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Jon Fosse, The Writer On Silence Traverses The Areas From Personal To Universal


By Tirthankar Mitra

Jon Fosse writes on silence. Even as critics split hair whether the author of the “unsayable” who pens his thoughts in Norwegian Nynorsk language is the right recipient of Nobel Prize for literature this year, his readers are enjoying a joyous laughter. But it is not a loud guffaw which expresses their happiness at their favourite author being awarded this coveted distinction. For it is in honour of Fosse who articulates the softly said and unsaid words.

Fosse writes about “what is not”. His literary career started in 1983 with the novel Red Black. He followed it up with Melancholy (1995) and Melancholy Ii(1996). Both were based on the life of and times of the Norwegian landscape artist, Lars Hertervig. Fosse tried his hand at play acting penning such memorable plays like Someone is Going to Come, And Never Shall We Part, The Name, Winter, A Summer's Day.

He wrote a three part novel, Septology in a single sentence. Its last volume was shortlisted for Booker Prize last year. Fosse is a proponent of a unique theory. What cannot be said must not be silenced but penned. Wandering through his experiences, Fosse crosses unmarked boundaries. The territories he walked through in his works ranged from personal to universal.

Fosse's prose is spartan. It has an ability of its own to look into nuance showing the timeless potency of literature to map the universal. En route, it also maps the political. The self introspection on the part of this author, an institution in his country is visceral. An international festival in Oslo is held in the honour of Fosse's work every year. His plays are performed all over Europe.

Nobel prize, the latest honour to Fosse writing in Norwegian Nynorsk, a minority language is a subtle political statement on the part of the Nobel committee. It is also a reiteration of his eminence in continental Europe. The Nobel laureate is a proponent of “slow prose” with its modernist concerns. He draws comparison with his predecessor Henrik Ibsen. Fosse is known for his ability to tap into the unspoken. It was a faculty he shared with Jack Derrida.

The is obsessed with what is spoken. Fosse's thoughts and writings are poles apart from this thought. Fosse's focus has been on the subterranean connecting the personal and universal. When he was seven, he had a near- fatal accident that would be crucial stepping stone to his career.

Long before he attained eminence, Fosse drew from his life's experiences. For his works were fed by his exposure to life which ranged between opposites as the onetime Communist converted to Catholicism in 2012. The 64-year old Fosse grew up in Strandebarm, Norway. Now he divides his time between Norway and Austria.

The Nobel Prize took its time coming to Fosse. Like the great Japanese author, Hiruki Murakami, the Norwegian has been in the list of Nobel probables for several years. The honour was bestowed on Fosse “for his innovative plays and prose which give voice to the unsayable” He was blessed with the rare quality to pen words and wordlessness read silence. The Nobel prize finally evened out the odds in Fosse's favour. It is the final laurel to his literary eminence.

Even as he has 40 plays, as well as novels, poetry, essays, children books and works of translation, one looks forward to Fosse's coming works as he is not a man to rest on his oars. For he grapples with the themes of mortality, ageing, love and in spare, transcendental language.

Fosse's work touches on deepest feelings, anxieties and insecurities. Is he a writers' writer? Not quite. For few authors can match “his sensitive language, which probes the limits of words” and fewer could pen “his prose which gives voice to the unsayable.

(IPA Service)


The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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