Maria Boletsi is Endowed Professor (bijzonder hoogleraar) at the University of Amsterdam, where she holds the Marilena Laskaridis Chair of Modern Greek Studies. She is also Associate Professor in Film and Literary Studies at Leiden University, at the Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society (LUCAS).
Her research is situated in the fields of comparative literature, literary and cultural theory, conceptual history, Modern Greek literature and culture, English, Dutch, and postcolonial literature. In her work, she brings literature, art, and other forms of cultural expression to bear on societal questions (post-9/11 processes of othering, debates on terrorism, intersecting crises, populism and post-truth) and tries to situate the study of local cases in global debates and transnational frameworks. Her projects are often structured around concepts (e.g., barbarism, crisis, futurity, spectrality, the ‘weird’), which serve as flexible methodological tools for interdisciplinary research. In her current research, she proposes the term ‘weird turn’ to look at contemporary mobilizations of the weird in fiction,ecology, protest cultures, and other domains. Since 2014, she has also been working on the concept of crisis, scrutinizing contemporary crisis rhetoric in Greece, Europe, and the Mediterranean, as well as alternative ‘grammars’ and imaginaries emerging from recent Mediterranean crisis-scapes. In another long-term project (completed in 2023), which started from her PhD dissertation and evolved into a collaborative project (NWO Internationalisation grant & Swiss National Science Foundation grant), she worked with an international team of scholars to explore the modern history of the concept of barbarism and its fundamental role in shaping modern European identities. Her part in this project focused on barbarism in cultural theory and literature in modernity, in public rhetoric since 1989 and especially after 9/11, in socialist thought, and in recent environmental debates. The work of the Greek poet C.P. Cavafy has also been a constant reference point in her work since 2005. She recently completed a monograph on the ‘spectral’ in Cavafy’s poetics and his poetry’s contemporary afterlives (Specters of Cavafy; forthcoming early 2024 by Michigan UP).
Maria holds cum laude degrees in Classics and Modern Greek Literature (BA, Aristoteles University of Thessaloniki), Comparative Literature (BA, University of Amsterdam) and Cultural Analysis (research MA, University of Amsterdam). In 2010 she received her Ph.D. with honors from Leiden University (Barbarism Otherwise: Studies in Literature, Art, and Theory). She has been a research fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS theme-group fellowship, 2022), DFG Mercator fellow at Bonn University (2019), Stanley Seeger Research fellow at Princeton University (2016), visiting scholar at Geneva University (2016) and Columbia University (2008-2009), and a participant in the Cornell School of Criticism and Theory (2006). She is a member of the editorial / advisory boards of the Journal of Modern Greek Studies, the Journal of Greek Media and Culture, and the book series Thamyris/Intersecting by Brill and Greek-Modern Intersections by Michigan UP. She is also Chair of the Advisory Board of the Netherlands Research School for Literary Studies (since 2019) and member of the Advisory Board of the Dutch Research Council (NWO; Domain Social Sciences and Humanities; since 2021).
At the UvA, she is part of the department of Modern Foreign Languages and Cultures and teaches mainly at the Modern Greek language and culture program and the Master’s in Literature, Culture, and Society (specialization course in Modern Greek literature, culture and society). She is co-ordinator of the ASCA research group Crisis, Critique, and Futurity (with Eva Fotiadi). She is also co-founder and co-coordinator of the Cultural Analysis network Greek Studies Now, which sprang in 2019 from a partnership between the Modern Greek studies research communities in the universities of Oxford and Amsterdam; the network organizes several events, conferences, and (online) publications (greekstudiesnow.org) and is committed to a broad understanding of Modern Greek Studies in its intertwinement with other fields, disciplines, and transnational frameworks and debates.
My recent and current research takes the following directions:
In my latest research project, I propose the term weird turn to explore a recent trend to harness speculative fiction, non-positivist epistemologies, and estranging representational modes in domains such as science, ecology, philosophy, culture, economy, and art, in response to interconnected crises and radical uncertainty about the future. The concept of the weird gained valence in the 21th century owing to “New Weird” writers and the canonization of “Old Weird” writers like H.P. Lovecraft, and has recently veered towards many domains beyond literature (‘weird science,’ ‘global weirding,’ ‘weird realism,’ ‘weird economies,’ ‘weird twitter’ etc.). The weird turn involves practices that stress the strangeness of current realities and experiment with alternative modes of framing an ungraspable present and uncertain future, when the language of reason and data falls short of addressing the disorienting realities of enduring crises: environmental breakdown, the pandemic, the energy crisis, or social and economic collapse. The project explores the controversial aspects the weird turn, but also its emancipatory potentialities for imagining better futures.
I am pursuing this project both individually and collaboratively. In a collaborative setting, the project advanced through the NIAS theme-group fellowship (2022) on the project “The Politics of (De)familiarization: The Common and the Strange in Contemporary Europe.” This collaborative project explores mobilizations of the ‘common,’ the ‘familiar,’ and the ‘strange’ in current European political discourse and cultural production. With Dr. Florian Lippert and Dr. Dimitris Soudias we organized an expert workshop and are editing a special issue for Cultural Studies on the topic “New Normals, New Weirds.” My own project within this Theme Group was entitled “Keep Calm, It’s Only Fiction! Outweirding Post-truth Politics through New Grammars of Protest and Artivism." The project explored how new grammars of protest and artistic activism mobilize fiction to defamiliarize constructions of common sense and ‘the new normal,’ while countering the co-opting of fiction by post-truth politics. I have published on this topic in the journal Frame and in the edited volume Rethinking Defamiliarization in Literature and Visual Culture (forthcoming by Palgrave).
Art and literature after 9/11
I have engaged with new directions in art, literature, and theory after “9/11” and with how contemporary literature and art intervene in popular rhetoric of crisis in Europe and beyond. Among my publications on the topic was an essay on responses to 9/11 in Dutch literature in the volume 9/11 in European Literature (Palgrave 2017). In 2015, with Isabel Hoving, Liesbeth Minnaard and Sarah de Mul, we co-authored the book De lichtheid van literatuur: Engagement in de multiculturele samenleving (Acco), which probed literature’s function in recent debates on the multicultural society in the Netherlands and Belgium.
Grammars of Crisis
Since 2015, I have focused on contemporary crisis-scapes in the European South and the Mediterranean. Scrutinizing the concept crisis, I probed dominant crisis narratives in Europe, particularly in the context of the Eurozone and the Greek crisis. Against this backdrop, I proposed grammatical categories as conceptual tools and explored normative operations of ‘grammars of crisis’ that impose restrictive diagnoses of the present, alongside the potential of grammatical categories for envisioning alternative imaginaries. Part of my work on this topic has been chanelled in two volumes I co-edited: Languages of Resistance, Transformation, and Futurity in Mediterranean Crisis-Scapes: From Crisis to Critique (Palgrave 2020) and (Un)timely Crises: Chronotopes and Critique (Palgrave 2021).
The Middle Voice
In my work on crisis and alternative grammars, I have been exploring expressive modes that disrupt dominant narratives of crisis. Against the backdrop of the 'Greek crisis,' I have studied literature, street art, and forms of artistic expression that mobilize the middle voice (understood as a grammatical category, discursive mode and theoretical concept) in order to articulate alternative notions of subjectivity, agency, and civic responsibility to those on which crisis rhetoric hinges. An article I published on the topic in the Journal of Greek Media and Culture (2016) was also included in the Reader of Documenta 14 (2017). My publications on the middle voice have also appeared in the journals Social Science Information (2019) and Komparatistik (2018), and the edited volumes Languages of Resistance, Transformation, and Futurity in Mediterranean Crisis-Scapes (Palgrave 2020), (Un)timely Crises (Palgrave 2021) and Aesthetics of Crisis (ed. by Julia Tulke; forthcoming by The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota).
The work of the Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy (1863-1933) - the best-known modern Greek poet and an important figure in modernism and world literature - has been a constant preoccupation in my writing since 2005. I have published on speech acts in Cavafy’s poetry, on irony and affect in Cavafy’s prose, on literary and artistic adaptations of his poem “Waiting for the Barbarians,” on the bearing of Cavafy’s ‘barbarians’ on the Western political imaginary, and on the way his poetry recasts narratives of historical time. I have recently completed a monograph on spectrality in Cavafy’s poetics (forthcoming in early 2024 by Michigan UP). Drawing from theorizations of the ‘specter’ in literary and cultural theory, and from theories of spectrality, performativity, irony, and affect, I develop the spectral as a theoretical and analytical lens for revisiting Cavafy’s idiosyncratic modernist poetics and his poetry’s afterlives in contemporary settings: in the Western cultural and political imaginary since 1989 and in Greece today.
My preoccupation with the concept of barbarism started with my PhD dissertation (Barbarism, Otherwise, 2010), in which I interrogated contemporary and historical uses of barbarism in literature, art, and philosophy, arguing that the concept of barbarism also has a disruptive, insurgent potential: it can unsettle the logic of binaries, imbue authoritative discourses with foreign, erratic elements, and trigger alternative modes of knowing. My research on barbarism continued in collaborative context: In 2013, I received an NWO Internationalisation grant for the project “Barbarian: History of a Fundamental European Concept from the 18th Century to the Present” (2013-2016; PI: Maria Boletsi), which was co-funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (PI: Markus Winkler). The project sprang from a collaboration among scholars from Leiden University, the University of Geneva, Bonn University, Fribourg University, and (since 2017) Oxford University and the University of Amsterdam. Responding to the contemporary popularity of the term ‘barbarism’ in Western rhetoric and the far-reaching implications of its uses, the project contributed to a critical and historically grounded understanding of this concept’s past and contemporary uses, and foregrounded its foundational role in modern European histories and identities.
Our project was completed in 2023. Its main output is the 2-volume co-authored monograph Barbarian: Explorations of a Western Concept in Theory, Literature, and the Arts: Volume I focuses on barbarism from the 18th to the early 20th century (Metzler 2018) and Volume II on the 20th and 21st centuries (Metzler 2023).
My book publications on barbarism also include the monograph Barbarism and Its Discontents (Stanford UP, 2013) and the edited volumes Subjects Barbarian, Monstrous, and Wild: Encounters in the Arts and Contemporary Politics (Brill 2018; co-edited with Tyler Sage) and Barbarism Revisited: New Perspectives on an Old Concept (Brill 2015; co-edited with Christian Moser).