December 9, 2019

Nobel resignation drama matures into boycott stage


The Nobel prize in literature has been mired in resignations for years. It all started when a scandal erupted in 2017 involving charges of sexual misconduct and corruption. So many members of the Swedish Academy resigned or withdrew themselves from deliberation during the height of that scandal that the 2018 prize couldn’t be awarded.

Although operations resumed in 2019 and two awards were handed out this October, a committee that was established to fix the flailing institution saw two of its own members resign early this month.

We’ve been watching the dramatic upheavals closely and unimaginatively expected to see more resignations, but today, we have a surprising twist to this prolonged car crash: not a resignation, but a boycott.

Why? Well Peter Englund, Swedish author of The Beauty and the Sorrow, is the former permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy. As such, he is ineligible for resignation, so he did the next best thing and announced that he will not be attending the ceremony for Peter Handke’s 2019 Nobel prize in literature.

Handke was a controversial decision for the 2019 prize—widely regarded as an apologist for Serb atrocities during the Yugoslav wars of the 90s. His win was condemned by everyone from Slavoj Žižek to the PEN America foundation.

Englund claimed that his attendance would be “gross hypocrisy on my part,” which is literally the second delicately worded, self-effacing, slam-dunk torching of the Swedish Academy in a week. We are still thinking about Kristoffer “different perspective on time” Leandoer, but as we are learning that the tradition of devastating Swedish put-downs of the Swedish Academy is something of a fine art, we’ll continue following this beat closely.



Athena Bryan is an editor at Melville House.