Part I. The Classics, Art, and Kitsch -

11 November 2006
09.30 – 18.30
Passenger Terminal, Amsterdam

Towards a Definition of Western Culture

This conference marks the beginning of a quest for a new definition of Western culture by inquiring into the meaning of the classics, of art, and of the phenomenon of kitsch.

‘Beauty will save the world’, Dostoyevsky provocatively stated in The Idiot. But who could endorse this view today? There is no culture without art – but what position does art occupy in our twenty-first-century society? Any ‘elitist’ form of cultural expression is labeled antidemocratic, and for that reason alone instantly condemned. Is there actually any fundamental difference between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art, or are they merely social constructs which reflect different tastes? Is great, high art, art which seeks to endure, still possible in our times?

‘It aims at pleasure without any thought of the best.’ In this way, Socrates defined a concept which twenty-five centuries later was to begin its relentless advance: kitsch. Where kitsch rules, everything is lovely, delightful, and good fun. Kitsch is the heart and soul of ‘postculture’: nothing is difficult in this culture, everything is immediately accessible to everyone, we no longer have to make any effort, everything is recognisable and, above all, possesses that ‘feel-good’ factor! Which values are propagated by kitsch? If kitsch is not ‘real’, then what is? Where can we find that which is really true, good, and beautiful?


France, 1932 - 2020

Marc Fumaroli

cultural historian, specialized in rhetoric

The Netherlands, 1946

Hans Abbing

economist and artist

United States, 1948

Sidney Blumenthal

journalist, advisor to Hilary and Bill Clinton

United Kingdom, 1955

Iwona Blazwick

directeur van de Whitechapel Art Gallery in Londen

Italy, 1941 – 2021

Roberto Calasso

writer and publisher at Adelphi

Belgium, 1950

Antoine Compagnon

literary scholar

United Kingdom, 1956

Paul Gilroy

sociologist who writes on race, discrimination and culture

The Netherlands, 1971

Arnon Grunberg

Dutch writer

Germany, 1937

Karsten Harries

philosopher who writes on aesthetics

United States, 1943

Hendrik Hertzberg

American political journalist

The Netherlands, 1954

Menno Meyjes

screenwriter and director in Hollywood

United States, 1942

Jack Miles

won the Pulitzer Prize for 'God. A Biography'

Greece, 1946

Alexander Nehamas

combines philosophy and literary studies

United States, 1953

Ingrid Rowland

art historian

United Kingdom, 1944 - 2020

Roger Scruton

conservative philosopher and art expert

United States, 1947

Jonathan Taplin

music and film producer

United States

Chuck Workman

documentary filmmaker

Poland, 1945 - 2021

Adam Zagajewski

poet and essayist