Look What You Made Us Do. An Examination of Precarity in the Arts

We often equate the life of an independent artist with one of glamor and embellishment, spending their euros from sales on tubes of paint or a brick-walled studio with big windows and natural light. Rarely do we consider the invisible hours strained over meticulously budgeting and submitting and networking and documenting.

What began as one look into a performance summoning culture spectators and enthusiasts to show support-in-numbers by way of attendance and capital, quickly became an appeal to artists to share their stories.

On March 18, at The Poetics of Precarity. Literature, Art and the Precarious Condition held in the Faculty of the Arts, we will premier our video dialogue with artists about these strains and struggles and the hidden mental gymnastics required to maintain a life as an artist. These culture creators – essential for community, beauty, and discourse – have shared their testimonies with us for our Look What You Made Us Do awareness campaign.

Look what you made us do

The conference is a four-day program exploring the foundation of the precarious lifestyle:

“The conference ‘The Poetics of Precarity’ focuses on the intellectual and cultural imaginations of precarity from a historical point of view. Since the 1980s, sociological precarity theories have provided an influential and productive discursive model to describe the work and life conditions in post-Fordist and global capitalism. Precarity and acquainted notions like ‘precarisation’ capture various aspects and effects of the socio-economic processes that gradually push more and more sections of the population in an intensified state of uncertainty and contingency. These structural developments have generated a new ‘dangerous’ class, the ‘precariat’, that manifests itself in protest movements such as the ‘Mayday Movement’ or, most recently, the ‘Yellow Vests’. These narratives, concepts and phenomena not only have poetical and theatrical dimensions of their own; they have inspired cultural and artistic production as well. By way of aesthetic experiments, artists and writers have tried to mediate and shape the imagination and perception of precarious realities. New poetic tools and writing strategies have been developed to represent, explore, transmit, legitimize or criticize the many faces of precarity. Up to now, these trends and their imaginative and aesthetic foundations have solely been examined by focusing on the novelty of the contemporary precarious condition. Whereas precarity has always been a part of capitalism and modernity, exactly this aspect has been neglected. The conference will explore the historical origins of the intellectual traditions and aesthetic reflections of the imagination of precarity from a variety of angles; its goal is to engage upon a critical dialogue between sociologists, political theorists and literary scholars, but also with writers and artists themselves.”

The testimonies illuminate the tedium and stress endured behind the scenes. Look What You Made Us Do was conceived in the wake of the Flemish Cultural Minister’s proposed budget cuts for the arts by 60%. The policy, which has since been enacted, envisaged cutting subsidies given to cultural institutions to cover their operating funds and specific projects. Many artists shared their thoughts and we are humbled to present them to a broader audience in the coming months. Stay tuned!

For more info:




De//colonize the mind

As the 30th of June will mark the 50th anniversary of the independence of the Democratic Republic of Congo, many questions subsist. Whilst those who lived in the colonies recall with nostalgia their times in Africa, much of the younger generation seems to know close to nothing to the ties that bind Belgium to Congo. Who is to blame? A government that never took responsibility for the atrocities which it inflicted upon a nation? An education system that fails to accomplish its critical duty when it comes to reflect on our national past? Or a social mass that seems to remain indifferent to colonialism, vaguely perceived as a gift of civilization to poorer lands?

De//colonize Leuven does not have an easy answer to these complicated questions. However, this project, created by Masters students of Cultural studies for their Cultural Policy project, calls for actions against a system that is deemed both obsolete and unfair. This year, Caroline Vervloet, Shushanna Shakaryan and Nina Teugels partnered with Nora Mohammed from the Dutch-Flemish house for debates De Buren to tackle the question of the decolonization of education in Belgium.


The project aims at raising awareness about Belgium’s colonial history, on the one hand, and sensitizing the public on the importance of decolonization, on the other hand. In its own way, it hopes to engage in the process of changes in education, which are necessary in Belgium for the construction of a fairer society.

The event will be an interactive evening for students led by Miguel Heilbron and Hari Prasad Adhikari Sacré, our two guests.

Miguel Heilbron (Fawaka WereldBurgerschap& the Black Archives) will give a session on “World Citizenship”, discussing the legacies of colonialism and transatlantic slavery, among other things. He will discuss the various developments already visible in Education in the Netherlands and encourage the audience to participate in a collective brainstorm on the changes that could be done on our own educational system.

Hari Prasad Adhikari Sacré (For All Queens & UGent) will bring a completely different and refreshing approach to the decolonization debate. He will do a live story telling on his Samsara series (exploring displacement), followed by a workshop.

Rendez-vous the 5th of March at 19:30! RSVP desired, please book your tickets (for free) at www.deburen.eu.
More info on the Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/539062580062613/
Address: Naamsestraat 69 , 3000 Leuven. Hogenheuvelcollege kapel 00.50
There will be beverages!

“Creating a Digital Cultural Heritage community”: Enroll now!

By Fred Truyen and Ana Schultze

Do you want to know what happens behind the scenes of museums, archives and libraries? Have you ever wondered what these organisations do to share their collections with audiences? Would you like to learn how to build a strong digital community for cultural heritage?

If your answer is yes, then the MOOC “Creating a Digital Cultural Heritage Community” is for you! In this MOOC, professionals and volunteers in cultural heritage institutions, as well as teachers, students and amateurs, can learn how to create user engagement with digital cultural heritage. Professors and staff members from the KU Leuven master’s program in Cultural Studies will dive deeper into both theory and practice of digital curation, annotation and many other topics.

What you’ll learn

  • How to create and reflect on user engagement with online collections
  • How to curate and annotate digital cultural heritage
  • What strategies can be used to educate audiences
  • How to access and use digital repositories and platforms
  • How to creatively engage with photography and dance content.

Have you ever wondered how to use digital collections to create new ways of engaging and inspiring audiences? Enroll now and take this course for free!

This MOOC is developed by the Fifties in Europe – Kaleidoscope and CultureMoves projects, which are co-financed by the Connecting Europe Facility of the European Union.


Back to Neorealism, and beyond?

By Jan Baetens

Franceso Pitassio

Neorealist Film Culture, 1945-1954. Rome, Open Cinema

Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press (Film Culture in Transition series), 2019

PitassioSince the scholarly production on Neorealism continues to be superabundant (and this in more than one language), the new book by Francesco Pitassio may not immediately be distinguished by all those interested in the field, but one can be sure that the outstanding qualities of this book will soon turn it into a real classic, both in the specific domain of Neorealist cinema and in the broader domain of film and cultural studies in general. Pitassio’s study is indeed much more than a new take on Neorealism; it is also a landmark reflection on the theoretical and methodological questions that define film history. In this regard, its stakes and insights are of interest to all those working on film as cultural form, just as, for instance, the book by Antoine de Baecque on cinephilia as a form of film culture, which partially covers similar ground (cf. La cinéphilie. Invention d’un regard, histoire d’une culture, 1944-1968, Fayard, 2013).

Pitassio’s book is neither a story of Neorealism as a specific style of filmmaking nor a close-reading of some of its well-known masterpieces (by De Sica, Rosselini or Visconti). Instead, the author focuses on a much wider approach that examines Neorealism in light of a large set of cultural-historical traditions, practices, and constraints, that deeply affect a type of cinema often described in terms of absolute novelty and lack of antecedents. Pitassio challenges this narrow (narrowly aesthetic as well as narrowly ideological) and traditionally auteurist notion of Neorealism in order to ask completely new questions and open new windows to overlooked historical contexts and productions. At the same time, this broader contextualization of Neorealism is also a way of reopening a certain number of questions that are too easily, that is, uncritically taken for granted in film studies.

The starting point is Pittasio’s refusal to limit Neorealism to a set of themes, stylistic features, works, and directors, and the decision to consider it a way of reinventing new forms of culture in a period of crisis, when the classic distinctions between old and new, center and periphery, established and innovative are no longer valid and where all those involved in cinema at all possible levels (funding, production, distribution, but also reviewing and actual moviegoing) can no longer rely on existing structures and habits.

After the introduction on Neorealism as “transitional culture”, Pitassio develops his study along four axes: first that of the tension between national, international and transnational culture (Neorealism still has the reputation of being “typically Italian”, but a closer look at this filmic culture displays a permanent interaction between Italian and non-Italian elements); second that of the clash between a very realistic representation of the present (which starts in 1943, when Italy breaks the pact with Germany and the country is occupied by the Nazis) and the complete absence of the twenty years of Fascism that precede the mythical rebirth of the nation; third, the overwhelming presence of non-Neorealist visual styles and images within Neorealism (as shown for instance by the permanent interaction with the photonovel, allegedly very different from all things Neorealist); and fourth the generally ignored copresence of amateurs and professionals in Neorealist films (a way of filmmaking often pitched as voluntarily antiprofessional as a guarantee of supreme authenticity).

On all these points, which Pitassio describes as crossroads, the book radically challenges our traditional ways of thinking on Neorealism. At the same time, the author also returns to a large number of general concepts, such as for instance “realism”, “popular culture” or “nationalism”, in order to give a critical survey of the existing scholarship as well as its usefulness or not for the study of this type of cinema and cinema and culture in general. The advantages of this approach are exceptional: on the one hand, it helps bring to the fore numerous works and authors whose importance has never been acknowledged; on the other hand, it progressively builds a more complex, more nuanced and above all more open reading of Neorealism, which ceases to be the absolute novelty it still is for many of us but which at the same time also appears an extremely fascinating way of dealing with already existing styles and practices, as demonstrated by the brilliant analyses of, among many other discoveries one can make in this book, the role of Modernist documentary styles or the influence of 19th century visual and literary melodrama in the mass-media marketing of these movies with the help of decidedly non-Neorealist posters.

Abstract Narratives, and No End

By Jan Baetens

Four wattsébastien conard

fo(u)r watt

het balanseer, 2019, limited edition (10 euros)


“Abstract comics” are a vital strand of contemporary avant-garde comics, nowadays well-represented and largely accepted in various countries and traditions. Yet rather than trying to define what abstracts comics are, where they come from, or where they are going to, it is necessary to start reading them. The publication of fo(u)r watt, an attractive joint project of publisher Het Balanseer (by far the most daring of independent literary publishers in Flanders: http://hetbalanseer.be/) and Sébastien Conard (whose creative work hovers between visual art and comics) is a good opportunity to do so.

Based on a string of four quotations from Samuel Beckett’s Watt (written in 1942-1944, published in 1953), fo(u)r watt is a work that demonstrates the formal and imaginative power of a type of visual narrative in print that does not need the alibi of a precomposed scenario to display a wide range of stories, characters, and places -the three inevitably intertwined aspects or dimensions of any narrative whatsoever. The sequential arrangement of the drawings in this book follows the fundamental structure of the diptych as suggested by its first images: the whole string of drawings unfolds between the four quotations by Beckett, which one finds in the beginning (1 sentence), in the middle (2 sentences, each of them on of the pages of the central double spread) and in the end (1 sentence), the covers of the book being deprived of visual images (they just contain “printed matter, which rapidly morphs into a visual sign as well, given the mirror effect between front and back cover: a chronology is thus established by purely formal means, but this chronology is not unilinear, since one is encouraged to read from A to Z and then back again from Z to A).

The images of fo(u)r watt do not “illustrate” Beckett’s text. Neither are they “abstract” in the traditional sense of the word: it is possible to identify as well as to name some of its components (a keyhole or a railroad track, for instance). But the lack of a directly visible narrative or thematic link between these images invites the reader to disclose another and perhaps more important layer of their meaning: the way in which they present a fictional world by taking their inspiration from the material properties of the book itself. The two pane window is not a “symbol” of the book; corollarily, the keyhole and the railroad track are not symbols of the reader’s focusing on the unknown territory and her or his trajectory from one page to another, respectively: they are nothing more or nothing less than the fictional transfer of it. However, this transfer is also something to be read in two ways: from the underlying material to the emerging fictional equivalent, but also from the latter to the former – and “resistance” of some drawings to nicely tie in with this type of reading scheme is also there to prevent us from opting for one type of reading at the expense of the other one.

The essential structure of the book exceeds the debate on the meaning of the drawings themselves. What matters is the dynamics created by the visual montage, which obeys a movement of fort-da. fo(u)r watt emerges as a fan-like or accordion-like structure, which can be opened and closed at will, but whose manipulation reveals –and each movement brings this structure more prominently to the fore– an endless spiral. The very last image, which reframes the initial representation of the diptych, shows the interplay between circle and point, the circle being broken, the point being elsewhere than in the center of the circle: a nice way as well to add a critical counterpoint to the initial quotation, which states that “all is said”.

Four watt 2

On Relatability

By Jan Baetens

RelatabilityBrian Glavey, “Having a coke with You is Even More Fun Than Ideology Critique”, PMLA, Oct. 2019, pp. 996-1011

Sianne Ngai’s Our Aesthetic Categories (Harvard UP, 2012), which makes a plea to broaden the intellectual and terminological toolkit of our contemporary ways of experiencing culture, has been dramatically important in the fine-tuning of older concepts and frameworks, for instance by making room for something like “the cute” next to the more traditional labels such as the “beautiful” or the “sublime”. One of the notions that might be added to her (short) list, the author of a remarkable article in PMLA argues, is that of the “relatable”, a buzzword, but a very complex one, of today’s art criticism in the broadest sense of the word. Relatability is not only an aesthetic or scholarly category, it is in the first place a term that is now literally everywhere, but whose meaning, role, and impact are still open to much debate.

Something is relatable when it can be retold, but that is just the first and oldest meaning of the word. Today, relatable also defines works that someone (a reader, a listener, a spectator) can “relate to”, and this new sense, however vague it remains, is the one that matters in current discussions on the topic. For in order to start telling about something one has seen, heard, or read, it is necessary that one feels touched by it and recognizes something of oneself in it. The best way to specify the meaning of the term is then to compare it with other terms, similar but not identical, and the first in line is of course the notion of “relational”, as coined by Nicolas Bourriaud in his reflections on “relational art”: that is art capable of producing social interactions between artists and audiences, on the one hand, and members of the audience, on the other hand. Relatability and relationality are close, but not the same, for relatable works present a paradoxical form of relationality: they produce a strong sense of identification with certain works and certain persons (I like this and I know you like this too), but at the same time they also tend to exclude other persons (if I like this, it is also because I know that you and I like things other people don’t).

Glabvey’s article is not only highly relatable (after all, why am I writing this blogpost on it?), it is also a brilliant example of bridging the gap between a crucial case study (the Frank O’Hara poem “Having a Coke with You”, one of the biggest hits in Twitter and Instagram culture) and a sharp cultural analysis of the many aspects and dimensions of relatability, such as the relationship between relatability and normativity (O’Hara’s gay writing can perfectly be appropriated by nongay, even very heteronormative readers), relatability and publicity (is there a difference between the structures of a relatable poem and the structures of an advertisement?), relatability and ideology (Frank O’Hara is turning poetry into product placement and it is well known that his defense of a certain form of modern art served a Cold War propaganda agenda), etc.

More generally speaking, Glavey makes also very interesting claims on poetry, on art, on culture, and most of all on the links between all of these fields. But no further spoilers: please read the article without further delay, even if you don’t immediately relate to my dull and dry presentation of this great essay.

A New Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns

By Jan Baetens


Jeffrey Lieber

Flintstone Modernism Or The Crisis in Postwar American Culture

Flintstone Modernism

Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2018


I was very jealous of this book’s title, which immediately caught my eye (the dust cover, available in three colors, is no less intriguing) and now, after reading it, I am even more than jealous of the author since Flintstone Modernism is a great read and a brilliant example of the holistic approach of art and history that represents, for me, the best of cultural studies.

Lieber’s book opens with Hannah Arendt’s The Crisis in Culture (1960), the crisis being that of the gap between a lost tradition and an uncertain present as well as our difficulties of building a new future inspired by this past. It ends with deeply moving reflections on Louis Kahn, the visionary architect whose work of the 1950s and 60s is now seen, but only now and certainly not during his lifetime, as the most stimulating illustration of such a bridge between a faraway past and a present aimed at lasting forever.

Yet Flintstone Modernism is not about Arendt and Kahn, but more generally about the paradoxical cultural crisis in postwar America during the two decades after WW2 (there will be other crises to come after these years, but that is not the scope of the book), when the US, as the new world power, tries to give new meaning to a no longer viable European modernism, associated with a functionalist and ideological agenda that was considered outdated as well as incompatible with US values. Lieber’s book analyzes different answers to this fundamental cultural problem, which he frames in terms of the Quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns (in the 17th Century, this quarrel was between those who considered the models of Ancient Greece and Rome, rediscovered in the Renaissance, as eternal and impossible to surpass and those who stressed instead the inventions and achievements of modern culture). During the postwar period, the US attempts to go in directions other than the European models of the 1920s and 30s. However, common to all these attempts is that the Ancient, which has to be reinvented in Modern times, is no longer that of a totally destroyed and morally bankrupt Europe (and even less of the new evil that was the Soviet Union), but that of the ancient roots of European civilization, namely Egypt, Greece and Rome. More specifically, it appears that the newness to which the US feels attracted cannot be separated from the dream of greatness and monumentality exemplified by the three Ancient cultures, with their Pyramids, their Parthenon and their Forum.

The most original part of Lieber’s book is, however, not his critical stance towards what he calls “Flintstone Modernism” (the popular Flintstones TV series of the early series being such a –funny but also sharp– corporate and petty-bourgeois mix of the Ancients and the Moderns), but his decision to match the analysis of architecture, a typical representative of high art, with an analysis of popular culture, mainly the magazine press (Time, Fortune, shelter and lifestyle magazines) and the immensely popular “sand and sandal” peplums of the period (it will be the same type of movies, think of the infamous 1963 Elizabeth Taylor vehicle Cleopatra, that will play a decisive role in the bankruptcy of the Hollywood studio system in the early sixties). This comparison is dramatically instructive, for Hollywood and Fortune show us much more directly what is at stake in the great social debates of the era than the successive styles and fashions of skyscrapers and corporate or private buildings, which Lieber also reads in light of shelter magazines and big screen escapism. Besides, the comparison also demonstrates the honesty and seriousness of pop (pulp?) culture as well as its major impact on society at large.

Flintstone Modernism is definitely a book on architecture, but it is also a wonderful contribution to the cultural studies take on art and history (and, in that sense, very different from both art history and cultural history). A must-read, I say, and I do hope a future classic.

What a difference the book makes!

By Jan Baetens

le fait diversFrédérique Toudoire-Surlapierre

Le Fait divers et ses fictions

Paris : éd. de Minuit, 2019, 192 p.

ISBN : 9782707345448
18.00 €

There is no real English translation for the French word « fait divers », which refers to the smaller news items, often purely anecdotal and without any special interest –except for the  public that has always devoured them (another French term is “les chiens écrasés”, the crushed dogs being also the traffic victims, of course). These news briefs often have a strongly melodramatic or sensational content (celebs’ divorces, kidnappings, bank robberies, murders) and their ubiquity is generally condemned as a symptom of depoliticizing and streamlining of a mind-numbed audience.

The book by Frédérique Toudoire-Surlapierre questions these prejudices, not by rereading the news brief from a new perspective, but by examining what happens –not in the text but in the mind of the readers– when serious literature takes such news items as its starting point. This general interrogation emerges in a special context, that of the alleged fading-out of literature as a socially relevant cultural practice (why go on reading literature?) and that of the book as a living host medium (why read texts in print if there are screens?). That contemporary literature frequently turns toward the “fait divers” could be seen as a an attempt to reestablish a dialogue with the audience, no longer interested in literature but still fascinated by the news brief. But this is not at all the author’s purpose, who claims instead that the merger of serious literature (be it fictional, autofictional or nonfictional) and the “fait divers” tells us something vital on the present status of literary writing, while also highlighting a key function that no other type of cultural practice can accomplish better than literary texts. On the one hand, the spread of “news literature” demonstrates a shift in the relationship between literature and social commitment: writers are no longer “engagés” (engaged, devoted to a specific cause and putting their texts at the service of this cause; today, this would be considered mere propaganda), but “impliqués” (which does not mean “implicated”, but “involved”, being part of what one is describing or commenting and doing it in a sense that goes with certain obligations). On the other hand, if literature does not change the content matter of the news item, it invites –and in many cases encourages, if not forces– the reader to change his or her mind, since its special take on the news brief confronts the audience with a case of “cognitive dissonance” (Leon Festinger), in other words a way of thinking that diverges from the public opinion. Contrary to other forms of social communication, literature has the right, and perhaps also the duty, to go against the grain and to challenge the doxa or general beliefs, often in shocking and scandalizing ways.

Using a variegated corpus of crime-based news items as rewritten in modern and contemporary literary texts (from Proust to Duras, from Genet to Giono, from Foucault to Bon, among many others), Le Fait divers et ses fictions offers a convincing demonstration of its double basic claim: first, the reinvention of literature as a socially relevant practice in an era of information overload and screen culture; second, the special link between literature and the more general issue of social belief and common opinions as well as the critical role of literature in the mechanisms that make us question the apparently unquestionable.

Beyond & MuPop – The new heritage experience

By Fred Truyen

b1From February 28th until the 14th of March, the exhibition “Beyond”, produced by 7 students of the MA in Cultural Studies[i] featured at the Agora Learning Centre in Leuven. The opening was attended by Yiannis Mouzalas, the former Greek Minister for Migration.

The exhibition “Beyond” explores why people choose to migrate and how they experience their journey. By zooming in on the story of twelve individuals, the students tried to give an image on migration nowadays in a first part of the exhibition. Their stories vary from fleeing from war zones to moving for love and are brought back alive through an object unbreakably linked to their path towards Belgium. It also contains video footage of interviewees telling their stories.


These images of migration stories today are juxtaposed to heritage photos from Europeana collections. A selection was made from the exhibition “Thousands are Sailing[ii] by Sofie Taes, Research Assistant at Cultural Studies in Leuven, who is the main curator of the Europeana Photography and Migration collections. b4This original exhibition, created in collaboration with Photoconsortium, was shown in Pisa in October of 2018 and already traveled to Leuven for the Day of Science at the University in late November 2018.

“Thousands are Sailing” reprints vintage photographs from major archives and major collections in Europe, and tries to capture stories of migration through the centuries of classic photography. The exhibition was part of an EC funded project “Migration in the Arts and Sciences” produced by a consortium led by Europeana Foundation in which KU Leuven was in charge of selection and curation. The physical exhibition complements the virtual exhibition on the Europeana site “People on the Move”.


Instead of telling a synthetic, historic narrative, an aesthetic, observational stance is taken in which images are telling their own story, which are then contextualized. It starts with looking at the image, like Beyond starts with listening to stories. It is more memory and recollection than history, as our main aim at Europeana is to deliver and open up the archival, museum and library material in a way that (art) historians can start to work with it from a bird’s eye perspective on Europeana’s massive collections. But it cannot be limited to just showcasing heritage. The goal is to engage audiences and communities in contributing to and taking ownership of their heritage, to make it a living memory that intertwines with today and helps shape visions for the future.


Children in the suburbs of Girona, 1960. Ajuntament de Girona/CRDI CC-BY-NC-ND

Citizen contributions

For this Europeana developed the idea of “Europeana Collection Days”, where citizens are invited to contribute their stories by means of an object of memory, which is then digitized and published together with the testimony in the Europeana collections. This way, memories of the past are linked to today’s experiences and become a shared heritage. Collection days for the topic of Migration were held in more than 10 European cities including Athens, Belgrade, Brussels, Budapest, Cardiff, Dublin, Pisa, Sibiu, Utrecht, Zagreb and others.


A next step is envisioned in the project “WeAre#EuropeForCulture” which Cultural Studies will run in 2019 together with Photoconsortium, a non-profit organisation for the protection and promotion of photographic heritage, and Noterik, a media development company. In 10 European cities a workshop will be run with a selected group of people who normally do not have a specific interest or access to cultural heritage, in an effort to further inclusion. They will be invited to engage with their own stories with selected collections, and help with the curation of lead stories and interactions. These will be put to use on large interactive TV screens in accessible spaces where the general public will be able to interact with the contents using their smartphone.


In each city an opening event will take place with the co-created content. A final event at the House of European History in Brussels will wrap it all up, attended by representatives from the different workshops. The project takes the idea of the Collection Days one step further by adding playful interactions: the audience will be able to control the content display and engage in quizzes, votes and gaming activities. This way, not only the content of the exhibitions will be the result of crowdsourcing, but also the activities will leave the safe confinement of the heritage institutions and meet the audience in public spaces.

This corresponds to an evolution in which our vision and expectations towards the mission of Cultural Heritage institutions is profoundly changing through online technologies. One of the leading thinkers in this field, Pier Luigi Sacco, speaks about a move from an approach of cultural heritage which can be called “patronage”, involving curation by professionals, over a “culture 2.0” phase involving scaling up and a market approach towards the development into “open communities of practice” in what can be called Culture 3.0[iii].  Whatever the names we give to these shifts, the reality of shifting city populations in European Cities both through generational change as well as influx and migration means that Cultural Heritage institutions face the challenge of reaching out to new audiences, outside of their comfort zone.

[i] Alja Kiseleva, Esther Plasschaert, Malou Vandevorst, Maria Panagiotou, Natai Herremans, Nikita Artamov and Stella Cheng

[ii] See previous blog https://culturalstudiesleuven.net/2018/10/15/exhibition-thousands-are-sailing/

[iii] P.L. Sacco, Culture 3.0: A new perspective for the EU 2014-2020 structural funds programming, EENC Paper, April 2011, https://www.interarts.net/descargas/interarts2577.pdf

The Screenwriter’s Bible

By Jan Baetens

Yves Lavandier, La Dramaturgie. L’Art du récit

Les Impressions Nouvelles, 2019



There are countless books on “how to write”, and the number of topics they cover, the types of audiences they cater to, the dreams and ambitions they may help or fail to realize, the styles they use, the tricks of the trade they offer (for free or for sale), the profiles of authors that take the risk of giving advice to future competitors, is even bigger. It should therefore not come as a surprise that many colleagues in cultural studies have taken the literary advice business–hovering between vocational training and personal development and many other things in-between or beyond these two extremes–as one of their favorite study topics.


Their job will become easier and I guess also more exciting thanks to the new edition of what is considered the screenwriter’s bible, the one and only that actually deserves this title: Yves Lavandier’s Dramaturgy, a seven hundred (large) page book that revisits the fundamentals of storytelling as defined by Aristotle in his Poetics, and that rethinks, enlarges, deepens, and illustrates them with examples of contemporary narrative from different media (theater, cinema, comics, television, fantasy, etc.).

Trained at Columbia University by František Daniel, Stefan Sharff and Milos Forman, Yves Lavandier is both author and script doctor, and his book is a brilliant synthesis of this twofold life-long experience. Of all the (yes, countless) books on scriptwriting and storytelling and how to do it, this is by far the best one I know of, and frankly the only one I have on my desk when asking questions about the relative qualities and problems of specific plot structures. Lavandier does not pretend to reinvent narrative theory; his major aim is to help writers, professional as well as non-professional ones, to solve the many questions that emerge when one tries to tell a good story. He does so by emphasizing the fundamental role of general, classic laws, often forgotten or discarded, and by illustrating them in an extremely original way.

Rather than exclusively focusing on positive examples, such as the inevitable: this is how Hitchcock shows the superiority of suspense on surprise, he also gives negative examples, highlighting what can go wrong when one forgets the basic rules of the game. These examples all are extremely convincing for three reasons: 1) they are all motivated by a larger theoretical framework (Aristotle’s poetics), 2) their number is close to infinite: almost every page of the book discusses various examples, 3) they also concern masterpieces and great authors: Lavandier is not afraid of drawing our attention to what goes wrong in this or that scene of, for instance, Lubitsch’s To Be or Not To Be (which is also praised as an example of nearly perfect dramaturgy), what could have been improved in this or that sequence by Hitchcock or Spielberg, or which detail or plot element should have been removed, modified, or simply used differently by Truffaut, Brecht or Chaplin.

Lavandier’s Dramaturgy is not a must-read: it is a must-use, for starting as well as for experienced writers. One of the many lessons one can learn from it, is that storytelling remains both very simple and highly mysterious. Anybody can do it, at any time, and anybody can always enjoy improving, provided one accepts to critically judge one’s own achievements.