Recipients of the Nobel Prize for Literature for the year 2018 and 2019 were announced this year. Polish author Olga Tokarczuk and Austrian author Peter Handke were declared the winners respectively. On December 7, Tokarczuk accepted the award, and also offered a stirring speech.
In it, she touched upon her childhood, the need to narrate a story well and the problem that we are facing now. “The world is a fabric we weave daily on the great looms of information, discussions, films, books, gossip, little anecdotes. Today the purview of these looms is enormous—thanks to the internet, almost everyone can take place in the process, taking responsibility and not, lovingly and hatefully, for better and for worse. When this story changes, so does the world. In this sense, the world is made of words,” she says.
And then, reminding us of our responsibility, adds, “How we think about the world and—perhaps even more importantly—how we narrate it have a massive significance, therefore. A thing that happens and is not told ceases to exist and perishes. This is a fact well known to not only historians, but also (and perhaps above all) to every stripe of politician and tyrant. He who has and weaves the story is in charge.”
In her powerful speech where she talks about the emergence of a first-person narrative, its implications, the multiplicity of narratives and literature’s role in it, she comes back to the imperative to be tender. “Tenderness is deep emotional concern about another being, its fragility, its unique nature, and its lack of immunity to suffering and the effects of time. Tenderness perceives the bonds that connect us, the similarities and sameness between us. It is a way of looking that shows the world as being alive, living, interconnected, cooperating with, and codependent on itself.”
Translated by Jennifer Croft and Antonia Lloyd-Jones.