The Swedish Academy, that has been referred to as a self-perpetuating oligarchy that awards the Nobel prize every October, is today a discredited entity. Not merely in the context of Friday’s announcement that there will be no Nobel for Literature this year; it has promised a double sundae next year ~ for the first time since 1949 ~ when the Nobel for 2018 and 2019 will be announced.
There is no explanation yet as to why it has picked on Literature; the decision would have been unfortunate in the case of any other discipline. Sad to reflect that the provocation for this extraordinary decision is more deep-seated, one that reflects on the moral probity of the Academy.
In a sense, the august entity has imploded. A sexual harassment scandal in the secretive Swedish Academy, that selects each year’s Laureate, has forced the deferment of this year’s prize. Not to put too fine a point on it, the rarefied entity now has to countenance a sex scandal and no less.
When the prize was founded, it seemed possible that world literature could be judged in its entirety from Stockholm by scholars who could all read fluently in the four or five European languages that they reckoned to be civilised.
The cultural and political authority of western Europe has collapsed since then. So has the ideal of a global culture. Hence the farce over the recognition of the great and the good.
The Academy has had the honesty to admit that it is mired in too grave a “crisis of confidence”, indeed so deep that it is scarcely in a position to choose a Nobel winner properly.
Not that the crisis has never happened before. “This year we are holding on to the award because we’ve had a very, very unusual situation, with conflicts in the Academy and a weakened Academy in terms of the number of members,” was the seemingly forthright prognosis of Anders Olsson, the Academy’s permanent secretary.
The sordid developments may have been airbrushed in many other entities ~ nearer home especially ~ but the authorities in Stockholm have turned the searchlight inwards… to the extent possible.
They have thus been able to forestall criticism that an institution, which itself is under a cloud, is doling out the annual awards. The internal feud was triggered by a scandal linked to Jean-Claude Arnault, a prominent cultural figure in Sweden and the husband of the poet, Katarina Frostenson ~ an Academy member and no less.
The Academy has been brutally frank to admit that what it calls “unacceptable behaviour in the form of unwanted intimacy” took place within its ranks. It shall not be easy to shore up its credibility. Literature, in the net, has been kept in abeyance as we look forward to this year’s grandstanding over the Nobel prize in other categories.