Created with Sketch.
Created with Sketch.

Amanda Werne’s acceptance speech


Aleksej Sachnin’s speech


Anton Honkonen’s speech


Carl-Göran Ekerwald’s speech to Karl Ove Knausgård


My acquaintance with Knausgård’s writing began on November 14, 2011. Sigrid Kahle and I stayed in Paris at the Swedish Institute’s Hôtel de Marie. We both had a feeling that humanity knows a lot more than its members dare to say in black and white. Sigrid sought her answer at the Centre for Arab Studies down by the Seine – a colossal building made of glass and concrete. I sought to gain more knowledge about the psychiatrist Jacques Lacan – he who asks the question: “Who is speaking when I speak about myself?” The book “Vie de Lacan” had just been published.

At the institute we hung out with Stellan Ottosson who had worked at the embassy in Moscow and Karin Aronsson Ottosson. On November 14, we dined in their apartment. When we parted at twelve, Karin handed me a book. “You have written about Olav Hauge. Here you have another Norwegian.” She gave me Knausgård’s “My Struggle”.

A literary meeting that takes on significance is not forgotten. I clearly remember the atmosphere – we gave thanks and were about to leave. Karin quickly turned around and picked up the book and gave it to me.

That same evening, Sigrid began to read “My Struggle” to me.

And the first impression? – Something dizzying. Something new and risky, almost threatening in its presentation. One felt that things could happen here that no one dares to talk about. – Is it the “conscience” that is put in the spotlight?

Twelve years have passed. I dare not say that I have read everything that my Norwegian colleague has written, but enough to say a few words about this authorship.

It is also Knausgård who drew my attention to his friend Anselm Kiefer – the German artist who has his studio in a disused aircraft hangar outside London. On my walls I have put up pictures that, under the name Existences, express an interesting view of man. She is portrayed as a six-story high, rickety wooden shed where all the windows and doors are wide open. The transcendental, the spiritual must have the opportunity to flow into this shed – provided that it is not packed with opinions, ambitions, future plans – this verbal buzzing of thought which, according to Lacan, is the proof that modern man is psychotic. Her “sane” thinking is in fact insanity. Could she find a stillness like that of a cow ruminating in the meadow – the transcendental would have an opportunity to speak. Man has no priority over animals. (Eccl. 3:18)

It is what Rousseau calls “la philosophie du non-savoir … the philosophy of ignorance.” “Give us innocence, ignorance, poverty!” It is the Bible’s: “Blessed are the poor in spirit!” Could your so-called “self-realization” result in such a state, you would feel like living far ahead in eternity.

The characters in Knausgård’s novels have no “God concerns”. They talk about the devil and the church, but in a relaxed, uncommitted way. They don’t say prayers. They have no religion. They are “ordinary”. As “ordinary” as the patriarch Abraham. He also had no religion. He lived 500 years before Moses and 2000 years before Jesus. He did not have the ten commandments of God. No holy texts. He does not turn to any god where he prays in Mesopotamia. – It is God who gets in touch with him. Completely in accordance with the word of Isaiah 65:1: “I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me!”

God speaks to Abraham – and he abides. He is a “hanif”, that is, “friend of God”. Judaism, Christianity as well as Islam are based on Abraham.

The characters in Knausgård’s novels become enlightened in the same way as Abraham – their conscience makes the transcendental message clear to them.

The interesting thing is that they accept all this as something completely natural. This is the human condition. People talk about the birth of religions – Judaism more than three thousand years ago, Islam fourteen hundred years ago. – But the Stone Age people have not been without divine enlightenment! We are all born with a conscience. We know within ourselves what is right and what is wrong.

Anselm Kiefer has another picture that adorns my study. It shows Jacob’s ladder (Genesis 28:12).

One is reminded of Gogol dying “– Get a ladder!” Kiefer’s ladder that goes from earth to heaven is rickety and precarious – whoever climbed last had to take off his earthly robes – they remain on a few steps. On Jacob’s ladder, God’s angels pass up and down unimpeded – but the person who wants to go up must take off the earthly. The Persians call it “tadjrid”, undressing.

Knausgård’s opening words to “My Struggle” describe this undressing. Death takes us. “The heart stops sooner or later.” – The reader meets the direction of travel in this authorship. What a swarm of human destinies and situations that stand out against the background of the condition of life common to all people – undressing, annihilation. The indirect question that is asked is: How are those sentenced to death doing? – The answer is paradoxical: quite good, sometimes worse, sometimes better.

It seems to be a tough breed.

Now a Swedish writer is going to make a statement about a Norwegian colleague. There has been a mental tension between the two brother nations ever since the dissolution of the union in 1905. The Swedes were rejected in the referendum. Only 184 Norwegians voted for the union, several hundred thousand voted against. It is interesting that our current Swedish king’s grandfathers’ father – he who later became Gustaf V, was crown prince at the time and telegraphed from London to his father Oscar II not to intervene militarily against the Norwegians. There were Swedish patriots who wanted to take up arms. – The Bernadottes were tolerant and wise. King Karl XV supported the anarchist Bakunin when he spent more than a year in Stockholm (1863).

Literarily, free Norway has stacked up magnificently, Hamsun received the Nobel Prize in 1920, Sigrid Undset in 1928 and now this year Jon Fosse! – In my eyes, the foremost poet in the Nordics is Olav Hauge – and I can tell you that his wife Bodil Cappelen is still alive and lives in Tönsberg – we are in contact. Her correspondence with Olav Hauge has been published and is a wonderful read. In Sweden, we envy the Norwegians their national anthem, “Ja, vi elsker dette landet…” – Björnstjerne Björnson wrote the lyrics, Rikard Nordraak, Grieg’s friend, did the music. He died at age 24. “Norwegian Man in House and Cottage, thank your great God! He wanted to protect the country, even though it looked dark…”. Holberg was Norwegian. And Brahms’ grandmother was from Bergen.

You can’t get past Ibsen. When he turned 75, he was celebrated in Trondheim – Laura Fitinghoff’s daughter danced Arabic dance in loosely spun muslin for the old man – Laura had written “The Children from Frostmofjället”. When I was ten years old and a lodger in Östersund to go to the vocational school – it was Laura’s grandson who led me to the library. And I became a reader, in 1934.

When Georg Lukacs, the arch-communist in Budapest, Lenin’s and Stalin’s friend, had read Ibsen’s “Brand” – “What you are, be fully and completely, not piecemeal and divided, not one today, yesterday and something else another year!” – then he went on foot to Ibsen’s home district in southern Norway. It was this Lukacs who started the Hungarian Uprising against the Soviet Union in 1956 – the US wanted to deploy the military to help Lukacs – he firmly refused. He loathed the West. So did Olav Hauge and Bodil Cappelen – if they went out on the continent, then East Germany was the target. And they cheered when the Norwegians voted no to the EU.

But fiction is not opinion. Hamsun paid tribute to Hitler. In Olav Hauge’s diaries, you can see how his thoughts are often devoted to Hamsun. He is one of those who have the most hits in the six volumes of diaries.

A Swede is happy about the recurring tributes that Hauge gives to Vilhelm Ekelund and Baron Eric Hermelin. Hermelin is “matchless!” And in another place Hauge writes: “Should stop reading books – just read Ekelund!”

Edvard Munch – Knausgård wrote sympathetically about this genius. He writes that Munch seeks human presence in the image. Right away I want to have said that this ideal is also what we meet in the novels – and the tone, the very disposition of Munch is reminiscent of that of Knausgård. It’s hard to describe. But it resembles a friendly arm extended from the author and lightly placed behind the reader with the words:

Come, sit down – I’m human, you’re human, now I’m going to tell you the story of my life in confidence, completely open and uncensored – how I cook Salisbury Steak and eat eggs and go to the toilet and masturbate, love, hate, twist and turn to face the rattling, crumbling facades of time. I was born in the year of uprising in 1968 – Jewish exterminations were still relevant thanks to Lanzmann’s film Shoah. And the Utöya massacre, the fighting between Israel and Palestine. All earthquakes, landslides, floods.

The most spectacular moment of the century was given through television as a image memory within me. I will never forget it – the airplanes that on September 11, 2001, rush at full speed into the skyscrapers of Manhattan – the World Trade Center – the very heart of the world economy. The journalist from the New York Times waded through drifts of dust and rubble – suddenly a hand stuck out from a shed – a beggar asked for a penny. Here life went on without any connection whatsoever with the two airplanes and their massacred bodies.

Stay put! – I will tell you what I have discovered about the conditions of mortal life. – You know them well from childhood through the Bible – we are all Christians. It is Jesus who gives us the catalogue of sins: in every person there is a murderer, a thief, a liar, an adulterer, an executioner (Matt. 15:18).

It also means that whoever has a good reputation must be a big phony. God does not want to know of good standing among men (Luke 16:15, Mark 10:18, Isaiah 2:22). You shall see how I bear witness to all this.

Regarding references to the Bible and the Koran, I have yet to see a classic that did not make use of this mighty spiritual wellspring. If you want to compare Knausgård’s novels, you must go to Thomas Mann’s “Buddenbrooks” or Vasily Grossman’s “Life and Fate” or Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” or Balzac’s “Vie humaine” or “Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck. It is at that level that Knausgård operates. A biblical background is also visible in all of these.

– O –

But how to value? What does the reader require from a good novel? – First of all, it should captivate us through its inherent suspense. We want to ask ourselves: “how will it end?”. We should have a hard time leaving the text, it is that exciting.

Does Knausgård meet that requirement? Yes – with good measure. He knows how to lead the reader to the decisive point only to suddenly delay the solution through a hundred pages of another interesting subject – Hitler’s childhood or Russian attempts to prolong human life or studies in Stalin’s way of thinking – these interruptions are in themselves so interesting that we stay in hope for the final resolution of the plot.

To put it briefly: Knausgård is highly entertaining. In addition, there are enigmatic passages that are difficult to interpret but attractive through their enigmatic nature. Here is a surprising example.

Syvert, nineteen years old, unemployed, gets a temporary job at a funeral home. He travels out to a nursing home to pick up a corpse, put it in the coffin and drive on. When they arrive at the nursing home, three horses are seen approaching the electric fence. Syvert’s accompanying manager takes out a bag of carrots, steps forward and feeds the horses. They take turns eating all three. Then Syvert and the boss go in to collect the dead woman.

The reader asks: What does this passage mean? Is it there to testify to the existence of the irrational. Things happen that have their basis in what lies beyond the horizon of understanding.

Or is this passage an allusion to Emanuel Swedenborg’s conception of spiritual counterparts. He claims that in the Bible “star” means the same as “knowledge”. “Gold” means “heavenly goodness”. “Manger” means “spiritual nourishment” – and “horse” means “intelligence”, “equus significat intelligentiam”.

The dead woman in her dress no longer needs any earthly intelligence. She has been transferred to another world. But earthly intelligence remains – the three horses testify to that. And they are thanked with carrots for the service they did the woman while she was alive.

Assume that Knausgård knows this from his studies in Swedenborg (“Spiritual Diary” translated from the Latin by Baron Eric Hermelin, p. 44, 1920), and that he consciously or unconsciously allows the text to contain all this. It is also possible that with the carrots for the horses outside the house where death has just paid a visit, he wants to underline the encounter between earthly life and annihilation.

The fact that such enigmatic parts are found attracts the reader’s attention.

However, the reader makes even greater demands. We read to bring a little joy to life in a quite joyless existence. We readers make the same demands on the book as Horace succinctly formulated: “Jucunda et idonea dicere vitae” (Ars poetica, v.334) “… say what makes one happy and which is favourable to our lives”.

There are, says Horace, “verba et voces … words and voices” that can ease the pain you feel.

The novelists interpret what happens here on earth, each in their own way and based on their experiences. Effects on the reader determine whether this interpretation is healthy or not. It is Rumi who thus lays the foundation for defensible literary criticism:

The interpretation that makes you warm in the heart, and hopeful, that is the right one;

The interpretation that makes you quick and eager for work, and full of reverence, that is the true one.

But everything that, in the service, makes you sluggish, and ungraceful, and lazy,

Know, and know for certain, that it is a forgery and corruption,

NOT an interpretation.” (Rumi, Mesnavi V. 3125–3126)

How does Knausgård meet these requirements? Does he make the reader happy? This is not some banal humour that will make us laugh. The joy must go deeper. That it happens is evident with all desirable clarity in the fact that we want to read on. The author has succeeded in making us addicted. There is a hidden attraction here – namely our longing to get away from ourselves for a few hours. – We ourselves are, as Jesus pointed out, a very bad company to stick with. Knausgård lets us get rid of ourselves, almost even more effectively than the blessed alcohol. When he makes four-year-old children the protagonists, we recognize ourselves.

Horace also requires what in the text would be favourable for our lives, for our way of living.

Knausgård succeeds with this feat. His gallery of people is highly educated upper middle class. They follow stock prices. Seventeenth of May – then a champagne lunch fits well. They live their lives straight ahead without church, without religion. They resemble the knight in Dürer’s picture – he sits on a horse, looks straight ahead although death threatens him from the side and the mocking devil stands behind the horse’s tail.

“Ritter, Tod und Teufel … the knight, death and the devil” (Dürer 1513), the picture portrays an appealing strategy for one’s life. Despite all threats live in a silent trust in one’s destiny. Persian Sufis praise an existence determined by unconsciousness. You must even make sure that you are “unconscious of your unconsciousness”. Man is nothing and happy is he who has discovered this path through life.

Underneath the horse runs the knight’s dog – the same straight forward gaze, uninterested, trusting. Humans and animals, same kind. We’ll get through. – For! We don’t really belong to this world at all. – Goethe’s words ring in one’s ears – “Ich hab mein Sach auf nichts gestellt … have placed my cause on the foundation of nothingness, therefore I am so well off … “.

Horace calls for texts that “comfort your pain.” It is clear that both the Bible and the Koran fulfil that task. The assaulted prostitute girl reads the words of Jesus about the harlots – they have priority over priests and high placed when St. Peter watches over the gate of paradise (Matt. 21:31). And the frowned upon alcoholic, he reads in the prophet Jeremiah (35:5) God’s command to the sober: “Drink!” – Jesus turned water into wine and demands that all who want to call themselves Christians must drink wine in communion. If the alcoholic is old, he can be referred to the Psalms: “Give wine to the dying and to the despondent”.

Knausgård praises alcohol because it makes the mind clearer. Interesting and informative is the depiction of the meeting between Syvert and his Russian half-sister. A first meeting is unsuccessful. They don’t get any real contact. – Afterwards, Syvert writes to the half-sister that they should meet again “and get drunk”. Then they will succeed better.

One is reminded of the Indian tribe in the Amazon who searched for four missing children in 2023 – they failed at first. Then decided that the ones who searched should get drunk and then try again – then they succeeded.

You can read all of this in Knausgårds books. But Horace’s demands go deeper – they should enlighten us so that we get rid of the existential pain that occupies us. What does this pain consist of?

The main characters occasionally give testimony about the cause. One says, for example: “I have two people in me – one who wants good, one who wants evil.” One of them stands with the air rifle in his hand to shoot a hit and suddenly says to himself: “now I shoot my self-importance. My lack of principles. My dishonesty”.

He is very aware that while he wants to be a decent person, he can suddenly become downright hideous.

He stands with a hammer in his hand to drive a nail in, and then an evil thought enters him: “I can take the hammer and kill my brother and my mother and inherit the house” – he tries to excuse it by saying that this wish lived inside the hammer.

His mother is the widow of a successful bourgeois, Syvert nineteen is unemployed and lives at her house. He clearly notices that she wants him out of the house. He burdens her poor finances. She lives by cleaning jobs. – When Syvert thinks about his situation, he becomes resentful of his mother: “She, this damn cleaning lady!” – he has this outburst of thought. Shortly afterwards comes his reaction to what happened: ”How boring everything became!”

Yeah, no wonder. Honouring one’s parents does not consist of cursing them. – He has a conscience. It gets in touch. It was very sad. – You feel good as long as you are in agreement with your conscience. In disagreement, then the pain is felt at once.

Syvert expresses his temporary displeasure with his brother Joar through a dire prognosis: “You are a loser!” – Of course, Joar gets sad. – And actually, Syvert too, who said the devastating word.

Syvert becomes acquainted with a teacher named Krag who knows Russian. Krag interprets the Russian love letters that Syvert’s father received from Moscow.

At one point, Krag asks Syvert to stay and have a drink: Syvert’s reaction: ”What is this? Is he gay? Damn!”

There is no reason. But suspicions arise. Judgment is passed.

All these examples are about our inner “wolf” who is always glancing towards the forest, away from decency.

When Syvert tells his beloved Lisa that the father made a girl in Russia pregnant, she reacts with immediate condemnation; “Damn it!” – And what does Syvert himself say at this moment? – he agrees and condemns his own father with another “Damn!”

Vilhelm Ekelund has an observation about Ibsen – there is, says Ekelund, “a predator-like agility” – it shows in this fact, what seems to be pure idyll in a moment turns out to contain tragedy. – Isn’t Knausgård’s description of man’s earthly conditions presented with the same calm, low-key, predator-like agility?

It is entirely consistent that the novel “The Wolves” gets a powerful motto: It is taken from the Book of Revelation 21:4: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”

It is promising. The motto is set up like a cross signifying “God’s Tabernacle”.

Balzac also had a similar emblem in his study. He lived in Passy down by the Seine – when the creditors sought him, he slipped into the cellar of the house and got out to his boat and escaped.

The study is large, 30 square meters, high ceilings, bare – chair, desk and on the wall a very large cross. No crucifixes. Just a reminder. During the day, Balzac roamed the town. Noticed how people were dressed and how they behaved. Went home and reported what he saw, realistically, truthfully. There was human closeness in the picture. The same goes for our Knausgård. The year 1986 is tiger balm, Marlborough and people take off their shoes when visiting.

The motto in “The Wolves” is reminiscent of Balzac’s cross. “Crux mea Lux” (Strindberg’s grave inscription).

– O –

There are beautiful twists and turns in Knausgårds writing. Such that the reader does not forget. We who live reading surround ourselves with books. I myself have five or six books going at the same time. When there is an interruption in reading, I put the book with the text down and the back up. Such lying books, writes Knausgård, resemble “birds that have landed with their wings out”. Books are birds – the reader flies along.

How someone values a text also depends on the critic in question’s own literary taste. I have read the works that humanity has decided it cannot live without – i.e. the classics including the Bible and the Koran. They have been my frame of reference. If I have a taste of my own, it shows in the preference I now give to Lina Sandell’s “No one can be safer than God’s little band of children” and Viktor Rydberg’s “Shine over lake and shore, star in the distance.” You who in the east were lit by the Lord. Star of Bethlehem does not lead away but home…”

– O –

But – finally, how does Knausgård cohere with Lenin? He mentions Lenin several times. He knows him. Now, if Knausgård has some sympathy for Lenin, let’s see in what company he ends up.

Here in Sweden, we meet Vilhelm Ekelund (wrote in communist newspapers, “hate the upper-class ass kissers”). Branting received Lenin during the Stockholm visit. In Germany Rosa Luxemburg and Lassalle, in Italy Gramsci, in Hungary Lukacs, in Finland Unna and Hagar Olsson. In addition, the entire magnificent Russian cultural elite at the time of the 1917 revolution and up to Lenin’s death. Repin, the one who painted the Barge Haulers, formed a socially oriented school of painters. They lined up on Lenin’s side. One of them, Brodsky, made the first large portrait of Lenin – sitting in an armchair covered with a protective cover inside the Smolny Girls’ School.

Shostakovich wrote his twelfth symphony in 1981. “To the Memory of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin”. The fourth movement is called “The Dawn of Humanity” – it is Lenin’s revolution. The triumph of the holy feeling of revolt. The voice of conscience manifests itself. Humanity spreads light. As a child, the composer had witnessed the tsar’s police shooting demonstrators – an eight-year-old boy fell down dead.

It is important to recall Lenin’s openness to the gains of the bourgeoisie during the previous era. The Soviets would not reject humanity’s most cherished spiritual gains. In his September 1918 great line speech on culture, Lenin warned against the idea of a special “proletarian” culture – what was needed was an open attitude towards all the spiritual achievements of previous generations. According to Lenin, there was a culture loved by mankind – the Soviet Union would now give way to it. Even Kipling is recommended in schools, Shakespeare, Dante, Cervantes. Cheap reprints were distributed to all schools.

Lenin’s speech November 1920: “Soviet culture can only be built on what the past has achieved.”1

Lenin had an openness – definitive conclusions in the spiritual without respect for older generations were directly harmful. That the Soviet cultural elite paid tribute to Lenin has its basis in this generous conception of “apolitical” thinking.

Lenin’s view is reflected in a word by Jan Myrdal that Olav Hauge particularly drew attention to (The Diary 5 April 1975). “To accept paralyzes, to reject blinds!” What is needed is a critical evaluation that is unreserved, open-minded. The spiritual has no party affiliation. The spiritual is a matter of the conscience. We know within ourselves what is false and true.

The circle around Lenin includes Tsvetaeva, Akhmatova, Mandelstam, Bulgakov, Blok, Mayakovsky, Gorky.

In Islam, a distinction is made between “great jihad” and “little jihad”. According to Rumi, little jihad is the external political struggle against the enemies of Islam. The great jihad – is the fight against man’s own insatiable egoism, lust for power, envy, hatred.

We can agree that this is the main theme in the Bible and Koran. (Knausgård worked for two years as a language consultant in the Norwegian Bible translation.) Isn’t that the main theme of the most beloved works of world literature? – That we love these works is due to our need for spiritual enlightenment about who we really are. – Knausgård gives us, in my eyes, a truthful picture of the rather precarious situation. He even has a word for centenarians: The best way to die, “it is to be sated by days and slowly watch the world grow weaker and weaker, lighter and lighter until at last it disappears and is no more.”

It is Kiefer’s image of Jacob’s ladder that applies – undressing necessary.

1 Levan Hakobian (1998) Music of the Soviet Age, 1917-1987, Stockholm: Melos Music Literature, p. 38.

Karl Ove Knausgård’s acceptance speech


It is a great honour to receive Jan Myrdal’s big prize – the Lenin Award. But the honour is not unconditional, judging by the many reactions that came after the announcement of this year’s award. Shame was a word that was used, and it is the exact opposite of honour.

Should I be ashamed to accept this award?

The definition of shame in the dictionary reads: “Shame is a feeling of consciousness or understanding of dishonour, disgrace, or condemnation.” For my own part, I would like to add that shame is perhaps the most important social regulation mechanism we have, and in that way, you can say that the question of shame points straight into Jan Myrdal’s writing. Yes, the question of shame can be said to be at its very core, what remains after all the layers have been peeled away. This may seem like a strange statement, because Myrdal is known as a shameless writer, ruthless and brutally honest, a political brute, but the shame is still always there, it is what must be cracked, that he must write his way through, because it is on the other side of the shame that the truth lies. And the truth was for Myrdal the promised land, what everything he wrote reached towards.

I feel the protests in the air. Shame? Truth? What are you talking about? Myrdal lied, right? Didn’t he lie about his mother and about his father and about his entire childhood, and about the Cultural Revolution in China and about Pol Pot?

This is what I intended to talk about. Shame, truth, and Jan Myrdal’s books. Or, if you want, shamelessness, lies and Jan Myrdal’s books.

But before I do, I should perhaps add that I never met Jan Myrdal myself. He wrote me a letter once after I had published a text about Sweden, entitled “In the land of the cyclops”, but apart from that I never had anything to do with him. I didn’t grow up in Sweden either, so I have no relationship to Myrdal as a public figure. The following is therefore based exclusively on Myrdal’s books, and especially his masterpiece “Contemporary Confessions of a European Intellectual” and the childhood suite.

Let me start with the protests I felt in the air when I mentioned Myrdal and truth in the same sentence. I think everyone who writes hears those voices at regular intervals. The voices ask not only if what is written is true, but also always what people will think about it, how people will react to it. The voices correct. But where do they come from? They come from outside but are internalized. They come from the social but appear in the individual. So when I said that everything Myrdal wrote was reaching towards the truth, the voices protesting were loaded with everything that has happened to Myrdal’s posthumous reputation in the public eye in recent weeks, with the release of the correspondence between him and his parents, which seems to completely invalidate Myrdal’s description of them and not least the interview with the son Janken Myrdal, who paints a picture of the father as a pathological liar. I also heard the inner voices protesting when I said I would accept this award, because what would it look like, what would people think if I allowed myself to be associated with Jan Myrdal, a writer who did not distance himself from the authoritarian regimes he had embraced and worshiped in his youth and—as if that wasn’t enough—also allowed myself to be associated with Lenin, a dictator who almost single-handedly began an era of endless murder in Russia?

Yes, what would I look like? What would people think of me?

And afterwards, but always only afterwards: the very consequences that have followed in the wake of their activities, the victims themselves? Shouldn’t you show empathy and compassion and simply say no to the award?

I myself had a notorious liar for a father, insensitive to his children’s feelings and with whom I broke contact several times, so I identified with Myrdal’s son when I read the interview with him. But I also know that my father was beaten by his father and that he was traumatized by his upbringing, in other words that the story neither begins nor ends with him. As I see it, the son’s version does not silence the father’s, but adds complexity to it, as does the recently released exchange of letters. To close the door to Myrdal’s literature because of that, or to disqualify it, would be mindless. Not because the truth is subjective, and Jan Myrdal’s version is therefore as true as everyone else’s, but because the truth as such, the truth as a phenomenon, is examined and put at stake in his work.

“The truth as a phenomenon” – it sounds good and as all Myrdal readers know – what sounds good, you should be on your guard against.

So, what do I mean by “truth as a phenomenon”?

“Contemporary Confessions of a European Intellectual” was published in 1964. It circles around an incident in Myrdal’s life, and it is the circling that constitutes the plot, not the incident itself. The incident is as simple as it is brutal: a young woman, called A in the book, who borrowed Myrdal’s apartment, killed herself one day in his kitchen. What the book tries to clarify is what role Myrdal himself played, how much he understood of the situation she was in, what he could have done differently. The road there is full of avoidance, interruption, suppression, embellishment, romanticisation, and occasionally outright lies. Time and time again, Myrdal interrupts himself, always suspicious of his own thoughts. For example, it might sound like this:

I read through what I have written, it’s completely harmless, also for myself. It is false.

I cannot accept this description of my relationship to the outside world. It is romantic and thus false.

All of this may be true. And even if it’s true to the extent that it describes my actual situation – it’s just an apology. I have a bad conscience before A.

My falsehood feels tight like alum in the skin. I make my normal and rather mediocre pitiful behaviour heroic. And that without being able to directly catch me with lies in words or description of the course.

Therefore, it must now be said that this entire drawing of my situation in the fall of 1945 is, however, fundamentally false. False without a word being a lie. Because I withheld the most important thing.

But this presentation of the facts shifts the blame from me to the more abstract society and then in a few words puts the blame on “the objective conditions” in this case “society as it is”. Lie. J.M. cannot be allowed to escape so easily.

And in that way, I could have continued quoting. The innermost insight, when all the layers of pretence are peeled away, is that he knew she was going to kill herself and could have done more to save her. Towards the end, he lifts that insight up to a political level: we know about the wars. We know about the atrocities, the injustice, the torture, the famine, the need, the poverty. But we do nothing to prevent it. It is the total and final betrayal, he writes.

How can we live on as before when we know we are failing?

That is what “Contemporary Confessions of a European Intellectual” explores. How we deceive ourselves, in ourselves. Beautifies, disguises, displaces, excuses, minimizes. Against that, one could object that “Contemporary Confessions of a European Intellectual” is in itself a pretence – because surely, at the beginning of the book, Myrdal must have known what kind of guilt he had in the suicide. The whole process towards insight, that is the whole book, then becomes pretend. But then you don’t take into account that to think and to write what is thought, are two different things. To write something is always, under all circumstances, to address someone. Language in itself is always, under all circumstances, directed towards another. Writing is therefore a social act. This non-subjective element, found in all writing, is crucial to understanding what a confession is and what it means. When you write about yourself, what you write will appear as it appears to others, to yourself. There are the voices, those who correct, and you cannot escape them, the text must relate to them, either by following them or by going against them. That process is rarely conscious. But if you write a beautiful sentence when you write about yourself, who are you writing it for? The self is reflected in it, but only via the other, the one to whom the language addresses itself. This means that there is corruption in the act of writing itself. Another book that deals with this is Peter Handke’s ” A Sorrow Beyond Dreams: A Life Story”. It came out in 1972, i.e. eight years later, and is also about a suicide. In Handke’s book, it is the mother who commits suicide, and the attention is not directed to what the author knew, but to the language available to tell about it, which in itself distorts reality, makes it bigger or more romantic or more remarkable than it was.

For Myrdal, “Contemporary Confessions of a European Intellectual” was a political book. The self-deception that it disrobes layer by layer applied not only to him but to everyone and it was not in the ideas or ideals, had nothing to do with outlook on life, but was in the most intimate, a person’s thoughts about himself, the game of the social , which in other words is also there, in the innermost part of the human being but which only became clear when it was written down. A form of invisible opinions, invisible demands, invisible attitudes that the narrator struggles to make visible, in order to become free from them, to see himself and reality as it is – and to act.

This can be turned upside down. For what is the social? What do you fight free from when you fight free from it? The social, that’s us. It’s us. It’s you and me. That’s what we have together. To be true to that, what is it but to be in solidarity? Instead of seeing shame as a mechanism that binds the individual and makes him unfree, it can be seen as a mechanism that is for the common good and that regulates the vital balance between the individual and all of us. If you are shameless, you can take advantage of others and that is the opposite of solidarity.

Another writer who wrote about the social as shackling, was Aksel Sandemose. As you know, he wrote the Law of Jante. You should not think that you are something. You must not think that you are better than the rest of us, and so on. For Aksel Sandemose, the law was about the group’s oppression of the individual and was something terrible. What is not as well known is that Aksel Sandemose’s son, Jørgen, wrote a biography of his father. The book is perhaps the most brutal character assassination in Scandinavian literature. In any case, in that book Jørgen turns the Law of Jante upside down and reads it as a law about sticking together. About solidarity.

Jørgen Sandemose was a communist. Jan Myrdal was too. When you read “Contemporary Confessions of a European Intellectual”, with its strong focus on the individual, it can seem paradoxical, so much in that book is about being without ties to others, so that you yourself can stand free – for example in the small passage towards the end, where a young Jan Myrdal argues with an older Nic Waal, famous Norwegian psychotherapist and communist, about a few lines in a blues text: “You can’t trust nobody/you might as well be alone”. Myrdal endorses the sentence, Nic Waal protests: “She talked about that you have to trust, have to trust, have to trust.”

That’s exactly what Myrdal doesn’t do in this book, he doesn’t trust anything or anyone, not even himself, because what binds him to society is a lie, yes society itself is built on a lie. The language that moves through society, between people and deep into people, perpetuates the lie, perpetuates the betrayal. And if it is so, the truth must come as something independent, unrelated, and most profoundly unwanted. But also, for some, as a sudden release.

In the book “Childhood”, which came out in 1982, Myrdal draws a picture of a boy who grows up in a family that is not right for him, he is like a stranger to his mother and a stranger to his father and that distance seems to be absolutely decisive for him, also for the books he would write. In the end, the boy sees everything as a game, the whole social tangle the parents are involved in and their relationship with him, it’s a game – which means two things, it’s not real, and equally important: it could have been different. The social, with all its customs and traditions, taboos, and rules, is arbitrary. Breaking a taboo is nothing in itself, it is the social that makes it something through the shame. But this did not only apply to Swedish culture and the Swedish society he grew up in, the same applies to the European one. He writes: “But it was a European perspective. It must be corrected. Since I came home to Sweden, I had systematically tried to learn the parallel traditions; Arabic and Chinese (…) to systematically break down my ethnocentric European perspective.”

If you see the social as a game, you are not bound to it, and if you are not bound to something, there is also no shame in relation to it. But though people play, they are not themselves a game, and being free in relation to what they do does not mean that one is free in relation to what they are.

In my eyes, “Childhood” takes place there, it tests the relationship with the parents and the family, tests the very concepts of home and descent, and Myrdal does it in Myrdal’s way, by trying as carefully as possible to correctly recreate what he felt and thought and not wavering from that no matter how unpleasant the feelings and thoughts were and what consequences they could conceivably have – that would be letting himself and really everything he stood for down – the book could not be a game, the feelings in it. So, he is shameless. Did he write himself free?

That I stand here, more than eighty years later, talking about his relationship with his mother and father, and that the media has been full of material about them in recent weeks, suggests that he did not. But it also means that we continue to read his books, that they continue to be relevant and that, I think, has to do with the same thing. Most books from the sixties are almost unreadable today because they are so sixties. They are populated by sixties people who think sixties thoughts with sixties attitudes. Only the books that have bowed their necks and searched for their own, original, and stubborn, continue to be read, because they are about something that does not pass away. Jan Myrdal’s “Contemporary confessions of a European intellectual” is such a book, it could have been written yesterday or a hundred years ago, it is an outstanding book, as several of Myrdal’s books are, and that is why it is a great honour to receive this award, for which I would like to thank you very much.

The 2023 award ceremony


See the award ceremony in its entirety here:

Kalle Holmqvist’s speech to Aleksej Sachnin


If you read material from the Swedish labour movement at the beginning of the 20th century, you can see that Russia is a very big issue. The Tsarist Russian Empire persecuted minorities, cracked down on opposition, and attacked other countries. In Sweden, Russia was used as an insult. If, for example, police or soldiers were deployed against workers, the labour press called it “Russia in Sweden” (Brand 4–5/1902) or said it was reminiscent of Petersburg (Social-Demokraten 1 May 1905). Of course, it didn’t mean that you were against ordinary Russians, or even Russia as a country. On the contrary. The Swedish labour movement actively supported the Russian opposition and also helped political refugees who came here from Russia.

I think it is very good that attention is paid to the Russians who protest Russia’s attack on Ukraine. It must take tremendous courage to do that. In this country we have a long and fine tradition of international solidarity and of protesting against superpowers that attack other countries. In part of course, the protests against the US war in Vietnam. But also, the protests against the Soviet invasions of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan.

It is important that we continue that tradition, stand up for an independent foreign policy, for peace and solidarity, for the right of all peoples to decide for themselves. We must never stop criticizing superpowers that try to control other countries and that try to build empires, be it Russia, the United States or China. Or the EU. It doesn’t matter what justifications they use; superpowers will always come up with a bunch of excuses.

During the Swedish great power period in the 17th and 18th centuries, there were always excuses when attacking other countries. Often it was God and religion that were used. When Sweden was to join the Thirty Years’ War, it was said that it was to defend the religious freedom of the German Protestants. The Thirty Years’ War devastated large parts of Europe, it also devastated Sweden, even though the war did not take place here.

There were approximately 100,000 Swedish men and boys who died as soldiers in the Thirty Years’ War. We should remember them, but we can also remember all those who refused. It has often been forgotten in the history books, but there were actually thousands who escaped, they hid in the forests for example, because they did not want to be part of the war.

The Swedes who escaped from the Thirty Years’ War, they were not cowards. They were incredibly brave. They probably didn’t mind defending their homeland if we had been attacked, but they weren’t going to be sent away, far away to a foreign land to be slaughtered in some war that it was extremely unclear what it was about.

There is only one solution to the war in Ukraine and that is for Russia to immediately call off its invasion, withdraw its troops and leave Ukraine alone. The Russians who protest the war do so because they care about their people and love their country. They love it so much that they are prepared to take great personal risks to defend it. They deserve our solidarity.

Carl-Göran Ekerwald’s acceptance speech


The holy feeling of revolt

This text “The holy feeling of revolt” is written as an attempt to somehow reciprocate the magnificent award that I received today through Lasse Diding.

Among Muslims there is a word “sakha” which means selfless generosity. It is unusual. It is considered to pave the way for a happy future. Jan Myrdal’s big prize manifests the generosity of man. In Persia, newlyweds usually invite strangers to their home for dinner to prove to heaven that they have “sakha”, the generosity. My family was thus invited to the home of an unfamiliar newlywed couple in Kermanshah. The wife’s female relatives sat on the floor and watched as we celebrated with the bride and groom. – It was solemn – you got a glimpse of a human trait that belongs to eternity. It slams the door on avidity and greed.

The most famous anarchist of the 19th century was Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876). Here in Sweden, he became famous. Charles XV received him in audience. Ever since the field marshal’s time under Napoleon, the Bernadottes have had a soft spot for left-wing radicals. The German philosopher Fichte’s portrait decked the field marshal’s wall – Fichte who asked the question “What are academics for?” By implication if they don’t want to abolish society’s injustices. Fichte – one of the revolutionary spirit’s finest!

It is Bakunin who declared man’s “feeling of revolt” to be “holy”. Vilhelm Ekelund quotes it warmly. And of course, a “no” is more holy than a “yes”, because a “yes” is a concession, offers no resistance. Lets everything remain as it is.

A “no”, a “revolt” – so much riskier. And yet, given the vulnerability of humans to animal instincts on the one hand and remorse on the other, how necessary a “no” must be. That explains its holiness. The feeling of revolt is unassailable because it is man’s strongest protection.

Sometimes you hear that it is during puberty that the feeling of revolt first rears its head. – In my case, the feeling of revolt hit me hard when I was five years old!

It was Christmas 1928. We rented four rooms and a kitchen upstairs from the farmer Erik Sundkvist in Änge in Offerdal’s parish. – Offerdal in Jämtland on the border to Norway.

The Christmas tree is decorated. In the ceiling garlands of red crepe paper. The Christmas smorgasbord is dished up, the ham is breaded. Mum and I are walking around and waiting for Dad, who is down at Sundkvist’s to wish a merry Christmas with a litre of schnapps.

I am full of expectation. The Christmas presents are under the tree. It was today that Jesus was born and laid in a manger. I had seen the manger in Sundkvist’s stable and hoped that Jesus had avoided the tongue from a horse or mule.

We are waiting for dad. Mum lights the candles on the table. And then he comes. Finally.

A child immediately sees if either parent is under the influence of alcohol. It cannot be hidden. The essence of the parent has been greatly changed by the liquor – cooler, more metallic. The child suddenly sees this transformation. Dad has become estranged.

On the Christmas smorgasbord, beer and schnapps are poured into glasses. I get soda in my glass.

Now the party will begin. But I already have a nasty feeling of my dad’s estrangement. Why isn’t he as usual? He talks a little slurred and loudly and laughing about his visit to the bottom floor. Of course, the Christmas schnapps had to be sampled.

Now dad is going to cut the Christmas ham. He fumbles with the large slicer and suddenly it slides out of his hand and onto the floor.

And now it comes.

I can’t stand this. This does not suit me. Enough is enough. And this on the long-awaited Christmas Eve itself!

I get down from the chair and put the bib on the table and go on my way.

As I write this, I am soon to be 99 years old. The memory from the age of five is still almost physically perceptible today.

This revolt of the child was completely spontaneous. Unpremeditated. It was not the mind that revolted, it was the reflex of the conscience or “soul”. It is here – lo and behold! – the “taste” that decides. This situation is so unpleasant to be present in – now I’m leaving. It is anarchistic. No consideration is given to the consequences.

When Vilhelm Ekelund once had a beer in the restaurant on the ferry to Helsingör, there was someone playing the accordion. A couple got up and danced. They were probably a little drunk and both danced “lewdly” in a way that was offensive to everyone. What works in private becomes provocative in public. After a while, Ekelund had enough of this dance. He took an ashtray and threw it at them, whereupon the dancing ceased.

My revolt was short-lived. Dad stood up, took me harshly by the arm and led me back to the table. The mood gradually lightened up. As a Christmas present, I got a tin car. I drove around with it.

In the evening when I was going to bed, mum said; “That you dared to do that to dad! You have to be careful.”

Ever since this childish revolt, I have noticed the holy revolts of others, Vilhelm Tell, Olaus Petri, Engelbrekt, Voltaire, right up to Gramsci and Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof.

But it is a Russian nobleman of Jewish birth that I am particularly attached to. I had been five, he sixteen, a high school student at the grammar school in Kazan in 1887. The Tsar had his brother Alexander, who had been involved in a plot against the government, hanged. And now the sixteen-year-old swore an oath that he would not give up until he had taken revenge on the Tsar family and raised the blood-red banner on every town hall in Russia.

Vladimir Ulyanov, who took the name “Lenin”, is a fabulous example of the element of surprise in the course of history. A young high school student turned one of the world’s largest empires, Russia, upside down. It took its time. Lenin was 47 when he moved into Smolny and began to rule the Soviet Union.

– O –

The tsar’s authoritarian violent regime that does not hesitate to use physical violence – and even does so with some pleasure through mock executions (Dostoevsky!) – what revolt is victorious in the face of such an opponent?

The answer is the rebel who emanates from conscience, soul, and love. All this “which physically does not exist” crushes the autocracy and those in power.

It is Paul who in First Corinthians 1:28 formulates this fortunate order here on earth: “God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are.”

Quoting the Bible in this political context is natural because Lenin was inspired by the Bible reader Leo Tolstoy. And it is Georg Lukacs – the communist – who states: “Die Bibel ist eine Fibel des Aufstands … The Bible is the ABC book of the revolution.”

Is there a need for examples? In Mark 11:15: “Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.”

Cf. Andreas Baader who was so disgusted by the consumerism of the wealthy that he set fire to Frankfurt’s largest department store in 1969.

The Russian Tsar’s counterpart in Israel – the Jewish upper class – explicitly declared: “He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.” (Luk.23:5) The word “incite”, “commoveo”, “anaseiå” is the word the authorities use for the rebel’s agitation. It must be stopped before “the whole nation perish” (High Priest Caiaphas, John 11:50).

The rebel’s response is to revile the authority: “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.” (Luke 6:24-6:25).

The rebel Jesus sent out 72 disciples to go from village to village and enlighten the people about the utter futility of asking the clergy and authorities (“elders”) for advice, because these serve only their own interests. And here it comes to conscience.

The disciples, the 72, would not go around as well-paid consultants. No, they would go barefoot, always without money or food. Jesus promised them much beating. They would be flogged and killed – but remain jubilantly happy because they served their neighbour in the best possible way. They would “bring down rulers from their thrones but lift up the humble”. (Mary’s song of joy, Luke 1:46). Before the court, never speak prepared – but from the heart.

William Butler Yeats summarizes the task of the 72 disciples. It was to overthrow those in power, both religious and political, in order to introduce a social order conditioned by everyone’s personal conscience – that is, everyone’s relationship with God – He who does not exist physically but only as “spirit”. –

What Jesus preached was that “the kingdom of God is near” – so near that it is within every human being. “Go into yourself” – there you will learn everything you need for this earthly life (Luke 11:52).

Jesus’ message to the Israeli authorities was decisive: “The prevailing legal order in the country is detestable. Away with it! And away with religion! It is only human inventions and impositions.”

That Jesus was executed cannot be surprising when viewed from the point of view of the Roman governor or authorities. Power wants peace in the country.

As for religious laws and rites – Judaism invokes the patriarch Abraham, Jesus’ own ancestor, it is the “God of Abraham” that Paul worships. – Then it is worth noting: Abraham lived 500 years before the Law of Moses – the Ten Commandments – and 2000 years before the Gospels. Abraham was a “hanif”, that means a “friend” of God. Abraham lacked religion in the sense we put into the word.

– O –

Lenin’s strange and powerful revolt is inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s pamphlets. The very spirit of these widespread texts is found in compressed form in Tolstoy’s diaries. It is not Marxism – but anarchism!

If you go to 1890, when Lenin was twenty years old, Tolstoy writes explicitly: “The anarchists are right in everything! Private property must be banned. Everything must be owned collectively.” (1890 5/8, 4/13, 11/16)

The battle between the lower class and the upper class must go on. Endeavour to raise capital – look at the ugly snout of greed. People who live on what others have slaved away in hard work – they live a shameful life. The church is an institution that misleads people away from conscience. (8/19 1890) Tolstoy was excommunicated by the Holy Synod.

These diary entries form the basis of the pamphlets. Tolstoy is indeed an instigator, on behalf of his irrepressible feeling of revolt.

That the Swedish Academy did not give Tolstoy the Nobel Prize, despite objections from both Selma Lagerlöf and Strindberg, can be understood considering Tolstoy’s explicit sympathy for the anarchists. For the bourgeoisie, this was a moral faux pas – it must fail! – The Soviet Union is Lenin’s answer.

– O –

When Finland asked for an armistice in September 1944, it was Finland’s ambassador to Sweden, Georg Achates Gripenberg, who negotiated with Madame Kollontai in Saltsjöbaden – Stalin’s representative. He succeeded after the Finnish government made communist leader Yrjö Leino minister of the interior and head of the police. When the agreement was concluded, two Finnish communists came to Gripenberg and asked him to arrange for them to meet Stalin. Through Kollontai’s mediation, the two were invited to the Kremlin.

They met with Stalin, and he wondered what they wanted to know. They asked; “What is the very essence of communism?”

Stalin replied: “It is to make man better!”

He gives the answer that Lenin would also have given. It is the message from Tolstoy and from the “ABC book” of the revolution.

The meaning has a religious connotation. The Russians were not secular. The message from Lenin received a response.

But when Gorky tried to persuade Lenin to cooperate openly with the Orthodox Church because there was basically an ideological kinship, Lenin refused and on the same grounds as Tolstoy stated: The Church takes people away from the core of the rebellious spirit – the conscience.

Gramsci says that all politics have a private background. Lenin had private reasons for overthrowing the Tsarist family. And he has the ideal contract between thought and feeling that Lukacs1 praises: live as you think. Nina Björk’s texts are examples of this ideal contract between reason and emotion.

No dreams of an empire were part of Lenin’s thinking. He unconcernedly gave Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Ukraine the freedom to decide their own destinies. His last letter to Stalin: “Don’t use coercion alone – try voluntariness too!”

Finally, we disapprove of male excessive violence. How then did Lenin behave? Lukacs? Karl Marx? Sartre? Should they be ashamed. I think Lukacs answers for all of them when he says: “Everything I did was done so that I would be approved by Gertrud” (his wife, the doctor Gertrud Bortstiber.) None of them would have published a text that the beloved disliked, Jenny, Krupskaja, Gertrude, Simone.

1 Regarding the Lenin-Lukacs connection: Lenin demanded daily radio contact with Bela Kun’s communist-led government in Budapest in 1919 – Lukacs was one of Bela Kun’s closest associates in the Politburo.

Nina Björk’s speech to Carl-Göran Ekerwald


I am going to give a speech to Carl-Göran Ekerwald – a speech that sounds. But I’ll start with a pantomime. The pantomime is called: “To read Carl-Göran Ekerwald” and it looks like this: (bounce, smile, frown, shake head, nod in confirmation). It doesn’t look like this: (just pretend to read without facial expressions).

That is to say: You get many feelings and thoughts from reading Ekerwald. You don’t get comfy. You never know what will come. It’s exciting and very good for the mood.

The first time I met Carl-Göran Ekerwald was on the bathroom floor in my childhood home. It was in the shape of an open book lying on the floor with the cover facing upwards. I had just learned to read so I was probably 7-8 years old, and I remember spelling my way through the author’s name, I never got to the title. I read Carl-Göran EkerWald (why should we have double-u if it was pronounced the same way as v?)

Now, many years later, I think it was an appropriate way to meet Ekerwald. The low, the bodily needs, the concrete – and at the same time the high, the large spaces, the freedom of thought. Quite simply: a writer spirit on a bathroom floor. And I could read his name!

It felt strange to discover that you were from Änge in Offerdal, Carl-Göran Ekerwald – because I am too! Two Lenin Award winners born in Änge! In relation to the number of inhabitants, it must be the place from which Lasse has picked the most people here to Varberg. When I found you on the bathroom floor, however, my family had moved to Halland a few years earlier. So maybe it wasn’t the lofty literary heights my parents were looking for when they read that book, but maybe they wanted to read someone from a now abandoned hometown. I know you would have approved of both reasons.

Carl-Göran Ekerwald made his debut in 1959 with a collection of short stories titled “The fire and the chick”. His latest book was the essay collection “That which does not exist” from 2021. In between, he has written novels, juvenile books, love poems, memoirs, made translations, worked as a literary critic. So, he has been a writer for six decades. It is a long period of time, and no man stands still in his head for so many years. Topics have changed as have attitudes.

But I still sense an Ekerwald-esque original question, one that follows him wherever he turns in the world – and it is the greatest of questions, namely “How shall we live?”. We have been given our time on earth, how to manage it?

It seems to me that Ekerwald himself needs that question. He needs to have it alive in his own life – not primarily to give his readers an answer. And he keeps the question alive by consorting with people – and he consorts with people by reading books. There he consorts with all people; it doesn’t matter if they live today or if they lived hundreds of years ago and it doesn’t matter if they lived at all or if they are people in novels. Everyone is equal and everyone gets the same question: “You who are human, how do you act? How do you act in your life; how do you act in your work?” Through literature, he gets what he calls a “comparison material”.

All of this is based on a view of human beings that says that I am not that original. You’re not that original either. That is based on the fact that we have something to say to each other. Across time and space, across gender, beyond power and status. The individual is not a unique psychological puzzle, but we are all doppelgangers of each other.

This does not mean that we can ignore the circumstances of the individual person. In a wonderfully concise analysis of Gustave Flaubert’s classic novel Madame Bovary, Ekerwald believes that what Flaubert does in this novel is that he says of his main character, “Let’s see how she was. This is how she was! Fini! It is literature of the great kind.”

How was she? All people are worthy of that question, from the smallest to the largest, from the one with the finest values to the one with the most horrible. The question “how was she?” is also at the same time the question “how could she live? What opportunities did she have to live how?” Here is the connection between society, politics – circumstances – and the life of the individual.

We meet so many people in Ekerwald’s books! That’s like what we do. On one page, we meet someone who makes a revolution. On the next page, we meet someone visiting a farm, looking at a sculpture and reading a book. We meet happy people, crazy people, playing, loving, working people. Although the meetings with all these people are sometimes short, the people are not reduced to constituting Examples of a Type. Yet we learn something from the totality of everyone we meet: we learn about the eternally human. We learn humanism.

Now I suspect, at least in the context in which we find ourselves here today, that some mutter: Oh, all this talk about the Human, about Humanism, this talk about Let’s stop polarizing and instead unite – isn’t there soon a risk that I suggest that we should all start singing “We shall overcome”?

Oh no – I won’t do that. Because it is important to distinguish between a watered-down humanism and a blood-filled one. The watered-down, non-committal humanism, it ignores circumstances and injustices. Instead, it likes to talk about tolerance. Ekerwald writes about this word of honour of our time in the book “Diogenes’ lantern” from 1983, the decade when neoliberalism really broke through in Sweden, where he writes like this: “There is a tolerance of condescension. Let them keep going… soon they get tired. Or – just keep talking… it will still be the way we want it to be. Tolerance – as a safety valve in society. Institutionalized by the indifferent.”

The keynote of tolerance is “you don’t concern me; I do not care. Take care of your own business and don’t mind others”. Tolerant is someone who says “my children and other people’s kids” – for them, completely different things apply indirectly. And sure, they may have completely different conditions, but some conditions are better, and others are worse for a person to be able to enjoy life.

Tolerance, indifference, is based on the fact that we know nothing about what is better and what is worse. That I can’t know anything about what you need or you anything about what I need. Everything goes!

In an essay on the Marxist Lukács, Ekerwald writes about that attitude within traditional literary research. This is how he writes: “Do you think that Konstanze is behaving properly? – What a question? Everyone lives their life, isolated from others, enclosed in the lead sheath of subjectivity – who can then take a stand on what Konstanze or anyone else is doing. Everything is ultimately incomprehensible, and powerlessness is the word that comes closest to the truth about man. It is against such a resigned, anti-life attitude that Lukács rises up with all his knowledge and with all his experience.”

And in this Lukács has a comrade in Ekerwald. He says that things can be understood, that man can be understood.

The opposite of tolerance is not punishment and prohibition against, or cancellation of, those who hold different views than us, against those who have different customs than us, those who deal with life in different ways than us. The opposite is commitment and struggle to convince, to get people on our side. Blood-filled humanism says that there are circumstances that enable people to flourish. And there are circumstances that make it difficult, if not impossible.

It requires us to be honest and open with our worldview, our view of human beings and what we believe constitutes a good life. That we don’t hide behind the tolerance that borders on indifference, and that says I can’t know anything about you and what you need.

In the book “Diogenes’ lantern”, Ekerwald also writes about when this 4th-century Greek philosopher went out with his lighted lantern even though it was broad daylight. He writes that he believes that what Diogenes was looking for was not a tolerant but a sincere human being. An undisguised one.

And then you can say: how lucky Diogenes found Carl-Göran Ekerwald! It is true that it took 2400 years, and perhaps it was Ekerwald who found Diogenes and not the other way around. But still – good meeting.

To me, Ekerwald appears as a sincere person. It is noticeable both in what he writes about; he really wants to know something himself about Horace or about Jämtar1 or about Goethe. And it shows in the way he writes, his style. Ekerwald does not use the words as if they were flags that should signal something. Signal “I keep up with the times”, or “I belong to this camp”. At one time, perhaps such signal words were “production conditions” and “surplus value”. Today they are “brown bodies”, “tolerance”, “inclusion”.

But the words Ekerwald uses don’t work that way. The words he uses he uses because he needs them; they come from within. It can be big words, abstract, solemn, existential. Heavenly words. But they are combined with the concrete earth words.

There is no showmanship in his texts – even though I find it hard to believe that there are many people in Sweden who are as cultivated and as skilled in languages and as well-read as he is. It’s as if he, “man of culture” as he is, has a very small ego.

In Johan Lovén’s interview book with Ekerwald, The Time Witness in Svindalen, Lovén gives him an offer to be what he calls a “time witness” (Ekerwald himself does not want to claim to be this). Lovén suggests that Ekerwald is the kind of honourable person who “dares to say what is uncomfortable when others remain silent for one reason or another?” Ekerwald answers: “The honourable thing lies primarily in the fact that you say something that your fellow human beings take to heart as a stimulus to intellectual vitality. It does not mean that you, as a reader, are in favour of a certain opinion that the time witness argued, but that your thinking has been put in motion. You have been vitalized in your mindset.”

He, this cultivated man, also dares to be childishly amazed, as when he writes in an essay: “That which for man is such an immensely pleasant condition, namely, to inhale air after exhaling, must for a whale that has held its breath perhaps a little over half an hour be extremely pleasant.” You haven’t thought of that, have you? What is it like to breathe in if you are a whale?

Ekerwald is not, it seems to me, that fond of writing theory or making generalizations. But I am, and since I am, I will end here by making a reducing generalization of something that I think I have glimpsed in Ekerwald’s always concrete embodiments of the question of life and meaning.

Like this: In relation to what makes life meaningful, people can take two different positions. Some think that what puts life in a flashlight and makes us understand what it’s all about, what the meaning is – it’s the exceptions, the unusual. It is the ecstasy, death, the party, the battle, the speed. Others think that it is the everyday life, the plod, that gives life meaning. The sun that rises every morning, the daily bread, the daily work, the still and small. The blade of grass. Maybe it has a dewdrop on it this morning?

It is probably not any conscious, intellectual decisions that lie behind which of these two positions a person takes. It’s probably a matter of temperament.

My temperament is such that I like to give answers. So, how should we live? We must existentially try to live so that we create “a love relationship with life”, which is a formulation Ekerwald uses in his essay on Nietzsche. We must live politically so that we give all people at least an opportunity to create a love relationship with life.

Ekerwald is a great help in both cases. Congratulations Carl-Göran!

1 Inhabitants of the Swedish province Jämtland.

Aleksej Sachnin’s acceptance speech