Nobel Award

Because of Sexual Harassment Allegations, the 2018 Literature Nobel Award Is Cancelled

A look into the scandal that has postponed one of the most elite awards in the world.

With the #MeToo movement still going strong, it isn’t a surprise that many people are still being outed and reprimanded for sexual misconduct. Around the time the movement began, an influx of allegations and accusations flooded the web and affected the lives of many.

One of those cases was of the French photographer Jean-Claude Arnault, who was accused of sexual assault and harassment by 18 women in November of 2017, only a month after the# MeToo movement began.

The reason this specific case stands out, not to discredit any other cases, is the monumental impact it has in the literary world. Yes, you read that right, the literary world.

The Swedish Academy, the organization that has given the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature since 1901, had close ties with Arnault in the past, is suffering now for Arnault’s misconduct.

Arnault, a major cultural figure in Sweden, is married to one of the academy members, poet Katarina Frostenson, and though he isn’t directly a member of the academy, his ties to it have caused an uproar.

That is to say, the Swedish Academy has decided not to award the Literature Nobel Prize this year, something that hasn’t happened since 1949. They plan to reveal two laureates in 2019 instead.

Nobel Award
Sexual harassment accusation against Arnault is one of the reasons behind the crisis of the Swedish Academy (Image via Chicago Tribune)

The whole scandal can be traced back to November, but it was in the month of April that things really started to change for the academy. Three members of the original 18 judges that made up the academy resigned in April as a protest against the decision not to expel Frostenson on account of her husband’s alleged crimes.

Just a little after that, Sara Danius, the permanent secretary (and the first woman appointed as such), and Katerina Frostenson herself, resigned as well, or rather, they were forced out after a three-hour meeting, leaving the academy with only 10 members.

Resigning or leaving the Academy is that simple though, but starting over with a new panel of judges isn’t in the cards. According to statutes that were laid down in1786, members are elected until death. The only thing they can really do is to distance themselves and withdraw from the Academy’s workings.

In addition to members not really being able to leave, now with 10 members, there aren’t enough of them to elect any new members as 12 is the required number of votes to add any more people. King Carl Gustaf XVI of Sweden is said to be preparing to change the statutes in order to fix this problem.

It seems a bit extreme to kick out a member on the basis of her husband’s actions, not her own. Arnault’s accusations do start off as long ago as 1996 though, and he was not only accused of sexual assault and harassment.

Arnault was also accused of leaking the names of seven separate prize winners ahead of time, though he denies all of these claims. One more important tie (that has been cut) is a club called Forum he and his wife own, which was subsidized by the Academy.

There were some members, the conservative faction specifically, that argued against the decision to punish Frostenson for her husband’s actions.

They argued that it was unfair to exile only Frostenson given that the decision to subsidize the club (now closed) was made by the entirety of the members of the Academy. Despite those who were on her side, Frostenson was still forced out of the Academy.

Due to the exiles of many members, as well as the loss of trust from the public, the Academy came to the decision to basically cancel the literary award for 2018.

“We find it necessary to commit time to recovering public confidence,” interim permanent secretary Anders Olsson said. “This is out of respect for previous and future literature laureates, the Nobel Foundation and the general public.”

This is, by far, one of the largest scandals that have hit the Swedish Academy and the Nobel Literature Award. The award hasn’t been given on only seven other occasions and none of them involved a scandal.

Most were omitted due to either WWI or WWII. Some years, the award has been reserved due to a lack of suitable winners. Either way, it all boils down to the fact that the award will not be given this year due to sexual allegations toward somebody who isn’t even in the Swedish Academy.

To some people, this is a humongous scandal. Others might not even know that this is happening in the literary world, and some do not really care.

Not many people are even aware that it is the Swedish Academy that chooses and awards the Literature Nobel Prize, and, of course, no one really knows how they pick and choose candidates or how they choose the final winner of the prize.

The award that has been shrouded in mystery has been thrown farther into the spotlight this year because of one man that hardly has anything to do with it.

What this scandal has brought to light is how sexual allegations affect many people. It has shown the world how much the victims have been ignored.

The fact is that Arnault was accused of sexual assault in 1996 but nobody paid attention or did anything about it then. It took the #MeToo movement to encourage 18 women to say the truth and for people to pay attention to them.

It shows how little people had been paying attention until then. This scandal also reveals just how fragile the Swedish Academy has been until the present day.

Therefore, no Literature Nobel Award will be awarded in 2018, though none of the other awards (science, physics and others) will be affected by this decision.

The investigation to determine whether the allegations against Arnault are true is still going on despite some prosecutors backing off.

The response of the Academy so far just goes to show just how important the #MeToo movement has been and how much the world is affected by sexual assault and harassment allegations.

Valeria Garcia, University of Texas at Austin

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Valeria Garcia

University of Texas at Austin
English Major, Creative Writing Minor

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