We can listen more to art and literature, because they promote empathy and understanding and act therefore as a protection against totalitarian currents.
By Cecilia Hansson
In these times, when in large parts of Europe all reason and level-headedness in the political sphere have been flooded and the continent is about to capsize, it is time to listen seriously to the knowledge and truth to be found in art and literature. Because they still exist, the liberal arts, and they are a very special bulwark against the totalitarian undercurrents that threaten Europe today.
Art and literature convey experiences that go beyond the purely rational and the purely emotional. When Herta Müller describes the society of informers in Communist Romania or Elfriede Jelinek the helplessness of refugees, viewers and readers are gripped by what Aristotle calls “fear and compassion”. Together they create catharsis, purification, which it is to hoped leads us to deeper knowledge, empathy and understanding. To humanity.
We should therefore listen when Herta Müller compares a power-hungry statesman in Eastern Europe with the dictator she recalls from her time in Romania. Or when Elfriede Jelinek displays the affairs of the small Alpine republic before the eyes of the general public in the most incisive descriptions of Austrian society that were ever to have been read. Here it should be mentioned that in 2016 in Vienna a performance of Jelinek’s play Die Schutzbefohlenen (The Suppliants), in which all the roles were played by refugees, was stormed and berated by members of the “Identitarian Movement”.
And there are even more reasons today to pay attention to the experiences of writers and artists. In Hungary and Poland, independent artists and journalists are losing their jobs, which benefits party-loyal colleagues. The policy is called “national conservatism”, but it more resembles totalitarian times. Or what else can one say when a free university like the Central European University in Budapest must leave the country, when the authoritarian government views education and global perspectives as a threat?
And in Austria, the ORF, the public television and radio station, is currently being attacked by right-wing populists, an attack that is particularly serious since these right-wing populists, whose ideas are unworthy of discussion and shall not sully this text, form the government with the Conservatives.
Do we really have the post-Communist Europe many of us dreamed of? The Europe of the EU? Yes, do we live in a really post-fascist Europe? A Europe as we want it to be?
Herta Müller (2007/2010), Herztier, Frankfurt a.M.: (Fischer).
Herta Müller (2008/2010), Der König verneigt sich und tötet, Frankfurt a.M.: (Fischer).
Elfriede Jelinek (forthcoming in October 2018) Die Schutzbefohlenen. Wut. Unseres. Theaterstücke, Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt. Also available as an audio book from belleville.
Péter Nádas (2013), Parallelgeschichten, Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt.
Are we living in a really post-fascist Europe, a Europe as we want it to be?