. Imagine: A writer could receive this prize and let himself decay, and another could become even better. Which of these two deserves his prize? He who was on top and who descended from the peak or he who was commended before reaching the summit? I could have been one of the two, and no one could have predicted which I would have been. It is what has been done. I never will be the recipient of the Nobel prize, as long as I can still act in refusal.