Award ceremony speech

Presentation Speech by Professor Göran Malmqvist of the Swedish Academy, December 10, 2000.

Translation of the Swedish text.

Göran Malmqvist

Professor Göran Malmqvist delivering the Presentation Speech for the 2000 Nobel Prize in Literature at the Stockholm Concert Hall.
Copyright © Nobel Media AB 2000
Photo: Hans Mehlin

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Gao Xingjian’s literary output comprises eighteen plays, two great novels, and a number of stories, which all fit in one volume. Born in 1940, he began his career as a writer as early as the sixties. His production would certainly have been much larger had not the conditions of life during the Cultural Revolution forced him to burn all his manuscripts of the sixties and the seventies. He also made very important contributions to the theoretical debate concerning the structure and functions of drama and the novel in China during the eighties. His work as a breaker of new ground relates to the form and structure of a literary work as well as to its psychological foundations.

The novel called Soul Mountain (1990) stands out as one of the foremost works in twentieth-century Chinese literature. Among many other things Gao Xingjian deals in it with an existential dilemma: man’s urge to find the absolute independence granted by solitude conflicts with a longing for the warmth and fellowship which can be given by “the other,” be it he or she. At the same time, however, this enriching companionship threatens the individual’s integrity and, without fail, ends in some kind of struggle for power.

The author’s vivid sense of alienation in a politics-ridden society made him, in the early eighties, go in search for hidden-away parts of southwestern and southern China, where there still existed traces of primitive cultures, age-old shamanistic rites and Daoist notions. In his portrayal of these cultures, replete with fantastic cock-and-bull stories which bring to the reader’s mind the repertoires of traditional storytellers, he also castigates strict Confucian orthodoxy as well as Marxist ideology and their respective demands for obedience and uniformity.

In the course of his pilgrimage to Soul Mountain, where he hopes to find the ultimate truth about the meaning of life and the human condition, the author’s ego is stricken by loneliness and is forced into creating a you, a projection of itself, which, in turn, hit by the same loneliness, creates a she. The numerous he figures that make their appearance in the novel are likewise projections of the author’s ego. With the help of these pronominal projections, the author manages to investigate a wide range of human relationships and their consequences for the individual.

The novel entitled One Man’s Bible (1999), which Gao Xingjian himself looks upon as a companion novel to Soul Mountain, is a novel of confession in which he mercilessly lays bare the three different parts he played during the Cultural Revolution: as a leader of a rebel faction, as a victim and as a silent observer. Again he makes use of the pronouns you and he in order to distinguish between two different degrees of alienation: you stands for the exiled author here and now, he is the author there and then, in the China of the Cultural Revolution. The framing chapters, which describe episodes in the author’s exiled existence, are as factual and personally revealing as those dealing with his different roles during the Cultural Revolution. It is these framing chapters that enable the author to give his view on the meaning of human existence, the nature of literature, the conditions of authorship and, first and foremost, on the importance of remembering and of imagination for the author’s view of reality.

The foundation for Gao Xingjian’s pioneering activity as a dramatist was laid in the first half of the nineteen-eighties when he worked as artistic advisor, director of plays and playwright at the People’s Art Theatre in Peking, at that time considered to be the country’s foremost stage. Gao Xingjian’s plays are characterized by originality, in no way diminished by the fact that he has been influenced both by modern Western and traditional Chinese currents. His greatness as a dramatist lies in the manner in which he has succeeded in enriching these fundamentally different elements and making them coalesce to something entirely new.

Dear Gao Xingjian: You did not leave China empty-handed. You have come to look on the native language which you brought with you when you left China as your true and real country. It gives me great joy to offer you, on behalf of the Swedish Academy, our warmest congratulations. I will ask you now to receive, from the hands of His Majesty the King, this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature.

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2000

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