Mikhail Sholokhov’s speech at the Nobel Banquet at the City Hall in Stockholm, December 10, 1965*
On this solemn occasion I find it my pleasant duty to extend my thanks once more to the Swedish Academy, which has awarded me the Nobel Prize.
As I have already had occasion to testify in public, the feeling of satisfaction which this award arouses in me is not solely due to the international recognition of my professional merits and my individual characteristics as a writer. I am proud that this Prize has been awarded to a Russian, a Soviet writer. Here I represent a multitude of writers from my native land.
I have also previously expressed my satisfaction that, indirectly, this Prize is yet another recognition of the novel as a genre. I have not infrequently read and heard recent statements which have quite frankly astonished me, in which the novel has been declared an outdated form that does not correspond to present-day demands. Yet it is just the novel that makes possible the most complete comprehension of the world of reality, that permits the projection of one’s attitude to this world, to its burning problems.
One might say that the novel is the genre that most predisposes one to a profound insight into the tremendous life around us, instead of putting forward one’s own tiny ego as the centre of the universe. This genre, by its very nature, affords the very widest scope for a realistic artist.
Many fashionable currents in art reject realism, which they assume has served its time. Without fear of being accused of conservatism, I wish to proclaim that I hold a contrary opinion and am a convinced supporter of realistic art.
There is a lot of talk nowadays about literary avantgardism with reference to the most modern experiments, particularly in the field of form. In my opinion the true pioneers are those artists who make manifest in their works the new content, the determining characteristics of life in our time.
Both realism as a whole and the realistic novel are based upon artistic experiences presented by great masters in the past. During their development, however, they have acquired important new features that are fundamentally modern.
I am speaking of a realism that carries within itself the concept of life’s regeneration, its reformation for the benefit of mankind. I refer, of course, to the realism we describe as socialist. Its peculiar quality is that it expresses a philosophy of life that accepts neither a turning away from the world nor a flight from reality, a philosophy that enables one to comprehend goals that are dear to the hearts of millions of people and that lights up their path in the struggle.
Mankind is not divided into a flock of individuals, people floating about in a vacuum, like cosmonauts who have penetrated beyond the pull of Earth’s gravity. We live on Earth, we are subject to its laws and, as the Gospel puts it, sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof, its troubles and trials, its hopes for a better future. Vast sections of the world’s population are inspired by the same desires, and live for common interests that bind them together far more than they separate them.
These are the working people, who create everything with their hands and their brains. I am one of those authors who consider it their highest honour and their highest liberty to have a completely untrammelled chance of using their pens to serve the working people.
This is the ultimate foundation. From it are derived the conclusions as to how I, a Soviet writer, view the place of the artist in the world of today.
The era we live in is full of uncertainty. Yet there is not one nation on Earth that desires a war. There are, however, forces that hurl whole nations into the furnaces of war. Is it not inevitable that the ashes from the indescribable conflagration of the Second World War should move the writer’s heart? Is not an honest writer bound to stand up against those who wish to condemn mankind to self-destruction?
What, then, is the vocation and what are the tasks of an artist who sees himself, not as an image of a god who is indifferent to the sufferings of mankind, enthroned far above the heat of battle, but as a son of his people, a tiny particle of humanity?
To be honest with the reader, to tell people the truth – which may sometimes be unpleasant but is always fearless. To strengthen men’s hearts in their belief in the future, in the belief in their own ability to build this future. To be a champion of peace throughout the world and with his words breed such champions wherever those words penetrate. To unite people in their natural, noble striving toward progress.
Art possesses a great ability to influence people’s intellects and brains. I believe that anyone has the right to call himself an artist, if he channels this ability into creating someting beautiful in the minds of men, if he benefits humanity.
My own people have not followed beaten tracks in their historical journey. Their journey has been that of the explorers, the pioneers for a new life. I have regarded and still regard it as my task as an author in all that I have written and in whatever I may come to write, to show my great respect for this nation of workers, this nation of builders, this nation of heroes, which has never attacked anyone but which knows how to put up an honourable defence of what it has created, of its freedom and dignity, of its right to build the future as it chooses.
I should like my books to assist people in becoming better, in becoming purer in their minds; I should like them to arouse love of one’s fellow men, a desire to fight actively for the ideal of humanity and the progress of mankind. If I have managed to do this in some measure, then I am happy.
I thank all those of you here tonight, and all those who have sent me greetings and good wishes in connection with the Nobel Prize.
Prior to the speech, Karl Ragnar Gierow of the Swedish Academy addressed the Soviet novelist: «Mr. Sholokhov – You received news of the Nobel Prize when in the Ural Mountains for a couple of weeks’ shooting, and, according to a Moscow newspaper, that same day you brought down two fine greylag geese at a long range with a single shot. But if you are celebrated tonight as the crack marksman amongst the Nobel laureates, it is because that coincidental hit has a certain relevance to your work.
An epic achievement like yours could be written on that enormous scale, with that breadth of view, with that wild and still majestic flow of events and figures, with that imposing execution of the theme – with all that, and be a masterpiece, never to be forgotten. Or the epic could be presented with that vivid sense of the dramatic situation, with that sharp eye for every detail of artistic value, with that passionate feeling for its characters – with all that, and be a work of art, always to be loved. The combination of both is the mark of the genius, of your genius. It is about as common as seeing two birds in flight aligned with one’s gunsight. You brought the two down with one shot.
Your great epic of an old rule, desperately defending itself, and a new rule, as desperately fighting for every foot of blood-drenched earth, keeps posing from the outset the question: who-or what-rules? It also provides an answer. It says: the heart. The human heart, with all it holds of love and cruelty, hope and sorrow, pride and debasement. The human heart, which is the real battlefield of all victories and defeats that befall this earth of ours. Thus your art ranges beyond all frontiers, and we take it to our hearts with the deepest gratitude.»
Their work and discoveries range from how cells adapt to changes in levels of oxygen to our ability to fight global poverty.
See them all presented here.