Dear Members of the Jury of the Stig Dagerman Prize. Dear representatives of the Älvkarleby Municipality, my dear publishers and editors, Dear Friends, Dear Guests:
How I wish I could be with you today and visit Stig Dagerman’s Älvkarleby. Thank all of you personally for bestowing this wonderful prize on my works. Personal circumstances prevent me from joining you today, but I am proud and happy for my beloved friend and former publisher/editor, my partner in the “The Order of the Teaspoon” project, Camilla Nagler, to be collecting the prize on my behalf and convey the following message to you.
In the course of his painfully short life, Stig Dagerman divided his creative energy between writing prose, poetry and essays. He was a man of fascinating contrasts: He expressed very strong social and political views, but at the same time he also conveyed skepticism, doubts, irony, ambivalence and deep compassion for human weaknesses. He believed in certain progressive, even revolutionary solutions, but most of the time he seemed to be much more fascinated by existential problems than by solutions: He was more intrigued by paradoxes of human nature than didactically advocating a specific course of socio-political action. In this respect I feel deep kinship with Stig Dagerman. I share his insight about the fact that “our need for consolation is insatiable”.
So far I have only read one of Dagerman’s novels: “A Burnt Child”, (translated into English by Benjamin Mier-Cruz). Having lost my own mother to suicide when I was 12 years old, I found a deep sense of kinship with this novel’s young protagonist: The whirlpool of pain and rage and loneliness and self-hatred in this novel is very, very familiar to me in more than one way.
Moreover: the way Dagerman combines intimate experience with universal, social and existential problems, the way he combines sexuality and morality, a search for social justice and a very private soul-searching, the way his anarchistic, playful sense of humor interweaves with utter idealistic seriousness, all of this is close to me, close to my own life, close to much of my thinking and to some of my feelings; Close in some ways, to what I have been trying to do in my own writing.
Many times in my life I have been called a traitor by some of my own people, by some of my own countrymen. At times of a deadly conflict, many people tend to see reality only in black and white. I have tried, for almost 60 years, to present a perspective of moral complexity, sometimes even moral ambiguity, sometimes even acid criticism of my government and my people. For many years I have tried to present the conflict between Israeli Jews and Palestinians Arabs as a tragic clash between Right and Right; Some other times I presented it as a devastating collision between Wrong and Wrong. I have been advocating for more than fifty years now a painful compromise between Jew and Arab, between Israeli and Palestinian, trying to persuade my readers that compromise is the only alternative to violence, and that the opposite of compromise is not integrity or idealism: The opposite of compromise is fanaticism and death.
In my novels as well as in my essays and articles I try to deal with various kinds of fanaticism : religious fundamentalism, ideological or chauvinistic zealotry, even puritan radicalism. I try to point out some possible antidotes to fanaticism such as a sense of humor (especially the ability to laugh at oneself) such as curiosity (the ability to see ourselves the way others may see us; The ability to ask ourselves: “What if I were him? What if I were her? What if I were them?”)
I am a restless storyteller from a small country plagued these days by selfish nationalism, extremism, a country which is sometimes living on a cloud of self-righteousness. However, I am aware of the fact that my wrongdoing country exists in an extremely hostile, militant, violent region.
As I watch Israeli society, Middle East turbulences, and an almost universal retreat toward various kinds of fundamentalism – I still believe that different people may find the ability to coexist, even to display a degree of empathy toward their opponents and rivals. I still raise my voice against injustice and against hatred. I still believe that simply to shout “Fire!”, whenever you see fire, is not enough. You must try to put the fire off. Even if what one can do is very limited, it is still significant. Each of us ought to do as much as she or he can. It is in this spirit that I humbly accept the honor you are bestowing on me today. Thank you. Thank all of you. May tolerance, peace, and compassion prevail.