1970 Nobel Prize in Literature Presentation Speech
1970 Nobel Prize in Literature Presentation Speech
by Karl Ragnar Gierow, of the Swedish Academy, on 10 December 1970
Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Our passports show where and when we were born, facts that are needed to fix our identity. According to a current theory this also applies to authorship. A literary work belongs to its time, and its creator is a product of his social and political situation. There are weighty examples to the contrary but these must be jettisoned or the theory will founder. A case to which it does apply, however, is this year’s Nobel Prizewinner in Literature. It is worth emphasizing this because from all points of the compass, not least the West, people are prone for various reasons to make exceptions in his case.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s passport–I have in mind the one that will convey him to posterity–tells us when and where he was born, details that we need in order to establish his artistic identity. Born in 1918 in Kislovodsk, he belongs to the first generation of Soviet Russian writers who grew up with the new form of government and he is indivisible from the climate and the time in which he was born. Solzhenitsyn himself has said that he cannot contemplate living anywhere but in his native land. His books can; they are already living all round the world, now, perhaps, more than ever before, in the future, perhaps, more than now. But their vitality springs not least from the feeling that roots his being to his country and its destiny. Here, too, Solzhenitsyn is of the incomparable Russian tradition. The same background offsets the gigantic predecessors who have derived from Russia’s suffering the compelling strength and inextinguishable love that permeate their work. There is little room in their descriptions for idylls according to plan or prescribed information about the future. But it would be a gross misunderstanding of their quest for the truth not to feel in this their profound decisive identification with the country whose life provided their subject matter, and for whose life their works are essential. The central figure in this powerful epic is the invincible Mother Russia. She appears in various guises under diverse names. One is Matryona, the main character in one of Solzhenitsyn’s stories. Her lined face recalls the constant, indomitable features and re-casts the spell of devotion that she is able to offer and which she so proudly deserves.
Love is blind, the saying goes, and if so, it signifies her instinct for self-preservation. Clear-sighted love does not always conjure up an immediate response. Time and distance may be–and have been–necessary for a true appreciation of the depth and warmth of perceptive feeling. This has not been so in Solzhenitsyn’s case. When his novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, first appeared eight years ago, it was recognised at once in his own country, and soon all over the world, that a major new writer had entered the arena. As Pravda wrote, “Solzhenitsyn’s narrative is reminiscent at times of Tolstoy’s artistic force. An unusually talented author has been added to our literature!” It would also be difficult to outdo Pravda’s exposé of the power exercised by Solzhenitsyn’s narrative art: “Why is it that our heart contracts with pain as we read this remarkable story at the same time as we feel our spirits soar? The explanation lies in its profound humanity, in the quality of mankind even in the hour of degradation.”
A message about special circumstances seldom travels far and the words that fly round the world are those which appeal to, and help us, all. Such are the words of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. They speak to us of matters that we need to hear more than ever before, of the individual’s indestructible dignity. Wherever that dignity is violated, whatever the reason or the means, his message is not only an accusation but also an assurance: those who commit such a violation are the only ones to be degraded by it. The truth of this is plain to see wherever one travels.
Even the external form which Solzhenitsyn seeks for his work bears witness to his message. This form has been termed the polyphone or horizontal novel. It might equally be described as a story with no chief character. Which is to say that this is not individualism at the expense of the surroundings. But nor may the gallery of persons act as a collective that smothers the individuals of which it is entirely composed. Solzhenitsyn has explained what he means by polyphonism: each person becomes the chief character whenever the action concerns him. This is not just a technique, it is a creed. The narrative focuses on the only human element in existence, the human individual, with equal status among equals, one destiny among millions and a million destinies in one. This is the whole of humanism in a nutshell, for the kernel is love of mankind. This year’s Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded to the proclaimer of such a humanism.
[© The Nobel Foundation, 1970.]
The Swedish Academy tried to plan a ceremony in Moscow at which Gierow could present Solzhenitsyn’s award to him; but the ceremony was canceled when Gierow was denied an entry visa, so he did not deliver the remarks he had prepared:
At the presentation of the Nobel prizes on 10 December 1970 I was charged by the Swedish Academy briefly to introduce the Nobel Prizewinner in literature. I did so in the following words, which I now beg you to have a few minutes’ patience with.
As Alexander Solzhenitsyn could not be present at the prizegiving, I have now come here to give him his insignia.
I come alone but with open arms.
For this is the very way that shows most clearly what the Nobel Prize is intended to mean.
It is not a gesture of courtesy from one nation to another.
It is an award to an individual man for his own work, made by an academy which reaches its decisions without consulting anyone else.
But above all, the ceremony that I am attending here emphasizes the very nature of the dignity with which the Nobel Prize can be associated.
That dignity belongs to the recipient.
What prestige and importance the Nobel Prize possesses, it has gained through the prizewinners. Their achievement it is which makes the mark of honour something other than a sum of money and a couple of objects.
Alfred Nobel’s intention was, that what mankind accomplishes in its best moments through its finest efforts, shall also benefit humanity all over the world, without respect to nation, language, race or creed.
To that extent the goal of which Nobel dreamed can be said to be that which is happening here at this moment.
If there is something we have the right to wish for, it is that every gathering should take the form of this one: a trusting fellowship between free people who, without fear, desire each other’s good.
That is the hope, for the moment realized, which must never be dashed. That is the demand which our earth cannot afford to give up.
That is the significance of the ceremony taking place here.
Dear Alexander Solzhenitsyn, when I now hand over your Nobel diploma and your Nobel medal, I not only express the hearty congratulations and warm admiration of the Swedish Academy and the Nobel Foundation.
I also convey our deep gratitude for the dignity and honour which your works confer upon the prize for which the Swedish Academy is responsible.
[© The Nobel Foundation, 1971.]
Address to Solzhenitsyn by Gierow on 10 December 1974 (the Nobel ceremony at which Solzhenitsyn finally received his award):
Not only for the Swedish Academy but for all of us the ceremony today has its particular significance: we can, finally, hand over to the laureate of 1970 the insignia of his award.
Mr. Alexander Solzhenitsyn: I have already made two speeches to you. The first one you couldn’t listen to, because there was a frontier to cross. The second one I couldn’t deliver, because there was a frontier to cross. Your presence here today doesn’t mean that the frontiers have at last been abolished. On the contrary, it means that you are now on this side of a border that still exists. But the spirit of your writings, as I understand it, the driving force of your work, like the spirit and force of Alfred Nobel’s last will and testament, is to open all frontiers, to enable man to meet man, freely and confidently.
The difficulty is that such a confidence can only be built on truth. And nowhere in this world of ours is truth always greeted with pure pleasure. Truth goes from house to house, and the dog barks at whom he does not know, says a stern old philosopher. But all the more happy and grateful are those who recognize the wandering stranger and ask him to spend the night and his life with them, in the deep, even desperate hope that the day may not be far off when a frontier is, as it should be, merely a line on the map, which we pass on our way to friends. Such should be, and could be, the case all around the prospering and tormented planet which we inhabit.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, my dear friend, with these few words I convey to you the warm congratulations of the Swedish Academy and ask you to receive from the hands of His Majesty the King the insignia of the prize to whose value you have added your honour.
[© The Nobel Foundation, 1974.]