Past Event

Against Storytelling - A Symposium

March 15, 2019
3:00 PM - 7:00 PM
Columbia Global Centers l Paris, 4 rue de Chevreuse, 75006

This symposium aims to raise questions about the rise and centrality of ‘storytelling’ in the past few decades, and what this signifies to a culture. It asks if imaginative work has aspects that hold the attention as much as – often more than – ‘story’ does.

It is part of the ‘literary activism’ series conceptualised and curated by Amit Chaudhuri from December 2014 onwards, whose original mission statement can be read here:

The symposiums have been hosted since their inception by the University of East Anglia with partner institutions like Ashoka University, Presidency University, and Jadavpur University in India, and Oxford University in the UK. They aim to create a conversation and space, distinct from the literary festival or the academic conference, where creative practice may be discussed by writers, artists, filmmakers, academics, publishers, and translators in a way that attempts to uncover terms outside those put in place in the last thirty years by both the market and professionalised academic discourse.

The critic and cultural theorist Simon During described the symposiums as a space ‘where academic work in the humanities shapes creative and critical activities that are not themselves contained by the university system’, while the philosopher Simon Glendinning called it ‘a space for misfits’. The novelist Dubravka Ugresic, after participating in the first symposium, said in an interview: ‘Literary activism, as I see it, should be a useful corrector of mainstream literary values, a reminder and promoter of unknown literary territories. Literary activism is supposed to usurp our comfortable and rigid mainstream opinions, to shake up our literary tastes and standards…’


Programme for 15th March 2019 at Reid Hall


1.  ‘Journalism and the Triumph of the Story: A personal “narrative”’ 3 – 3.40 pm

Jeremy Harding (writer; contributing editor, London Review of Books) talks about his reluctant induction into storytelling as a journalist and his lasting ambivalence in the face of respectable fiction with a good plot and plausible characters. The talk will be chaired by Susan Boynton, Professor of Music (Historical Musicology) at Columbia University and Resident Faculty Director of the Columbia Institute for Ideas and Imagination.


2.  ‘Creative Abcedmindedness’ 3.45 – 4.35 pm

Peter D McDonald (Professor of English and Related Literatures, University of Oxford; author of Artefacts of Writing) and Saikat Majumdar (novelist; Professor of English and Creative Writing, Ashoka University) will be in conversation about the limits of storytelling and academic disciplines, and the sense of place, with Jon Cook (Professor of Literature, University of East Anglia)


4.35 – 5 pm Tea/coffee break


3. ‘Storytelling and Forgetfulness’ 5 – 5.50 pm

Amit Chaudhuri (writer, musician, Professor of Contemporary Literature, University of East Anglia, and Fellow, Columbia Institute for Ideas and Imagination, Paris) speaks of the difference between storytelling and writing. The talk will be chaired by Robert O'Meally (Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia and Fellow at the Columbia Institute for Ideas and Imagination, Paris).


4. ‘Confit de canard & other literary problems’ 6 – 6.50 pm

Deborah Levy (writer and fellow of the Columbia Institute for Ideas and Imagination) will be in conversation with Amit Chaudhuri and read from her work.