Toni Morrison receives her Nobel Prize from the King of Sweden and acknowledges the applause of the crowd.
AP Photos.

President Shapiro led a Princeton entourage to Stockholm, Sweden, in earl December to fete the university’s trio of Nobel laureates and to witness the award ceremonies. Russell A. Hulse, a research scientist at the Plasma Physics Lab, and Professor Joseph H. Taylor shared the prize in physics; Toni Morrison, a professor of humanities, received the literature prize. An excerpt (© 1993 The Nobel Foundation) from her Nobel lecture follows:

“The systematic looting of language can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forgo its nuanced, complex properties for menace and subjugation. Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. Whether it is obscuring state language or the faux-language of mindless media; whether it is the proud but calcified language of the academy or the commodity-drive language of science; whether it is the malign language of law-without-ethics, or language designed for the estrangement of minorities, hiding its racist plunder in its literary cheek – it must be rejected, altered, and exposed. It is the language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind. Sexist language, racist language, theistic language – all are typical of the policing languages of mastery, and cannot, do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas.”

This was originally published in the January 26, 1994 issue of PAW.