The Nobel Academy
For the last 82 years, Sweden's Nobel Academy has decided who will receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, thereby determining who will be elevated from the great and the near great to the immortal. But today the Academy is coming under heavy criticism both from the without and from within.
Critics contend that the selection of the winners often has less to do with true writing ability than with the peculiar internal politics of the Academy and of Sweden itself. According to Ingmar Bjorksten, the cultural editor for one of the country's two major newspapers, the prize continues to represent "what people call a very Swedish exercise: reflecting Swedish tastes."
The Academy has defended itself against such charges of provincialism in its selection by asserting that its physical distance from the great literary capitals of the world actually serves to protect the Academy from outside influences. This may well be true, but critics respond that this very distance may also be responsible for the Academy's inability to perceive accurately authentic trends in the literary world.
Regardless of concerns over the selection process, however, it seems that the prize will continue to survive both as an indicator of the literature that we most highly praise, and as an elusive goal that writers seek. If for no other reason, the prize will continue to be desirable for the financial rewards that accompany it; not only is the cash prize itself considerable, but it also dramatically increases sales of an author's books.