IAS Guest Olga Tokarczuk bestowed an honorary degree by Tel Aviv University

Nobel Laureate Polish Author Olga Tokarczuk was awarded an honorary degree by Tel Aviv University for her accomplishments as a world-renowned author and social activist.

Prof. Marek Karliner (IAS Director), Prof. Galili Shahar and IAS Guest Nobel Prize Laureate Olga Tokarczuk, 23.4.23, Beit Ariela, Tel Aviv-Jaffa.

Prof. Marek Karliner (IAS Director), Prof. Galili Shahar and IAS Guest Nobel Prize Laureate Olga Tokarczuk, 23.4.23, Beit Ariela, Tel Aviv-Jaffa.


On the occasion of the 2023 Board of Governors meeting on Thursday (May 18, 2023), Sackler Fellow for the academic year 2022/2023 Olga Tokarczuk, was bestowed an honorary degree. Nobel Prize laureate in literature, Tokarczuk was honored in recognition of her accomplishments as a world-renowned author and social activist.


In her address during the ceremony, Tokarczuk talked about the notion of truth and how “these days, standing up for the truth is a major challenge”. “For a long time now”, she explained, “the mass of accumulated knowledge has been so vast that the individual human mind is no longer capable of embracing it”. She stressed the importance of making knowledge accessible to all, but also raised the challenges it brought: “Making knowledge widely accessible also gives rise to the risk of it being used in a cynical or deceptive way, to produce pseudo-theories and fake news, substantiated by social media and the hallucinations of the AI”. She warned that when knowledge is painful, frightening or outrageous to people, even if based on scientific sources at their disposal, it faces rejection and that “one day, these false-narratives could become literary dangerous”. “People preferring, whether consciously or not, to remain in ignorance and to close their eyes to what they find inconvenient”, she added. 


Tokarczuk also mentioned the new challenges that the academy is now facing with the expansion of knowledge, shifting from traditionally fostered single-discipline and specialized studies, to now fusing the boundaries of sectors and disciplines with the emergence of new interdisciplinary fields. “A new tree of knowledge [is emerging], where all academic disciplines supplement one another, each branch of knowledge is essential and cannot be excluded”. She went on to thank Tel Aviv University for granting her the honorary degree. “Today I feel honored that literature, in other words, a field that is quite remote from the main challenges of the university, is being given the opportunity to be ranked around Science. Literature too has a voice to offer, in providing an account of the world”.


At a public conversation with Nobel Prize Laureate in Literature Olga Tokarczuk, 23.4.23, Beit Ariela, Tel Aviv-Jaffa.


During the ceremony, it was mentioned that as a social activist, Tokarczuk worked to ensure that Poland recognized the crimes committed against Jews during the Holocaust and to raise awareness of the difficult situation of refugees in the present day. Tokarczuk is also a defender of animal rights and an environmentalist, topics close to her heart that she tries to raise through her writing. However, Tokarczuk does not identify herself as an activist personally, as she said to the Jerusalem Post before the ceremony: “I would not say that I am an activist. I am in fact quite a shy and introverted writer. It only shows that the text, the language, the story can be used as a weapon for fighting. I am happy that my writing and my books are treated as important ideas to [serve] good things”. 


Tokarczuk also stressed to the Jerusalem Post, how after receiving several esteemed awards, still this ceremony was special for her. “It is exciting because of the place, Tel Aviv University where I spent the last two months on the [IAS] fellowship. This is a very special place for me because my book [her magnum opus “The Books of Jacob”], was devoted to Polish-Jewish relationships in the past, in the History”. “My book”, she added, “thanks to Israeli readers, became universal. So, this is a very special ceremony for me today”. 


During a public conversation that took place in April at the central public library Beit Ariela (Tel Aviv), in the framework of her fellowship, Tokarczuk told that the translation process of “The Books of Jacob” from Polish to Hebrew was crucial in the book’s history. During the translation project, her Hebrew editors greatly contributed to the historic verification of the novel, giving essential insights that reshaped some parts of the novel to the extent that, the Hebrew version of the book is now considered “copy zero” -  used for translation to other languages.  

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