No Nobel Literature Prize as Academy’s bell tolls

In tatters after a #MeToo scandal, the Swedish Academy has postponed this year’s Nobel Literature Prize, leaving an empty page for 2018 as it attempts to reform the venerable institution. Created in 1786 by King Gustav III and modelled on its French elder, the Swedish Academy has selected the winner of the prestigious literary distinction since it was first awarded in 1901. The Nobel has gone to some of the greatest writers of all time, from Albert Camus to Samuel Beckett and Ernest Hemingway.
But the list of recipients also includes US rock icon Bob Dylan, the 2016 choice criticised by some who lambasted the Academy for overlooking other popular authors such as American novelist Philip Roth, who died in May 2017 without getting the nod.
After the Dylan controversy, the Academy attempted to smooth things over last year with an uncontroversial laureate, Kazuo Ishiguro, a British author of Japanese origin whose nomination enjoyed broad consensus.
But just three weeks after that announcement, the institution again found itself in controversy, this time in the eye of the #MeToo hurricane.
Frenchman Jean-Claude Arnault, married to an Academy member, and the head of an influential cultural club in Stockholm, was accused of rape and sexual assault.
An internal Academy probe also revealed conflicts of interest between him and the institution, which had funded his club for years. The Academy has been deeply divided over how to deal with Arnault and on the reforms it needs to undertake.
Some of the 18 members, who are appointed for life, have refused to participate in the Academy’s work over the row, leaving it without a quorum.
In the months since the scandal erupted, the usually-discreet members have exchanged ugly jibes in the media.
Ridiculed around the world, the scandal forced the Academy’s hand: it announced in May that it would postpone by one year the 2018 Nobel Literature Prize, a first in 70 years.
The 2018 laureate will be announced at the same time as the 2019 prize.
“I could see that there were weaknesses in their organisation, but I would never have thought something like this could happen,” Lars Heikensten, director of the Nobel Foundation that finances the prizes, said.
“We hope that they will be able to clear up their things.” — AFP

Helene Dauschy