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Crisis, Literature and the Contemporary


Admission requirements

No extra admission requirements


The term 'crisis' dominates public rhetoric in the 21st century. From the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, through the global financial crisis of 2007-2008, up to the ongoing refugee crisis, the climate crisis, the COVID-19 crisis, the energy crisis etc people feel that they live in a perpetual state of crisis or emergency. The framework of crisis as a perennial state or way of life resonates in various rearrangements in the Western political landscape: the rhetoric of fear of others (terrorists, migrants, refugees), the rise of populist parties, post-truth rhetoric, nationalism, nativism, and neo-fascism, the intensification of nostalgic restorative projects and conspiracy cultures, the polarization between European North and South etc.

This sense of crisis can be associated with several eruptions of violence, xenophobic attitudes or grim diagnoses of the present in terms of (Western) ‘imperial’ decline and imminent barbarian invasions. Within the current neoliberal governmentality, crisis often becomes an instrument of rule and a means of imposing authoritative measures. But this landscape of perpetual crisis has also given rise to various forms of activism, protest cultures, and literary or artistic attempts to rethink the future, devise alternative worldviews, and initiate emancipatory change. In this paradoxical context, literature and art are often called upon to provide alternative imaginative structures for understanding, and coping with, the present and the future.

In this course, we will scrutinize the concept ‘crisis,’ its history, and its uses today. We will chart various contexts of declared crises – the financial crisis, the ‘migration crisis,’ the climate crisis, the crisis of neoliberal capitalism, the crisis of truth, freedom etc. – and theoretical responses to crisis-rhetoric by critics and philosophers including Giorgio Agamben, Judith Butler, Bruno Latour, Reinhart Koselleck, and others. How is the framework of crisis produced? Which discursive structures and figures of the other does crisis-rhetoric hinge on? What role do mimetic and contagious affects play in both the dissemination and diagnostic of contagious crises, both imaginary and real? What notions of temporality or historical time are produced through discourses of crisis today? And can we devise alternative vocabularies to talk about the above-outlined phenomena as scholars in the Humanities?

At the same time, we will delve into literary and artistic interventions in contemporary ‘crises.’ How does literature, film, and art more generally respond to crisis rhetoric? Which tasks or functions are assigned to literature and art in this context? How do literary and cinematic works respond to fears, desires, and anxieties that emerge in contemporary contexts of crisis? To tackle these questions, we will discuss novels, poetry, drama, short stories, videos, films, TV series, and street artworks that articulate complex responses to crisis or alternative visions of the present and the future.

Course objectives

Students who follow this course will:

  • Gain in-depth knowledge of uses of the concept ‘crisis’ in various fields (social, cultural, political, philosophical)

  • Be trained in probing the functions of crisis-rhetoric and acquire insight into theoretical approaches that examine, oppose, or re-evaluate the idea of a ‘perennial crisis’

  • Acquaint themselves with theoretical texts and literary works that propose alternative frameworks, vocabularies, and imaginaries in contexts of crisis

  • Gain insight into current debates on the function of literature and other media in crisis-times and acquaint themselves with literary, cinematic and other artistic works that respond to ‘crisis’


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method


  • Final Paper (3,500 words; for ResMA students: 4,500 words)

  • Class presentation

  • 4 contributions to the discussion board on Brightspace and class participation


  • Final Paper (80%):

  • Class presentation (20%)

  • 4 contributions to the discussion board on Brightspace (pass/fail; no grade)


Should the final paper yield an insufficient grade, the student will be offered an opportunity for revising it.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

The reading list will be made available on Brightspace.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.
General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website.

Registration À la carte education, Contract teaching and Exchange

For the registration of exchange students contact Humanities International Office. À la carte education and contract teaching not applicable.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Arsenaal.


Not applicable