The power of myth and barbarism
Mythical thought is an essential part of human existence. It shapes and constructs our political thinking and identities. During this event we will reflect on the problems of mythical thought and its relation to the complex notion of barbarism.
Political myths seem to be on the rise these days. In order to understand their structure, Ernst Cassirer’s last book, The Myth of the State (published posthumously in 1946), is suggesting itself. Cassirer tries to analyze the intellectual conditions of the political abuse of mythical thinking that was instrumental in the creation of the modern totalitarian state. While reflecting on the social power of myth, the notion of barbarism gains significance: both in terms of the 'barbaric‘ result of political mythology (like Auschwitz) and as one of the persistent mythical motifs in European imaginary. The barbarian, a central figure in European thought since Greek antiquity, has made a dynamic comeback in Western political rhetoric since the end of the Cold War and especially since ‘9/11,’ asserting a prominent presence in current discussions on terrorism or the refugee crisis as well as in the new ‘regime’ of post-truth politics. Revisiting past uses of this figure in modern European history can help us explore how the myth of the barbarian is mobilized in current narrative frameworks that shape our perception of history, the present and the future.
This evening we will explore the notion of political myth as it was constructed by Cassirer and how political myth is still a deep structure of our thinking. Centering on the myth of the barbarian particularly, we will discuss its foundational role in the construction of modern European identity and its functions in contemporary politics and culture.
About the speakers
Maria Boletsi is Endowed Professor at the University of Amsterdam, where she holds the Marilena Laskaridis Chair of Modern Greek Studies. She also works as assistant professor at the Film and Literary Studies department of Leiden University. She has published on various topics, including the conceptual history of barbarism, post-9/11 literature and political rhetoric, and alternative narratives and subjectivities in the context of the Greek debt crisis. Much of her work is concerned with the intersection of literature, art, and politics.
Stefan Niklas is Assistant Professor in Continental Philosophy and Critical Cultural Theory at the University of Amsterdam. He is specializing in Philosophy of Culture and Aesthetics. Recently, he has turned to the problems of mythical thought, the persisting cultural significance of metaphysics (and its equivalents), and finally the intricate notion of 'barbarism.'
Boudewijn van Werven (moderator) is a master's student in Philosophy and American Studies. He is researching the role of myth within American cultural, social and political discourse.
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