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Writing and reading Europe

Thursday, 8 May, 2014

Can writers help establish a European identity? Or do authors reinforce borders? Is it possible to have a common European literature without a common language? More than 30 writers from 25 countries will debate these questions today and tomorrow in Berlin at a conference titled Is the European Dream Still Alive? Before they ponder these weighty issues, they might give some thought to what Julio Cortázar, the Argentine novelist and short-story writer, had to say about European writing:

“All European writers are ‘slaves of their baptism,’ if I may paraphrase Rimbaud; like it or not, their writing carries baggage from an immense and almost frightening tradition; they accept that tradition or they fight against it, it inhabits them, it is their familiar and their succubus. Why write, if everything has, in a way, already been said? Gide observed sardonically that since nobody listened, everything has to be said again, yet a suspicion of guilt and superfluity leads the European intellectual to the most extreme refinements of his trade and tools, the only way to avoid paths too much traveled. Thus the enthusiasm that greets novelties, the uproar when a writer has succeeded in giving substance to a new slice of the invisible; merely recall symbolism, surrealism, the ‘nouveau roman’: finally something truly new that neither Ronsard, nor Stendahl , nor Proust imagined. For a moment we can put aside our guilt; even the epigones begin too believe they are doing something new. Afterwards, slowly, they begin to feel European again and each writer still has his albatross around his neck.”

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