Four months into this year and we have already witnessed a massive-widespread support for the #MeToo movement from people all around the world coming from different walks of life. The 2018 Golden globe awards garnered a tremendous amount of support and attention to the movement and since then several people from the industry of performing arts, especially from Hollywood have come forward to share the stories of assault and abuse they had faced. Yet, it comes as a great shock to several people after the Swedish Academy announced that there would be no Nobel Prize for literature this year because of the sex scandals and charges of misconduct raised against a member of the academy by eighteen victims. This is the second time, after the delayed award of William Faulkner in 1949 that the Academy has resorted to such drastic measures.
In November, last year, the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter reported that 18 women had come forward and accused a prime member of the academy, Jean-Claude Arnault, a French photographer and husband of the poet Katarina Frostenson (a member of the Academy’s panel )to have sexually assaulted and harassed them on numerous occasions.
When the issue came to light, the secretary of the Academy, back then, Sara Danius, soon cut off the Academy’s ties with The Forum, a cultural club in Stockholm, owned by Arnault and his wife which was funded by the Academy. Danius also hired a private firm to investigate the activities of the club. The investigation revealed a lot of financial irregularities in Forum’s activities and also found out that multiple times Arnault had let out the names of the Prize winners, before they were officially announced. Keeping in mind the massive amount of money that is used for betting on the prize every year, help from Arnault might have changed the game for several bookmakers.
The complainants also said that Arnault had used his power and influence in the arts world and the academy to pressure and force young women to have sex with him (all of which were denied by Arnault). The Sweden crown princess, Victoria, also added her voice to these claims saying that Arnault had groped her at a public event. Only after all these revelations were made public did the academy take a formal vote to remove Frostenson from her position.
Norms and Regulations
According to the norms of removing/electing a new member from/to a post in the panel, all the twelve council members must vote supporting the decision. This majority was not reached because Frostenson herself was a chair holding member of the panel. Yet another problem with the re-election was that the members of the council once appointed have the job of serving the Academy for a lifetime so this makes it difficult for a member to resign. This caused a lot of chaos and tension amidst the panel members, resulting in the temporary resignation of three members along with the demotion of Danius who was never rewarded for bringing the truth to spotlight.
The demotion of Danius caused mass protests outside the Academy’s office, and critics raised support for Danius saying that she had been made the fall guy for the crimes she was never a part of. With the academy in shambles and half of its chair vacant , the patron of the Academy, King Carl XVI Gustaf has promised that he will bring a change to the rules of replacing a member and make them more flexible to keep in pace with changing situations. We can only wait and see if these changes will bring forth any positive results. A lack of proper administrative body was also cited as one of the main reason why there was no immediate action from the Academy’s side, maybe if the crown does appoint a new body to take care of the financial and legislative problems of the Academy, then there is a lesser chance of such issues cropping up in the future.
Heated discussions and debate are going throughout Sweden regarding the decision of the Academy to cancel out this year’s prize. While some defend the institution’s choice saying the overall integrity of the Prize is lost and the worthiness of its recipient even more reduced if the administrators of the institution themselves are involved in numerous scandals.
Others argue against the Academy’s choice saying such a public display of the Academy’s activities disrupts the secrecy it has maintained over the years and also tarnishes the legacy left behind by Alfred Nobel. People have already started using this case as an example for the dominant patriarchal ideology, making a woman take fall for a man’s crimes. This incident has also brought to our painful notice that all the pomp and show of the prize ceremony are used to cover the ugly lies of prejudice and misuse of power that lies on its other side.
Nobel Prize For Literature
Over the years, more than a measure of one’s literary talent, the Nobel Prize for literature has served to be a platform of recognition for underappreciated literary masterminds. The awards have brought to our notice the talents of people from different cultures, colors and ethnicity. From authors like George Bernard Shaw to Kazuo Ishiguro, the Nobel Prize for literature has acknowledged a wide range of talented writers and has brought glory to their unique writing skills. With such a huge symbolic presence and power, if the institution goes downhill because of a few ill-minded people like Arnault, then the very credibility of the awards are lost.
Although the Crown of Sweden has promised to remove the stain left on the award and restore it to its former glory by naming two Nobel Prize for Literature awards next year, will things be a smooth sail for the Academy in the upcoming years? Only time can tell us the answer that we all seek.