severin’s choice: frans-willem korsten

Some time ago I thought I will need to read a whole library with contemporary authors in order to understand the true directions of the actual global society, to be capable to react in a credible manner as a writer and visual artist.
But a few days ago I found on net the below Pamphlet of a cutting edge author, Frans-Willem Korsten, extraordinary professor at the famous Erasmus University Rotterdam and lecturer at the Leiden University Institute for Cultural Disciplines, and I was thrilled by the correct and profound analysis of the tendencies of our time…
In my opinion, Frans-Willem Korsten is not only one of the best world thinkers and experts on literature and politics, but also an ethical model for the young generation of intelectuals.
I must thank him again for accepting to publish his pamphlet on my blog, too, and I stop this short presentation for our readers with the last words from the message he sent me: AVANTI, IN GOOD SPIRIT.

More info about Frans-Willem Korsten,

Pamphlet on literature as a weapon in a century of corruption

September 2011
Frans-Willem KORSTEN

1. In the twenty-first century, the border between so-called regular society and the underworld will collapse. Fields of poppies will flourish in militarized zones and biotechnology will develop its paths independent of what judges find acceptable. Urban areas will extend beyond boundaries and more and more districts will be no go areas. Because they were ordered not to, police officers will not enter the highest floors of sky scrapers. On all kinds of levels the face of a turbulently criminal and corrupt society smiles upon us.

2. In the twentieth century, the Dutch economist Jan Tinbergen predicted that the opposite systems of totalitarian communism and democratic capitalism would converge. What has been defined as the collapse of totalitarian communism and the ultimate victory of democratic capitalism is nothing more (or less) than the monster that was the result of this convergence: totalitarian capitalism.

3. The global dominance of capitalism was not the result of a powerful coup, with the aim to govern and to make the law. This is to say: capitalism does not rule as a sovereign, or legally (although it is protected by law). Step by step, capitalism started to dominate society, on all terrains of life or of death, even determining the time allotted to say farewell to one’s beloved: half an hour. Its desire and power to be present in every corner is what makes it totalitarian. In every totalitarian system the question is not so much how to live but how to survive. Great numbers of people are grateful for the marvelous life they are allowed to have because of capitalism – as long as they have a job and don’t care about destruction (of others, of life, of being).

4. On average, the question of how to survive under a totalitarian regime will be answered understandably: by corruption or criminality. Corruption will be allowed as long as it is practiced by people that support the system. Those who see no chance of surviving otherwise will opt for criminality, which is fitting in a system that is itself criminal. All those on the losing side, who have no job, no money, no health care, and no entrance to the judicial system, know how ruthlessly the system can ‘respond’.

5. Criminality is derived from crimen: the cry of indignation that is, simultaneously, a complaint, begging for judgment. Corruption is derived from corrumpere: to destroy, to waste (tellingly similar, in this respect, to consumption). Corruption destroys and spills indeed: it smothers the cry of indignation and the complaint will be thrown away with the garbage at some unnoticed moment.

6. Criminality and corruption are never simple and can only be understood in relation to complex, disturbed and disturbing circumstances. Not understanding them means that one cannot address them by means of judgment. Understanding them and judging them in ever-changing circumstances is a matter of ethics. The latter demands agility and sensibility. Ethics does not work by means of commandments and prohibitions but by means of guiding threads; not by means of presuppositions but by means of an attitude. People can be trained in this. Literature offers that training.

7. Politics, invented far before capitalism existed, realizes (slowly and in astonishment) that it has been overrun. The European middle ages knew a battle between political forces and the church. Now the battle should be one between the political system and the economic-technological one. What is at stake in the battle is who is to decide what the world should look like, or more importantly: what it will look like. Politics has yet to notice this battle or its grounds. On a local, regional, national and global level, politics stands in the service of capitalism and helps it to survive. This is why politics will not have a weapon against the systemic criminalization and corruption that are fueled by global capitalism.

8. The media do not have a weapon against the coming societal corruption because too many of them use criminal means themselves to acquire information, or they manipulate the news in order to blow a moral horn, which calls upon people to either glorify others or execrate hem. Not hindered by an autonomous ethical position, the media feed a maximum desire for moralism. The more moralism, the less ethics.

9. Moralism works with strict borders between good and evil apart from context and it stands at the service of spectacle. Good and evil are not defined in terms of content but in terms of winners and losers, human beings and monsters, the innocent and the guilty, the pure and the filthy. The corrupt and criminal society that awaits us will be moralistic because moralism leads to conviction on the basis of ignorance. Moralism easily extends conflict; conflict provides spectacle. Spectacle, in turn, serves totalitarian capitalism because it short-circuits analysis, knowledge and compassion.

10. Where Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot turned power totalitarian by anchoring it in their very person, global capitalism succeeds in ruling the world in a totalitarian fashion as a non-person. It does not have a face or a body and cannot be murdered or poisoned. Its weak spot is, nevertheless, that it lives in symbiosis: with ‘us’, producers-consumers. At this basic level also lies the possibility of real political reaction.

11. A political decoy is the current renaissance of extreme right-wing parties, especially in Europe and the US. For a substantial part, these parties house criminals, mostly small ones. They work on the basis of the threat of violence, or the actualization of it. They have contacts, directly or indirectly, with organized crime. Without exception their financial household is non-transparent. They do not fight against the financial and socio-economical status quo and do not desire real social change (for the benefit of the poor). They strive for power, mostly in person, and everything that serves this person, criminal or corrupt, will do.

12. As it is, the extreme left does not experience a comparable renaissance. If it did, the extreme left would probably downplay the pernicious forces of criminality and underestimate the destructive forces of corruption. It would think, too easily, that it could make a new world, or the world anew.

13. Because politics does not know, in any adequate sense, how to fight against the corruption and criminality that is fueled by totalitarian capitalism, the battle is being waged elsewhere: in the domains of religion, justice and literature or art. Currently, they are under pressure, globally. In Russia, anybody who wants to fight against corruption and criminality is the immediate target of secret services and gang men. Any appeal to the judicial system is ‘uncertain’ because that system itself has been bracketed, most certainly if you happen to be Islamic. In China any religious person or artist that does not follow the strict rules of the system is considered to be a danger to the state, and will be declared insane, eliminated or jailed, or accused of tax fraud. In the US, the media serve as a platform from which anybody can be attacked, while the judicial system is being threatened by radical privatization. In Brazil, corruption is what makes society possible and the military fight against criminal forces in the favelas is ‘necessary’ because the mob has bought the police and the leading elite has bought the judiciary. For all extreme right-wing parties in Europe the constitution, the judicial system, religion and art are favorite targets because they want to smother any independent voice (if necessary with violence, in the end preferably by violence).

14. Literature will tell the stories that must be told in service of the powers that are, as it will tell the stories that should not be told and which the suppressed, the victims and the survivors pray will be told. Both criminality and corruption demand silence about what really happened. Literature cannot remain silent, will not remain silent. The desire and the task of literature is ‘to say all’ as Derrida defined it.
This is what makes literature the most complex, the most multifaceted artifact. This is why literature irritates and will be a threat for those who do not want to hear all. This is why it is an inexhaustible source of hope. This is why literature is a weapon against criminality and corruption.

15. Literature helps individuals to be ethically resilient or to stand tall in times of systemic corruption and criminality because literature trains in ‘all’: an all-encompassing sensibility. Literature is not reduced, therefore, to a vehicle of ethics. Literature works ethically because it touches people aesthetically, even those that do not want to be touched. Literature is the result of all-encompassing sensing: imagining, describing, decorating, surprising, forgiving, debasing, folding, stratifying, mixing, dissecting, betraying, enjoying, vilifying, pressurizing, exploring, masking, harmonizing, delighting, terrifying.

16. Opting for beautiful literature only, means defusing literature. Literature does not have clean hands and is never innocent. It knows what guilt is and often carries it. Literature does not operate ethically, from a position outside, but from a position within, both in the middle and in the margin. It has been touched by everything because it has been touching everything, without being corrupted by it. It imagined every crime without committing it. This is why literature can be an important weapon in the coming century that smiles so benignly at us.

17. A literary work can be the property of a publisher or maker. Literature per se is nobody’s property, not even a nation’s or a culture’s. Literature per se does not care about ownership and this determines its autonomy. Appropriation, by economical and political forces, of a work of art is possible. Literature per se cannot be appropriated. This is why literature is chutzpah for any totalitarian power. The latter would rather choose non-art than autonomous art.

18. A society that has sanctified economical principles in a totalitarian way will attack (smothering is also an attack) what it does not understand. This will not be an attack on all literature but on certain sorts of literature, such as: the incomprehensible, useless, non-profitable. Here, the core of literature is at stake. Literature can only exist as ‘all’: useful and useless, profitable and non-profitable, bad, mediocre, good, comprehensible and incomprehensible, avant-garde and classical, sanctimonious and sacrilegious, sensible and nonsensical, pulp and high brow, best-selling and marginal (or less then marginal).

19. There is no reason why societies would not be able to get rid of art (as Nietzsche predicted). Secularization was considered to be inconceivable for centuries. Stripping society of art does not imply that one robs the world of its magic or mystique (Entzauberung). It implies de-sensing societies. De-sensed societies are very possible. They have existed.

20. Humanists of the first hour studied what should and could be correct. Within this context they fought against corruption, and at times risked their lives in doing so. Erasmus, for one, checked the Latin translation of gospels that were written in Greek. It could have cost him his life. Twentieth-century post-humanism is not the end of this type of humanist research; it is its ultimate consequence. It studies the correlation of what is considered to be correct and incorrect. In modern times, the determining issue is how human beings dare to take themselves as life’s point of departure, considering how corrupt and criminal they are. From the viewpoint of criminals (including those who call themselves corporations) the question is irrelevant. Human or inhumane, as long as they can make their profit they do not care, at the cost of the pain of others. This is why criminality, in any of its shapes, must be fought against. Still, criminality offers hope because it provokes the cry of indignation that begs for judgment. Corruption, in contrast, destroys. It presents a clean mask, it fears to be found out, it denies the complaint and therefore has to smother the cry of indignation (or, more simply, those who cry). The enemy of humanists and post-humanists is, first and foremost, not criminality but corruption.

21. Literature does not have one function, nor is it simply a weapon. It can nevertheless, in the present circumstances, be used as a weapon against the reduction of complexity, the attack on polyvalence, the impatience with nuance and the numbing of sensibility. All these forms of reduction, attack, impatience and numbing, stand in the service of the production of an illusionary ‘now’ that is constantly refreshed and propelled by ‘events’; twitter moments. Any awareness of the complexity of reality is being short-circuited in this way. Addicted to the event (the next ‘episode’), people will turn a blind eye to a system that has exploitation at its core and that promotes inequality; socially, culturally, and judicially.

22. Basically, the current and coming political battle is not primarily a matter of content. We need to defend, promote and use, first and foremost, literature’s ability to say ‘all’. This is much more than the fetish of diversity, since ‘saying all’ implies disparity (the coincidence of incompatible worlds). The stakes in this battle are all that is multifaceted and complex. It is a battle, paradoxically, for a broadened sensibility and for nuance. The enemy is a totalitarian system. Unexpected alliances are called for, as well as the defense, wherever and whenever we can, of a thorough education in art and literature (art and justice, art and politics, art and religion). Neither literature nor art can save mankind. This is too heavy a task. Moreover, mankind need not be saved. The decisive question is what we want to become, or one more vexing: what we are becoming. With respect to this, literature and art can enlarge our potential to resist corruption and criminality and will help to strengthen an ethical attitude that is defined by aesthetic sensibility. Rejecting the inhumane is nonsensical if we are inhumane ourselves. Knowing the inhumane, understanding it, judging it, we may opt to choose for the humane. Such is the basic internal and external battle of this age.


About Constantin Severin

Constantin Severin ( is a Romanian writer and, as a visual artist, the founder and promoter of the award-winning concept known as archetypal expressionism. He is the author of eight books of poetry, essays, and novels, and his poems have been published by major Romanian and international literary magazines. He is one of the editors of the French cultural magazine Levure littéraire.
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