DOI link for Prizing otherness
Prizing otherness book
Literary prizes have existed in one form or another for many centuries. In former times, literary prizes were frequently bestowed by rulers, monarchs and other powerful individual patrons who cannily deployed them for the double purpose of proving their munificence while reconfirming the loyalty of their subjects (Winegarten 1994). Such reciprocal ties of patronage, while by no means unknown today, have become increasingly uncommon. Literary prizes as we know them now are best seen as a phenomenon of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries: as reflections of shifting patterns of patronage, with an increasing emphasis on public sponsorship, and, above all, as signs of the dominant role played by international industry as a legitimising agent for literature and the other arts. In a global cultural economy controlled by huge multinational companies, the corporate sponsorship of the arts has become an indisputable fact. The corporate prize, like the endowed Chair, is a ‘gift’ that brings publicity to the company while functioning as a symbolic marker of its authorising power. As state subsidies of the arts have dwindled, alarmingly in many countries, corporate sponsors have emerged to dominate the literary/artistic scene. Corporate sponsorship has largely overtaken the earlier, predominantly hierarchical systems of private and public patronage through which ideas of literature and literary value were upheld (Bourdieu 1993). The evaluative criteria for corporate sponsorship vary widely; it would clearly be misguided to see it as a uniform ‘regime’
(Appadurai 1986; see also Introduction). A structural analysis of types of sponsorship patterns-types of award, funding requirements, social and ideological factors, and so on-risks underestimating the historical trajectory that each particular sponsoring agency takes. This is no less the case with agencies operating across geopolitical boundaries: for example, international literary awards bestowed by globally active companies. Such awards, it could be argued, have emerged, many of them in the later twentieth century, as a response to the globalisation of-especially English-language-literature (Todd 1996). This view overlooks, however, the continuing asymmetries of power that are attendant on the production and consumption of world literature in English. Hence Bernth Lindfors’ provocative suggestion that the most famous of all international literary awards, the Nobel, established in 1901, has had a distinctly Eurocentric bias since its inception (Lindfors 1988:222).1 The same might be said for more recent, and more obviously corporate, awards like the Booker. As Hugh Eakin has suggested, the Booker, despite its ‘multicultural consciousness’, has arguably done less to further the development of ‘non-Western’ and/or postcolonial literatures than it has to ‘encourage the commerce of an “exotic” commodity catered to the Western literary market’ (Eakin 1995:1). In this chapter, I shall examine Eakin’s proposition further by inquiring into the history of, and histories behind, the Booker Prize.