Feuding, old age shake Nobel body

 

THE august Swedish committee that awards the Nobel Prize for Literature has been shaken by internal feuding, threatening the future of the world's most prestigious writing award.

Four of 18 numbered chairs in an ornate chamber in the stock exchange in Stockholm's Old Town are now empty when the Swedish Academy sits down for its weekly meetings, according to reports in the Swedish media.

Dr Knut Ahnlund, a literature professor, is the latest academic to boycott the committee's deliberations - academy members cannot resign - accusing the academy's secretary, Dr Sture Allen, a linguistics professor, of being power hungry.

"The official duties of the academy should be delegated to more academy members," Dr Ahnlund told the daily Expressen. Allen is on all the committees. It's important that the academy gets a new secretary in due course.

Two other academy members - Dr Kerstin Ekman and Dr Lars Gyllensten - stopped attending in 1989 when Dr Allen refused to allow the committee to denounce Iran's death edict on the novelist Salman Rushdie who has been living in hiding for seven years because of it.

The writer, Werner Aspenstrom (78), has stopped attending, saying he does not like groups or committees.

A rule dating from 1901, the year the first prize was awarded, requires that at least 12 of the 18 member academy cast a vote for the award nominees, the daily Dagets Nyheter said yesterday.

"Since several are sick, it may be difficult to obtain 12 votes," Expressen said. Several academy members are over 60 years old.

One, Dr Johannes Edfelt, who turns 92 this year, told Dagens Nyheter he felt tired and had little to contribute to discussions on who should win the prize.

Dr Allen said 14 members was more than enough to choose the Nobel prize candidate and work was going ahead "with gusto" on the 1996 award.

King Gustav III of Sweden decided more than two centuries ago that academy members would serve life terms. "A person can be thrown out or die, but can never resign," Dr Allen told the daily.

King Gustav III "does not seem to have taken into account the possibility of controversy when members would like to leave the assembly alive," the newspaper said. No rule changes are anticipated, it added, The academy keeps the numbered chairs empty in case the dissident members change their minds.

The academy announces the winner in October every year, and last year it was won by Seamus Heaney. The prize this year will be worth 7.4 million Swedish crowns ($1.1 million).

The academy is responsible for most major Swedish literary awards but is best known for the Nobel prize.