Return of the Prize | Daily News

Return of the Prize

Following weeks of internal bickering, sex-abuse allegations and a financial investigation by police, the body that hands out the prestigious Nobel Prize in literature announced that no prize will be awarded this year.

Instead, the academy said two Nobel Prizes in literature will be handed out next year, the 2018 prize and the 2019 prize. The decision was made at a weekly meeting of the Swedish Academy in Stockholm on the grounds that the group was in too deep a crisis to choose a Nobel winner properly.

“The present crisis of confidence places high demands on a long-term and robust work for change,” said Anders Olsson, the academy’s permanent secretary. “We find it necessary to commit time to recovering public confidence in the Academy before the next laureate can be announced.”

It will be the first time since 1949 that the prestigious award has been delayed. last year, Japanese-born British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro won the prize.

“It has occurred before. This year we’re doing it 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,” Olsson said.

The internal feud within the academy — which only hands out one of the Nobel prizes — was triggered by an abuse scandal linked to Jean-Claude Arnault, a major cultural figure in Sweden who is also the husband of poet Katarina Frostenson, an academy member.

The academy has admitted that “unacceptable behaviour in the form of unwanted intimacy” took place within its ranks, but its handling of the allegations has shredded the body’s credibility, called into question its judgment and forced its first female leader to resign.

A debate over how to face up to its flaws also divided the group’s 18 members — who are appointed for life — into hostile camps and prompted seven members of the prestigious institution to leave or disassociate themselves from it.

The Swedish Academy has now agreed to review its century-old operating practices.

It said that “work on the selection of a laureate is at an advanced stage and will continue as usual in the months ahead but the Academy needs time to regain its full complement.”

The Nobel Foundation reacted promptly, saying it presumes the academy “will now put all its efforts into the task of restoring its credibility as a prize-awarding institution.” It also demanded that the group report publicly “the concrete actions that are undertaken” to ensure that it is a body worthy of the honour of choosing Nobel laureates.

Dagens Nyheter, one of Sweden’s largest newspapers, published sexual misconduct claims from 18 women against Arnault, who runs a cultural center the academy used to help fund. The Svenska Dagbladet paper reported last month that among those groped by Arnault was Swedish Crown Princess Victoria 12 years ago.

Arnault also has been suspected of violating century-old Nobel rules by leaking names of winners of the prestigious award — allegedly seven times, starting in 1996. It was not clear to whom the names were allegedly disclosed.

Bjorn Hurtig, the lawyer for the 71-year-old Arnault, has denied the allegations, telling that his client is the victim of “a witch hunt.”

The world’s most prestigious prizes in science, medicine, literature and peacemaking have been withheld 49 times in all since the honours based on the will of Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel began in 1901.

The Swedish Academy has been in crisis over its handling of allegations against the husband of a member.

The Nobel literature prize was not given out on seven occasions, primarily due to war but also in 1935 because no candidate was deemed worthy of the prize. On seven other occasions, the literature award has been postponed, as has been proposed in this case.

Swedish Academy member Goran Malmqvist said that the postponement was “a really good decision.”

“We’re in a crisis and it will take time to rebuild it again,” he was quoted as saying. He also criticised the leaking of winners’ names before they are announced.

The scandal is the biggest to hit the prize since it was first awarded in 1901.

“We have to shut up. People mustn’t start betting and make money on that.”

“Being nominated does not mean that you actually get the prize. It is pretty ridiculous to have such hopes,” Hasse Jakupsen, 52, said in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Like them or not, the Nobels have a historic status, and to take literature out of the family, leaving medicine, chemistry, economics, physics and peace, would be to create a fracture line with a symbolism far bigger and more important than the money involved. Canny old arms manufacturer that he was, Nobel knew what he was doing when he gave literature equal standing with peace and science. It plays a critical role in the ethical ecology. You only need to look at the work of a few previous winners to see this principle in action: Svetlana Alexievich’s witnesses to the fallout from Russia’s big ambitions; Kazuo Ishiguro’s explorations of identity at the end of empire. Or, going further back, Pablo Neruda’s articulation of Latin America’s stubborn soul.

In our increasingly bewildering universe, literature also imagines into being things that are later proved to exist: just look at the relationship between science fiction and the frontiers of physics. The physicist James Kakalios even wrote a book called The Physics of Superheroes, in which he argued that writers of comics in the 1930s beat future generations of quantum physicists to the conceptual breakthroughs that are now keeping us in MRI scanners and CDs. Great scientists have always recognised this phenomenon. The Hungarian mathematician George Pólya went so far as to enshrine it in his inventor’s paradox, which noted that progress was often based on a vision of things beyond those immediately present.

Science fiction has not often been rewarded by the Swedish Academy (Harry Martinson’s prize was an obvious exception); for critics this is one of its oversights. The default has been firmly Eurocentric: 102 of 114 prizes have gone to European languages. There have been some downright bad choices. But, to invert the inventor’s paradox, you can’t fix something if it no longer exists. The world needs literature, and literature needs to be seen and cherished and even – just occasionally – given a really big pat on the back to demonstrate that we still know it matters.

“We also assume that all members of the Academy realize that both its extensive reform efforts and its future organisational structure must be characterised by greater openness toward the outside world,” Carl-Henrik Heldin, the chairman of the Nobel Foundation Board, said in a separate statement.

King Carl XVI Gustaf — the body’s patron who had suggested changes within the institution after members began to leave — said the decision “shows that the Academy now intends to focus on the restoration of its reputation.”

The Nobel Prize in Literature is awarded annually by the Swedish Academy to authors for outstanding contributions in the field of literature. It is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the 1895 will of Alfred Nobel, which are awarded for outstanding contributions in chemistry, physics, literature, peace, and physiology or medicine. As dictated by Nobel’s will, the award is administered by the Nobel Foundation and awarded by a committee that consists of five members elected by the Swedish Academy. The first Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded in 1901 to Sully Prudhomme of France. Each recipient receives a medal, a diploma and a monetary award prize that has varied throughout the years. In 1901, Prudhomme received 150,782 SEK, which is equivalent to 8,823,637.78 SEK in January 2018. The award is presented in Stockholm at an annual ceremony on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel’s death.

As of 2017, the Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to 114 individuals. When he received the award in 1958, Russian-born Boris Pasternak was forced to publicly reject the award under pressure from the government of the Soviet Union. In 1964, Jean-Paul Sartre made known that he did not wish to accept the Nobel Prize in Literature, as he had consistently refused all official honors in the past. However the Nobel committee does not acknowledge refusals, and includes Pasternak and Sartre in its list of Nobel laureates.

Compiled by Sachitra Mahendra


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