Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
Print version ISSN 0041-4751
VAN COLLER, Hennie. A critical assessment of a few of the literary prizes awarded by The South African Academy for Science and Arts. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2010, vol.50, n.4, pp. 484-501. ISSN 0041-4751.
The literary prizes awarded annually by Die Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns (The South African Academy for Science and Arts) are widely recognized as prestigious awards. The Hertzog prize for literature is in pecuniary terms not the most important literary award in the Afrikaans Literary Field, but due to its historical importance (dating back to 1917) and its canonizing influence it is still regarded as the most important registration of literary prowess, "mapping of the literary field", thus contributing to the literary prestige of writers. In this critical assessment of the literary prizes by Die Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns (Die Akademie) the literary prizes of Die Akademie (the composition/ structure and functioning of the literary commission, its rules of procedure and several contentious awards in the past) are scrutinized against the backdrop of international literary awards. Although it is widely accepted that literary awards and prizes make a contribution to sales and prestige, not everyone is convinced of the primate of literary considerations in the awarding of prizes. Often literary prizes and awards are seen by skeptics as dictated by economic trends and influence of sponsors. Subsidy by the state can also be seen as a subtle form of censureship. What must be borne in mind is that the concept of value as a so-called inherent property of an object has been vehemently refuted in the past decades and the current view is that value is seen as relative and relational, "as the product of the dynamics of the economic system" (Herrnstein-Smith). ln the remaining part of the article several contentious literary awards made by Die Akademie in the last 100 years, and the criticism levied against (some of) these awards, are evaluated.This criticism often entails speculation that Die Akademie has yielded to political and ideological pressures. The conclusion is that although this has indeed been the case in a few instances (like that of Uys Krige) in the majority of cases Die Akademie's judgement and evaluation have been grounded in fairly objective literary criteria and has stood the test of time.
Keywords : Literary prizes and awards; literary prestige; literary evaluation; sponsorship of literary prizes.