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Imre Kertész Wins Nobel Prize in Literature 2002

STOCKHOLM, 10 October 2002 - This year's Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded to the Hungarian writer Imre Kertész.

The Swedish Academy in Stockholm honours the writer "for writing that upholds the fragile experience of the individual against the barbaric arbitrariness of history".

Imre Kertész was born in Budapest on 9th November 1929. He is of Jewish descent. Kertesz was deported to the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz in German-occupied Poland as a teenager in 1944 and then to Buchenwald, from which he was liberated in 1945. The trauma of the Holocaust continues to influence the Hungarian novelist's literary oeuvre. "In his writing Imre Kertész explores the possibility of continuing to live and think as an individual in an era in which the subjection of human beings to social forces has become increasingly complete, the Swedish Academy said. "For him Auschwitz is not an exceptional occurrence that like an alien body subsists outside the normal history of Western Europe. It is the ultimate truth about human degradation in modern existence."

Kertész’s first novel, Sorstalanság, 1975 (Fateless, 1992), deals with the young Köves, who is arrested and taken to a concentration camp but conforms and survives. The novel uses the alienating device of taking the reality of the camp completely for granted, an everyday existence like any other, admittedly with conditions that are thankless, but not without moments of happiness. Kertész has himself said, “When I am thinking about a new novel, I always think of Auschwitz.” This does not mean, however, that Sorstalanság is autobiographical in any simple sense: Kertész says himself that he has used the form of the autobiographical novel but that it is not an autobiography. Initially Sorstalanság was refused. When eventually it was published in 1975 it was received with compact silence. Kertész has written about this experience in A kudarc (Fiasco), 1988.

In Kaddis a meg nem születetett gyermekért, 1990 (Kaddish for a Child not Born, 1997), Kertész presents a consistently negative picture of childhood and from this pre-history derives the paradoxical feeling of being at home in the concentration camp. Kaddish is the name of the Jewish prayer for their dead. His Kaddish is said for the child which he refuses to beget in a world that permitted the existence of Auschwitz. According to the Swedish Academy, the Hungarian writer completes his implacable existential analysis by depicting love as the highest stage of conformism, total capitulation to the desire to exist at any cost. For Kertész the spiritual dimension of man lies in his inability to adapt to life.

In his collection of fragments Gályanapló (Galley Diary), 1992, Kertész demonstrates his full intellectual scope. “Theoretical justifications are merely constructions”, he writes, but nevertheless conducts an untiring dialogue with the great tradition of cultural criticism – Pascal, Goethe, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Kafka, Camus, Beckett, Bernhard. "In essence, Imre Kertész is a minority consisting of one individual. He regards his kinship with the concept of Jew as a definition inflicted on him by the enemy, the Swedish Academy said. "But through its consequences this arbitrary categorisation has nevertheless been his initiation into the deepest knowledge of humanity and the age in which he lives".

This year's Nobel Prize is worth the equivalent of 1 million EURO and will be presented on 10 December in Stockholm.

The prize for literature was awarded last year to the Trinidadian-born Briton V.S. Naipaul. In 2000 it went to Gao Zingjian, the Chinese writer living in exile in France. In 1999, Günter Grass received the prize.

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