State of European Literature

Telling stories in a society that’s lost the plot.

This programme is part of the festival Forum on European Culture, 17 – 20 September in Amsterdam.

You can livestream this programme on Friday 18 September from 19:30 hrs via this link:

Essayist, historian and novelist Philipp Blom delivers the first State of European Literature, an annual lecture about the significance of literature for Europe today.

Once upon a time, Western societies had a clear story. It was Christian, patriarchal and imperialist, based on the biblical injunction “subjugate the earth”. Countless people suffered from the consequences of this story, and this suffering was exposed and examined by writers seeking to describe or even end it and to open new perspectives.

But economic crises, the climate emergency and the Corona pandemic make clear that this story no longer corresponds to the world we experience. The story of the West has pretty much fallen apart. Social activists have demanded its destruction, scientists attacked its foundations, philosophers exposed its prejudices. This has been a historic victory for reason and justice, but it has also undermined the sense of purpose these societies once had. If social conventions are not to be respected, if technological progress leads to environmental catastrophe, if common goals are just another mask of corporate power, then one logical reaction is a retreat into individualist narratives and narcissism.

What does that mean for storytellers? Is it possible to tell stories that no longer resonate with the public, no longer address a shared sense of purpose, or of good and evil? And what role, if any, can storytellers play in finding a common social purpose in times of crisis?

Hosts: Margot Dijkgraaf & Guido Snel

The State of European Literature is paired with the European Literature Night, a EUNIC Netherlands project, that brings together both celebrated authors and promising literary talents from all over Europe.

The State of European Literature is a joined initiative of the University of Amsterdam, Faculty of Humanities and the Amsterdam Center for European Studies (ACES) in collaboration with OSL (Onderzoeksschool Literatuurwetenschap and SPUI25.


Philipp BlomHistorian, writer
Margot Dijkgraafmoderator, (c) Bart Koetsier
Guido SnelModerator