1982 Nobel Prize in Literature Presentation Speech

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1982 Nobel Prize in Literature Presentation Speech

by Professor Lars Gyllensten of the Swedish Academy
(Translation from the Swedish)

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,

With this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature to Gabriel García Márquez the Swedish Academy cannot be said to bring forward an unknown writer.

García Márquez achieved unusual success as a writer with his novel Cien años de soledad in 1967 (One Hundred Years of Solitude). The book has been translated into a large number of languages and has sold millions of copies. It is still being reprinted and read with undiminished interest by new readers. Such a success with a single work could be fatal for a writer with less resources than those possessed by García Márquez. He has, however, gradually confirmed his position as a rare storyteller richly endowed with a material, from imagination and experience, which seems inexhaustible. In breadth and epic richness, for instance, the novel El otoño del patriarca, 1975 (The Autumn of the Patriarch), compares favourably with the first-mentioned work. Short novels such as El coronel no tiene quien le escriba, 1961 (No One Writes to the Colonel), La mala hora, 1962 (An Evil Hour), or last year’s Crónica de una muerte anunciada (Chronicle of a Death Foretold), complement the picture of a writer who combines the copious, almost overwhelming narrative talent with the mastery of the conscious, disciplined and widely read artist of language. A large number of short stories, published in several collections or in magazines, give further proof of the great versatility of García Márquez’ narrative gift. His international successes have continued. Each new work of his is received by expectant critics and readers as an event of world importance, is translated into many languages and published as quickly as possible in large editions.

Nor can it be said that any literary unknown continent or province is brought to light with the prize to Gabriel García Márquez. For a long time Latin American literature has shown a vigour as in few other literary spheres. It has won acclaim in the cultural life of today. Many impulses and traditions cross each other. Folk culture, including oral storytelling, reminiscences from old Indian culture, currents from Spanish baroque in different epochs, influences from European surrealism and other modernism are blended into a spiced and life-giving brew. From it García Márquez and other Spanish-American writers derive material and inspiration. The violent conflicts of political nature–social and economic–raise the temperature of the intellectual climate. Like most of the other important writers in the Latin American world, García Márquez is strongly committed politically on the side of the poor and the weak against oppression and economic exploitation. Apart from his fictional production he has been very active as a journalist, his writings being many-sided, inventive, often provocative and by no means limited to political subjects.

The great novels remind one of William Faulkner. García Márquez has created a world of his own round the imaginary town of Macondo. In his novels and short stories we are led into this peculiar place where the miraculous and the real converge. The extravagant flight of his own fantasy combines with traditional folk tales and facts, literary allusions and tangible–at times obtrusively graphic–descriptions approaching the matter-of-factness of reportage. As with Faulkner, the same chief characters and minor persons crop up in different stories. They are brought forward into the light in various ways–sometimes in dramatically revealing situations, sometimes in comic and grotesque complications of a kind that only the wildest imagination or shameless reality itself can achieve. Manias and passions harass them. Absurdities of war let courage change shape with craziness, infamy with chivalry, cunning with madness.

Death is perhaps the most important director behind the scenes in García Márquez’ invented and discovered world. Often his stories revolve around a dead person–someone who has died, is dying or will die. A tragic sense of life characterizes García Márquez’ books–a sense of the incorruptible superiority of fate and the inhuman, inexorable ravages of history. But this awareness of death and tragic sense of life is broken by the narrative’s unlimited, ingenious vitality, which in its turn is a representative of the at once frightening and edifying vital force of reality and life itself. The comedy and grotesqueness in García Márquez can be cruel, but can also glide over into a conciliating humour.

With his stories García Márquez has created a world of his own which is a microcosmos. In its tumultuous, bewildering yet graphically convincing authenticity it reflects a continent and its human riches and poverty.

Perhaps more than that: a cosmos in which the human heart and the combined forces of history time and again burst the bounds of chaos-killing and procreation.

Monsieur García Márquez,

Ne disposant que de quelques minutes, je n’ai pu donner de votre œuvre littéraire qu’une image d’aspect general et assez abstraite. Certes, vos romans et vos nouvelles sont d’ordre general, ce qui revient à dire qu’elles ont une portée et une signification humaines de cet ordre. Mais elles ne sont pas abstraites. Au contraire, vos œuvres se caractérisent par un rendu du vivant peu commun et une concretion realiste auxquels aucun condense abstrait ne saurait rendre justice. Le mieux que je puisse faire, c’est d’exhorter ceux qui ne les ont pas lues à les lire. C’est bien ce que j’ai fait.

Sur ces paroles, je vous presente les felicitations les plus cordiales de l’Académie Suédoise et je vous invite à recevoir le prix Nobel de littérature des mains de Sa Majesté le Roi.

[© The Nobel Foundation, 1982.]

(Translation of the French by Michael Lazare)

Mr. García Márquez:

Having only a few moments to speak, I could only give a general, and rather abstract, view of your literary work. In fact, your stories and your novels have universal reach and human significance–but they are not abstract. On the contrary, they are characterized by an uncommon rendition of life, and a true realism to which no abstract description could do justice. The best I can do is to exhort those who have not read your works to do so. And that is indeed what I have done.

With these words, I bring you the most hearty congratulations of the Swedish Academy, and I invite you to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature from the hands of His Majesty the King.

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1982 Nobel Prize in Literature Presentation Speech

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1982 Nobel Prize in Literature Presentation Speech