Edinburgh World Writers' Conference » France http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org The website for the 2012-13 Edinburgh World Writers' Conference Thu, 31 Oct 2013 16:37:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.5.2 EWWC Highlights Film http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/all-presentations/ewwc-highlights/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/all-presentations/ewwc-highlights/#comments Thu, 12 Sep 2013 15:43:51 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=5435 EWWC Highlights Film Watch this video showcasing the highlights of the festival throughout the past year]]> Watch this video showcasing the highlights of the EWWC festival throughout the past year, and read more about the Conference on our About the Conference page. ]]> http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/all-presentations/ewwc-highlights/feed/ 0 Literary Orderlies & Specialists of the Unknown: A Dispatch from EWWC St Malo http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/style-vs-content/literary-orderlies-specialists-of-the-unknown-a-dispatch-from-ewwc-st-malo/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/style-vs-content/literary-orderlies-specialists-of-the-unknown-a-dispatch-from-ewwc-st-malo/#comments Thu, 06 Jun 2013 12:10:39 +0000 tanyaandrews http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=4830 Ben McConnell attended the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference in St Malo, 20 – 22nd May 2013.

Photo: Gael-FestEV

Sansal giving his keynote speech on Censorship Today
Photo: Gael-FestEV

For more than twenty years, the literary & film festival Étonnants-Voyageurs has summoned francophone writers from far and wide to join in the sleepy seaside medieval city of Saint-Malo to discuss the vital elements of their craft.  Inspired by such fathers of travel writing as Stevenson and Conrad, its founder, Michel Le Bris, chose to create an international forum surrounding the ideas of travel literature and of a world literature.

Over the course of three days of intense debates, lectures, and literary cafes some two hundred writers gathered under this year’s theme of “Le monde qui vient” (The world to come) and were joined by an enthusiastic audience of many thousands.   Despite the typically wet Breton weather there was a palpable energy in the air.  Throughout the city each evening one could recognize huddled groups of writers smoking and conversing beneath awnings or gathered in leaning old bars engaged in animated conversation.  The structure and formality of the day’s events seemed to spill over into a jovial nightlife sparking  discussions between writers and readers alike.

The Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference series of five debates were hosted in the Palais Du Grand Large overlooking the English Channel and the old Fort National.  Saturday, Algerian author Boualem Sansal, whose books are currently banned in his homeland, introduced the first debate, Censorship Today.  Sansal spoke of censorship historically and psychologically, but returned again and again to the climate of Islamic fundamentalism that he fears is hastily blotting out freedom of expression in the Arab world.  Sansal related with absurdist humor being awarded the 2012 Éditions Gallimard Arabic Novel Prize for his book “Rue Darwin” only to have it revoked before the fifteen thousand Euro prize had been delivered.  Although no one would admit to it, this was clearly a reaction by the Arab Ambassadors Council to his having attended the Jerusalem Writers’ Festival earlier in the year.  Sansal said, “I went to Israel on principle, to demonstrate my power as a free man who does not obey orders.”  He was told his award ceremony was indefinitely ‘postponed.’  Later, the entire jury resigned in protest, and a wealthy Swiss offered Sansal an equivalent consolation prize which he then donated to the A Heart For Peace foundation.  Together with the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem they finance costly cardiac surgery for Palestinian children living in the West Bank.

“Ironically”, said Sansal, “silence has become a form of freedom; saying nothing is saying it all but it is also depriving yourself of any action, while the struggle for freedom requires, first and foremost, a practical commitment.”  But at what cost?

Julien Mabiala Bissila from Brazzaville spoke of the violent censorship occurring at home, where it’s “safer to shut up” than risk imprisonment or mutilation.  French writer Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès mentioned that in a democracy such as France, censorship exists through financial groups and its partners, making it more insidious and therefore more accepted.

The next day began with Velibor Colic introducing the debate on National Literature.  Colic is from Bosnia, where he has witnessed first hand the inherent dangers and devastating consequences of nationalistic thinking.  He believes that while a nationalist literature’s role in war is never direct, it points the finger at the ‘other’, the ‘enemy’, and strengthens the dualisms which are necessary to war’s very existence.   This kind of literature may even replace history in the popular consciousness, as in Serbia where certain nationalistic novels were actually taught in schools as history proper.  Not only does this type of literature dehumanize the so-called enemy, but the writer as well, reducing her to a mere tool of propaganda.

Colic declared, “This confusion between genres, between history and literature, was a tragedy.  For everyone.  The distinction between myth and reality lies in intelligence and common sense, in the ability to distance oneself and to reason…   But, unfortunately, new national literatures work on an emotional and a collective level, they inexplicably erode convictions that were set in stone.  And at that point, there is but a step between national and nationalistic literature.”

Amongst those present at this debate, it seemed relatively safe to assume that most were in accord with Colic’s sentiments, but it was impressive to hear them uttered by a man whose home had been burned, and life turned upside down all in the name of nationalism.  He hopes that, “After the era of politics, which is only a perverted game that we will eventually have to put an end to, and after the era of crazy and bloodthirsty national bards, will come the era of literature.  A nomad and human literature, a mobile and multicultural literature, disheveled, undisciplined, without visas and without passports.”

The second debate that day was Style vs. Content, hosted by French-Tunisian writer, Hubert Haddad, who opened with a poetic (if not esoteric) introductory speech, itself highly stylized, infused with paradox.   Haddad’s conviction that “Only literature gives reality its full dimension, at the same time allusive, lethal, unpredictable, marvellous, and wildly open to interpretation…” seemed to equally apply to his own words as well.

Haddad argued that both style and content were inexorably bound saying that “Only literature gives reality its full dimension” and discounted factual description as a means of conveying anything intimate or crucial.  With sincere passion, Haddad delivered mystical proclamations such as “Literature is just reality becoming aware of itself in its enigmatic, symbolic and secular activity.” and “The origin of the world is to be found in the mind of a poet admiring Courbet’s painting or the depths of the Milky Way.”

Haddad scoffed at Norman Mailer’s opinion that “Style is an instrument, not an end in itself.” retaliating, “Only a literary orderly could say that.  If style is an instrument then Proust and Rimbaud are operating theatres.  No, style is no more an instrument than art, in and of itself, would be an ‘instrument of propaganda and education.’  On the contrary, it distorts all instrumentations and is life itself, replicated ad infinitum in the mysteries of language.”

Haddad closed his speech with a quote from Emily Dickinson, “the magic scribbler, for she alone, beyond language and beyond all authoritative pronouncements, uttered the only truth; for what, really, is style?”

A something in a summer’s Day

As slow her flambeaux burn away

Haddad’s lofty sentiments left some scratching their heads and even agitated, such as Mbarek Beyrouk who said, “I don’t understand this.  Literature has to be magic, instinctive, and from the guts!” which was met with broad applause.  And Azouz Begag, who grew up in a shanty town with illiterate parents, responded, “I really believe if you can dig through the different layers [of your heart] and extract a book from it, it works.  I’ve never worried about style.”  I don’t believe these convictions were at all at odds with Haddad’s, but afterwards Haddad simply stood up and walked out.

Style is a slippery topic indeed, difficult to gain a toehold on and open to infinite definition; however, Haddad delivered the best that any of us could hope to do: he offered a poem full of wonder, passion, and the very mystery of existence.  The highest poetry does not answer any question or posit a belief, however, it also doesn’t leave much to say afterwards.  If just for a moment, I relished the reigning silence which resonated across the sea like a temple bell.

Photo: Gael-FestEV

Rahimi at St Malo
Photo: Gael-FestEV

The third and final day of the festival began with Atiq Rahimi: Should literature be political?  Rahimi related his personal history as a former member of the Afghan resistance in the 80’s, and the complications of having a communist brother – continually threatened by radicals, and later killed.  Rahimi’s novel, Earth and Ashes, was his way of dealing with his brother’s death.

Throughout his keynote speech, Rahimi reiterated a theme that had been present throughout the entire conference: that literature must first come from a sincere depth, an ‘inner experience’, which compels the writer to express himself out of a necessity.  This in a way transcends the concepts of politics, style, nationalism, and censorship (these are all afterthoughts in the creative process), but at the same time does not exclude them.

The closing debate of the EWWC conference was on the future of the novel, introduced by Étonnants-Voyageurs’ Michel Le Bris. Le Bris spoke of some of the difficulties that we as a society face at this transitional point in our history, with television, Internet, and so many other technologies competing for our ever-diminishing attention span. But he was equally optimistic, saying, “The only specialists of the unknown that I am aware of are precisely artists and writers.  As a result, they are needed with a renewed and special urgency in this period of momentous change of ours.  Thus it is that the novel form is critical to our times.”

Throughout the weekend, the festival and the EWWC debates in particular were an intense source of high-caliber literary discussion. Revisiting the original debate topics from the Edinburgh International Writers’ Conference in 1962 provided not only a sense of where we’ve come from, but where we might be headed as well.  Also, as a native English speaker – and I admit, I read mostly in English – I was delighted to discover several very impressive French writers whom I look forward to reading – in French of course.

Ben McConnell, 5 June 2013

Click here for a photo album of the weekend’s events in St Malo. You can browse all the keynote speeches from the French edition of the Conference here.

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Le Bris in France – The Future of the Novel http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/le-bris-in-france-the-future-of-the-novel/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/le-bris-in-france-the-future-of-the-novel/#comments Mon, 20 May 2013 13:38:50 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=4733 © Michel Le BrisThe Future of the Novel

Keynote address given by Michel Le Bris

First presented at EWWC St Malo, France

Michel Le Bris keynote text: “The Future of the Novel”

What is the future for the novel?  A very dark one, and perhaps none at all, a view expressed with grave concern by the most highly regarded critics at a time when we all sense that we are entering, with the new century, a period of momentous change.  How could we fail to perceive that the new era brings with it a new sensibility and fundamental changes in our mental bearings? Standing on the threshold of a new century…Fear not: I speak of course to the dying days of the 19th century and the start of the troubling 20th century.  In 1891, Jules Romain had prophesised the ‘end of the novel form’. The same year Ludovic Halévy agreed, ‘All novel genres have been exhausted’. Edouard Rod then added, ‘The novel has no future’. In 1905 Jean Lorrain observed, ‘The French novel is dead; killed by journalism.’ Maurice Leblond, the very same year, qualified the verdict, saying ‘the novel was in its death throes’, ‘a victim of these industrial times when the launch of a book is not dramatically different from, say, the launch a new cocktail, or quinine drink’. Or, as Lucien Maury was to claim in 1907, it had fallen victim to ‘parisianism; snobbism, a mix of cruel and light irony, dryness of sentiment and moral scepticism’.

In short, as Camille Audigier railed in 1911, we have had enough of these ‘adulterous mondaines and swooning neurasthenics’, enough of this ‘agitation and theatricality’, chimed in Louis Bertrand in 1912.  It seemed as if there was nothing left to rejoice over. Gide, when asked by a major newspaper in 1913 to name his ten favourite French novels, wondered if French letters could even lay claim to the novel as a form.

This long preamble is in fact intended to urge us all to take an optimistic view: all of this took place a century ago, and we are still here.

We continue to ponder, question and argue just as passionately as we did then, often in the same terms.  So much so that one could hold that the novel form thrives in times of crisis, and that concern over its future is a sign of its good health…                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Indeed it was then that some new voices emerged: Marcel Schwob, discovering the work of Stevenson ‘in the flickering light of a railroad lamp’, found what was might be expected of the times : an adventure novel that wove together the ‘crisis of the inner and outer worlds’ ;  Camille Mauclair saw in it the Novel of Tomorrow, free from social determinism à la Zola and individual psychology à la Barrès ; André Gide discovered Conrad and undertook to translate Typhoon, in 1913 Jacques Rivière published his spectacular ‘Adventure Novel’ in three instalments in NRF, in the form of a manifesto.  Then came Plon’s ‘Feux croisés’ collection, Stock’s ‘Cosmopolitan Cabinet’ and ‘Scandinavian Library’.  So that just when many were lamenting the novel as a lost cause, French readers were able to discover, in rapid succession, the likes of Dostoyevsky, Melville, Thomas Mann, Rilke, Hamsun, Kafka, Henry James, Kipling, James Joyce, Pirandello, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, Conrad – in other words, proof of the amazing ability of fiction to relate the world in the very process of becoming.  A new generation of French writers followed, many of them travel writers, keen to take to the road.

One might wonder if it is not precisely in periods of crisis and profound change that fiction deploys its full power. Suffice it to think of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, or Journey to the End of the Night by Celine. The debates and controversies are strangely familiar; they took place a century ago, but ring just as true today. So there are grounds for optimism.

But what precisely can we be optimistic about? If the talk is about the Internet, digitisation or the programmed obsolescence of paper, it is always predicated on the assumption that the globalised market leads to fatal outcomes.  There are writers who, having initiated these debates in other festivals, have gotten bogged down in them. I know that the digital revolution will have an impact on the form of works through the new opportunities it creates – in terms of images, sound, branching, interactive media just to name a few – not to mention  the huge potential it holds for places like Africa where books struggle to survive.

As we know, new literary forms are emerging, notwithstanding the medium of production, whether paper or digital; these are made up of a blending of previously separate genres – fiction, storytelling, essays –in a shifting and dynamic balance, as if the ability to switch between genres compensated for the ever-present risk of the others failing to deliver. Back in 1992, when I was director of the ‘Voyageurs’ (Travellers) collection with the Payot publishing house, we published John MacPhee, the pioneer of a new genre that would become known as ‘creative nonfiction’, and that has finally, it seems, been discovered in France.  There was an extensive session dedicated to creative non-fiction yesterday. This, I believe, shows just how important these developments are. However, and this might come as a surprise, as important as they may be, I believe they are secondary, in that they come after what is essential. What I mean by essential is the ability to perceive what is at stake in novel writing, therefore, to understand why the novel form is more necessary today than ever before.

In 1990, when I created the Etonnants Voyageurs Festival, which owes its name to a well-known Baudelaire poem, it was survival instinct on my part : I opened a space in which I, as a writer, could breathe freely, standing in resolute opposition to the literary fashions that were then ruling over the French literary scene: both an avant-garde ideology that postulated that literature had but one object: itself, thus reducing it to nothing but formal play – a play on words, and also the other vogue of marvelling in the contemplation of one’s own navel as the one and only centre of the world. As for me, I wanted to assert that never has literature been as strong, as alive and as necessary as when it has taken on relating the world.

A world was disappearing, this I felt with great intensity, as my generation had dreamed of ‘doing away with the old world’.  I lived very intensely through the lovely days of May 1968 in Paris.  The shock waves of this movement, that took various forms and acquired a global dimension, had shaken the whole edifice, toppling the ideologies that the reigning thinking gurus claimed covered ‘the whole range of thought’. It carried our most trusted reference points and most of our certainties away– save for one that led to the birth of Etonnants Voyageurs: that only artists and writers can delve into the unknown and give it a voice. Thus it always is. The pundits had failed to foresee the events of May 1968 – remember the infamous words of the most famous editorialist from Le Monde, ‘France is bored’, a pronouncement made just 13days before the start of the events –  yet the movement had  already been in the works for a decade, through music, comics, science fiction and everything we call “counter-culture”. All the worthy pundits, be they specialists in politics, economy, and sociology et al. had been deaf and blind to it, as they are again today. Pundits are by definition specialists of what is already known, and are thus the least competent in perceiving novelty and breaks.  Better to listen to Bob Dylan that to read editorials in Le Monde if one wanted to understand the rising tide of the 60s!  The only specialists of the unknown that I am aware of are precisely artists and writers.  As a result, they are needed with a renewed and special urgency in this period of momentous change of ours.  Thus it is that the novel form is critical to our times.

Possibly even more than one imagines. For the change we are undergoing is completely singular. We have thought for centuries in terms of stable categories: nation-states, territories, borders, foreign/domestic oppositions, families, communities, identities but also concepts. It may well be that the world to come very quickly forces us to ditch stable categories and to risk ourselves into moving thought, in other words, as the Indian philosopher Arjun Appadurai puts it, in Modernity at Large, forces us into thinking in terms of flows and no longer in terms of structures.

Flows of population, whether voluntary or imposed, greater than ever the world has known, flows of capital, flows of images, flows of sounds, flows of information: we must acknowledge the fact that they have overwhelmed all the structures which up to now attempted to contain or regulate them. They are followed by fantastic cultural collisions: a veritable maelstrom in which an old world expires while a new one is being born, the outlines of which we can hardly perceive, even though we know it will force us to rethink our mental coordinates. It is becoming vital for individual and collective imaginations both to get back to centre stage, in terms of power of creation.

We are entering a world in which it is not exaggerated to say that someone born into a culture will be led to live in another, or that a second generation immigrant will be torn apart between two worlds or two cultures. In fact this can occur within one’s own country, thanks to the acceleration of transfers of rural populations with traditional cultures to tradition-crushing, family-rending megalopolises, which in their turn are also sources of new social behaviours and new cultures- in short a world in which imaginary, flowing, perpetually renewed plural communities will be born, will constantly change and will disappear. But it is also a world in which everyone, standing at a crossroads of multiple identities, will find themselves forced to invent a “personal story” in order to make sense of themselves, which will make a coherent whole of this multiplicity.

It is a dangerous world in which the imagination will be challenged, at the risk of hankering after nostalgic roots, be they real or fantasised, after illusory homelands, all the more murderous as they are disconnected from reality, after dreamt-of undivided communities, in which we can be “among ourselves”, delivered from the tragedy of history, when one wants to reject the new world with all one’s might, which, not far from us, is what they call ethnic cleansing or delusional identity wishes or genocidal mania.

But it is also a fascinating world in which creative fiction will play a central part, something that Arjun Appadurai appears to overlook in his essay, perhaps because of his perspective as a sociologist. For what is literature if not the creation of worlds, the crisscrossing of multiple voices, the questioning, in its very movement, of the certainties of identity? Of course, it is form, but contrary to conceptual thought, it is open, and therefore at the origin of “togetherness”. It stands at the crossroads of uniqueness and multiplicity and stubbornly tries to take up the gamble of nomadic thought- it is, in action, the very thought of flow. It explores a flowing space in which the inside and the outside become interchangeable and in which the self can deconstruct and reconstruct itself. Thus literature- and particularly the novel- stand more than ever at the core of what the world to come holds at stake.

Fiction is once again centre stage. It is striking that the social sciences and literature are tackling similar issues, after a period during which these disciplines attempted to displace literature, to take its place and place it behind bars.  Do we learn less from Conrad and Stevenson about the tropics than we do from Malinowski or about man in society from Proust and Chateaubriand than from Lévi-Strauss? Why do writers do a better job of telling us about the world than recognized anthropologists?  Alan Bensa and François Pouillon, both anthropologists, raise this question in their collective work titled Terrains d’écrivains (‘Land of writers’).  Sylvie Laurent, a historian fascinated by the TV series The Wire, writing for the magazine Esprit, asks: ’What if fiction were closer to the truth than the social sciences?’ An idea apparently appealing to sociologists, since David Simon, the author of the series, gets invited to lecture at Harvard. Why do psychoanalysts, whose knowledge is often tinged with arrogance, quote so liberally from literary works, although they are not writers? This is the question that the psychoanalyst Pierre Bayard asks in his book ‘Peut-on appliquer la littérature à la psychanalyse’ ? (Can literature be applied to psychoanalysis?)  It is almost as though literature holds a form of knowledge that psychoanalysis is eternally searching for but unable to reach – the very topic of another recent book on Freud and writers. In a book that just came out, fifteen young historians ponder the question ‘What are historians thinking about?’, working under the guidance of Christophe Granger. Well, about literature, of course, ‘to the point of obsession’, expresses with dismay a critic from Le Monde. It has taken on an obsessional dimension: through various colloquia – ‘History and Literature’ in Lyon, at the Collège de France, at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes, at the CNRS (National Centre for Scientific Research) – while the journal Sciences humaines devoted a special issue to ‘Literature, window on the world’. Not to mention all the philosophers who have reflected on the power of literature, such as Pierre Cassou-Noguès, who takes it quite far, positing that  philosophy is fiction. Why is everybody all of a sudden so intent on the power of literature?

The fact that the social sciences, thrown into crisis as a result of the general state of upheaval in the world, are looking to the powers of literature is especially meaningful. We should head this, as it shows that the arrogant theories that allowed the social sciences to exist self-referentially, excluding the outside of world, are truly dead. And this brings us back to literature’s ability to relate the world.  I have no complaint: this has been my position since the Festival was created, and this is what led me to espouse the concept of world literature in 1993.

This is what led, in 2008, to the drafting, along with Jean Rouaud, Alain Mabanckou, Anna Moï, and Abdourahman Waberi, of a Manifesto for a French-language World Literature, signed by 44 writers.  This is what I have fought for since my first book came out in 1977, L’homme aux semelles de vent. This is what I have been fighting for starting as far back as I can remember…

It is not all about signs or systems of signs, contrary to what the gurus of structuralism tried so forcefully to drum into us. The unutterable exists. And literature exists precisely because the unutterable exists, as does humanity, with its acceptance of the other. If everything could be uttered – if everything were transparent, translatable, and exchangeable – everything would already have been told, and nobody would make a fuss about it. But the fact is: we have never stopped, wherever, whenever, in all places, in all cultures, from the beginning of times, to tell stories, to write stories. Such obstinacy makes one suppose that there must be some imperious necessity to this compulsion to approach the unutterable, to make it rise to the surface, to take us to the core of its mystery. We are, to quote Nancy Huston’s beautiful expression a “story-telling species”.

How strange is fiction. It is not truth, obviously. But neither is it untruth. Evidently, it says something – otherwise we would be indifferent, but not so,  we read, voraciously, we cannot be stopped, we are enthralled – something which cannot be said in any other way. Its figurative meaning cannot be reduced to literal meaning. If it could, fiction would be but an ornament, kid’s play, a waste of time. But we hold it as essential. When we finish reading a great novel, do we not have the feeling that it was delivering something unique about the world and about human beings? Perhaps even more: the feeling that it allows the perception of the unknown world to come, it gives it a face, it makes it inhabitable. It makes us discover the other in our selves.

Fiction is not truth. Neither is it untruth. Thus, it forces us to suggest there is another way of knowledge than the discursive: that of imagination: it forces us to think in terms of creative imagination. Science is deployed in the space of sameness, indeed it rests on the assumption that from a founding rule one can replicate experience perfectly. But how can we think of ‘the Other’, without reducing it to the likeness of ourselves, to the Same? The other is unknowable, but otherness can be met and embraced, and in so doing we discover the otherness within ourselves. And this we do through our imagination and the shifting interplay of fiction, and that is momentous indeed. This is where  the secret of our becoming human can be found; from here springs and grows our ability to ‘be together’, an infinitely richer path than the one established by a rule or law, for this is the very essence of common rules accepted by all.

If a work written several centuries ago in another culture can still move me, when the times that saw it come to life are long gone, and its context – of which I know nothing – has been abolished, it must mean that there is something in it which cannot be reduced to the conditions of its enunciation, something that is capable of overcoming death and the passing of time, and beyond the narrow confines of cultures, is capable of talking still to our present. Has it not been said that a true work of art can be recognised in that it has “passed the test of time”? But if there is transcendence in a work of art, it becomes obvious that it is due to a dimension of transcendence in its creator, due to a power in him – and therefore in his readers, that is to say in every man – that crosses over time and culture. And the power of works of literature is to continuously bring us back to this dimension within us that we tend to forget, caught up as we are in everyday life.

Perhaps our questioning about literature will appear futile to today’s great minds: they would have us believe that the time is now for ‘serious matters’. In their shadow theatres, they have attempted to bring back to life the old illusory recipes and tired slogans: in turn, let us not be afraid to assert that the ‘human poem’ we carry within ourselves and the richness of fiction is what brings us back to the essential in these chaotic times: this greatness in each one of us which producing and consuming have not yet exhausted; a power of creation, a verticality that is the very essence of being human. Our need for the novel is therefore as imperious and real as it has ever been!

We believe that no thought of the new times, no policy, and no philosophy will be worth anything if it not built on an idea which is vaster than mankind and which artists and poets invariably take us back to. In 1981 in an essay titled Le Paradis Perdu (‘Lost Paradise’), I wagered that ‘out of the ruins of the Theoretical Age a new Age of Fiction will be reborn’.  These words may not have been heard, but thirty years later I do not believe that I was wrong in making such a statement.

 Copyright: Michel Le Bris, 2013



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LE BRIS – The Future of the Novel http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/le-bris-the-future-of-the-novel/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/le-bris-the-future-of-the-novel/#comments Mon, 20 May 2013 10:36:00 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=4381 Etonnants Voyageurs, St Malo
Monday 20 May 2:30pm CEST The Future of the Novel Keynote by: Michel Le Bris]]> © Michel Le BrisEtonnants Voyageurs, St Malo

Monday 20 May 2:30pm CEST

The Future of the Novel

Keynote by: Michel Le Bris

Participants include: Björn Larsson, Jean Rouaud, Patrick Rambaud, Percival Everett, Vassilis Alexakis, Boualem Sansal, Léonora Miano, Maryse Condé, Serge Bramly, Mathias Enard, Paolo Rumiz, Dimitris Stefanakis, David Vann, Nick Stone, Yahia Belaskri, Niq Mhlongo, Diana Evans, Damon Galgut, Arnaldur Indridason, Kopano Matlwa, Justin Cronin, Gaspard-Marie Janvier, Kgebetli Moele, Clément Caliari, Murray Bail.

Author Biography:

Michel Le Bris was born in Britain in 1944. As the director of the Cause of the People, he was sentenced to 8 months of prison before Jean-Paul Sartre took over the role. He was a co-founder of the daily newspaper Libération, and, together with Jean-Paul Sartre, he created and directed the Wild France collection published by Éditions Gallimard.

In 1990, he founded the festival Étonnants Voyageurs (Astonishing Travelers) to promote the idea of “world literature”, and he is also at the origin of the movement known as the “travel writers”. Together with Jean Rouaud, he wrote the “manifesto for a world literature in French”, which was signed by 44 writers including JMG Le Clézio and Édouard Glissant, and was published in Le Monde on March 15, 2007.


http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/le-bris-the-future-of-the-novel/feed/ 1 RAHIMI – Should Literature Be Political? http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/should-literature-be-political/rahimi-should-literature-be-political/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/should-literature-be-political/rahimi-should-literature-be-political/#comments Mon, 20 May 2013 10:29:50 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=4365 Etonnants Voyageurs, St Malo Monday 20 May 11:30am CEST Should Literature Be Political? Keynote by: Atiq Rahimi]]> © BambergerEtonnants Voyageurs, St Malo

Monday 20 May 11:30am CEST

Should Literature Be Political?

Keynote by: Atiq Rahimi

Participants include: Kenneth White, Patrick Rambaud, Lyonel Trouillot, Bernard Chambaz, Sami Tchak, Vassilis Alexakis, Azouz Begag, Ayerdhal, Boualem Sansal, Dimitris Stefanakis, Jonas T. Bengtsson, Jérôme Ferrari, Uwem Akpan, Kopano Matlwa, Tobie Nathan, Clément Caliari, Bruce Clarke.

Author Biography:

Atiq Rahimi was born in 1962 in Kabul the capital of Afghanistan where he studied at the Franco- Afghan college Estiqlal. In 1984, he went from Afghanistan to Pakistan because of the war, and then he asked for and obtained political asylum in France, where he studied cinema at La Sorbonne. He now lives in Paris.

From 1992 to 1995, he produced adverts and several documentaries for French television. As a writer he was first noticed in 2000 on the occasion of the publication of his first novel Terres et cendres at POL editions which has been translated in more than twenty-one countries. In 2002, Atiq Rahimi published Les Mille Maisons du rêve et de la terreur. In 2003 in Afghanistan, he shot Terre et cendres, a film that was selected in 2004 at the Cannes Festival where he obtained the Prix du regard vers l’avenir. This cinematic adaptation had a tremendous impact on Atiq Rahimi’s career in fiction.

In 2008, he became known as a major writer when he obtained the Prix Goncourt for his novel Syngué Sabour-Pierre de patience.


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Rahimi in France – Keynote on Should Literature Be Political? http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/should-literature-be-political/rahimi-in-france-keynote-on-should-literature-be-political/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/should-literature-be-political/rahimi-in-france-keynote-on-should-literature-be-political/#comments Mon, 20 May 2013 10:29:39 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=4718 © BambergerShould Literature Be Political?

Keynote address given by Atiq Rahimi

First presented at EWWC St Malo, France

Atiq Rahimi keynote text: “Words as a pledge”

A writer isn’t a writer. He is a politician, a machine, an experiment.
- Deleuze, Kafka

Should literature be political?

Let’s ask ourselves the question once again, as if it were the first time.

Let’s forget for a moment that before us, and since the 18th century writers have asked themselves the same question time and time again, at the risk of losing themselves in it or of happily finding an answer.

Let’s ask ourselves then, because as Maurice Blanchot would put it: “questions are the desire of thoughts”, and he adds: “but answers are their sorrow”!

So as to avoid making this question, which has marked the history of literature, a sorrowful one, I would like to start my speech with a tale. This is part of my original culture: I tell stories to avoid giving an answer (Maurice Blanchot wouldn’t be full of sorrow if he were Afghani!).

In a major book of Persian literature called Memorial of the saints, written in the 13th century, the great poet Farid Uddin Attar explains that one day, a young disciple asked his master what the power of wise men was. “Speech”, the master answered, “speech!” Then the master showed his disciple the mountain at the foot of which he lived as a hermit, and said: “When a wise man orders this mountain to move, it moves.” And at that precise moment, the mountain started shaking. The master scolded it: “I’ve not asked you to move! I just wanted to show him an example!”

On the surface, of course this tale shows what has been mankind’s dream since time immemorial: to create, to change, to move, to destroy, to rebuild the world with words. Just with words! Who hasn’t dreamt of being able to say one day: “Let there be light!” and to see light appear?

“Any man is God when he dreams” said Hölderlin.

Yet beyond this mystical and fanciful quest, there is something in that tale which makes me wonder about the link between the power and speech of wise men, intellectuals and writers.

First, about asking a mountain to move and getting it to move: I interpret this allegorically (and perhaps naively) as a pragmatic aspect of language, its transitive function. And I don’t just mean in our daily conversations, but also in a literary text. Then, about the fact that the wise man just gives an “example”, and that the example becomes a commandment: that opens a debate on the notion of exemplarity and metalanguage in literature.

Everyone undoubtedly remembers the following title, which is magical in French Quand dire c’est faire, and which in English is ironic How to do things with words, written by John Langshaw Austin. When speaking of performative utterance, this English philosopher means a series of sentences which aren’t simply a string of words that explain a state or a situation… They become the very act they describe. Once uttered, they can change a life or a community’s life dramatically. For instance “I now pronounce you man and wife” used by a mayor. Or “War is declared” used by a statesman, who, just by uttering these words, throws his people in the great madness and terror it involves… A few centuries ago, in Amsterdam’s synagogue, a sermon banished Spinoza from the Jewish community and condemned him to silence. And more recently, a “fatwa” forced Salman Rushdie into concealment…

Believers say that the universe is created by the very words of God. And even if we don’t believe it, we still witness the way the words attributed to God lead men to action, whether on the path of wisdom or the madness of suicide attacks…

But you might ask: is this the doing of the power of words… or of the words of power?

J.L. Austin said it well: for a performative utterance to be “fortunate” as he put it himself, in other words feasible, you need the right set of circumstances. You can’t just have anyone pronounce any couple man and wife! First and foremost, the person who unites the two beings must have some legitimacy and some power. Then, the couple must fulfill certain conditions and so on.

And to get a mountain to move, you have to gain some wisdom first.

In order to cry out “I accuse”, you have to be Zola first. And to be Zola, you have to have written Nana, Germinal, The Beast Within

“It is splendid to be a great writer, said Flaubert, to put men into the frying pan of your words and make them pop like chestnuts. There must be a delirious pride in the feeling that you are bringing the full weight of your ideas to bear on mankind. But for that you must have something to say.”

When the writer has something to say, does it follow that he changes anything in the world? Sartre would reply yes, because for him, saying things means wanting to change them; talking or writing means acting on the world.

Bright minds will probably ask: if writers wield such power with their speech, why is the world torn in a thousand pieces? Why is there so much tyranny? So much war? So much injustice? Where do we find ourselves, after Germinal, after War and Peace, after A farewell to Arms, after The Plague…? What is literature up to? Alas, another question that sentences literature to uncertainty.

“Clearly, if Marx had followed his dreams of youth and written the most beautiful novel in the world, he would have held the world spellbound, but he wouldn’t have moved it. You therefore have to write Capital and not War and Peace. You don’t describe Caesar’s murder, you have to be Brutus… Making such links, such comparisons, might seem absurd to onlookers. But when art is weighed against action, immediate and pressing, action can only consider art as wrong, and art can only concur”. Maurice Blanchot said these words. And he is not wrong.

Even Sartre, a keen supporter of politically engaged literature, said in a fit of despair: “When a child is dying, Nausea seems very lightweight”!

Or Hölderlin: “… what are poets good for in times of trouble?”

But before sinking into unfathomable despair, let’s reassure poets: You are here precisely to tell us what poets are good for in times of trouble.

Because by telling us that, poets name, define and recall the nature of our lives in these “times of trouble”. Just as Shams, master of Rumi, a mystic Persian in the 13th century:

“We are not able to talk,

If only we could listen!

We must say all!

And listen to all!


Our ears are sealed

Our lips are sealed

Our hearts are sealed.”

This cry has echoed for centuries to denounce the permanent and implacable censorship that is breathed into the heart of writers, in Iran just as well as in Afghanistan (my country of origin), where in actual fact words defy tyranny.

In those countries, the existential problem isn’t “to be or not to be…” but to say or not to say, that is the question!

Thus, any act becomes political. Even silence. Even lies.

I remember that when Soviets were in Afghanistan, a brilliant saying from Poland was used by intellectuals, and it went:

“If you want to survive, don’t think. If you think, don’t talk. If you talk, don’t write. If you write, don’t sign it. If you sign it, don’t be surprised!”

Unfortunately, this still goes for my native country, even if the new post-Taliban constitution allows freedom of the press. But the problem lies elsewhere; it lies in each of us, because our hearts are sealed.

In the South of Afghanistan, Pashtun women have a poetic tradition called landay. These are short anonymous poems, which reveal a lot, like for instance:

“Lay your lips on mine

But leave my tongue free, that I may tell you I love you”

Imagine what would happen to that woman if she signed this!

This is how, by describing the conditions of mankind or by revealing humanity’s desires and dreams, a literary text can above all become a cry, an act of proclamation.  It “gives a syntax to the cry”, as Deleuze would put it. It is a performative utterance. And even if that cry doesn’t waken slumbering spirits, at least it might trouble their sleep! Such an act isn’t a provocation, but a pro-vocation!

In that sense, politics isn’t the will, the fear or the duty of the writer. It is in the ink of its writing. Writers aren’t “engaged” in History, they are “embarked” in it as Camus coins it, using Pascal’s wording.

Now, let’s talk about the other aspect of the literary experience, its exemplarity.

“Man’s world is the planet of inexperience” said Kundera, “Inexperience is a quality of the human condition. We are born one time only; we never start a new life equipped with the experience we’ve gained from a previous one.”

It is because this world is a planet of inexperience that literature has a meaning. Given that we don’t live a permanent experience, literature helps us conceive the life of others (of those who lived before our time, or those who live at the same time as we do but elsewhere), as a pointer, perhaps even a mimetic desire, as René Girard put it. We live and so we think with and through other people’s experiences, just as others live with and through our writing as an existential, sentimental, political, metaphysical experience… Salman Rushdie said: “It is literature which for me opened the mysterious and decisive doors of imagination and understanding. To see the way others see. To think the way others think. And above all, to feel.” Diderot said: “reading novels makes us better people, not only because fictions illustrate abstract principles, or because characters show us what behaviors to adopt or avoid, but also because it turns the empathy felt by the reader into an experience of the other, therefore an altruist experience.”

In that sense, an experience isn’t just “personal experience”, it isn’t just past; it isn’t a “study”, a scientific experiment carried out to check or justify knowledge data, which would make it a future-oriented act. It is the proof of our existence here and now. It is the act of meditating on what we live. It is living the world as the world lives us. It is an “inner experience” for George Bataille and an “original experience” for Maurice Blanchot: it is “being in touch with the ontological being, renewing the self through that contact – a challenge, which remains undetermined”.

Writing is an experience with language, i.e. with oneself (Carlos Luscano). It is an experience which helps me see the world within myself, so I can deconstruct it in order to understand it, and then rebuild it as I wish. By changing the world bit by bit, one day, we will change the world.

So, should we still doubt the political dimension of literature?

First, I’d say YES! We must doubt it because as Paul Valery says, “politics means wanting to conquer and to retain power; it therefore involves an action of constraint or of illusion over minds which are the essence of all power (…). The political mind always ends up forced into forgery. It introduces a forged intellectual currency onto the market; it introduces forged historical notions; it builds specious reasoning arguments; in a word, it does anything it can to keep its authority, its so-called moral authority.

And then, I’d say NO, because literature is a fight against all political systems. It is the power of words against the words of power.
Thus the definition of politics in writing.

 Copyright: Atiq Rahimi, 2013


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Haddad in France – Keynote on Style vs Content http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/style-vs-content/haddad-in-france-keynote-on-style-vs-content/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/style-vs-content/haddad-in-france-keynote-on-style-vs-content/#comments Sun, 19 May 2013 14:38:52 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=4706 © Elisabeth AlimiStyle vs Content

Keynote address given by Hubert Haddad

First presented at EWWC St Malo, France

Hubert Haddad keynote text: “The Feeling of the World”

Style is the feeling of the world.
- André Malraux

The representation of a country, a people, a continent, or the world on the move in the media rests – a priori – on nothing human: the factual description of any phenomenon tells you nothing intimate or key about it, apart from a tremendous amount of documentary evidence which is soon locked back up in the archives. Only literature gives reality its full dimension, at the same time allusive, lethal, unpredictable, marvellous, and wildly open to interpretation. Just as the description of a language does not tell us anything about the breadth of its uses through history, mores or its mythical and legendary foundations, any purely formal rendition fails the basic test of transmission because of a tautological, incomplete or cryptic form of communication.

Literature, along with the arts, is just reality becoming aware of itself in its enigmatic, symbolic and secular activity. The origin of the world is to be found in the mind of a poet admiring Courbet’s painting or the depths of the Milky Way. There is no other place of places than speech in the process of designation. Ancient Greece is still alive in Homer. Without Shakespeare – who only knew his own tongue – so many languages would be deprived of a metaphorical break as a source of transversality and illumination. While science establishes itself in a necessary object-based face-to-face loaded with so many presuppositions, literature emerges in all haste and speaks of the vanity of power and of the sleepy utopia of the most biting freedoms.

Through questioning, dream-like deconstruction, inexpiable passion, humour or challenges, literature teaches us that there never is any absolute power; that hierarchies are acts of violence; that the organs of intimidation that institutions of knowledge are should never be accepted without a quarrel; and that writers or artists at work know one single, obvious thing: the absolute closeness of humans with their fragility, their struggles, their lack of knowledge at the heart of their lives, given that we all share a condition marked by the scars of language. The most glaring difference are mere nuances, the exquisite rustling of nuances: provided they are both on the lookout in symbolic spaces, there is no more than an angel’s breath between an illiterate child and a brilliant scholar in the minute, unidentifiable thing we call culture.

Novels explore the infinite field of Nuance, this human truth every one of us experiences directly and differently without realising how fragile and transient it is; as does poetry which reveals its surprising nature through language. Therefore, there can be no decent writer without style, whatever its breadth – as majestic as the nebulae or as tight as metaphorical constriction. In the best instances, clinical writing can avoid repetition through prosody and rhythm. Writers distort language and put it through the kaleidoscope, forever and unexpectedly changing combinations and associations, offering hope and structuring in spirit the unfathomable wanderings of phenomena.

Just as composition commands eurhythmic representation in Pierro della Francesca or Cézanne’s works, novels-as-object include a living structure, a driving energy derived from writing itself. As Sartre said, writers are made not by what they choose to say but by how they choose to say it: “Every sentence hold the entirety of language and refers back to the universe.” Therefore an acute strategy of style summons, for an instant or for centuries of delight, all knowledge acquired both out of a legitimate concern for their durability and thanks to the floating investigation into the unknown lands of sensitivity. Flaubert dreamt of writing a book about nothing, a book which “would hold through the internal strength of style”. As he marvellously put it: “in and of itself, style is an absolute way of seeing things”.

Nothing is more foreign to classical French, kept in courtiers’ tight grip to support national conquests, than the fates of language. Style is not just the wordsmith’s showcase or the rules of clear speech; it is a native and structuring impulse, the quiet interaction of feeling, intuition and concept, the switch from lexicon to the dizzying heights of syntax, a unique way of moving within a language for an unprecedented interception and capture of meaning. Content is therefore nothing but what the particular intensity of language’s impulses and trajectories in a given body, mind and memory yearns for at a given moment, in a given life context, and aiming for something that is immediately part of writing, of its haste or hesitations, of its destructive tetany or the lightning bolts of multifaceted speech, leaping from height to height as Empedocles’ speech.

For Proust style is an issue of vision not technique, it is “the revelation of the qualitative difference in the way the world reveals itself to us.” As we can imagine, the distant prospect of the finished work pervades the worrisome act of writing in the present, it is a creative dialectics, a Weltanschauung, a constant toing and froing between form and content, between appearance and substance or rather between obverse and reverse. Indeed, the writer presents the readers with a strange mirror wherein, compared to the slow pace and backtrackings of the workshop, everything occurs wholly and hurriedly, the inevitability of events being triggered by the spinning or fanning of pages until the synaptic lights go out. The writing that is more or less irresistible – as a painting or an architecture of words, as an abstract construct of concepts or as a succession of platitudes – is acknowledged as style as soon as a qualitative and emotional change occurs in the readers’ flow of consciousness: something new seeps into the reading, repetition gives way to rhythm, focused images blaze onto the white screen of the page, and language shines through poetics in action.

You could almost say style is the other, the reconstruction by the reader of the necessarily intertwined values of expressions and beliefs at play in the text, given that, whatever the language, very few tales, short stories or novels are not surreptitiously poetic.

Granted, literature does not cover the entire scope of the written word. We could easily come to believe it is but an exception in the ideological and functional space of discourse. Yet when it appears, unexpectedly or after a lengthy maturation, amid the din of misunderstandings, general distraction or the silence of censorship, you can be sure style is at play; a project carried by a wild desire for fulfilment towards some known, or unknown, but always dangerous prospect. Indeed style is the sign of a sovereign march across the minefields of our representations and the unstable realm of the unconscious, the netherworld of the psyche against whose backdrop an inventive reality emerges, gesticulates or disappears according to a thousand fictions.

But what more is style but the resistance of language to the phatic attraction of words and grammar? We must first challenge the ineptitudes and approximations found in quotations compendia.

Style is an instrument, not an end in itself. (Norman Mailer)

Only a literary orderly could say that. If style is an instrument then Proust and Rimbaud are operating theatres. No, style is no more an instrument than art, in and of itself, would be “an instrument of propaganda and education”. On the contrary, it distorts all instrumentations and is life itself, replicated ad infinitum in the mysteries of a language.

Cocteau pleasantly said: “Style is not a dance, it is a gait”, probably referring to the catwalk or the rolling shoulders of the angel Heurtebise. Yet the author of La Difficulté d’être knows that style is the constant tension of the mind, the dance of a million Theseuses before the labyrinth of work. He will readily admit to it in Le Grand Écart: “It can happen that a road offers so many different views on the way out and the way back that hikers on the way back will feel lost.” That is how the written road feels to lost readers.

In a letter to Lucilius, Seneca claims “Style is the clothing of thought”. Thought dressed up is no more than rhetoric. Style is movement, gesture, thought itself!

Stendhal, that least somatic of writers, stated ad absurdum that “The best style is that which goes unnoticed.” And the ludicrous idea of covering the Civil code with a coat of “transparent varnish”. Would anyone claim that the best music or the best poetry is the one that goes unnoticed? Without style, without a specificity assumed to its rightful climax, without the constraint of being awake which underpins the moment on the obsequious angels’ wings, there would only be Father Delille on the one hand and the town clock on the other. Going unnoticed is the epitome of Stendhalian style, its inimitable dramatic strategy.

In a vaguely Beylian way, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote in his Situations that “Obviously, style determines the value of prose. But it mustn’t get noticed.” “As words are transparent”, he adds along the same lines, “and sight goes through them, it would be preposterous to slip frosted glass in amongst them.” More DIY. He writes that “With prose, aesthetic pleasure can only be unadulterated if it comes on top.” On top? It sounds like a little extra thrown into the bargain at the cattle market!

“Therefore, language is beneath Literature. Style is almost beyond it: images, delivery and lexicon are born from the writer’s body and past, and become progressively the reflexes of his art”. We recognise Roland Barthes’ handsome rhythm but cannot follow him. Is the exclusive call to becoming other, expressed by Rimbaud, Marina Tsvetayeva or Antonin Artaud, therefore merely abandonment to some intimate formalism prior to the deliberate consummation of the mind?

The author of Writing Degree Zero echoes the thought: “under the name of style a self-sufficient language emerges that delves only into the private and secret mythology of the author, into the hypophysics of speech where the first association of words and things form, where the major verbal themes of a lifetime are established once and for all.”

With Barthes and a host of arbiters of letters, the appearance of archaeo-semiotic thought on the battlegrounds of arts meant, strangely, that as the symbolic dimension was rightly being freed from reproductive fatality, innatism and outdated essentialist ideas, the University was managing to put literature, the object of its studies, under close supervision through the use of determinist shortcuts, almost derived from the slumber of sociobiology. For instance: “style is always somewhat crude: it is shape without meaning, the product of an urge not of intent (…) It refers to biology or to the past not to History (…) it is not the product of choice or reflection about Literature. It is the decorative voice of an unknown and secret flesh (…) Style is truly of a germinal nature, it is the transmutation of a Mood.”

So, at degree zero, you have a light-hearted reconciliation with a kind of literary physiologism which Paul Valéry practiced, following in Taine and Balzac’s footsteps. He was happy to see “the dealings and productions of the so-called ‘mind’ as the dealings and productions of an organic system”. But can we ever understand what freedom the void produces in the harmonic cracks of language? We suspected writing contained “the being and the appearances of power”, in doctrinal spaces, as a privilege, as a function of time, reign, social status, barbaric elitism or deep sleep. Yet style is elsewhere. All remains to be invented in reality! A child brighter than lightning warned us a long time ago: “The language will be a soul for the soul (…), thought holding on to thought, and pulling.”

Not much further, Léon Paul Fargue, the master of delectable internal claudication, says: “a perfect sentence sits atop the greatest vital experience.” For Victor Hugo, our perpetual contemporary, “truly great writers are those whose thought occupies every recess of their style.” Let us close with the evanescent Emily Dickinson, the magic scribbler, for she alone, beyond language and beyond all authoritative pronouncements, uttered the only truth. What, really, is style?

  A something in a summer’s Day

  As slow her flambeaux burn away


Copyright: Hubert Haddad, 2013

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HADDAD – Style vs Content http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/style-vs-content/haddad-style-vs-content/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/style-vs-content/haddad-style-vs-content/#comments Sun, 19 May 2013 10:39:37 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=4377 Etonnants Voyageurs, St Malo Sunday 19 May 3:30pm CEST Style vs Content Keynote by: Hubert Haddad]]> © Elisabeth AlimiEtonnants Voyageurs, St Malo

Sunday 19 May 3:30pm CEST

Style vs Content

Keynote by: Hubert Haddad

Participants include: Patrick Deville, Björn Larsson, Kenneth White, Yanick Lahens, Sami Tchak, Helonla Habi, Azouz Begag, Yann Queffelec, Mbarek Beyrouk, Ben Fountain, Scholastique Mukasonga, Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès, Jean-Paul Kauffmann, Kim Thuy, Yahia Belaskri, Sefi Atta, John Connolly, Diana Evans, Holly Goddard Jones, Kopano Matlwa, Gaspard-Marie Janvier, Pinar Selek, Clément Caliari, Murray Bail, Ariane Dreyfus.

Author Biography:

Born in Tunis in 1947, Hubert Abraham Haddad went to France with his parents several years later, first to Belleville, Ménilmontant, and then to the housing projects. He lived the difficult life of the immigrant growing up, with a shop-keeper father and a mother of Algerian origin. He evoked this childhood in his story Le Camp du bandit Mauresque (The Camp of the Moorish Bandit) (Fayard, 2005).

His first collection of poems, Le Charnier déductif (Deductive Mass Grave), appeared in 1967. His first story, written at the same time and entitled Armelle ou l’éternel Retour (Armelle or the Eternal Return), was not published until 1989. Starting with Un rêve de glace (A Dream of Ice) (Albin Michel, 1974; Zulma, 2005), he has continuously produced novels and collections of stories, alternating with essays on art or literature, plays, and collections of poems.

Haddad’s use of different genres and subjects combined with his extensive experience with writing workshops led him to write Le Nouveau Magasin d’écriture (The New Writing Store), a sort of encyclopedia of literature and the art of writing.  This volume was followed in 2007 by the Nouveau Nouveau Magasin d’écriture (The New New Writing Store).

Haddad has received literary prizes for a number of his works, including the 1983 Georges Bernanos Prize for Les Effrois (The Terrors); the 1991 Maupassant Prize for Le Secret de l’immortalité (The Secret of Immortality); the 1998 SGDL (Société des gens de lettres/ Literary Society) Grand Prix for the Novel for La Condition magique (The Magical Condition); the 2008 Five Francophonie Continents Prize and the 2009 Prix Renaudot Poche for Palestine.

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ČOLIC – A National Literature http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/colic-a-national-literature/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/colic-a-national-literature/#comments Sun, 19 May 2013 10:39:25 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=4371 Etonnants Voyageurs, St Malo Sunday 19 May 10am CEST A National Literature Keynote by: Velibor Colic]]> © Hélie GallimardEtonnants Voyageurs, St Malo

Sunday 19 May 10am CEST

A National Literature

Keynote by: Velibor Čolić

Participants include: Olivier Weber, Kenneth White, Atiq Rahimi, Lyonel Trouillot, Alain Mabanckou, Yanick Lahens, Sami Tchak, Helon Habila, Gary Victor, Henri Lopes, Insa Sane, Maryse Condé, Anne Nivat, Janis Otsiemi, Nick Stone, Henry Kenol, Julien Mabiala Bissila, Ian MacDonald, Geneviève Damas, Elliot Perlman, Murray Bail.

Author Biography:

Velibor Čolić is a Bosnian writer living in France. He was born in 1964 in a small town in Bosnia. Enlisted in the Bosnian army, he deserted in May 1992, was taken prisoner but escaped and fled to France in August of the same year.  His first book published in France, Bosnians, is about the Bosnian war. His 2005 novel Perdido is about the world of jazz. He evokes tragic conflict in Archangels roman a cappella, writes bitter thrillers like Mother Funker, and dreamy autobiography aka. Jesus and Tito. He writes in French.

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Čolić in France – Keynote on A National Literature http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/colic-in-france-keynote-on-a-national-literature/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/colic-in-france-keynote-on-a-national-literature/#comments Sun, 19 May 2013 09:50:43 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=4691 © Hélie GallimardA National Literature

Keynote address given by Velibor Čolić

First presented at EWWC St Malo, France

Velibor Čolić keynote text: “The Warriors’ Cry – Nationalist Literature”

The wrinkles of a nation are just as visible as those of a person.
- Emil Michel Cioran


During a visit in Switzerland, a journalist asked Ernesto Sabato:
-Mister Sabato, why are there so many epic novels and poems and myths in Latin American literature, whereas we hardly have any here in Switzerland, if at all?
-Look young man, Sabato answered; when William Tell MISSED his son, you missed your one chance of a national tragedy…

Literature as a political project

This paper doesn’t question national literature and certainly doesn’t claim to be based on science. Rather, it is a bitter observation: the line between national and nationalist literature is very fine. Unfortunately, back in ex-Yougoslavia, I was the witness of an “elitist literature” which suddenly became a “national literature”; where first “writers” came, and, through their books and their “national language”, defined the spiritual and national space of the people; then came the military to outline the borders proper.

This of course led to that triple crime – genocide, memoricide and urbicide – which took place soon after in my country as the by-product of a national literature.

In his novel Koreni (published in 1954 by French publisher Les Racines), the writer Dobria Ćosić , also nicknamed “the Tolstoy of the Balkans”, “the father of the Serbian nation”, who would go on to become the future ex-president of small Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro – 1992/ 1993), concocted a manifesto of sorts for a national literature infused with Balkan juice. According to a spellbound critic, his great rustic and family-oriented roman-fleuve addresses and glorifies “Serbian cults of freedom, their ancestral and national mythology, their patriarchal despotism…”, and, according to the same critic, it also magnificently denounces “the Europeanization of Serbian intellectuals, the destruction of the farming world and of individualism”. The result being: the uprooting of the people and even the complete disappearance of the nation.

In 1954, the nation (made up of farmers, who were patriarchs and traditionalists as well as libertarians) had the same enemies as today: Europe, cultural diversity, the West, cities, individualism.

So “the Tolstoy of the Balkans” was in favor of a proper home-made, serious, perhaps boring and tragic national literature, in which, according to Ćosić, “Serbs always lose in peace time what they gain during the war”.

In this literature, which isn’t entirely devoid of interest, more objective observers discovered the premise (which has since been emphasized and argued in Ćosić’s works) of the country’s future woes, and the premise of this triple crime (genocide memoricide, urbicide), committed by Ćosić’s very own disciples in the name of the nation, “the youngest nation of Europe”, Yugoslavia (a good example is Radovan Karadzic, head of Bosnia’s Serbs, who was a psychiatrist and a nationalist poet).

A writer’s involvement in a war is never direct, but it seems to me that the root causes of this evil lie in this so-called national literature: it recognizes our soil, our spiritual borders defined by language and religion; it more or less openly accuses our neighbors of being the true enemies (the communists, the Albanians, the “Turkish” Muslims in Ćosić’s works), or it points the finger at hidden enemies, which is much more insidious because that includes everyone, anyone…

This Serbian and then Croatian or Bosnian nightmare started precisely at the time when the masterpieces of Ćosić and his disciples became a political project, and when their novels started being read as history school books.

And vice versa.

This confusion between genres, between history and literature, was a tragedy. For everyone.

The distinction between myth and reality lies in intelligence and common sense, in the ability to distance oneself and to reason…

But, unfortunately, new national literatures work on an emotional and a collective level, they inexplicably erode convictions that were set in stone.

And at that point, there is but a step between national and nationalistic literature.

When there is but a step left, writers step aside and give way to the military.

The spiritual space of a nation

Just as hell is other people, borders are other people too. These imaginary geographic and political lines are like thorns in the soft flesh of humanity. For a long time, everywhere, we have lived with our walls and our languages, our Norths and our Souths, our rich and our poor. Borders are also our gods and our colours, our faces – gypsy moustaches and Jewish noses, Aryan grey-blue eyes and the plump lips of a jazz singer. For a long time, we have made and destroyed empires, democracies and dictatorships, and we’ve lived at ease within our communities, not with others. In order to change or to “protect” our borders, the military wage war incessantly, and the last customs officer still standing at the border tells the story. This narrow space, stuck between the arrogance of invaders and the destiny of their victims, which is stuck between all those borders, can become mankind’s new geography. It only takes a bit of courage and some talent. Great History is but statistics, whereas literature names and tells the small tragicomedies of mankind. It doesn’t seem like much, but to me, it is worth it.


During a recent televised debate on the French governmental project of “marriage for all”, Mr. Eric Zemmour (who, according to Wikipedia, is a French writer and political journalist) explained the violence of some “anti gay marriage” protests as the result of the May 1968 events in France.

According to him, protesters at the time were demanding freedom, therefore individualism (does he mean the current ultra liberalism???) and the children of today want to get rid of a politically correct world that was imposed on them by 1968 rioters…

The idea of a national culture, of a national way of life, which you find in speeches such as Zemmour’s in France or speeches in the Balkans, all originate from the same place. This idea stems from short-cuts, ready-made wording, the reinterpretation of history, Holocaust denial, populism, nationalism…

Once again, you see that nationalist literature behaves like a chameleon. Back in ex-Yugoslavia, we sometimes call it “patriotic literature”, regularly we call it “traditional literature” and very often we call it “popular literature”.

I’d even go so far as to say mandatory literature, the one and only…


In his book “The Balkans – the terror of culture” (published in Belgrade in 2008), Ivan Čolović, the Serbian ethnologist, talks about the “national, cultural and spiritual space of a people”, and about the paraliterature that feeds off this Holy Trinity that the nation represents.

Yet, in a multinational state, where religions and cultures are manifold and blended (such as all ex-Yugoslav countries despite attempts at ethnic-cleansing during wars) this idea of one space, one language and one literature, is problematic.

The common points between different nations (the origin, the language, the mentality), they are analyzed, cut open, reinterpreted, as are all the weaknesses of our spirituality. Because nationalist literature is by essence exclusive. No other literature is tolerated, least of all the national literature of our neighbors.


The form and the essence of national literature go against modernity. Generally, novels of that genre are written in an “outdated” language (using popular and anti-elitist wording). Long poems intentionally blur the lines between ancestral epic tales and the current (and usually tough) situation of the nation. Ivan Čolović gives an example: during the latest war in Bosnia, in the middle of the battleground, Serbian soldiers cried out names of heroes from popular literature, as though bringing historical evidence to support the idea that their fight is universal.

In the name of the people
(a few tips to becoming a nationalist writer)

National literature goes against world citizenship. In this “Weltanschauung”, we wash our nation of all its sins, and turn it into a metaphor. Our homeland is no longer a country or a state, but often it is a pretty young woman who has been raped and tarnished; our nation is also the cemetery of our grandfathers, it is our religion, it is a white dove, or a mother.

Recent national works of Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian writers show our motherland as a sort of monster, always expecting that we give our blood and life for it. A popular Croatian song says: “Do not be sad oh mother Croatia, call us, just call us/ and, like falcons, we will sacrifice our lives for you”.

Despite money, glory and power, in these parts of Europe it is not easy to be a national writer. But it is worth sacrificing everything, absolutely everything, even the nation, for the nation.


The Golden age of national literatures in South-East Europe matches the end of communism. This evolution was first seen in dissident writers, then in those who left communism, and then in self-proclaimed nationalist bards.

Of course, they received the full support of the church and of new “freshly and democratically” elected powers, which represented the renaissance of our people.

Nationalist literature always speaks out in the name of the people with heroic rhetoric. It tries and succeeds in finding scapegoats, it makes our enemies visible, and it always either accuses or forgives, always in the name of the people.

True writers need time and silence, whereas their nationalist colleagues need a stage, a crowd, they need sound and fury, “blood and tears”… This shoddy and wholesale literature only sees humanity in very simple terms: good and bad, us and the others, victims and perpetrators… Just like American westerns, the good guy always wears a white hat, and the bad guys a black one.

In this epic and eternal struggle, we are the good guys, who defend true values, whereas on the opposite side you have the barbarians, whose names and faces may change, but whose nature stays the same, it is wild, destructive and decadent.

A world as simplified and divided as supporters in a football game.

As a rule, this type of literature should stay where it belongs, at the margins of this world. But unfortunately, behind the wanderings of my country’s “heralds” lies a real tragedy, a fratricide war, with over 100.000 deaths and two million refugees.

Among those responsible for this massacre, some writers rank high. Their patriotic tirades, their works and their call for war still find an echo in victims’ heads, like a gruesome celebration.


National literature is like a church. Everything in national literature is sacred. Our soil is sacred, our language and most of all our freedom are sacred. It is also necrophiliac. In that literature, writers are either already dead, about to die, or about to be sacrificed on the altar of the nation. In patriotic texts, we, the Righteous Among the Nations, are no longer truly human. We have no name or occupation, we are neither married nor single, tall nor little. We have no personal destiny, only a common one, which, of course, is tragic.

National writers prefer to see us as victims.

Victims of the spread of Islam, of globalization, of various world conspiracies. We are but a handful of brave and lucid people who stand up to a rich, cunning and ruthless enemy.

A Serbian satirist said “before the war, we had nothing. Then, the Germans came and destroyed everything”.


A national writer always has a bone to pick. But first and foremost he is a sentinel who safeguards our language, which is vital and essential for any writer. The problem is that our language never fits the borders of a country.

In order to correct this anomaly, there’s always a drunken colonel ready to free the people all by himself. A German philosopher said “Repeat tragedies can become farcical…”

And I would add, unfortunately, repeat farces can become tragedies too.

Just as hell is other people, borders are other people too. These imaginary geographic and political lines are like thorns in the soft flesh of humanity. For a long time, everywhere, we have lived with our walls and our languages, our Norths and our Souths, our rich and our poor. Borders are also our gods and our colours, our faces – gypsy moustaches and Jewish noses, Aryan grey-blue eyes and the plump lips of a jazz singer. For a long time, we have made and destroyed empires, democracies and dictatorships, and we’ve lived at ease within our communities, not with others. In order to change or to “protect” our borders, the military wage war incessantly, and the last customs officer still standing at the border tells the story. This narrow space, stuck between the arrogance of invaders and the destiny of their victims, which is stuck between all those borders, can become mankind’s new geography. It only takes a bit of courage and some talent. Great History is but statistics, whereas literature names and tells the small tragicomedies of mankind. It doesn’t seem like much, but to me, it is worth it.

Should we believe in literature?

Let’s hope that after the era of politics, which is only a perverted game that we will eventually have to put an end to, and after the era of crazy and bloodthirsty national bards, will come the era of literature. A nomad and human literature, a mobile and multicultural literature, disheveled, undisciplined, without visas and without passports.

In 1992, during the war, I wrote a text in my soldier’s logbook. Perhaps it was foolish, certainly naïve, but I was frightened. I wrote it as a kaddish of sorts for my country. This text is entitled “Believing in literature”.

In times of war, believing in literature means not accepting ready-made wording, not choosing necrophilia or death as biblical « necessities » symbolized by the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. It also means working on the magic which makes words come together and recognizing evil and condemning it. That is how, in Bosnia, we can go beyond a purely aesthetic literature.

It means, time and again, remembering the bright and sacred nature of the sacrifice of victims, in order to believe there is meaning again, in order to breathe new life into literature, without thinking about the fact that this story has already been told numerous times. It means believing in the primeval cry of life, as wise and old as the hills, the cry of the child, who, pushed by survival instincts, tears his mother’s womb to announce the clear and definitive triumph of creativity over absurdity, and violence and destruction.

Yes, that is what believing in literature means.

A literature that cannot be altered.

Because it holds the secrets of life’s eternal nature.

Only a few months later, the soldier I was went into exile, and this text, which I’d written on my knees in the trenches, became a book.

A gypsy proverb says “they can kill off all the swallows, but they won’t stop the arrival of Spring.


Copyright: Velibor Čolić, Spring 2013

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