Ignoble prize

The world’s most coveted literature award gets embroiled in a sex scandal

By: Editorial | Updated: May 5, 2018 12:15:47 am
Ignoble prize The Academy’s decision to postpone the Prize for the first time since World War II, however, seems to indicate a willingness to address the elephant in the room.

Fans and critics will have to wait for another year to get a new Nobel Laureate in literature. The Swedish Academy’s announcement that the Nobel Prize for Literature will be postponed to next year comes at a time when the panel awarding the Prize has been mired in controversy following accusations of sexual misconduct against photographer Jean Claude-Arnault, 71, husband of Academy member and poet Katarina Frostenson.

In what could well be literature’s #metoo moment, Claude-Arnault has been accused not just of using his stature in the cultural world and influence in the Academy to solicit sexual favours but also of revealing names of seven former Nobel laureates, charges he has denied.

The Swedish Academy gives unprecedented power and authority to its members. Apart from the prestige associated with being the jury of arguably the world’s most coveted prize, memberships are for life and resignations imply vacant seats for the lifetime of the abdicating jury member. The accusations against Claude-Arnault brings to the fore the perils of such absolute power.

Not only has the infighting since the allegations have gone public exposed the patriarchy embedded in the system in its reaction to the stance taken by now-resigned Permanent Secretary Sara Darius and several other members against Frostenson and Claude-Arnault, it has also highlighted the pitfalls of a lack of transparency in the functioning of such a hallowed body.

The Academy’s decision to postpone the Prize for the first time since World War II, however, seems to indicate a willingness to address the elephant in the room. In the wake of the current scandal, King Carl XVI Gustaf’s decision to amend the Academy statutes to allow for the assignment of new members is a welcome move. Perhaps, when the Prize returns next year, with two winners instead of one, the Academy would also set a precedence in establishing what happens when truth is spoken to power and is upheld.

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