Reading a rich review essay posted today on the current political turn of young European writers I am struck immediately by the similarities of this turn with the politics of the Greek generation of the 2000s. To show how well the Left Melancholy of the Greek poets fits into the general trend, I quote here selectively the essay’s general points, omitting the comments on the three specific writers it discusses. These general points describe equally well the poetics and politics of new Greek writing. Everything below is quotations.
August 3, 2016
A new generation of young European writers is reinventing political literature—and people are listening. Some of the brightest new voices on the continent are making their names through overtly political books, showing that literature, even books of poetry, can still play a significant role in shaping public discourse.
A new Europe is taking form in literature, one that reflects the continent’s diversity, and the growing pains that come along with it. This new generation of writers is reshaping the old idea of the artist as political activist, this time with a social media twist.
What we are going to do about it. That’s the issue. These three writers all seem to take it for granted: It is up to them as citizens, it is up to art as a form, and it is therefore up to them as artists, to change things.
Like all writers they deserve to be read for the quality of their own work, and the books certainly warrant it. Still, reading these three it’s hard not to feel something is going on that transcends individual texts.
After decades where the most prominent writers in European literature have often preferred to see political issues as, at best, an incidental topic of literature, it seems significant that the major literary breakthroughs in three different European languages in a short period of time have come from writers who are overtly political. And just as important: That there’s an attentive audience for this kind of writing.
As writers, they also invigorate the public sphere. All three are as unapologetic about taking center stage in public debates as they are about perceiving literature as part of a bigger political endeavor: to point to injustice and ask for the remedy.
They speak of the necessity of looking critically at political language—who gets to talk and from where—as essential to their literary projects. All three challenge stereotypes and resist simple identity politics. All three take on big issues— gender, class, race, religion—through fiercely individual forms of expression, while advocating collective change with a 1960s-like energy that treats the everyday as highly political and infused with meaning. They all seem to embrace, in updated fashion, the idea of the personal as political.
In addition, all of them reinforce the effect of their writing with strong public appearances. All three draw packed houses, and are unusually stage savvy.
All express a marked interest in literary traditions, and seem more interested in seeing themselves in a line of thinkers, writers, even political activists, than in distinguishing themselves by underlining their difference from the past, “anxiety of influence”-style. If there is an aesthetic reorientation going on here, it doesn’t take the form of calls to “make it new” or lofty statements about change. In fact the generational perspective of this essay would most likely be rejected by the writers mentioned in it. Neither of them seems particularly interested in the idea of the new or the young, or even the unique and original as the highest values of artistic creation.
They also seem more concerned with the kind of belonging that takes place within a tradition of thinking or writing or art, than the kind that comes from being born in one place or into a particular social group.
But all three aim at breaking down language barriers. Whether it be between Swedish and Romanian, between the speech of the working class and the bourgeoisie, or between the language of the majority and the immigrant minority, the endeavor to mix languages normally not used on the same page is part of larger project aimed at crossing boundaries and scaling walls in order to build new political collectives.