Sex, lies and leaks. You could be forgiven for thinking, “Been there, read that.” But, this is not a description of the White House. This is a description of the scandals roasting the venerable Swedish Academy of elderly men and women who award the Nobel Literature Prize.
The counterpoint to 71-year-old Donald Trump is Sweden’s cultural czar, the 71-year-old Jean-Claude Arnault, accused of sexually assaulting 18 young women over the past two decades—secrets revealed by the #MeToo movement. Several were aspiring writers. One of Arnault’s victims, author Gabriella Håkansson, accuses him of doing unto her what Trump had bragged of doing to women in that infamous audiotape. Euphemism is necessary because, appallingly, describing the activities of some political and cultural leaders these days is like writing porn! The Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet quoted three sources who disclosed that they had witnessed Arnault groping the Swedish crown princess Victoria. Her father, King Carl XVI Gustaf, is the chief patron of the esteemed 232-year old academy.
Arnault is married to Katarina Frostenson, an award-winning poet and Swedish Academy member since 1992. He is accused of corruption, being a sexual predator and leaking pillow talks. Investigations by legal firm Hammarskiöld & Co reportedly concluded that prior to the official announcement, Arnault leaked the names of prize winners on seven occasions, including Harold Pinter in 2005 and Bob Dylan in 2016—disclosures that dramatically impact the betting industry. The firm recommended reporting Arnault to the police. But, the cultural caucus in most countries is usually a snobbish, incestuous cabal with deeply entrenched ties. Sexual abuse, lies, coverups and nepotism have surfaced—the academy gave funds to the couple’s cultural club. Arnault denies all allegations, claiming he is the victim of a “witch-hunt”. Did we just hear an echo?
Even though the Nobel Prize is the world’s most prestigious award, the Swedish Academy is an outdated institution that appoints members for life. Scandinavians now live well into their 80s and 90s, sometimes suffering dementia even if physically fit. Despite the outrageous revelations, the hidebound academy was initially immune to reform, provoking some members to quit. Arnault’s wife finally resigned. Says literary commentator Ingunn Økland, “Old traditions are charming until you realise they are thoroughly rotten. Time has come for full ventilation and reorganisation of the Swedish Academy.”
But reorganisation means different things to different people. To the iconoclastic August Strindberg, the “father” of modern Swedish literature, it meant complete overhaul. He never won the Nobel prize—apparently his enemies in the academy ensured that. Satirising Stockholm’s social hypocrisies, Strindberg famously wrote in 1880: “I want to turn everything upside down to see what lies beneath; I believe we are so webbed, so horribly regimented, that no spring-cleaning is possible, everything must be burned, blown to bits, and then we can start afresh.”
That’s too strong a prescription for the staid academy, despite the dynamiting of its reputation. Instead they promise reforms and a thorough cleaning that will take months. So, this year there will be no Nobel Prize for Literature. But the Nobel Peace Prize (given by Norway) will be awarded, and Trump supporters hope he will get it for North Korea. The statutes say nominations for the peace prize must reach the awarding committee before February 15. But, some say the deadline could be overlooked, and the nations involved could receive the coveted prize if there is a dramatic breakthrough in the Korean peninsula. But Trump is unpredictable. The Swedish Academy will close an ugly chapter, but a new one could begin for tempestuous Trump, titled Sex, Lies and War—with Iran, or Sex, Lies and Impeachment. It is Trump. Who knows? Bad! Sad! Stay tuned! Better to tweet than write porn.
Pratap is an author and journalist.