Miguel Angel Asturias’ speech at the Nobel Banquet at the City Hall in Stockholm, December 10, 1967
My voice on the threshold. My voice coming from afar. On the threshold of the Academy. It is difficult to become a member of a family. And it is easy. The stars know it. The families of luminous torches. To become a member of the Nobel family. To become an heir of Alfred Nobel. To blood ties, to civil relationship, a new consanguinity is added, a more subtle kinship, born of the spirit and the creative task. And this was perhaps the unspoken intention of the founder of this great family of Nobel Prize winners. To enlarge, through time, from generation to generation, the world of his own kin. As for me, I enter the Nobel family as the least worthy to be called among the many who could have been chosen.
I enter by the will of this Academy, whose doors open and close once a year in order to consecrate a writer, and also because of the use I made of the word in my poems and novels, the word which, more than beautiful, is responsible, a concern not foreign to that dreamer who with the passing of time would shock the world with his inventions – the discovery of the most destructive explosives then known – for helping man in his titanic chores of mining, digging tunnels, and constructing roads and canals.
I do not know if the comparison is too daring. But it is necessary. The use of destructive forces, the secret which Alfred Nobel extracted from nature, made possible in our America the most colossal enterprises. Among them, the Panama Canal. A magic of catastrophe which could be compared to the thrust of our novels, called upon to destroy unjust structures in order to make way for a new life. The secret mines of the people, buried under tons of misunderstanding, prejudices, and taboos, bring to light in our narrative – between fables and myths – with blows of protest, testimony, and denouncement, dikes of letters which, like sands, contain reality to let the dream flow free or, on the contrary, contain the dream to let reality escape.
Cataclysms which engendered a geography of madness, terrifying traumas, such as the Conquest: these cannot be the antecedents of a literature of cheap compromise; and, thus, our novels appear to Europeans as illogical or aberrant. They are not shocking for the sake of shock effects. It is just that what happened to us was shocking. Continents submerged in the sea, races castrated as they surged to independence, and the fragmentation of the New World. As the antecedents of a literature these are already tragic. And from there we have had to extract not the man of defeat, but the man of hope, that blind creature who wanders through our songs. We are peoples from worlds which have nothing like the orderly unfolding of European conflicts, always human in their dimensions. The dimensions of our conflicts in the past centuries have been catastrophic.
Scaffoldings. Ladders. New vocabularies. The primitive recitation of the texts. The rhapsodists. And later, once again, the broken trajectory. The new tongue. Long chains of words. Thought unchained. Until arriving, once again, after the bloodiest lexical battles, at one’s own expressions. There are no rules. They are invented. And after much invention, the grammarians come with their language-trimming shears. American Spanish is fine with me, but without the roughness. Grammar becomes an obsession. The risk of anti-grammar. And that is where we are now. The search for dynamic words. Another magic. The poet and the writer of the active word. Life. Its variations. Nothing prefabricated. Everything in ebullition. Not to write literature. Not to substitute words for things. To look for word-things, word-beings. And the problems of man, in addition. Evasion is impossible. Man. His problems. A continent that speaks. And which was heard in this Academy. Do not ask us for genealogies, schools, treatises. We bring you the probabilities of a word. Verify them. They are singular. Singular is the movement, the dialogue, the novelistic intrigue. And most singular of all, throughout the ages there has been no interruption in the constant creation.
Prior to the speech, Hugo Theorell, Professor at the Caroline Institute, made the following remarks: «One of our most competent literary critics has pointed out that this year’s Nobel Prize winner in Literature, Miguel Angel Asturias, in one of his most important books, El Senor Presidente, produces a strong effect by skilfully working with time and light – again our common ‹theme with variations›. Asturias paints in dark colours – against this background the rare light makes a so much stronger impression with his passionate, but artistically well balanced, protest against tyranny, injustice, slavery, and arbitrariness. He transforms glowing indignation into great literary art. This is indeed admirable.
May times come when conditions like those condemned by Mr. Asturias belong to history; when human beings live peacefully and happily together. This was indeed what Alfred Nobel hoped to promote by his Prizes.
Mr. Asturias – We sincerely admire your literary craftsmanship, and we hope that your work will contribute to ending the shameful social conditions that you have described with such impressive intensity. We congratulate you on your Nobel Prize, which you so very much deserve.»
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.