• Sweden edition
 

No jokes please, we're the Nobel Prize Committee

Published: 03 Oct 2007 11:26 GMT+02:00
Updated: 03 Oct 2007 11:26 GMT+02:00

Every year the Swedish Academy, which awards the Nobel Prize in Literature , makes a lot of people mad.

The excitement peaks in late September, when the names of the latest candidates are whispered ear to ear among Stockholm’s literati-glitterati. Now that the Swedish model is ailing and Ingmar Bergman is dead, the Nobel is the one claim to high culture in a country that has taken to Britney Spears and Allsång på Skansen in a big way.

Yet behind the scenes of this most celebrated of prizes, now worth ten million kronor (about $1.5 million), there is a history of bungling.

The Nobel prizes were surrounded by contention from the beginning. Sweden was appalled that the peace prize was to be awarded by Norway. And while warring seldom taints the prizes in medicine and chemistry, the peace and literature prizes seem to owe their prestige more to controversy than to a perfect track record.

The British novelist Anthony Burgess, a non-laureate, once noted that the Swedish Academy had at least been consistent in making the wrong choice year after year.

Glaring in their absence are James Joyce and P.G. Wodehouse. The academy is far too earnest a body to appreciate the abundant jokes about copulation, defecation, masturbation and urination in Joyce's Ulysses.

Plethora and humour don't sit well in the hallowed chambers above the former Swedish Stock Exchange, where the academy holds deliberations before continuing on to a private dining room in an Old Town restaurant. Does this explain the inexplicable, such as a prize to Pearl Buck, a choice that could only have been after a surfeit of pea soup, pancakes and punch?

And what were they thinking when they bypassed Tolstoy and Proust, whose Remembrance of Things Past was the one novel of the 20th century that the century could not do without, while giving the prize to such literary luminaries as Rudolf Eucken, Carl Spitteler and Grazia Deledda? A particularly ugly disagreement was inspired by the prize to William Golding, "a little English phenomenon of no interest," according to one member so angered by the decision that he broke the vow of secrecy.

Bickering is common, and disagreements often turn vicious. Sometimes the factional disputes that kept Norman Mailer, Jorge Luis Borges and Graham Greene from attaching FNPW (Famous Nobel Prize Winner) to their names cannot be contained. Horace Engdahl, Secretary of the Academy, has been attacked by his enemies in the kind of language commonly reserved for the likes of Kim Il Sung.

No one in the literary community will openly criticize the academy. This might be because they hand out stipends to Swedish writers, according to one insider who wishes to remain anonymous – she still has hopes of receiving one. Many gripe that the awards are based on ideology: they say the academy has become so politically correct that members don't bother to read the books.

But Magnus Eriksson, literary critic for Svenska Dagbladet, strongly disagrees: "The academy is totally apolitical. Their decisions are well-founded and they consider literary merit only. If politics influenced them, V.S. Naipul would never have won." He explains some of the non-laureates: "Joseph Conrad was never Nobelized because the academy was scrupulously following the instructions in Nobel’s will, that the recipient’s work should have an idealistic direction.” Conrad, like Thomas Hardy, was too dark, too pessimistic.

Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, the first weapon of mass destruction, thought himself a pacifist. His will instructed that the prize should go to idealists: “I would like to help dreamers, as they find it hard to get on in life."

The prize is an earnest, edifying business. Like the country that awards it. This is no place for the rollicking abundance of a Burgess or the bleak pessimism of Joseph Conrad. It's the middle way.

Magnus Eriksson mentions Cormac McCarthy as a candidate; Peter Lutherson, head of the high-brow publishing house Atlantis, thinks Don DeLillo is deserving; Carl Otto Werkelid, culture editor at Svenska Dagbladet tips Amos Oz as a possibility, but adds that it is harder than ever to guess. The secrecy this year is absolute.

More likely, the 2007 prizewinner will be a writer most of us have never read: Syrian poet Adonis and Korean poet Ko Un are two names that keep popping up.

Hot tips from Deep Throats:

Ko Un, Korean poet

Adonis, Syrian poet

Lukewarm tips:

Amos Oz, Israeli novelist

Don DeLillo, American novelist

Cormac McCarthy, American novelist

Mario Vargas Llosa and Carlos Fuentes, Latin American novelists, to share it

Not a snowball’s chance in hell:

Jackie Collins

Jeanne Rudbeck

Paul Rapacioli (paul.rapacioli@thelocal.com)

Today's headlines
National
Swedish town 'like Venice' after heavy rains
Photo: TT

Swedish town 'like Venice' after heavy rains

Torrential rains in western Sweden have left some towns submersed as water levels have risen to 1.5 metres above normal for the season with forecasts indicating that is worse to come. READ  

Ebola crisis
Sweden pledges new aid to UN Ebola fund
Photo: TT

Sweden pledges new aid to UN Ebola fund

Sweden has offered a new sizeable contribution to the fund set up by UN chief Ban K-moon to fight the Ebola outbreak. READ  

Society
'Dark forces' target refugee hunting scheme
Photo: Lars-Göran Thuresson/Älgriket

'Dark forces' target refugee hunting scheme

The Swedish hunting association runs a project to encourage young asylum-seekers to learn about hunting, a move which has proved controversial among some far right groups. READ  

Business & Money
American sales squeeze Ericsson profits
Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg presents the third-quarter earnings report at the company's headquarters in Kista. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

American sales squeeze Ericsson profits

Swedish telecoms equipment maker Ericsson reported a decline in net profit in the third quarter despite an increase in sales, boosted by business in emerging markets. READ  

Interview
'Too many concerts feel the same'
Sofar hosts secret gigs in Swedish apartments. Photo: Sofar

'Too many concerts feel the same'

Kattis Bjork founded Stockholm's secret gig scene - Sofar - a year ago. The Local caught up with her as she prepared to celebrate the project's anniversary this weekend and revealed the concept will spread to other Swedish cities in 2015. READ  

Stockholm 'sub hunt'
Sweden calls off suspect submarine search
Ships are returning to shore in Sweden. Photo: TT

Sweden calls off suspect submarine search

The core search for a suspected foreign vessel in Swedish waters has been called off. The armed forces said they remained convinced foreign underwater activity had taken place but had not identified an intruder. READ  

Business & Money
US and Japan fuel surge for Volvo trucks
Ed Carbaugh prepares to install parts on a truck engine on an assembly line at Volvo Trucks' powertrain manufacturing facility in Hagerstown, Maryland, March 2014. Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP

US and Japan fuel surge for Volvo trucks

Sweden's Volvo, the world's second-largest maker of trucks, said Friday it saw a spike in profits in the third quarter, boosted by thriving sales in the US and Japanese markets. READ  

Inspectors attacked at rogue doc’s surgery
Cigarettes and beer photo: Shutterstock

Inspectors attacked at rogue doc’s surgery

Inspectors who were sent to shut down a doctor’s surgery in Gothenburg were physically attacked and fled the premises to get help from the police. READ  

Police turn Swede’s vodka into water
A Swede loads a car with alcohol in northern Germany. File photo: Drago Prvulovic/TT

Police turn Swede’s vodka into water

Swedish police say they will pay a man 16,000 kronor ($2,200) in damages after much of the alcohol they confiscated from him was stolen, while many of the bottles they returned were filled with water. READ  

Diplomacy
US to get first female ambassador in Sweden
File photo: Athena Center for Leadership Studies

US to get first female ambassador in Sweden

The United States Embassy in Stockholm is set to get its first female ambassador after the White House announced it was nominating the Iranian-American ex-investment banker Azita Raji to take over from Mark Brzezinski. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Lifestyle
What's On in Sweden: October 24th - 31st
Gallery
People-watching: October 22nd
Gallery
In Pictures: Prince Carl Philip and Sofia Hellqvist
Lifestyle
Eight things to love about renting a Swedish apartment
National
Vasa ship cannon blasted in Sweden
Blog updates

24 October

Editor’s blog, October 24th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hi readers, Get ready to read our weekly digest of Swedish news in less than 60 seconds. The..." READ »

 

24 October

Is darkness weather? (Blogweiser) »

"I try very hard not to talk about the weather. This has come after a decade..." READ »

 
 
 
National
Sub hunt: Day-by-day
National
Sub hunt: Stockholm islanders share their fears with The Local
Sponsored Article
The best options for oversea transfers
National
Get 20% off unique Swedish homeware
National
Dentist gives free care to Roma beggars
Business & Money
Get your own office in Gothenburg or Stockholm - free for a day
Gallery
Property of the week: Malmö
Gallery
PHOTOS: 'Foreign activity' in Swedish waters
Gallery
People-watching: October 19th
TT
Society
QUIZ: How good is your Swedish?
Lifestyle
What's on in Sweden: October 17th - 24th
Society
The nudity... and nine other things expat men notice in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 15th
Gallery
Your views: Should outdoor smoking be banned in Sweden?
Business & Money
Sweden has 'large hole' in finances
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Finding a job in Stockholm
Society
Monster salmon caught in northern Sweden
Gallery
Property of the week: Lorensberg
National
Scandinavia's child bride
National
Ebola crisis: How is Sweden preparing?
Business & Money
How Sweden is becoming a cashless society
Gallery
Stockholm Burlesque Festival 2014
National
How a little red horse became a symbol for Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 12th
Business & Money
The hottest start-ups from southern Sweden
National
What's on in Sweden: October 10th - 17th
National
Stockholm is 'best' region for well-being
Gallery
People-watching: October 8th
National
Five facts to know about Patrick Modiano
Society
My Swedish Career: A French fashionista in Sweden
Society
Swede's anti-bully Facebook tale goes viral
Society
Have you seen Sweden's viral subway cancer campaign?
National
Isis: Swedes linked to Turkish prisoner swap
National
Should Swedes be banned from buying sex abroad?
Gallery
Fredrik Reinfeldt's leaving presents
National
Five Swedish TV shows you shouldn't miss
Gallery
A tool belt, a casserole, and a book. Fredrik Reinfeldt's parliament gifts
TT
Lifestyle
Top five winter festivals in Sweden
TT
National
Sami reindeer herders win mine reprieve
Gallery
Property of the Week: Gamla Enskede
Sponsored Article
How to catch the first lobster of the year
Team SCA
Sponsored Article
All-female SCA team takes off on Volvo Ocean Race
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

985
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
http://psdmedia.se
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
AA-EUROPE.ORG/SWEDEN