Olga Tokarczuk - Nobel Or Noble Impact?

Olga Tokarczuk is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. What many will come to see as the 'logical climax' to a series of earlier successes (most prominently the Man Booker International Prize in 2018), for the great majority of others, especially here in Poland, will inevitably open an altogether new chapter in the already very tense and fragile relationship between the worlds of culture and politics, if not on the brink of war for quite some time now. For the purposes of this short article, I will focus on what I believe will be the 'storytelling impact' of today's single Award, in areas and disciplines that are perhaps a little less directly linked to literature than...so much else.
Foto: Olga Tokarczuk, Nobel Prize in Literature
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Olga Tokarczuk, Nobel Prize in Literature

The Nobel Power of the Brand

Awards are brands, therefore any association with one automatically labels you with some of its 'identity burden' accumulated over the years, whether deliberately or not. And when you talk about awards and prizes whose 'brand identity' is carefully crafted and evolves for more than 100 years (Alfred Nobel established the Nobel Prize as early as 1895), the brand becomes a powerful weapon in that it reaches people's hearts and minds in ways that have the power to inspire hope, become a catalyst for a social change or, as was the case in a few historic moments at least, a profound socio-political transformation.

The Brand New Consequences

After October 10th, 2019, life will change for Olga Tokarczuk, no doubt. On the level of personal plans, goals and habits, it will surely become a challenge to restore the kind of 'inner state of mind' that writers deem necessary for any meaningfully creative act to happen, not to mention epiphany moments. While the Man Booker International Prize was a huge success, the Nobel Prize in Literature, especially here in Europe, is a much more powerful life changer, also on a purely symbolic level. In the minds of many Poles, Nobel Prize has remained the gold standard of intellectual achievement for decades. The same can be said of Oscars in the film industry, except the power of authority in the latter case is perhaps incomparably less complex and, you guessed it, impactful (commercial aspects aside).

The Brand New Standards of Old

It's been less than 3 hours since the official Nobel Committee announcement, and it's quite likely that many of Olga Tokarczuk's books have already disappeared from bookshelves in many a bookshop, in Poland and abroad. More importantly, perhaps, the recognition comes just days ahead of the government elections in Poland, at a time when Olga Tokarczuk's worldview may be seen by many a ruling party politician to represent those very values and convictions that they have spent the last four years (if not forty-four) battling and opposing in ways that, every now and then, make Orwell pale in comparison. Still haven't decided if Beckett or Kafka are not be a better reference. So yes, today's Nobel Prize in Literature is once again a very important symbol, at a time when even the most universally accepted truths and symbols themselves are threatened by the world we live in. In other words, by us and us alone.


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