Olga Tokarczuk: Tender Narrator

Olga tells about the stories of first person narrative and the elusive parable in this speech for the 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature:

https://www.nobelprize.org/uploads/2019/12/tokarczuk-lecture-english-2.pdf

That we have largely lost the parable from view is a testament to our current helplessness.

And on the misfortune of genres:

The general commercialization of the literary market has led to a division into branches—now there are fairs and festivals of this or that type of literature, completely separate, creating a clientele of readers eager to hole up with a crime novel, some fantasy or science fiction. A notable characteristic of this situation is that what was only supposed to help booksellers and librarians organize on their shelves the massive quantity of published books, and readers to orient themselves in the vastness of the offering, became instead abstract categories not only into which existing works are placed, but also according to which writers themselves have started writing. Increasingly, genre work is like a kind of cake mold that produces very similar results, their predictability considered a virtue, their banality an achievement. The reader knows what to expect and gets exactly what he wanted.

The layers of lived experiences:

Life is created by events, but it is only when we are able to interpret them, try to understand them and lend them meaning that they are transformed into experience. Events are facts, but experience is something inexpressibly different. It is experience, and not any event, that makes up the material of our lives. Experience is a fact that has been interpreted and situated in memory. It also refers to a certain foundation we have in our minds, to a deep structure of significations upon which we can unfurl our own lives and examine them fully and carefully. I believe that myth performs the function of that structure. Everyone knows that myths never really happened but are always going on. Now they go on not only through the adventures of ancient heroes, but rather also make their way into the ubiquitous and most popular stories of contemporary film, games and literature.

Story and plot and asking why:

I am also convinced by the distinction between true story and plot made by the writer and essayist E.M. Forster. He said that when we say, “The king died and then the queen died,” it’s a story. But when we say, “The king died, and then the queen died of grief,” that is a plot. Every fictionalization involves a transition from the question “What happened next?” to an attempt at understanding it based on our human experience: “Why did it happen that way?”

Literature begins with that “why,” even if we were to answer that question over and over with an ordinary “I don’t know.”

Reading is quite a complicated psychological and perceptual process. To put it simply: first the most elusive content is conceptualized and verbalized, transforming into signs and symbols, and then it is “decoded” back from language into experience. That requires a certain intellectual competence. And above all it demands attention and focus, abilities ever rarer in today’s extremely distracting world.

A story always turns circles around meaning. Even if it doesn’t express it directly, even when it deliberately refuses to seek meaning, and focuses on form, on experiment, when it stages a formal rebellion, looking for new means of expression. As we read even the most behavioristically, sparingly written story, we cannot help asking the questions: “Why is this happening?,” “What does it mean?,” “What is the point?,” “Where is this leading?” Quite possibly our minds have evolved toward the story as a process of giving meaning to millions of stimuli that surround us, and that even when we’re asleep keep on relentlessly devising their narratives. So the story is a way of organizing an infinite amount of information within

14

20:

We are all―people, plants, animals, and objects―immersed in a single

space, which is ruled by the laws of physics. This common space has its shape, and within it the laws of physics sculpt an infinite number of forms that are incessantly linked to one another. Our cardiovascular system is like the system of a river basin, the structure of a leaf is like a human transport system, the motion of the galaxies is like the whirl of water flowing down our washbasins. Societies develop in a similar way to colonies of bacteria. The micro and macro scale show an endless system of similarities.

Our speech, thinking and creativity are not something abstract, removed from the world, but a continuation on another level of its endless processes of transformation.

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