Tag Archives: Sara Danius

The seventh chair

I read the article several times.

Before that I had had a telephone conversation with Son, about various things. One of the ‘things’ was Åsa Wikforss. It was a professional sort of mention. Minutes later I sat down to eat supper in the company of the December issue of Vi magazine, of which page 30 was already lying open.

It turned out to be a long interview article with Åsa Wikforss. Coincidence? Serendipity, more like. She was photographed on top of a stepladder, wearing a shiny – but nice – copper coloured dress and a scarf billowing in the studio’s wind.

So I ate, and I read about Åsa. I liked everything I read. In fact, I felt a bit like her. No, not that exactly. More that we seemed to have a lot in common, in that comfortable way you sometimes discover when you talk to people. I wish I could. Talk to her, I mean.

The reason I probably won’t be able to, and the reason we are not the same, is that today she will be sworn in as a new member of the Swedish Academy. Yes, that slightly tarnished but formerly great institution. Chair number seven, I believe. The one that belonged to Sara Danius, whom I also felt strangely close to.

Åsa sounds very sensible. Intelligent. She doesn’t hail from a privileged background, so as far as I’m concerned she is the real deal. By privileged I mean money or family ties. Otherwise she was really quite privileged, having sensible – working class – parents, growing up in a concrete suburb of Gothenburg. Possibly studying at the Literature department at the same time as me. Possibly not. Then the obvious stuff; Oxford, international romance, New York, back to Sweden to be Professor of Theoretical Philosophy, and now the Swedish Academy.

It’s a long article, and the author, Stina Jofs, regrets not having had room for all the information she’d collected. So there’s no point in me going on and on here.

But she’s been where I’ve been, even if she did it in New York and I was in Stockport. It’s almost the same.

I read the article again. Told Son about it, and he wants me to save it for when he gets here. Fine. I will. But I might want to read it again.

Here’s hoping Åsa’s first day with her Swedish Academy colleagues goes well, and that soon she and her rookie peers will sort them out good and proper.

Åsa Wikforss, photographed by Thron Ullberg for Vi

Sara Danius, and two new Nobel laureates

I was saddened to learn Sara Danius has died. The news, coming as it did just after we’d heard who the two new winners of the Nobel Prize for literature were (Olga Tokarczuk and Peter Handke), seemed almost unreal.

It had been good to have a woman at the helm of the Swedish Academy, and it would have been better still if Sara could have remained at her post when the waters got choppy last year. It seemed as if the men were all right, in the way men often are, while the – seemingly – fault-free woman did the honourable thing and resigned.

With hindsight, maybe Sara knew she was ill. I hope it wasn’t the trouble with the academy that caused her illness.

I wrote about Sara – and had the temerity to compare her with me – a couple of years ago. It was good to discover someone who was so [almost] normal, doing a job like that of permanent secretary. And then I railed against her departure. Maybe it was a blessing Sara didn’t have to die on her chair, though, as you’re supposed to.

But let’s be happy for the two new winners of the prize, Olga Tokarczuk and Peter Handke. Both are names I know, and I recognise their faces, too. Haven’t read their books, but at least they don’t seem as strange as some earlier choices.

Geniuses

Well, isn’t that just fantastic?

Less than a year after I wrote about Sara Danius, permanent secretary to the Swedish Academy, she’s been forced out. I’m fairly certain her being a woman is not immaterial.

It’s so bad the King is planning on knocking some sense into the remaining members. Except, I’m fairly certain this is another instance when there are already too many ‘posh’ older men involved, and we don’t need another one, even if he is the boss of the so called geniuses of the academy. He’s also been in hot water, in the not too distant past.

As Jonas Gardell, who is someone very famous in Sweden, wrote in one newspaper, if it happens behind locked doors, it’s not going to be good. That’s true in more everyday circumstances, and I’m fairly certain he’s right. It was just we didn’t think about it before.

Klas Östergren i Edinburgh 2009

I somehow believed people, even when they are men, could be decent. The two academy members I’ve met have been. That’s one ordinary member – Klas Östergren – and one former permanent secretary – Peter Englund. And presumably I was right about them, as they were two of the three who resigned first. I was surprised when I read about that, but should have realised it was a sign worse was to come.

Peter Englund

In a year when women are standing up for their rights, it’s sort of interesting that in a country like Sweden, the establishment feels so established that they can ignore reports of rape and generally inappropriate sexual behaviour by people in and out of, but close to, the academy. That they can just get away with it.

It seems it’s one or two of the former permanent secretaries who can’t quite give up being boss, and who are of an age where they feel entitled, who are [mostly] behind all this. As Jonas Gardell wrote, they’ve won the battle, but they won’t win the war. I hope he is right.

And how can you have a member who passes on academy secrets, such as who’s about to get the next Nobel Prize for literature, to her husband? And if she didn’t do it, it appears the husband is tight with enough members that he could have heard it from any of them. He is the sex pest, apparently. As an exile I’d never heard of him, but it seems he runs a business financed by the academy, where he has access to women to pester.

I’m fairly certain that this will be a tough problem to solve, if it’s even possible. But I fail to grasp how this could have been the fault of the relatively new, and female, permanent secretary. My bet is on a few of the men. Perhaps kick them out in Sara’s place?

The problem being, of course, that you are supposed to die on your chair. You can’t resign or be fired. That’s why there are now too few members left.

The route to permanent secretary

Meeting Sara Danuis’s predecessor Peter Englund didn’t make me feel we shared a background, especially. Apart from being Swedes. Reading about the current permanent secretary to the Swedish Academy I hoped Sara and I might have had more in common. She’s six years younger, but that’s nothing between peers. At our age, anyway.

And she looks familiar, but her name was completely new to me when she made the Bob Dylan announcement last autumn. Sara lived with her single mother, who wrote books in the bathroom. I lived with my single mother, but she definitely didn’t write books, anywhere. And it seems we had more books at home.

But when I read that Sara’s mother was Anna Wahlgren, the penny dropped. They might have been poor, and she might have written books in bathrooms, but Anna was famous and she and her children featured in countless magazine articles (which I read). Maybe that was where I ‘recognised’ her from.

Sara Danius in Vi Magazine

Her first own book that she bought was Ture Sventon, which wouldn’t have been my choice, but I can see where she’s coming from. Having a secretary who brings you Lent buns on demand is not a bad thing. All year round. Then, like me, Sara read what was available, which in her case was Sven Delblanc. I remember him too, including learning – like Sara – how to say his name. But I didn’t read his [adult] novels.

From there on my inferiority complex grows. While I did grapple with books typical for upper teens to read, I rarely enjoyed them, and I moved on, which in my case seems to have been backwards. Sara read Homer, Balzac, Sartre and Proust. And enjoyed them.

That‘s how you come to be permanent secretary to the Swedish Academy.