Remarks To The Royal Academy Upon My Accepting The Nobel Prize In Not Writing
Excerpt from the acceptance speech delivered to the Swedish Academy, Stockholm, Sweden, December 14, 2019
My dear friends, it is with tremendous gratitude and pleasure that I accept this year’s Nobel Prize in Not Writing.
I wish first to thank the Academy for bestowing upon our beloved art its own award. While surely it is vital that we celebrate Literature, we must also understand that Not Writing is at the very essence of Literature. Literature is not “writing.” No, Literature is “having written.” Writing, as any reasonable person would agree, is a dismal and loathsome struggle only endured through boundless interludes of Not Writing. This is my life’s passion, and that you designate me as an exemplar in such a distinguished field fills me with indescribable joy.
I borrow only loosely from Faulkner when I say that this most sacred honor is given not to me as a person, but to my work, or, more accurately, my almost complete lack thereof. For it is deeply humbling to be granted an award that not only acknowledges but also celebrates the commitments that our craft demands: the submission to laziness, the selfless repudiation of fame, the willful, even reckless, surrender to mindless distraction. These, of course, are the foundational pillars of Not Writing.
Happily, we find our craft enjoying an unprecedented state of robust health. Never before have so many writing surfaces remained a vast, virginal white. Never have so many Moleskins been purchased with great hope, so many Google Docs opened in bright optimism, and yet, in the end, so many minor household chores tended to instead. Never have so many been touched by an idea, paused to bask in the glow of self-satisfaction, and then watched a YouTube montage of game show bloopers. Let us cherish that.
But while our time in history is richly favorable to the pursuit of Not Writing, it is crucial that we remember the hardships of our past. A time of enormous privation. Before Netflix. Before the Internet. Before Candy Crush. Before the floodgates of online pornography burst open and issued forth torrents of endless diversion. Think of it; only a few decades ago one had to actually get up and walk across the room to change the channel on a television set in order to Not Write. What a test of will it was back then to summon the requisite inertia, the self-loathing, the dearth of resolve — the crucial, cherished elements of Not Writing that we seem to take for granted today. May we never forget the great trials of yesterday.
But my duty as Nobel laureate is not to gaze backward, it is to look ahead, to challenge us to broaden our understanding of Not Writing. To examine what it contributes to our culture. We need to move beyond the notion that our work is simply a matter of indulgent sloth and endless procrastination. Could it not be something more noble? For is it not an act of moral generosity to withhold from the world something that, let’s be honest, it probably doesn’t want in the first place? Might our indolence and undermining self-doubt more correctly be viewed as kindness, or dare I say, even grace?
As an example of true genius, we are naturally inspired by the undisputed titan of our field. Our lodestar. I speak, obviously, of Thomas Bernhard’s Rudolf, who spent ten years Not Writing the first sentence of his book. Ten years. Remember this feat of heroism. Remember that there is no dream that cannot be deferred. Remember that there is nothing that cannot be not written.