Being an aesthetic relativist, I don't have much respect for the Nobel Prize for literature. All that such an award says is that the receiver has managed to please eighteen people in Stockholm who are very far from average readers. Their selections are actually kind of a continuing joke in Sweden, greeted by the catch phrase "Yes! Finally!" (Äntligen!) every year when some obscure old man's name is revealed. The prestige of the prize is of course not contingent on that of the academy members, but rests entirely on the amount of cash involved. If Alfred Nobel had just donated money enough to buy a fancy fountain pen for every laureate, then nobody would care about the prize.
But Nobel was an aesthetic absolutist: indeed, his will stipulates that the prize be given to the writer of the "most ideal" works of fiction or poetry. Little could he foresee that the artistic ideals he espoused would one day be (indeed, were already at the time in some quarters) seen as sub-culturally contingent and largely arbitrary. So don't expect me to greet the new laureate, when his (of course it's gonna be a him) name is publicised next week, with much enthusiasm.
The Swedish Academy can have only eighteen members, and they're elected for life. This means that when someone becomes too old or ill to participate, or when a member disagrees with the others so badly that they want to leave the association, then no replacement is possible until they die. So I don't think there have been eighteen fully active members at any one time since the 18th century.
Two members died recently (Östen Sjöstrand and Lars Gyllensten), and the names of their replacements were announced today. Kristina Lugn (58) is a widely read and staged poet and playwright, hugely popular among middle-class ladies of a certain age. Jesper Svenbro (62) is apparently a poet and a Classical Greek philologist, though I have managed to read Swedish books and newspapers for almost 30 years without registering his existence. Actually, he looks suspiciously like a Nobel Laureate for literature. Too bad for him he ended up a member of the Academy.
[More blog entries about books, nobelprize, Sweden; böcker, nobelpriset, svenskaakademin.]