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Citing ‘Crisis of Confidence,’ Academy Calls Off Nobel Literature Prize

“When institutions fail, that means that gradually we will lose trust, and that means that we lose confidence in our society,” he said. “When we realized that the Swedish Academy, that the institution doesn’t work, it hurts our self perception.”

The resignations have left the academy with only 10 active members.

Academy appointments are for life, and until this week, the organization’s rules did not provide for resignations; members who quit were treated as merely inactive, but could not be replaced.

Citing ‘Crisis of Confidence,’ Academy Calls Off Nobel Literature Prize
Citing ‘Crisis of Confidence,’ Academy Calls Off Nobel Literature Prize

On Wednesday, King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, the academy’s patron, who said he had followed the matter “with great concern,” announced that he had changed the rules to allow resignations, and to allow the panel to replace any member who had been inactive for two years.

It was a rare intervention by the monarch, whose role is mostly ceremonial.

The academy has promised increased transparency and “more and better dialogue” both internally, and with the monarchy and the Nobel Foundation. It also said on Friday that “routines will be tightened regarding conflict-of-interest issues and the management of information classified as secret,” and that “internal work arrangements and external communication will be refreshed.”

The academy was founded in 1786 as the arbiter of Swedish language and letters, and was designated by Nobel, in his will, to award the literature prize in his name. It began choosing winners in 1901, and for almost as long, some of its choices have been assailed as politicized, parochial or just misguided.

The list of prize winners has been heavy on authors, many of them Scandinavian, who are not well-remembered generations later, while the academy has passed over writers like Twain, Tolstoy, Proust and Joyce. In one notorious selection, it bestowed the 1974 prize on two of the academy’s own members, Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson, snubbing candidates like Vladimir Nabokov, Jorge Luis Borges and Graham Greene, none of whom ever got the nod.

The decision to award the Nobel to Bob Dylan in 2016 — the first American to be so recognized since the novelist Toni Morrison, in 1993 — was one of the most debated arts awards in recent memory.

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