• 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

Sweden's literati-glitterati are whispering the names of the candidates for this year's Nobel Prize in Literature. As Jeanne Rudbeck writes, jokes and vulgarity don't go down well at the academy that bypassed Joyce and Wodehouse.

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)

Don't miss...X
Left Right
Today's headlines
Florida 'mystery knight' dies in Sweden
Michael Boatwright (R) and Medieval knight re-enactors.

Florida 'mystery knight' dies in Sweden

The "motel mystery" American who baffled US authorities by only speaking Swedish when he woke up from a coma last year has passed away, Swedish media reported on Wednesday. READ () »

Swedes open coffin of 850-year-old king
Photo: Bertil Ericson/TT

Swedes open coffin of 850-year-old king

UPDATED: Scientists pried open the 850-year-old casket of King Erik the Holy on Wednesday, hoping to find out more about the king, his crown, and his eating habits. READ () »

TeliaSonera announces first-quarter profit drop
TeliaSonera CEO Johan Dennelind. File photo: TT

TeliaSonera announces first-quarter profit drop

Stockholm-listed telecom operator TeliaSonera on Wednesday said profits had fallen in the first quarter, but hoped offering customers more data solutions in the future would turn things around. READ () »

'Imperfect EU better than revolting nationalism'
Fredrik Reinfeldt. File photo: TT

'Imperfect EU better than revolting nationalism'

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt on Wednesday urged young voters to head to the European parliamentary polls on May 25th "to cure the European disease of nationalism". READ () »

Ericsson quarterly profit defies sluggish sales
Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg at the first quarter press conference. Photo: TT

Ericsson quarterly profit defies sluggish sales

Swedish telecom giant Ericsson on Wednesday announced a drop in sales but posted a sharp rise in first-quarter profit, which nonetheless fell shy of analyst predictions. READ () »

Fatal Norrköping brawl
Four brothers held as cops fear brawl reprisals
Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Four brothers held as cops fear brawl reprisals

Swedish police fear that several people involved in a brawl in eastern Sweden on Monday night may be seeking revenge after two brothers were shot dead. READ () »

Sponsored Article
Beautiful pearls of southeast Sweden
The town of Västervik.

Beautiful pearls of southeast Sweden

Ask a Swede, and they are likely to say that their favourite holiday spot is in the southeast of Sweden. Eastern Småland and Öland offer a smörgåsbord of all the things dearest to the Swedes - from the beloved children's book author Astrid Lindgren to deep forests, long sandy beaches, perfect spots for that all-important 'fika', and a surprising amount of space, peace and quiet. READ () »

Weekend weather to bring summer warmth
Swedes enjoy hot dogs and cherry blossoms in Stockholm's Kungsträdgården. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Weekend weather to bring summer warmth

The sun is set to stick around and temperatures could climb into the twenties over the weekend, Swedish meteorologists said on Wednesday READ () »

'Day-care rapist' admits molesting eight kids

'Day-care rapist' admits molesting eight kids

A 21-year-old man confessed on Wednesday to sex crimes against eight children at a day care where he was working as an intern. READ () »

Swedish cops nab man for having big muscles
An unrelated bodybuilder. File photo: Ann Törnkvist

Swedish cops nab man for having big muscles

Police in Sweden's south who hauled a muscular man in for steroid testing have had their knuckles rapped, after it was ruled that big biceps cannot be grounds for narcotics suspicions. READ () »

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
TT
Gallery
Inside the 850-year-old king's coffin
Features
Sponsored: South-eastern Sweden offers Öland beaches and more
Gallery
Swedish underwear shop puts staff in front of the camera
Gallery
IN PICTURES: The Local's Property of the Week - Täby
Sponsored: India+Sweden Week - India Unlimited
Features
Sponsored: India+Sweden Week - A film, food, and finance feast
National
University applications rocket to record high
finest.se
Gallery
People-watching April 18-20
TT
Society
Kids in Victorian garb mark Swedish Easter
Shutterstock
National
Swedish MP ordered chemtrail probe
Society
Swedish supermarket Ica pulls contested Easter commercial off air
Kungahuset
Society
Swedish royals set baptism date for princess
finest.se
Gallery
People-watching April 16
Advertisement:
Politics
Who's the prime minister's heir?
Alfie Atkins
Society
Are children's books the key to families integrating in Sweden?
National
'Sweden Dem protests cater to party's martyr image'
National
'Swedish research grants were fantastic, but now it's like Australia'
Society
Only in Sweden: The ten problems you'd never encounter elsewhere
National
Swedes stopped to take my picture, but didn't look me in the eyes
Business & Money
A swipe of the hand replaced cash and cards in Lund
YouTube
Features
Video: Oliver Gee finds out how to embrace The Swedish Hug
TT
National
Abba duo hints at reunion
Private
National
Flash mobs hug it out across Sweden
Finest.se
Gallery
People-watching April 11-13
Stockholm School of Economics
Sponsored Article
Why a bachelor's degree is no longer enough
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 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

Blog Update: The Diplomatic Dispatch

28 October 15:16

The Green Growth Group Summit »

"Today on the 28 October in Brussels, a large group of key EU Ministers and business people, including UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Edward Davey, and Swedish Environment Minister Lena Ek, will meet to discuss green growth. They all have a stake in resolving a challenge which, although it is crucial..." READ »

718
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