B B. Explanatory memorandum, by Mr Jacques
1. I should like to thank Mr Guy Fontaine, co-editor
of Lettres européennes – Manuel d’histoire
de la littérature européenne, for his contribution to
the drafting of this report.
2. In 2005, the Czech novelist Milan Kundera wrote in his essay The curtain that Europe had not
succeeded in thinking of its literature as a historical whole and
that he would forever repeat that this was an irretrievable intellectual
3. “What would remain of Europe, that old lady with a weak heart,
if the political and institutional ligaments holding it together
for over half a century suddenly disappeared overnight?” asks the
literary critic Raphaëlle Rérolle.
4. Encouraging people to learn about Europe’s literature seems
to be one method of giving life and expression to what 800 million
Europeans too often think of as merely an administrative framework,
endowed with a strictly rhetorical and technocratic language: European
literature will be a discipline, within the humanities, creating
“connoisseurs of the human condition”, to use Tzvetan Todorov’s
5. There are, however, many obstacles to be removed before we
can make progress towards the teaching of citizenship and venture
to regard learning about Europe’s literature as a schooling in European
cultural diversity. This was the tenor of the discussions held in
the Senate in Paris on 11 December 2007 by experts brought together
on the initiative of the Committee on Culture, Science and Education
of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which I
have the honour of chairing (see AS/Cult(2007)35).
6. The introduction, in all Council of Europe member states,
of an innovative method of teaching literature that takes account
of its European dimension is not intended to substitute the teaching
of a supranational “Eurocentric” canon for the often ethnocentric
teaching of native language and literature.
Promoting the teaching of European literature means:
a Recognising the openness of our
continent’s literature to influence, together with its contribution
to the global spread of ideas;
b Protecting the pluralism of the languages in which it
has been created;
c Taking account of existing educational practices in each
of the countries concerned;
d Encouraging literary translation of both the literary
heritage and contemporary writing;
e Publishing and fostering creative writing, accepting the
dizzy challenge of the new technologies, and protecting authors.
2 Recognising the openness of our continent’s
literature to influence, together with its contribution to the global
spread of ideas
8. Geographically, it is Asia and Mediterranean Africa,
the cradle of our European culture in many respects, which stand
out as having provided the basic template for our continent’s literature:
from Israel and ancient Egypt to China and Japan, from Hans Bethge,
Malraux and Ezra Pound, by way of Indian fables and Kipling’s India
and without forgetting Floris and Blanchefleur or
the Arabic poets (of Spain), who might have inspired the Provençal
troubadours. It is above all through poetry, theatre and stories
that the Asian influence is apparent. As for Sub-Saharan Africa,
Europe had only a very sketchy idea of it before taking root there
in the 19th century, even though the 18th-century French philosophers
had been interested in the slave system. Later, “Negro art” was
a powerful influence in helping the literary and artistic avant-garde
to get away from mimesis and create a new vision of reality. More
recently still, the African novel had an enviable vogue in Europe,
as is still the case for Latin America’s “magic realism” and the
poetry of Neruda and Paz. The reception of these influences in the United
States deserves an exposition in its own right, for their impact
spread over a century and a half: from Poe and Melville to Baldwin
and Roth. Last but not least, the Malay Archipelago and the South
Sea Islands are present in the works of Diderot, Conrad and a number
of other English-language authors.
9. The pattern revealed by a chronological approach is scarcely
clearer. Obviously, it all depends on how far back existing contacts
and influences can be traced. While there is no point in drawing
up a common chronology, we can at least distinguish three (not necessarily
overlapping) phases in what are processes that sometimes lasted
for centuries. The fact is that these phases were the result of
Europe’s double movement through overseas territories (advance,
then retreat), a movement which was far from being accomplished everywhere
at the same time and in the same manner. Moreover, decolonisation,
which began in 1774 (in the United States) and gathered pace after
1945, has not been completed even today, especially in economic terms.
10. The first phase might be termed colonial. Its early stages
were scarcely conducive to literary activity. Before people could
write they had to live, dig themselves in and hold their own. Once
settled, the diaspora whites who devoted themselves to the literature
modelled themselves on the codes in force in their home countries,
which were familiar to them. On the whole, pre-independence literary
output in North America remained provincial, largely imitating British
models, and we find a similar attachment to the Dutch example in Indonesia
and South Africa. Colonists tended to think in terms of imported
norms, and their attention was focused more on their own class than
on the world of the native. Nevertheless, some of the more clear-sighted settlers
exposed the abuses of the colonial system (for example, “Multatuli”
in Max Havelaar). Historically,
this phase coincided with the building of empires. Its sole culmination
was in Africa, with the Berlin Conference of 1885, which saw the
triumph of European imperialism; elsewhere, military expeditions
took place in China, Tonkin and Cuba during the same period.
11. Next came a transition stage (whose limits are hazy), during
which the belief in Europe’s superiority was attacked on two fronts:
domestically and abroad. Relativism, and the doubts that had made
their appearance with Montaigne, eventually led to celebration of
other peoples and lands that were deemed superior to an Old World
that had become a spent force. Meanwhile, the colonised elites were
becoming aware of their dignity and proclaiming their rights, even
in the language of their conquerors.
12. It is above all from the third, post-colonial, phase that
the counter influence mentioned above dates. In terms of literature,
political independence finally put an end to imitation of the European
models taught at school. Key ideas such as the American dream, Negritude
and “magic realism” were then able to unfold in their full splendour.
Whether it comes from descendants of white emigrants or the descendants
of their former subjects, this extensive literature has come to
diversify and revitalise the major European languages and give them
a truly global dimension, as long demonstrated by the North American
novel and, closer to home, Senghor, Naipaul, Brink, Nadine Gordimer,
Patrick White, Carpentier and Gabriel Garcia Márquez, of whom no
educated reader can be unaware. Europe has certainly not been repaid
with ingratitude. Quite the contrary. The caravels of its seafarers
and soldiers have returned without their cannons, sailing before
the inspiration of the mind.
3 Protecting the multiple voices of the languages
in which European literature has been created
13. Talking about “European literature” and touching
on teaching methods for such a subject does not in any way mean
repudiating national literature or entail merging the linguistic
code of each country into the deadly Utopia of a universal language.
Every prospectus for every university in Europe offers students
an introduction to “Latin American literature” if they so wish.
And the teaching of this subject covers all the languages in which literature
is written today in some 20 or so countries of South America, without
neglecting the fact that writing in Spanish and Portuguese is predominant.
Why deny the European continent a classification that is accepted for
the American continent?
14. The temptation to slough off one’s mother tongue (Conrad,
Kafka, Maeterlinck, Nabokov, etc.) or to “debalkanise” oneself in
order to become “European” (Cioran) is still identifiable, even
today: in Amsterdam in 2006, during a symposium entitled “Writing
Europe now”, the Romanian writer Simone Paupescu mentioned the advice
that she gave to her creative-writing students, which was that if
they wanted to be well known, they should write directly in American
15. Another global language has made its appearance with the “Internet
generation”, which has seen writing proliferate chaotically (outside
books): an entire community, unlettered in the literal sense of
the word, communicates in a purely phonetic code, thus retreating
into tribal behaviour, impervious to surrounding cultural references.
16. Mindful of the multiple voices of the languages in which works
of literature have been created, the teaching of European literature,
because it will be based on respect for linguistic, historical and
cultural diversity, will allow a cross-cutting approach that highlights
the obvious existence of a common bond. To quote the Spanish novelist
José Manuel Fajardo: “The teaching of European literature will become
an incontrovertible tool for consolidating a European consciousness.”
4 Taking account of existing educational practices
in each European country
17. Although the course titles may seem comparable, the
reality of literature teaching varies greatly from country to country
across our continent, probably because the subject-matter itself,
“literature”, is interpreted in different ways: the idea of a literary
canon, for example, is currently being challenged in the Netherlands, and
a recent controversy in Poland has shown how difficult it is to
establish a corpus, even of national literature, and how sensitive
and emotional a subject this is.
18. Before determining the purpose of teaching, it is therefore
the very concept of literature that must be defined. Moreover, the
issue is far from being the same in every country, for the teaching
of literature is closely bound up with the historical development
of the region in which it takes place. Some European states particularly
encourage the teaching of national literature because they fear
being assimilated into a supranational society that would obliterate
identities. This is the case in Ireland, for example.
19. For the sake of simplicity, the differences between education
systems in Europe from north to south may be described as follows.
By teaching the native language and literature, Scandinavia, the
British Isles and the German-speaking countries today set out to
foster the learner’s intellectual development.
20. Mediterranean Europe (including France) emphasises the communication
of a culture through the teaching of literature.
21. The desire for Europe, and therefore for the teaching of European
culture and literature, is most obvious in the countries formerly
behind the Iron Curtain: all the “western” authors banned during
the Soviet period – and even the cultural heritage of Greece and
Rome, which was widely rejected between 1945 and 1981 – are considered
a valuable discovery, appropriate teaching of which should be of
benefit to young people.
22. In the light of the above, two conclusions are possible: the
first is that Europe does indeed have a “common treasure trove”,
which we wish, in varying degrees and by various teaching methods,
to pass on to pupils. It is therefore legitimate to prepare and
distribute teaching material inviting them to explore this “common
treasure trove”. (However, a change in the teaching of literature
in Europe will not be dictated by a central authority but rather
be encouraged step by step. It is for this reason that any plan
to promote teaching of European literature must put the accent on
broadening the options for literature teaching within each country.)
23. The second conclusion is that it would be a good thing, at
the same time as encouraging exploration of Europe’s literary heritage,
to examine each country’s know-how in terms of literature teaching:
it would be rewarding for any European teacher to make room in his
or her teaching not only for foreign literature but also for different
educational practices; however, it should be understood that the
object is not to draw up league tables for effectiveness.
5 Encouraging, across Europe, literary translation
of both the literary heritage and contemporary writing
24. The Berlin Wall was not just watchtowers guarding
barbed wire. Ideologically, culturally and linguistically, Europe
was radically divided. There was a genuine rift, from which the
scars and after-effects will live on in people’s minds, attitudes
and knowledge if we are not careful. It would be utopian to believe
that the elite – scientists, scholars, politicians, and often writers
– that worked for the reconstruction of Europe has succeeded in
communicating its knowledge of Europe and its culture to populations
deprived of free access to knowledge since 1945. The fact that literary
texts did not circulate freely was a pernicious part of an ideology
that still has resonance and which imposed fallacious books and
ideas (authors and literary movements were passed over in silence
or falsely idealised, forced correlations were drawn between historical
events and literary production, etc.).
25. Besides these omissions dictated by the Marxist regime, we
may find gaps that can be filled only by a systematic policy of
translation into all European languages: basic major authors such
as the Spaniards Lara and Espronceda are not translated into Polish
at all. And while Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback
of Notre Dame is easy to find in translation, there is
no Polish version of Les contemplations to
26. For its part, the old “western” Europe is also displaying
a regrettable ignorance of major writing in the old “eastern” Europe.
Intercultural communication between eastern European countries and
countries such as the United Kingdom and France is far from balanced:
the latter’s literature has been widely translated, but relatively little
has been translated from the former, especially into English.
27. “Is literature currently being produced in the east of Europe?”
the Dutch journalist Michel Krielaars ventured to wonder aloud in
2006 at the “Writing Europe now” symposium in Amsterdam, clearly
pointing up the divide between “major” and “minor” literature. Literary
translation is one of the keys to ensuring that works written in
“minority” languages are no longer undervalued.
28. Speaking as a translation specialist, Professor Maryla Laurent
went even further: “My experience of literary translation shows
me every day that a great writer, even if read in a bad translation,
is unsettling precisely because he or she is ‘other’, and therefore
both alike and different. Literature must be written in all languages,
including those without the status of an ‘official’ language, and
we must work on tools to translate these languages into one another
without losing the specific differences.”
6 Publishing and fostering creative writing, accepting
the dizzy challenge of the new technologies, and protecting authors
29. The production of teaching materials certainly represents
progress towards the knowledge and “sharing, by Europe’s inhabitants,
of the priceless literary heritage which is theirs” (to quote Professor
Peter Schnyder), but it brings with it a disturbing question.
30. Why are there so few reference books to introduce Europe’s
800 million citizens to the roots, history and current state of
literary production on the continent where they live?
31. The teaching of European literature means fostering literary
output in all media and strengthening the intermediation chain for
European literature and books (authors, publishers, booksellers,
librarians and teachers).
32. The work accomplished in Poland and Switzerland by the Editions
Noir sur Blanc publishing house is a step in this direction, the
idea being to foster intercultural dialogue through works translated
and distributed in French and Polish, with publication of the literary
works of contemporary writers from 20 different linguistic areas
33. Today’s books speak to Europe’s pupils about their own lives.
So too do the books of the past; this is the idea behind the work
being done by the Les Classiques du Monde series, amongst others,
in publishing works considered to be classics in their countries
34. Collecting these classics in a large digital library – the
European process inspired by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France
with its Européana project springs to mind – is a means of pooling
and providing access to major works of cultural and literary reference.
35. Taking advantage of the wider options offered by the new technologies,
educational initiatives have proliferated at national and international
level (as in the plan to produce, under the auspices of a European committee
of experts, an online guide called “Theatre, the cement of Europe”,
and to network international theatre festivals for the benefit of
European pupils): they include initiatives by the French Ministry
of Education for teachers of arts subjects, and the networking,
for European pupils, of experimental theatre by the International
Festival of ClujNapoca in Romania and the Schultheater der Länder
Festival in Germany.
36. A Europe which is ready, after all, to consider systematic
methods for teaching European literature must, when taking up the
dizzy challenge presented by the new technologies, respect the unassignable
non-pecuniary rights protecting the essence of the work and the
specific personality of its author, whether or not it is published
in paper form.
37. The coexistence of paper and digital editions will make a
valuable contribution to the teaching of our literature: promoting
the teaching of European literature means contemplating a comprehensive
project supported by a Europe-wide political commitment and encompassing
authors, publishers, translators, librarians, schools, teachers
of various subjects, and pupils.
38. It is only if we do this that the image of the old lady with
a weak heart will begin to fade and another mythological figure,
dear to every amateur of classical antiquity, will take its place:
Princess Europa, a desirable young woman.
Reporting committee: Committee on Culture, Science and Education.
Reference to committee: Doc. 10667 and
Reference No. 3194 of 30 March 2006.
Draft recommendation unanimously adopted by the committee
on 22 January 2008.
Members of the committee: Mrs Anne Brasseur (Chairperson),
Baroness Hooper, Mr Detlef Dzembritzki, Mr Mehmet Tekelioğlu (Vice-Chairpersons),
Mr Remigijus Ačas, Mr Kornél
Almássy, Mrs Aneliya Atanasova,
Mr Lokman Ayva, Mrs Donka
Banović, Mr Rony Bargetze,
Mr Walter Bartoš, Mr Radu
Mircea Berceanu, Mr Levan Berdzenishvili, Mrs Oksana Bilozir (alternate: Mrs Olha Herasym’yuk), Mrs Guðfinna Bjarnadóttir,
Mrs Ana Blatnik, Mrs Maria
Luisa Boccia, Mrs Margherita Boniver, Mr Ivan Brajović, Mr Vlad Cubreacov, Mrs Lena Dabkowska-Cichocka, Mr Ivica Dačić, Mr Joseph Debono Grech,
Mr Ferdinand Devínsky, Mr Daniel Ducarme (alternate: Mr Hendrik Daems), Mrs Åse Gunhild Woie Duesund, Mrs Anke Eymer, Mr Relu
Fenechiu, Mrs Blanca Fernández-Capel, Mrs Maria Emelina Fernández-Soriano
(alternate: Mr Iñaki Txueka),
Mr Axel Fischer, Mr José Freire Antunes (alternate: Mr José
Luis Arnaut), Mrs Ruth Genner (alternate: Mrs Doris Fiala), Mr Ioannis Giannellis-Theodosiadis, Mr Stefan
Glǎvan, Mr Vladimir Grachev (alternate: Mr Igor Chernyshenko), Mr Raffi Hovannisian, Mr Rafael Huseynov, Mr Fazail ibrahimli, Mr Mogens Jensen, Mr Morgan Johansson, Mrs Liana Kanelli (alternate:
Mrs Rodoula Zissi), Mr Jan Kaźmierczak (alternate: Mr Dariusz Lipiński), Mrs Cecilia Keaveney, Mr Ali Rashid Khalil
(alternate: Mr Donato Mosella),
Mr Serhii Kivalov, Mr József Kozma,
Mr Jean-Pierre Kucheida, Mr Ertuğrul Kumcuoğlu, Mr Markku Laukkanen, Mr Jacques Legendre (alternate: Mr Philippe Nachbar), Mr Yves Leterme, Mr van
der Linden, Mrs Jagoda Majska-Martinčević, Mrs Milica Marković,
Mrs Muriel Marland-Militello (alternate: Mr Alain Cousin), Mr Andrew McIntosh (alternate: Baroness Knight of Collingtree), Mr Ivan
Melnikov, Mrs Maria Manuela Melo,
Mrs Assunta Meloni, Mr Paskal Milo,
Mrs Christine Muttonen (alternate: Mr Albrecht Konečný), Mrs Miroslava Němcová, Mr Edward O’Hara, Mr Kent Olsson, Mr Andrey
Pantev, Mrs Antigoni Papadopoulos,
Mr Azis Pollozhani, Mrs Majda
Potrata, Mrs Anta Rugāte,
Lord Russell-Johnston (alternate: Mr Robert Walter),
Mr Indrek Saar, Mr André Schneider (alternate: Mr Frédéric Reiss), Mrs Albertina Soliani, Mr Yury
Solonin (alternate: Mr Anatoliy Korobeynikov),
Mr Christophe Spiliotis-Saquet, Mrs Doris Stump, Mr Valeriy Sudarenkov, Mr Petro Symonenko,
Mr Klaas de Vries, Mr Piotr Wach, Mr Wolfgang Wodarg, N... (alternate: Mrs Rosario Velasco Garcia).
NB: The names of those members present at the meeting are
printed in bold.
See 17th Sitting, 17 April 2008 (adoption of the draft recommendation);
and Recommendation 1833.