Maxim Februari is a jurist and philosopher; he writes columns, essays, novels and short stories. During CWF 2019, he will talk about creativity and art, and how artists deal with the ever-changing world.
“I recently ploughed through my columns from the past few years to create an anthology. When I took a closer look at the art columns alone, I noticed a few tendencies. Art has moved much more towards science and technology and, as a result of digitisation, has become more abstract. The internet provides us with a collection of structures and systems; art shows us exhibitions of exhibitions.” But if we start to think increasingly abstractly, what do we get in return? What are we losing sight of? Enjoyment and vitality are, in fact, part of the individual; their personality. Creativity is also a source of enjoyment. In what areas are we at risk of slowly losing this? This is also a matter of ethics, a widely discussed hot topic. I want to give ethics a more prominent place in the debate.”
“If you want to solve something, you need to know what the problem is. Sure, you can exclusively ask abstract questions about it, but you can also use vitality as a starting point for research.”
In the Dutch television programme ‘Zomergasten’, you said: ‘We want to be uplifted. By wine, beauty, or anything for that matter. If you write or create something, you are trying to move people and take them out of their everyday life for a moment, to a different state of mind or a new insight.’ Does this mean that creative spirits also have a social role? Should they come up with solutions for the global issues we are facing?
“If you want to solve something, you need to know what the problem is. Sure, you can exclusively ask abstract questions about it, but you can also use vitality as a starting point for research.” How do we keep enjoyment in our lives? We have arranged the world in such an abstract way that we have started to feel less involved with it. An imbalance has therefore come about in our vitality. The formal language, data and algorithms we use to structure the world are rigid and often unfathomable by us as individuals. Digital structures are taking over our lives. The artist’s job is to reflect and translate this in their work.”
“It is no coincidence that two novelists have committed themselves to this matter.”
In what way?
“I myself am currently involved in legal proceedings against the State of the Netherlands, concerning the System Risk Indication (SyRI). Municipalities and government agencies in the Netherlands are using this system to try to identify persons who represent a higher risk in terms of exploiting social security benefits, committing tax fraud or disobeying the law in other ways. To this end, personal data from all sorts of systems are being linked to each other. This gives the government access to the skeletons in the closet of every citizen – algorithms decide whether someone is ‘suspicious’. It is no coincidence that (in addition to a number of social organisations) two novelists have committed themselves to this matter – including the Dutch writer Tommy Wieringa. Through these legal proceedings, we are attempting to preserve the individual.”
“Creativity requires a state of grace, which cannot be forced but does need time and space.”
How important is the role of creativity in your own work?
“I would never write columns purely for the content. I always try to think outside the box and play with the style a little. The extent to which I do this varies – sometimes I want to write about nothing at all and just play around with language. How well I succeed at this depends on the moment. Creativity requires a state of grace, which cannot be forced but does need time and space. That’s why it’s sometimes better to allow yourself the luxury of doing nothing for a day and just let your mind wander. Also, creativity requires the right environment and focus. I notice this myself: sometimes things go extremely well. I might be speaking somewhere and something will happen; I then experience something.”
What do you expect from your audience at CWF2019? What can they do to make your talk a success?
“The audience’s expectations and attention definitely have an influence. If you are genuinely curious and truly interested in what someone else has to say, you can feel a connection that stays with you.”
“It requires some form of mutual understanding: ‘All of us agree that something needs to be done’.”
And, speaking of connection: could that also be turned into a global awareness? Do we now have the momentum to tackle the Sustainable Development Goals, for example?
“Even for a country, or the world as a whole, a form of mutual understanding is needed. ‘We all agree on the fact that something has to be done.’ Given the current damage to the climate, that moment now seems to have arrived, even though that damage had already been set in motion a hundred years ago. In the 1970s, it was already clear that something needed to happen. Although the damage was less visible back then, we could have steered things in the right direction far earlier. We are seeing the same thing happen with the ramifications of all these systems with their data and algorithms, and the AI we unleash on them. It would be great if this time we did something about it before it is too late.