Norwegian playwright and novelist Jon Fosse, 64, receives the prize ‘for his innovative plays and prose which give voice to the unsayable’
Norwegian playwright and novelist Jon Fosse (64) has won the 2023 Nobel Prize in Literature, the Swedish Academy announced on Thursday. According to the Academy, Fosse was awarded the prize “for his innovative plays and prose which give voice to the unsayable.” “His immense oeuvre written in Norwegian Nynorsk and spanning a variety of genres consists of a wealth of plays, novels, poetry collections, essays, children’s books and translations. While he is today one of the most widely performed playwrights in the world, he has also become increasingly recognised for his prose,” the Academy said in a statement. Known for his sparse style, Fosse often explores themes of identity, loneliness, and human relationships in his work.
Fosse has much in common with his great precursor in Norwegian Nynorsk literature, Tarjei Vesaas, widely considered to be one of Norway's greatest writers of the twentieth century and perhaps its most important since World War II. Vesaas was awarded the Nordic Council's Literature Prize in 1963 for his novel The Ice Palace and the Venice Prize in 1953 for The Winds. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature on 57 occasions (once in 1946, and often multiple times every year between 1950 and 1970).
Fosse combines strong local ties, both linguistic and geographic, with modernist artistic techniques. He includes in his Wahlverwandschaften such names as Samuel Beckett, Thomas Bernhard and Georg Trakl. “While Fosse shares the negative outlook of his predecessors, his particular gnostic vision cannot be said to result in a nihilistic contempt of the world. Indeed, there is great warmth and humour in his work, and a naïve vulnerability to his stark images of human experience. He writes novels heavily pared down to a style that has come to be known as ‘Fosse minimalism’," the statement read.
This can be seen in his second novel Stengd gitar (1985), when Fosse presents us with a harrowing variation on one of his major themes, the critical moment of irresolution. A young mother leaves her flat to throw rubbish down the chute but locks herself out, with her baby still inside. Needing to go and seek help, she is unable to do so since she cannot abandon her child. While she finds herself, in Kafkaesque terms, ‘before the law’, the difference is clear: Fosse presents everyday situations that are instantly recognisable from our own lives. “Fosse presents everyday situations that are instantly recognisable in our own lives. His radical reduction of language and dramatic action expresses the most powerful human emotions of anxiety and powerlessness in the simplest terms,” the statement further added. "It is through laureate Jon Fosse’s ability to evoke man’s loss of orientation, and how this paradoxically can provide access to a deeper experience close to divinity, that he has come to be regarded as a major innovator in contemporary theatre.”
One of his country’s most-performed dramatists, Fosse has written some 40 plays as well as novels, short stories, children’s books, poetry and essays. Anders Olsson, chair of the Nobel literature committee, said Fosse’s work is rooted “in the language and nature of his Norwegian background." The Nobel Prizes carry a cash award of 11 million Swedish kronor ($1 million) from a bequest left by their creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel. Winners also receive an 18-carat gold medal and diploma at the award ceremonies in December. The Nobel Prize in Literature 2022 was awarded to French feminist icon Annie Ernaux “for the courage and clinical acuity with which she uncovers the roots, estrangements and collective restraints of personal memory."