State visit to Portugal: Book launch
Dear friends of literature,
Yesterday, many of us watched a theatre performance, which was a good example of successful Portuguese-Norwegian cooperation. It was a lively and innovative performance, which was, actually, written by three young dramatists from our two countries. In this sense it contrasted with the Tower of Babel, which it referred to. I understand, however, that Babel will be the title of the next collaborative project between Artistas Unidos and The Open Theatre. This is a strong partnership that can already look back on five years of fruitful cooperation. Bravo!
Language is the key to understanding between cultures across national borders. Literature is an important tool in this connection, and translators play a major role. To highlight the great importance of translation from one language to another – I would like to quote José Saramago: “An author can create national literature, but it is translators who create world literature.” The Nobel Prize Laureate would know - he has worked as a translator himself.
Thanks to the linguistic skills of translators we are able to fill our book shelves with world literature and see world drama performed at our local theatres.
In the world of drama, 2006 was Henrik Ibsen’s Year. The centenary of the great playwright’s death gave an excellent opportunity to take a fresh look at his plays, his characters and the issues he wrote about. The response was huge. Theatres in some 70 countries in every continent produced at least one of his plays. Ibsen was also performed here in Portugal.
The challenge was directed to around 20 young playwrights, who were asked to write a short text inspired by Ibsen’s words: “To me freedom is the first and the highest of life’s conditions.” 2006 also saw the publication of the first volume of Ibsen’s collected works in Portuguese. Today is the launch of the second volume, which contains some of his best known plays, such as The Wild Duck and The Lady from the Sea.
Jon Fosse is one of contemporary Norwegian playwrights with a worldwide reputation. He works in a wide range of literary genres, has been translated into more than 40 languages. Over the years, Fosse has developed a faithful audience in Portugal. Today, his play Eg er vinden (I, the wind) is being launched in Portuguese. In the play two unnamed men talk about life and death onboard a boat. But Fosse’s dialogues are more than just words; the pauses – the unspoken words – are equally important.
In their different ways, Ibsen and Fosse address timeless aspects of the human condition, whether the drama takes place in a bourgeois parlour or on a bare stage. We recognise ourselves in the characters. But when it comes to Portugal, there is perhaps another common denominator: the writers’ fascination with the sea as a symbol of freedom and eternity. In this respect we have something in common.
Publication of books and translations from one language to another are all part of the modern book industry. In Norway we even have an institution – NORLA (Norwegian Literature Abroad) – that is dedicated to promoting Norwegian authors in other countries.
To illustrate that this is an area where change has been for the better, I would like to conclude with a quotation from our national poet, Henrik Wergeland, whose 200th anniversary is being celebrated this year. In his time the Norwegian poets were searching for a “Norwegian voice” at the same time as they were following international developments closely. They were good linguists and could read at least German, French and English but who reads Norwegian books? Their contemporaries in the rest of Scandinavia – yes, - but no one else. Wergeland bemoans this state of affairs in his poem Follow the Call, comparing himself with a captured, injured eagle
Of a little nation born
In a spot remote, forlorn,
With a speech
Which can never further reach
Than the uttered breath may go
(G.M. Gathorne-Hardy, 1920s)
Let us be cheered by the fact that today, the situation Wergeland describes exists no longer! These events involving both Portuguese and Norwegian writers are a clear testimony to this fact. I wish you all every success in your collaborations – both on stage and on the printed page.