Conference ‘Life writing and European identities’ – On the occasion of the awarding of the Erasmus Prize 2016 to A.S. Byatt

Date: November 16, 2016
Venue: Paushuize, Kromme Nieuwegracht 49, Utrecht (the Netherlands)
Free access. Registration:

The British novelist A.S. Byatt will receive the 2016 Erasmus Prize for her contribution to the genre of life writing. To mark this occasion, Praemium Erasmianum, the Huizinga Instituut voor Cultuurgeschiedenis and the Onderzoekschool Literatuurwetenschap (OSL) are organizing a one-day seminar to examine the role of life writing in the construction of European identities.Byatt’s oeuvre provides ample opportunity to explore the ways life writing constitutes and performs identities on multiple levels. As Byatt once wrote, she became ‘European’ through reading. The stories of Homer, Racine, Goethe and Proust provided her with an imaginative entry into cultural forms available outside of Britain and awakened a sense of Europeanness that shaped her literary consciousness. Engaging with this European tradition, Byatt has blurred boundaries between fact and fiction-oriented genres and experimented with different forms of writing lives. Since many of her novels also deal with crucial events and epochs in European history, Byatts work can be seen as an invitation to reflect on the interpretation and (re)construction of the past that we need to make sense of our lives, both individually and collectively.

ProgrammeModerator: Ann Rigney (Utrecht University)

10.00-10.30: Opening

Part I: Byatt and life writing; genres, forms and traditions

  • Max Saunders (King’s College London): ‘Auto/biography and fiction in modernist and post-modernist literature’
  • Léon Hanssen (Tilburg University): ‘Piet Mondrian and the ideal of an artist’s life: on being Dutch, metropolitan or sacred’

12.15-13.30: Lunch break

Part II: Representations of Europe and the politics of belonging

  • Elisabeth Bekers (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) ‘Perspectives on Europe in post-colonial life writing’
  • Gabriele Linke (Universität Rostock) ‘Narrative strategies and belonging in autobiographical writing in post-communist Europe’

15.00-15.15: Coffee and Tea

Part III: New Forms of Self-Presentation

  • Odile Heynders (Tilburg University) ‘The Life of a Man: Karl Ove Knausgaard’
  • Anna Poletti (Utrecht University) ‘What can a critic do? New forms of life writing and scholarship’

16.45- 17.00: Summing up and closure

17.00-19.00: Drinks