Oe: Banquet Speech

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Ōe: Banquet Speech

Ōe’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, 10 December 1994:

I am a strange Japanese who spent his infancy and boyhood under the overwhelming influence of Nils Holgersson [protagonist of Selma Lagerlöf’s Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige (1906-1907; translated as The Wonderful Adventures of Nils,1907, and The Further Adventures of Nils,1911)]. So great was Nils’ influence on me that there was a time I could name Sweden’s beautiful locales better than those of my own country.

Nils’ ponderous weight extended to my literary predilections. I turned a cold shoulder to “The Tale of Genji.” I felt closer to Selma Lagerlöf and respected her more than Lady Murasaki, the author of this celebrated work. However, thanks again to Nils and his friends, I have rediscovered the attraction to “The Tale of Genji.” Nils’ winged comrades carried me there.

Genji, the protagonist of the classic tale, bids a flock of geese he sees in flight to search for his wife’s departed soul which has failed to appear even in his dreams.

The destination of the soul: this is what I, led on by Nils Holgersson, came to seek in the literature of Western Europe. I fervently hope that my pursuit, as a Japanese, of literature and culture will, in some small measure, repay Western Europe for the light it has shed upon the human condition. Perhaps my winning the Prize has availed me of one such opportunity. Still, so many gifts of thought and insight keep coming, and I have hardly begun to do anything in return. This banquet, too, is another gift which I accept with deep gratitude. I thank you.

[© The Nobel Foundation, 1994. Kenzaburō Ōe is the sole author of his speech.]