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The Nobel Prize in Literature

04.05.2017
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These statutes defined literature as «not only belles-lettres, but also other writings which, by virtue of their form and style, possess literary value». At the same time, the restriction to works presented «during the preceding year» was softened: «older works» could be considered «if their significance has not become apparent until recently». It was also stated that candidates must be nominated in writing by those entitled to do so before 1 February each year. A special regulation gave the right of nomination to members of the Swedish Academy and other academies, institutions and societies similar to it in constitution and purpose, and to university teachers of aesthetics, literature and history. An emendation in 1949 specified the category of teachers: «professors of literature and philology at universities and university colleges». The right to nominate was at the same time extended to previous Prize-winners and to «presidents of those societies of authors that are representative of the literary production in their respective countries». The statutes also provided for a Nobel Committee «to give their opinion in matter of the award of the prizes» and for a Nobel Institute with a library which was to contain a substantial collection of mainly modern literature.

Accept the Task? Discussion in The Swedish Academy

Two members of the Swedish Academy spoke strongly against accepting Nobel's legacy, for fear that the obligation would detract from the Academy's proper concerns and turn it into «a cosmopolitan tribunal of literature». They could have added that the Academy, in doldrums at the time, was ill-equipped for the sensitive task. The permanent secretary, Carl David af Wirsén, replied that refusal would deprive «the great figures of continental literature» of an exceptional recognition, and conjured up the weighty reproach to be directed at the Academy if it failed to «acquire an influential position in world literature ». Besides, the task would not be foreign to the purposes of the Academy: proper knowledge of the best in the literature of other countries was necessary for an Academy that had to judge the literature of its own country. This effective argument, which won a qualified majority for acceptance, showed not only openness to Nobel's far-reaching intentions, but also harbored Wirsén's and his sympathizers' ambition to seize the unexpetected possibilities in the field of the politics of culture, and to enjoy, as he wrote in a letter, " the enormous power and prestige that the Nobel will bequeaths to the Eighteen [members of the Academy]".

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Автор: Larry Stanley

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