Monday, October 9, 2023

Jon Fosse's Nobel Prize

The Nobel Committee recently announced it was awarding the world's top honor for literature to Norwegian playwright and novelist Jon Fosse.

Though Fosse is sometimes compared to the most famous of Norwegian dramatists, Henrik Ibsen, their work has very little in common. Of course, Ibsen never won the Nobel prize, which in 1903 went to his rival Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson.

Instead, Fosse's work is closer to the Symbolists who were awarded Nobel prizes for literature in the 1910s, including Maurice Maeterlinck and Rabindranath Tagore, and even closer to more recent Absurdist authors who have won the prize, such as Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter.

I saw Fosse's play A Summer Day when Rattlestick Playwrights Theater produced it at the Cherry Lane Theater in 2012. It follows the life of a woman, portrayed by two actresses onstage, one younger and one older, as she looks out a window. The younger version of the character is waiting for her husband to return from a trip out on his boat. The older version continues to stare out the window, though she knows he will never return.

What made the play interesting was the way the character embraced her grief, letting go of hope in a way that was almost joyful. Perhaps there's something about glorying in depression that seems particularly Scandinavian.