Once upon a time, Western societies had a clear story. It was Christian, patriarchal and imperialist, based on the biblical injunction “subjugate the earth”. Countless people suffered from the consequences of this story, and this suffering was exposed and examined by writers seeking to describe or even end it and to open new perspectives.
But economic crises, the climate emergency and the Corona pandemic make clear that this story no longer corresponds to the world we experience. The story of the West has pretty much fallen apart. Social activists have demanded its destruction, scientists attacked its foundations, philosophers exposed its prejudices. This has been a historic victory for reason and justice, but it has also undermined the sense of purpose these societies once had. If social conventions are not to be respected, if technological progress leads to environmental catastrophe, if common goals are just another mask of corporate power, then one logical reaction is a retreat into individualist narratives and narcissism.
What does that mean for storytellers? Is it possible to tell stories that no longer resonate with the public, no longer address a shared sense of purpose, or of good and evil? And what role, if any, can storytellers play in finding a common social purpose in times of crisis?
The State of European Literature is part of the European Literature Night. The European Literature Night is organized by EUNIC Netherlands, part of the network of European national institutes of culture and national bodies engaged in cultural activities, and was made possible by the European Commission. The State of European Literature is a joined initiative of the University of Amsterdam, Faculty of Humanities and the Amsterdam Center for European Studies (ACES) in collaboration with OSL (Onderzoeksschool Literatuurwetenschap) and SPUI25. For more information, click here.
Philipp Blom is a historian and author of several novels, journalism, politics, and philosophy. He also works as radio presenter, documentary film maker and public lecturer. Philipp Blom’s books combine historical research, philosophical enquiry and an essayistic, literary approach. Among his best-selling works are The Vertigo Years and Fracture, dealing with the cultural history of the early twentieth century, A Wicked Company, about the radical Enlightenment, Nature’s Mutiny, an investigation into history and climate change in the seventeenth century and, more recently, What is at Stake, dealing with climate change, digitization, and democracy. Blom’s wide-ranging work and research interests have received numerous accolades.
Guido Snel (moderator) is a writer, translator, and assistant professor of European Studies at the University of Amsterdam. Recently he published Naar Istanbul (2014, non-fiction), Huis voor het hiernamaals (2016, stories), De mirreberg (2018, novel). He publishes at De Arbeiderspers.
Margot Dijkgraaf (moderator) is a literature critic, author and ‘ambassador of French literature in the Netherlands’ and vice versa. She was director of the Centre Français du livre at Maison Descartes, director of SPUI25 and intendant literature at the Dutch embassy in Paris. Amongst her publications are Franstalige literatuur van nu (2003), Spiegelbeeld en schaduwspel. Het oeuvre van Hella S. Haasse (2014) and Lezen in Frankrijk. Een literaire tour de France (2018). Recently she published Zij namen het woord. Rebelse schrijfsters in de Franse letteren (Atlas Contact). Upcoming is Met Parijse pen. Literaire omzwervingen (Uitgeverij Boom), a collaboration with photographer Bart Koetsier.
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