The Swedish Academy in Stockholm announced on Thursday that the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2023 has been awarded to writer John Foss, in recognition of his innovative plays and prose that gives voice to the unsayable.
Voss, 64, was born on the west coast of Norway. His works consist of about 40 plays, in addition to a number of novels, poetry, articles, children’s books, and translations.
The committee praised the author’s style, which became known as “Faussian simplicity.”
“Fosse presents instantly recognizable everyday situations in our lives. His radical reduction of language and dramatic action expresses the most powerful human emotions of anxiety and helplessness in the simplest terms,” the panel said.
His magnum opus—seven sections in three books gathered together in one volume titled “Septology”—tells the story of an elderly painter and a widower living alone as he reckons with the realities of religion, identity, art, and family life.
“Septology” was praised for its formal experience. Fosse’s contemplative prose is rarely interrupted by periods, creating an incantatory flow to his philosophical interrogation.
Haakon Mosvold-Larsen/NTB/AFP/Getty Images
John Fosse at the Norwegian Theater in Oslo in September 2019.
“And I see myself standing and looking at the picture with two intersecting lines in the middle, a purple line and a brown line. It is a painting wider than its height and I see that I slowly drew the lines.” The novel begins, and continues slowly but uninterruptedly for nearly 1,000 pages.
The three individual books that comprise “Septology” — “Another Name,” “Another Me,” and “A New Name” — tell a story that unfolds over the course of seven days.
“The work seems to progress endlessly and without sentence breaks, but formally held together by recurring themes and ritual prayer gestures,” Anders Olsson, head of the Nobel Prize Committee, said at Thursday’s press conference.
The novel details the narrator Asel’s struggle to complete his painting – all the while comparing him to another Asel, who is also a painter but is consumed by alcohol, and who acts as a double. The novel questions how we become the people we become by presenting two versions of the same person against each other.
“The Seventies is a great work,” Olson said, “at once a reconciliation with his fate, an elegy for his deceased wife, and a kunstlerroman dealing with his career as a painter.”
“Fosse combines strong local connections, both linguistic and geographical, with modernist artistic techniques,” the committee said, and listed the Irish playwright Samuel Beckett and the Austrian poet Georg Trakl among those who influenced his style.
“While Foss shares the negative outlook of his predecessors, his own Gnostic vision cannot be said to lead to a nihilistic contempt for the world. “Indeed, there is great warmth and good humor in his work, and a naive vulnerability to his stark depictions of human experience,” the committee added.
The Voss Prize represents the latest coup for Fitzcarraldo Editions, an independent London-based publishing house founded in 2014, which has now added a fifth Nobel Prize-winning author to its ranks.
In the past nine years, four of the writers Fitzcarraldo has published have won the Nobel Prize: Foss, then Svetlana Alexievich in 2015, Olga Tokarczuk in 2018, and Annie Ernault in 2022. Fitzcarraldo also publishes translations of Elfriede Jelinek, who won the prize in 2004.
But choosing Fosset to win this year’s prize will do little to counter criticism from those who say the committee rewards European writers at the expense of authors on other continents.
The award has also been historically dominated by male writers: out of 120 literature winners, only 17 were women.
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