April 10, 2018

A Very IgNobel #MeToo Crisis


It’s not often that a king’s sadness is covered by the Associated Press, and a headline such as “Swedish king saddened by trouble in Nobel literature body” portends strange times indeed.

The king in question here is Sweden’s Carl Gustav, who, while mostly a figurehead, has at least one duty of global influence: acting as the patron for the Swedish Academy, the eighteen-member cultural body responsible for selecting each year’s Nobel Prize laureates in literature. Now three of those members, who are elected for life, have stepped down in protest against the continuing presence of another member whose spouse has been accused of numerous sexual abuses.

And I do mean numerous. According to the AP, French-born Jean-Claude Arnault, formerly director of of the Swedish cultural venue Forum — Contemporary Scene of Culture, was reported by the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter to have been accused by eighteen women of sexual assault—including, in some cases, rape—in a staggering period that began in 1996 and ended in 2017. Arnault, the husband of Academy member Katarina Frostenson, has been banned from entering the Academy since December, when he was denied entry to a banquet following the Dagens Nyheter investigative report.

Inevitably, Frostenson, one of Sweden’s most celebrated and honored poets, has been under fire over questions of whether she knew anything about husband’s activities. Because she has remained steadfastly by his side, members of the Academy have sparred over whether to continue her membership. A vote was held this past week, and when the committee elected not to remove her, longtime members Klas Ostergren, Kjell Espmark, and Peter Englund stepped down in protest.

The Swedish Academy, in Stockholm.

“Integrity is the lifeblood of the Swedish Academy,” Espmark wrote in a statement provided to Dagens Nyheter, and circulated in English translation by the AP’s Hillel Italie and David Keyton. “When leading voices in the academy put friendship and other irrelevant considerations before this integrity, then I can no longer participate in the work.” Ostergren echoed these sentiments in his own statement. “The academy has had serious problems for a long time,” he wrote, “and has now tried to solve them in a way that puts obscure considerations before its own statutes. Therefore, I have decided to no longer take part in its activities. I’m leaving the table, I’m out of the game.” Englund kept his statement blunt: “Decisions have been made which I can neither support nor defend and I have therefore decided not to participate anymore in the work of the Swedish Academy.”

“It is a very, very, very important institution, so I am kept informed about developments,” King Carl Gustav said in a brief statement to Swedish media. “This is a sad development that I hope will be solved… sooner or later.”

Sad, my liege? How about being enraged? Sooner or later? How about demanding things be resolved now?



Michael Barron is an editor at Melville House.