The Visual Economy of Cultural Consecration

Photographic Portraits of Literary Nobel Prize Laureates

In: Journal of World Literature
Kathrin Yacavone Philipps-Universität Marburg Marburg Germany

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This article explores the impact of the Nobel Prize on the visual economy of literary culture by analysing how photographic author portraits are used by the Nobel Foundation and the Swedish Academy to construct a visual pantheon of literary laureates. The photographic Nobel pantheon is here conceptualised as a transnational visual construction that has a unique symbolic function in demarcating, homogenising, and essentialising the global literary field. It is argued that the images, together with their use by the consecrating institutions, ‘mythologise’ the author persona as a timeless, supra-national essence rather than presenting the more accurate picture of an historically, nationally, and culturally specific and contingent conception of literature. In analysing the semiotic structures and functions, as well as aesthetic patterns of photographic author portraits in relation to implicit notions of authorship, the article thereby shines a critical light on institutional ideology and its relation to visual culture.

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