f_0020476_17238 - THE GL BAL CAN N Horace Engdahl, a...

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© 2010 World Policy Institute 41 A Nobel Sensibility Horace Engdahl Because of the attention that the literature prize attracts across the world and because of its prestige, the Nobel laureates have inevitably come to be seen as forming a kind of modern canon. This has provoked the critical reproach that many of the 20th century’s greatest writers are missing from the list, and that it includes too few women and not enough non-Europeans. I believe that the Academy members who comprised that first Nobel Commit- tee in 1901 would have been terrified had they realized what they were about to set in motion. Certainly in those first few years no one thought of the prize as a means to define a canon. (Nor was the concept of a canon applied to contemporary literature— that is a late development.) Alfred Nobel’s will intends to reward a literary work published in the previous year—a single book, not a body of writing. Nobel clearly wanted the literature prize to act in the present, rather than crown masters for all time. As it turned out, the Swedish Acad- emy gave the prize a distinctly monumen- tal character. In doing so, it could appeal to the wording of the Nobel Foundation’s statutes, the final document that directs the activity of the Nobel Prize committees. According to the statutes, older works may be awarded, “if their significance has not become apparent until recently.” This con- cession was used to motivate the practice of considering a lifetime’s creativity rather than an individual work. The phrase “dur- ing the preceding year” was interpreted in a broader sense, as a demand for the continued viability of a work. Today, the annual crowning of a Nobel laureate for literature—an individual often removed from the regions of the world which are the focus of international inter- est, writing in a language outside the broad sweep of western literature—suggests Horace Engdahl, a Swedish literary historian and critic, has been one of the 18 members of the Svenska Akademien since 1997, serving as its permanent secretary from 1999 to June 2009. Since 1901, the Academy has selected the laureate for the Nobel Prize in Literature. THE GL BAL CAN N
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WORLD POLICY JOURNAL • FALL 2010 42 that the concept of a single body of works that drives and defines global creativity is an anachronism. If we want to consider the possibility of a truly Global Canon, it might be best to look at the intellectual tradition from which Alfred Nobel inher- ited his idea of literature. When Nobel was in the process of drawing up his famous will, his friend Bertha von Suttner, the peace activist and writer, gave him the first issue of Magazine International , a journal first published in 1894 by an international artists’ union. His copy of the magazine is preserved in
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This note was uploaded on 02/01/2012 for the course POLS 494 taught by Professor Garymoncrief during the Fall '11 term at Boise State.

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f_0020476_17238 - THE GL BAL CAN N Horace Engdahl, a...

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