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On 22 May, Alicja Gescinska delivered the fifth State of European Literature. The State of European Literature is an annual lecture delivered by a prominent author or poet of international renown about the state of literature and Europe from the perspective of literature.
Alicja Gescinska (© Stephan Vanfleteren)
Alicja Gescinska (© Stephan Vanfleteren)

Alicja Gescinska (Warsaw 1981) fled from communist Poland to the Belgian village of Lede with her father and mother in 1988. The Polish-Belgian philosopher, writer and programme maker became famous in 2011 with De verovering van de vrijheid (The conquest of freedom), in which she interwove autobiographical details with a philosophical plea for positive freedom. Since then, Geschinska has also written essays, opinion pieces and reviews, and she became a member of the Filosofisch elftal (Philosophical eleven) of the Dutch daily newspaper Trouw. In 2016, her first novel was published, Een soort van liefde (A kind of love), and she started presenting the Belgian philosophical television programme Wanderlust, in which she enters into philosophical discussions with internationally-renowned philosophers, writers, academics and artists. In 2022, Gescinska received the royal honour Commandeur in de Leopoldsorde (Commander in the Order of Leopold).

Ode to the translator

What is European literature? Does something like ‘the great European novel’ exist, by analogy with the US? Does a European novel have to be written by a European? Or is it sufficient that such a novel takes place on the ‘old continent’? And who are the current and former giants of European literature? A valid answer to all these questions may differ greatly and even be contradictory. However, one thing that’s certain is that European literature would not exist without the generous work of translators, who devote their time and linguistic skills for the benefit of us all as readers. This lecture is a small ode to the immense value of translators. They not only translate words, they translate worlds. They are a connecting force in our continental patchwork of languages and cultures. They bring the faraway close by, they make the strange familiar. In this way, they create greater understanding and rapport on the European continent, which transcends all our differences. Translators are the literary bridge builders of Europe.

After the lecture, Alicja Gescinska entered into discussion with the Flemish writer, poet, essayist and translator Erwin Mortier. The discussion was moderated by the writer and literary critic Margot Dijkgraaf.

State of European Literature

The State of European Literature is an annual lecture delivered by a prominent author or poet of international renown about the state of literature and Europe from the perspective of literature.

Today, stories are still written and read in all European languages about the continent, the lives of its inhabitants, its neighbours and its ever-changing role in the present, the past and the future. As a result of political polarisation and disagreement about the actual state of the continent at present (whether that concerns current geopolitical upheavals, transnational legacies, such as colonialism, climate change, the distribution of wealth or the demographic future), there is a renewed desire for the truth that literary fiction provides, and the power and precision of poetic expression. Whether that is about the supposed limits of literary imagination in discussions about identity, emancipation, gender and decolonisation, disputed memories, or the increasing dominance of English as shared European language, literature seems to be as urgent as ever in this day and age. The State of European Literature wants to increase awareness about the key role that the core values of literature and culture play when it comes to the current and future state of Europe: curiosity, imagination, reflection, criticism, translation, power of expression, tradition and invention.

The State of European Literature is organised by the Faculty of Humanities of the UvA , in collaboration with the Amsterdam Centre for European Studies (ACES), the Amsterdam School for Regional and Transnational and European Studies (ARTES), the Netherlands Research School for Literary Studies (OSL), the Duitsland Instituut Amsterdam (DIA) and SPUI25.