Not so Nobel


It seemed rather odd when it was announced that the Nobel Prize for Literature wouldn’t be awarded this year because of sex scandals surrounding the husband of a committee member. The person in question is Jean-Claude Arnault, the husband of the poet Katarina Frostenson. Multiple serious accusations stretching back 20 years have been made against Arnault.  But why should that disrupt the prize?  Turns out that there’s a lot more to this than meets the eye, as this article in The Guardian tells us.  There are only 18 members of the Swedish Academy, which administers the prize.  Six of them withdrew from the prize  discussions and two others were forced to do so – that leaves 10 members, and the quorum is 12. And now the Nobel Foundation is refusing to fund the prize until the Academy is cleaned up. So not only is the Literature Prize on the line, but the entire existence of the Swedish Academy, the bastion of high culture, is in question.

The whole thing has echoes of the FIFA scandal. There’s an entitled cadre with access to luxurious apartments in Stockholm and Paris, academic subsidies that members profited personally from, suggestions that large bets were placed on inside information of the winners, coverups, bullying and character assassination. And of course the complaint that “the feminists have driven Sweden to lunacy”. All this in a body that sees itself as the standard-bearer for culture in a world going to the cultural dogs.  FIFA starts to look like good clean snout-in-troughery.

A fascinating read, and what great material it would make for someone like Martin Suter.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

10 thoughts on “Not so Nobel

  1. Intrigued by the characterization of the Academy by its members as an embattled elite, upholding the highest standards of culture — a la T. S. Eliot!. And then by Larson’s assertion that it will all blow over because he and Frostenson are among the best poets in Sweden, and of course his friend Arnault did none of the things he is accused of. And by so much else in the account. Does Gerald Murnane really want to be recognized by these people (after reading some of his work, I am persuaded that he would certainly be an excellent candidate for what I think of as being honored by the Nobel Prize).

    Thanks for a fascinating read, Gert, and by the assurance that Americans are not alone.

    1. I did think about Gerald cursing because the winds seemed to be blowing in his direction this time (he’s also shortlisted for the Miles Franklin this year). Yes, it’s an amazing story but I’m sure not limited to the Swedish Academy or FIFA. Anywhere where there are people protected by their status with access to lots of goodies. I allow myself to think it wouldn’t be as bad if there were more women in these bodies – naive perhaps.

      1. Interesting in this story that women — Katarina Frostenson and Sara Danius — are two of the main players. Frostenson seems to have at a minimum turned a blind eye to Arnault’s escapades, to have leaked names of winners, and to have arranged for subsidies for Arnault’s and her club to enable gambling. Danius did her best to expose the wrong-doing.

        Given the #MeToo in the US, Cardinals McCarrick and Pell and various bishops, etc. in the Church, the Olympics gymnastic doctors, etc., I have to agree that the Swedes don’t look any worse — but not protectors of the best of culture either.

        Power corrupts? And there didn’t seem to be any strong enough bonds as women between Frostenson and Danius, to overcome the temptations of money and power for Frostenson.

        Women in the US have engaged in some fairly unpleasant exclusions of other women from positions of power, and they have often based their exclusions on ethnicity and class (perhaps mostly class?). The machinations that went on during the original organizing of the first March on Washington on January 21, 2017 embodied a lot of that. They also tend to try to exclude each other based on differences in policies, especially over the abortion issues. It’s a bit distressing, but it seems to continue to happen . . . The same thing happens among the ethnic minorities — lots of in-fighting and discrimination within both the same minority groups, and among the groups. Something tribal and perhaps hard-wired into people, that takes a great deal of effort to even be aware of, let alone find the will to overcome.

        Thanks for posting this article. Another opportunity to consider human nature — you have addressed all of these topics in your stories, as I recall!

  2. I wasn’t aware of the background to this either. Sounds like it would make an interesting subject for a documentary – a filmmaker like Alex Gibney springs to mind.

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