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By JOSEPHINE GREENLAND
STOCKHOLM. After news that Jean-Claude Arnault accosted Crown Prince Victoria, and that yet another member resigned, the Swedish Academy announced that the Nobel Prize for Literature 2018 has been cancelled, and that two prizes will be allocated in 2019.
Friday 27th April, only a few days after Svenska Dagbladet’s publication about the alleged assault on the Crown Princess, author Sara Stridsberg announced her departure from the Academy. Peter Englund, another former member, commented that “the Academy is not only losing a great talent, but also a wise and thoughtful member. Sara has a very strong character and has proved that she doesn’t give up immediately, but everyone has a limit to what they can put up with and I can understand she’s had enough.”
At the same time, an investigation concerning the possibility of economic crime by the Academy had been launched. The aim was to find out if the assaults were known to the Academy Members, and whether Arnault, through his marriage with Frostensson, had any influence on the Academy’s decision making.
On Thursday May 3rd, the remaining ten held a meeting to discuss the future of the Nobel Prize. The following morning, it was announced that the prize would be postponed. Two prizes would instead be awarded in 2019.
“The present decision was arrived at in view of the currently diminished academy and the reduced public confidence in the academy,” the body said in a press statement.
Interim Permanent Secretary Anders Olsson states that they “find it necessary to commit time to recovering public confidence… before the next laureate can be announced. This is out of respect for previous and future literature laureates, the Nobel Foundation and the general public.”
Maria Schottenius, literature editor at Dagens Nyheter, thinks the decision is wise. “They will have a chance to restore the institution this year and fill the empty seats, and come back with a strong academy that can award the prize.”
After such a scandal, however, it is questionable whether the Nobel Prize will ever regain its former status. The general consensus of the Swedish public is that the Academy should be rebuilt from the base, with 18 new members replacing the old ones. Demonstrations have been held in the square protesting against Danius’ resignation and the ten remaining members.
Reactions and statements throughout the years suggest that the scandal is the sum of a growing negative sentiment towards the prize. The Guardian writes that the literature prize has often been regarded as an anomaly amongst the science-related awards established by chemist Alfred Nobel. Nobel wrote in his testament that five Nobel Prizes would be set up: the three science prizes, the literature prize and the peace price. He specifically requested that the Academy be responsible for the literature prize.
The method by which the Academy chooses a winner has remained opaque for decades. Each February, the Academy reviews 200 nominations, constructs a shortlist by May, and reads up on the five writers over the summer. The winner is the one deemed to best fulfil Nobel’s desire to reward “the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.” This is a vague definition, and does not signify whether the writer should be well-known to a wider, global audience or indeed have won other prestigious prizes. Rather, the prize-winner reflects the Academy’s definition of what an ideal literary work is. This has sometimes resulted in laureates who were virtually unknown internationally, such as the 2015 laureate Svetlana Alexeivitch, when 10,000 reporters supposedly googled her name, having never heard of her before.
One of the main, long-standing criticisms of the prize is that it is awarded to writers who no longer need it. The average age of a laureate is 67. At age 87, Doris Lessing famously commented: “Oh Christ. It’s been going on for 30 years. One can get more excited.” On an even more sensational note, postponed laureate George Bernard Shaw stated: “I can find it easy to forgive the man who invented a devilish instrument like dynamite, but how can one ever forgive the diabolical mind that invented the Nobel Prize for literature?”
It is seventy years since the Nobel Literature prize was previously postponed. Since its launch in 1901, it has been missed seven times, six of these due to the first and second world wars, and in 1935 for unknown reasons. It has also been reserved due to a lack of suitable winners in 1915, 1919, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1936 and 1949.
Carl-Henrik Heldin, Chairman of the Nobel Foundation, says that the other prize categories will not be affected.
Clearly, a cesspool of tension has circulated beneath the serene mask of the cultural body, formerly considered to be one of the leading institutions of high culture in Sweden. Now that these tensions have broken through the surface, the fate of the Academy remains uncertain. Due to the earlier resignations and announcement that two prizes will be awarded in 2019, the ten remaining members (nine men and one woman) mainly consist of Frostensson’s sympathizers – possibly the most conservative faction of the Academy. They could either respond to public criticism by electing at least three female members ready to steer the Academy in new directions, and by selecting two female prize winners. On the other hand, they could resort to more traditional methods, meaning that the Academy, despite the Arnault scandal, remains fundamentally unchanged.
PHOTO CREDIT: The Swedish Academy by Adam.thomp07, 14 July 2016.
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