Swedish Academy is failing to achieve its Holy Grail? By Dr. Stephen Gill
14 Oct 2009
It was a gasp of surprise that the Nobel Peace Prize has gone to president of the United States of America who has served his nation not even for a year and who has not demonstrated anything worthwhile, except in his statements for disarmament. The question is why the Academy was in a rush to honor him. The Academy could have waited for a year at least to let him justify to receive this honor. If it was mainly for his talks, then there have been leaders and presidents before him who made similar statements in favour of disarmaments and to make the world nuclear-free.
The Swedish Academy consists of intellectuals and wise members. They must have looked into the part that President Obama has played in making Europe a much safer place by backing away from the plans of the Bush administration to establish a new anti-missile system in Europe because of Iran. President Obama may not receive any recognition from Americans, but he has and is likely to receive more recognitions from Europe because of his backing away from the plan of the previous president that affects the security of the whole of Europe. It seems that the Swedish Committee considered it as a meaningful step of President Obama. There is every possibility that Russia nominated the President Obama for this covetous recognition. Now it would be extremely difficult for the President to go back.
It is obvious that the Swedish Academy is eurocentric, a fact that is confirmed when the Nobel Prize of 2009 in literature went to a European writer, Herta Mueller. She is a Romanian-born German novelist, who has attempted some poetry that is not available in English translation. It was another gasp of surprise not because she is almost obscure out of Europe, but also because of the neglect of a wider world outside of Europe for some years and also because of the neglect of other genres of creative writing. Neglect of poetry and the world outside of Europe for years in a row is a serious matter.
In recent years most of the laureates who happened to be novelists had demonstrated their political leanings in their creative works. Perhaps this meets the one vital criterion stated in the will of Alfred Nobel: “the most outstanding work in an ideal direction”. Question is what is “ideal direction”? According to Oxford Dictionary, “ideal” stands for most suitable, perfect or perfection that exists only in the imagination. Cambridge English Dictionary gives almost the same definition. Collins Cobuild Dictionary defines “ideal” as a possible example or a perfect example. Based on these definitions, it can be concluded that Alfred Nobel meant a perfect example of direction in a literary piece. However, the academy has been interpreting it differently at different time since the inception of this prize. The Academy also changed its policies concerning the works it has been evaluating for the prize. For years, the total work was considered, but the main focus was on one book as it was in the case of Gitanjali of Tagore. Now the Academy takes all the books of a writer in consideration.
The puzzle that remain to be solved is why and how the Academy does not often find a perfect example of direction or “ideal direction” outside of Europe? It seems that Europe because of its sufferings in the first and the second world wars and other disasters, including cultural and ethnic tensions, has produced writers with human rights leanings and of political nature. The Swedish Academy can identify itself easily with them because Sweden is one of them. Peter Englund, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, accepted the accusation when he told The Associated Press that the Academy is “eurocentric”. He stated “If you are a European, easier to relate to European literature. It’s the result of psychological bias.”
It is due to this “psychological bias” that a wider world outside of Europe usually does not come to the attention of the Swedish Academy or may be its members find it difficult to relate themselves with those writings. It is a serious accusation if someone calls this trend wrong, biased or unjust. The decision of the Swedish Academy will fuel the accusation that its committee is pro-Europe and pro-novelists when it comes to recognizing writers.
Because the Academy is hooked to novelists and Europe, it may think of giving two prizes in literature every year—one for novelists, and another for non-novelists. I would like to quote that God said beautiful after every creation, according to the Bible. Life is therefore beauty and beauty is poetry. It becomes a serious matter when poets are neglected year after year by a most honorable institution like the Swedish Academy.