Student doubts Nobel Prize selection process

By Heidi Cho

My definition of good writing has become increasingly ambiguous, between the academic papers, poems, novels and news articles I read. It was a welcome change to see the Nobel Prize in Literature winner — Kazuo Ishiguro — in my newsfeed between the natural disasters and nuclear war threats.

I naturally assumed that if one wins the Nobel Prize in Literature, there must be a reason. I thought to myself that Ishiguro’s work could surely remind me of what good writing is because only good writing could win a Nobel Prize.

The naive trust I had in the Nobel Prize Foundation was only ripped away by this decision, much like Morty’s faith in superheroes in the “Vindicators 3: The Return of Worldender” episode of “Rick and Morty.” The lack of justification behind Ishiguro’s prize made me reconsider the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s authority to award the Nobel Prize.

Ishiguro’s literature is critically acclaimed. (AP Photo)

Several media outlets scrambled to release Ishiguro’s life and works. “The Remains of the Day” and “Never Let Me Go” are two of his most prominent works, according to The New York Times.

While writing, “The Remains of the Day,” Ishiguro’s wrote from 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. — Monday through Saturday — for an entire month, according to The Atlantic. These long endless hours spent writing his award-winning historical romance novel really show the author’s work ethic and passion for literature.

Ishiguro was strategic in his writing, and he challenged what it took for a story to be fantasy with his novel, “The Buried Giant,” according to The Guardian.

The official Nobel Prize description of Ishiguro’s writing flagged in comparison to the detailed pieces by The Atlantic and The Guardian.

Sara Danius, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, offered more insight into why Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize for Literature in an interview on the official Nobel Prize YouTube channel.

“He doesn’t look to the side. He has developed an aesthetic universe all his own,” Danius said, offering a snippet into the reasoning of Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision.

On a grander scale, that offers no reasoning for why Ishiguro’s work was chosen over others. While there does not have to be a rubric for choosing a Nobel Prize winner — and there isn’t one — I feel like there could be more done to show the thought process of how the members of the Nobel Prize Organization chose winners.

The confidential nature of the prize selection process demands an element of trust on the behalf of the public. It could be contested that the trust of the public was broken when the committee in 1949 awarded Egas Moniz, a laureate for his studies on lobotomies, according to Nobelprize.org.

The committee awarded Moniz for a medical procedure that cured some patients of their mental illness, but actually robbed them of their personality and emotional capacity.

While the controversial procedure was considered a medical advance when Moniz received the award, the procedure is rarely performed today due to its harsh side effects.

The Nobel Foundation refused to acknowledge the mistake, or rescind the award, according to NBC.

In fact, the Nobel Foundation  — as of Sept. 8 — has never revoked an award, even when faced with criticism, according to The Telegraph.

Amidst all the praise and prestige, it is easy to overlook the process of choosing a winner, especially when the names of the other competitors will be anonymous for 50 years, according to NPR.

Could the justification of Ishiguro’s award have been made clearer? How will the public know objectively why he won over his competition?

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has not broken the trust of the public to a point of public outrage. Providing more justification for each laureate could be a good way to prevent further accusations of bias. However, in time, the lack of transparency between the committee and the general public could lead to an event that would shatter the trust in the process permanently.