October 15, 2020
Nobel Nabobs Named; Swedes Suffer Rep Wreckage
by Mike Lindgren
It has been a tough couple of years for a number of cultural institutions, many of which are struggling, like brontosauri in a tar pit, to adopt to the new realities of social justice in the age of #MeToo and #BLM. Perhaps none has been hit harder than the august Swedish Academy, which has been roiled by controversy in recent years and is struggling to maintain its credibility.
The most recent blow to the Academy’s reputation was the naming of Austrian writer Peter Handke as winner of the 2019 prize in literature—Handke was criticized for his prior support for Serbian war criminal Slobodan Milosevic. As if to compensate, the Academy this year gave the prize to American poet Louise Glück, a masterful craftsperson with a highly distinctive and accomplished voice, but whose poetry is almost relentlessly private and interior in its lyric concerns. Talk about the sovereigns of the soul!
As every man in Sweden will concede, the Academy has some catching up to do. Further changes in the Academy’s charter have been “driven by its patron, the king of Sweden.” (It seems to us very 2020 that a demand for institutional reform should come from an honest-to-God king.)
But help is on the way! According to Reuters, the Academy last week “named author and journalist Ingrid Carlberg and writer, critic and translator Steve Sem-Sandberg as new members,” a move presumably intended to bring a more contemporary perspective to the Academy’s deliberations. It will be interesting to see if the Academy is able to adjust itself to a more contemporary cultural landscape.
No more phrases, Swenson!
Michael Lindgren is the Managing Editor at Melville House.