On 7 October, Olga Tokarczuk, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2018, whose books have been translated into over thirty languages and awarded with numerous international accolades, such as the International Booker Prize for Flights and Jan Michalski Prize for Literature for The Books of Jacob as well as two Polish Nike Literary Awards and two nominations for the American National Book Award, has received the title of Doctor Honoris Causa of the Jagiellonian University.
The distinguished writer and essayist was awarded for ‘creating literature as an art of capturing the essence of the entirety of human experience, providing insight into the truth behind humanity and allowing to find a sense of order and meaning’ as well as ‘cultural, social, civic and green activism, promoting equality, freedom and democracy both in Poland and abroad, coupled with a sense of responsibility for the natural environment’.
As Prof. Ryszard Nycz from the JU Faculty of Polish Studies emphasised in his laudatory speech, Olga Tokarczuk is one of the greatest and most valued Polish writers both in Poland and abroad, widely regarded as a master of artistic storytelling. Moreover, Olga Tokarczuk’s civil courage, independent critical thinking skills as well as inventiveness and effectiveness in establishing new sociocultural initiatives that embody her understanding of civic duty are the model characteristics of a contemporary art creator who does not shy away from pressing issues and actively engages in the fight for their ideals and values.
Olga Tokarczuk expressed her gratitude, stating that it is a great honour to receive an honorary doctorate from a higher education institution that she considers ‘an archetypal university’. ‘I stand here today not only as a woman, but also as a writer, someone that works on the borderlands of many branches of science and culture, but also someone that does not employ a methodology as understood in Karl Popper’s thought. My work is to integrate the scattered fragments of human experience, endowing them with purpose and meaning and making it transmissible from one individual to another’, she said.
Ending the event, JU Rector Prof. Jacek Popiel quoted a fragment of the summary of Olga Tokarczuk’s achievements prepared by Prof. Małgorzata Książek-Czermińska from the University of Gdańsk: ‘Notwithstanding the numerous great qualities of Olga Tokarczuk’s writing, I think the most important quality of her work is her attitude toward the world, as expressed by the metaphor of the tender narrator. Aside from what she precisely described in her Nobel Prize acceptance speech, I would reiterate the statement that her works are reinforced by a great power of positivity. Without cheap sentimentalism and naïve flights of fancy, but with a deep understanding of the gravity of being. . . . The voice of the tender narrator speaking from the pages of Olga Tokarczuk’s books is in unison with the Jagiellonian University’s centuries-old tradition of letting reason prevail over force’.
In the evening, Olga Tokarczuk met with Jagiellonian University students. During over an hour long conversation, she answered many interesting questions. The essay contained in The Tender Narrator served as a point of entry to a reflection on traveling and a discussion on what people really want to see and participate in. The Nobel laureate was also asked about her attitude towards material objects, an allusion to a passage from her book Primeval and other times about a coffee grinder. According to Olga Tokarczuk, the cosmos of things is in essence a cosmos of meanings, and it is the respect for those meanings that defines whether the world is infused with tenderness or soulless.
‘It’s difficult to write after receiving a Nobel Prize because of high expectations, but it’s necessary to face the challenge head on, because yielding to readers’ expectations extinguishes the flame of artistic passion’, said Olga Tokarczuk, whose latest book will be finished in early 2022 and published sometime around May.