What is happening with Nobel Prize in Literature?

Over the weekend, the news “Nobel Prize in Literature 2018 is cancelled” storms the global media. What is happening with the utmost glory in literature?


In short, it fails because the committee that selects the Nobel laureate in literature, the Swedish academy,  cannot function properly after resignation of four members in April. Taking the number of inactive members into account, the remaining ten active members fail to meet the quorum of twelve to select a laureate. What has sparked such an abrupt resignation?


The Swedish Academy (photo: TT News Agency/Jonas Ekstromer, REUTERS)

#MeToo and Nobel Prize in Literature

You must have heard to #MeToo tag, which is a movement that encourages victims of sexual assaults to speak out for themselves. In autumn 2017, the movement has finally arrived in Sweden; since then it has gathered enormous support and publicity from both online and the open-minded, liberal Swedish society. However, it was still hard to perceive a bond between #MeToo and Nobel Prize in Literature, until a local newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, put the accusations of Jean-Claude Arnault in sexual assaults under light. Arnault was accused of long-term sexual assaults (including rape) by 18 women who were interviewed.

Dagens Nyheter, headline of Nov. 2017

One doesn’t have to speak perfect French to recognise that “Jean-Claude Arnault” is a French, instead of Swedish name. How does a Frenchman get involved in Nobel Prize-bussiness?

It happens, that Arnault is the husband of Katerina Forstenson, who is a member of the Swedish Academy.  Because of the national outrage followed by the release on Dagens Nyheter, the Swedish Academy delegated a law firm to conduct investigation on the Arnault’s tie with its members. After months of investigation, the Academy, whose secretary in Sara Danius, decided that it would not file a police report albeit recommendation by the law firm; neither it expelled Forstenson, in spite of other charges (corruption, leaking) placed on the couples.

The Swedish Academy in maelstrom

Apparently its decision failed to please most. Sara Danius was the first to resign due to mounting public criticism. It follows the resignation of Peter Englund, Klas Östergren and Kjell Espmark, who were discontent with the response of the Swedish Academy. By now, Swedish Academy had immediately cut ties with the Arnaults and the organization that they founded; the police have started an official investigation of those alleged charges. Although the wool may not be able to be healed completely, justice will eventually be served.

In addition, the Nobel committee also supports the cancellation of 2018’s Literature Prize and will review the potential flaws in selection mechanism.  All in all, it is glad to see that it is moving forward with ever greater transparency.


When one talks about sex crime, a mid-night lane, the flooded New Year Countdown, or music festival are usually the first thing that come to one’s mind. True, sometimes even I can’t help imagining that something is lurking in darkness when I have to walk pass the quiet campus at night. But, in contrast to my wild imagination, most sex crimes indeed take place among someone who the victim(s) knows.

Silence, a Korean movie base on a true sexual crime in a school for the deaf

And it is so in this case. Even worse, as the Arnault couples are influential artistic figures in Swedish academia, it is of many people’s concern that some of these horrible crimes may have been committed in the name of the Swedish Academy. In reality, the extreme power imbalance between employee and employer, students and teachers, small children and their care-takers etc., are unfortunately the most common “setting” of sex crimes.


You might have heard from a certain president or certain groups claiming that Sweden is torn by refugees, crimes and is the capital of rape! Let me show you if this is true:

  • Sweden has one of most stringent legislation against sex crimes. Starting from July 2018, any non-voluntary sex is considered non-legitimate. It means that such cases can be filed to police even if no violence or threat of violence is involved (read the REUTERS news here).


  • By comparing the overall crime rate with cases of reported sexual assaults, those who fall victims into sex crimes in Sweden  prefer going to police rather than to keeping silence. This can be mostly attributed to the egalitarian culture. (Tomas’s informative blog What is happening in Sweden presents more numerical and logical evidence of this point)

Why do I talk about “egalitarian” here? How is it important?

As I explained, power imbalance can be a cause of sex crime. Here in Sweden, no matter it is in a university, a research institute, or a company, we emphasise equality instead of hierarchy. For example, in Karolinska Institute that I perform my master thesis work, group leaders, junior faculties, PhD students and interns share the same office area and kitchen. No locked doors or sealed windows. In addition, there is a mandatory rule that the supervisor must not touch the students!


As a student blogger who mostly blog about science, student life and Swedish culture, I don’t usually see myself stepping into lofty matters such as Nobel Prize in Literature or a scandal that may shadow the credibility that is the accumulative effort over a hundred years, and the glory that has infused into nation. But I would think that the worse thing here is to stay oblivious.