• 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
Sweden slammed for racism report omissions

Sweden slammed for racism report omissions

The Swedish government has been criticized by a slew of organisations for omitting a series of notorious cases of discrimination and a general lack of self-criticism in its report to the UN Human Rights Council. READ  

Sport
Sweden's star striker Zlatan 'recovering well'
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is Sweden's top scorer in history. PHOTO: TT/Maja Suslin

Sweden's star striker Zlatan 'recovering well'

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is recovering well from the nagging heel problem that has stopped him playing for Sweden during its Euro 2016 qualifying campaign. READ  

International
Swedish sisters create viral Syria stir
A shot from the video on YouTube.

Swedish sisters create viral Syria stir

Two sisters from Södertälje near Stockholm are celebrating getting more than 1.3 million hits on YouTube, with a video calling for peace in war-torn Syria. READ  

Pirate Bay
Pirate Bay founder gets three years in prison
A 2013 image of Svartholm Warg. Photo: TT

Pirate Bay founder gets three years in prison

Swedish "hactivist" Gottfrid Svartholm Warg has been sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison for hacking crimes. READ  

Royal family
Princess Madeleine to make Nobel comeback
Princess Madeleine at a previous Nobel banquet. Photo: TT

Princess Madeleine to make Nobel comeback

Sweden's Princess Madeleine is scheduled to appear at the Nobel Festival in Stockholm in December, after taking time out from her royal duties to focus on looking after her daughter. READ  

Politics
'We knew that Israel would be critical'
Foreign Minister Margot Wallström (left), with Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. Photo: TT

'We knew that Israel would be critical'

Sweden's Foreign Minister has told The Local she respects Israel's decision to recall its ambassador after Sweden officially recognized the State of Palestine, and laughed off comments about IKEA furniture made by her Israeli counterpart. READ  

Analysis
'Store up your sunlight hours before winter'
Doctors say we should make the most of the autumn sunshine. Photo: Shutterstock

'Store up your sunlight hours before winter'

Spending time outdoors this autumn will help you survive a cold, dark Swedish winter. Baba Pendse, Head of Psychiatry at Lund University shares his top tips for battling the seasonal blues with The Local. READ  

Sports
Plot for shared Scandi Winter Olympic bid
Skiers hit the slopes in Åre, western Sweden. Photo: TT

Plot for shared Scandi Winter Olympic bid

Norwegian sports officials have said they want to co-host the winter Olympics with Sweden in 2026. But there has so far been no official response from Sweden. READ  

National
Anti-Israel graffiti 'not a race crime': Court
Photo: TT

Anti-Israel graffiti 'not a race crime': Court

A teenage boy who painted anti-Israel slogans and symbols on the Concert Hall in Gothenburg has been convicted for the damages he caused, but he walked free from racial agitation charges. READ  

Entertainment
A closer look at Sweden's rising stars
Swedish actresses Sandra Huldt and Julia Ragnarsson. Julia (right) has been nominated for a Rising Star award. Photo: TT

A closer look at Sweden's rising stars

Like to be ahead of the game when it comes to the next big thing on the silver screen? We find out more about the Swedish nominees for the Rising Star award to be presented at Stockholm's International Film Festival next week. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Lifestyle
Stockholm's shocking take on Halloween
Sport
Top ten quotes from Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Business & Money
Get your own office in Gothenburg or Stockholm - free for a day
Gallery
People-watching: October 30th
National
Sweden remains fourth best for gender equality
Blog updates

31 October

Editor’s Blog, October 31st (The Local Sweden) »

"Hello readers, Welcome to our latest 60-second round-up of the week’s news. First, Sweden made headlines around the..." READ »

 

29 October

Scariest day (Blogweiser) »

"This is what’s frightening me on Halloween. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4OFZVCu8J0&list=UUJu5J7jG4uoYSjWbpFsJBuQ Follow my posts on FB. ..." READ »

 
 
 
National
Timeline: Julian Assange sex allegations
Sport
World Cup ski race on 'fake' Stockholm slope
Society
An Arctic tradition: hunting and handicraft
Society
Stockholm taxis offer free therapy sessions
National
The Local meets Health Minister Gabriel Wikström
Gallery
Property of the week: Österåker
Society
Homeless turtles get Stockholm police ride
National
Construction worker has 'Sweden's best beard'
National
Italian musician jazzes up Sweden's Lapland
Gallery
Zlatan's career in pictures
Finest.se
Gallery
People-watching: October 25th and 26th
Lifestyle
'Swedes are funnier than they think'
National
Swedish town 'like Venice' after heavy rains
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
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
Dentist gives free care to Roma beggars
Gallery
Property of the week: Malmö
Gallery
PHOTOS: 'Foreign activity' in Swedish waters
TT
Society
QUIZ: How good is your Swedish?
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
Stockholm is 'best' region for well-being
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

935
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