European Literature Days 202316 to 19 November 2023
Welcome to the European Literature Days 2023!
Humanity has passed its zenith. During its breathtakingly rapid rise in the industrial age, humanity, which rules over the earth, has forgotten to live in harmony with itself and nature. The view of animals can help people to feel integrated with other living beings in the sense of living together as brothers and sisters. The French poet and essayist Jean-Christophe Bailly observed how in the gaze of animals the question arises about the delineation of the boundaries between humans and other sentient beings. Animals have experienced man’s cruelty, yet their gaze focuses beyond him into the wide open, where they prove themselves superior. This suggestion of the epic is the discussion basis for the European Literature Days 2023.
Bailly’s essay The Animal Side reflects on man’s transforming perception of himself, and thus a new relationship of humans with animals. Contemporary scientific findings already support a discussion about the fourth blow to man’s unrestrained narcissistic self-love: Copernicus first moved the earth from the centre of the universe; Charles Darwin ended the illusion of man as the image and likeness of God, while Freud exposed the unconscious processes of the psyche as a field for discovery. Since the 1970s animal ethics has considered whether animals, like people, don’t also possess intrinsic dignity and unassailable animal rights. Recent scientific research attributes reason, language, self-awareness, the vision of the future, the capacity to suffer and moral behaviour to animals. Hence, it shakes the bastions of humanity towards other living beings and highlights our diminishing ability to assert the things that differentiate humans from the animal world.
The many pets as protagonists of novels and current narratives are a phenomenon of contemporary fiction, whose rich backstory is not obvious at first glance. Animals as central characters are jointly responsible for the popular bestsellers of recent decades. They ensure excitement as well as reassurance as favourite “pets” and resourceful mavericks, and they assume a therapeutic role for readers who are stressed by modern civilization. It may be horses, cats, dogs or exotic creatures that promise relaxation and a harmonious living environment.
Since its beginnings, literature has been populated by animals, and always in a way that helps us understand more about man than about the animal. There is a wide spectrum from the classical myths to Sigmund Freud’s exploration of the unconscious, and it ranges from animal deities to anthropomorphic animals. Animals function as representatives of man’s quest for the meaning of life, be it in the form of mythical creatures, the adventure of the wilderness, giving consolation, or be it as a sacrificial animal or image of the enemy, as a metaphor of danger from the unknown or as embodied wisdom. Animals are a taboo subject in religious writings as well as being demonized, idealized and presented as adorable. Animals stand for almost everything that humans don’t understand. In classical myths, animals emerged as messengers from the heavenly sphere and from the underworld, while the modern depiction of anthropomorphizing from man to animal usually conceals neurotic and psychotic states. The motif of metamorphosis into an animal tells the tale of the abysses of modern man, of isolation and alienation, of the encounter with one’s own desires and the development of inner conflicts.
At a second glance, the contemporary literary representation of animals hints at something timeless. Alongside the portrayal of animals as man’s faithful companion, Nature Writing recently gained prominence as a literary trend emphasizing plants, animals, or even entire ecosystems at the heart of the narratives. The poetics of Anthropocene literature is even more recent and incorporates eco-thrillers as much as apocalyptic narratives and poetry and prose from a planetary perspective. This literature emerged as a reaction to a development of contemporary philosophy’s post-millennium discussion of the Anthropocene. This brings us to our epoch, starting from World War II, when people and their drive for growth became the leading influential factor for the earth’s biological, geological and atmospheric processes and in this vein responsible for climate change.
This contextual background to the European Literature Days 2023 introduces books from international contemporary fiction in which animals play a leading role. Animals and Other People invites international authors and philosophers to explore the following questions: Do claims over the millennia persist about the fundamental differences between people and animals? How do we treat animals, and how should we treat them? Are we permitted to manipulate animals for our goals? What is the situation with livestock farming, testing with animals and the industrial use of animals? Is the future of all life on earth decided along these lines – and not least what priority technology will have in relation to life in future? Do humans need to rethink their relationship to themselves?
The European Literature Days welcomes festivalgoers again this year to Krems an der Donau to join in a weekend of debate with writers and philosophers about a contemporary theme. For those who cannot attend in person, the specially themed readings, talks and dialogues are available to watch live from home. Guests in Krems can also attend book talks, performances and concerts in the Klangraum Minoritenkirche. This attractive forum invites us to feel inspired, to share our interest in literature and meet international guests. In partnership with kulturkrems, Hidden Treasures (Verborgenes und Erlesenes) combines the tour of cultural landmarks in Krems with the repertoire of regional music and international literature. Together with the Festival Glatt&Verkehrt, Words and Sounds (Worte und Töne) showcases the best of literature, music and dramatic art. In cooperation with the eljub European Youth Encounters, Jugend Kulturraum Krems and the Youth Section of Lower Austria, another diverse programme of readings and workshops takes place in regional schools. The crowning finale again is the Sunday literary and musical matineé in honour of this year’s prizewinner of the Austrian Book Trade’s Honorary Award for Tolerance in Thought and Action.
We warmly invite you to join us!
Artistic Director of the European Literature Days