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The power of literature – “we leave our bubble when we read”

Norway as the Guest of Honour – opening of the Frankfurt Book Fair

Norway as the Guest of Honour – opening of the Frankfurt Book Fair, © Frank Rumpenhorst/dpa

15.10.2019 - Article

Literature can help to overcome borders and prejudices. “Reading also means taking on other people’s points of view,” said Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the opening of the Frankfurt Book Fair.

“Literature does not only create scope for aesthetic experimentation – it also shows us new worlds and other points of view,” Maas said in his speech at the opening of the event. That is more important now than ever before, as we live in a society where digital technology is ubiquitous. “Digital transformation has indeed long since reached each and every part of our lives,” Maas said, and social networks play a major role. This development provides huge opportunities as regards knowledge, transparency and civic ownership, as well as in the peaceful revolution in the Sudan.

Flip side of the digital revolution

However, Maas continued, there is also a flip side to the digital revolution. “Let’s not forget that major changes also give rise to a desire for affirmation and a sense of belonging; a desire for boundaries, which always means a certain amount of exclusion; a desire for absolute truths.” This desire can boost the appeal of simplistic populist answers and lead to a lack of interaction with people whose opinions differ from one’s own.

“It is high time that we discuss, disagree, think laterally and argue”

Maas said that literature can help us to “emerge from this comfort zone where we all think alike”.

In a world that craves fast and simple answers, the slow power of literature helps to protect us from authoritarian reflexes, isolationism and simplistic answers. Reading also means taking on other people’s points of view. And that means accepting and experiencing ambiguity. No matter how paradoxical it may sound, we leave our bubble when we read. If literature is able to burst our bubbles, then reading truly becomes a revolutionary act. That is why the question of whether and how we support literature and its authors and translators is not purely a matter for cultural policy, but a crucial task for society.

Hjertelig velkommen, Norge!

A book by Anne Holt is displayed at the Guest of Honour pavilion at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
A book by Anne Holt is displayed at the Guest of Honour pavilion at the Frankfurt Book Fair.© Silas Stein/dpa

In a very practical way, the Frankfurt Book Fair also helps people to discover new worlds.  Every year since 1976, one country has been Guest of Honour at the event and presented its literature and culture. Norway is this year’s Guest of Honour. Norwegian authors – be they Henrik Ibsen, Maja Lunde or Jo Nesbø – are very popular with German readers. “Norway relies on the power of literature,” Maas said. On average, Norwegians read an impressive 15 books per year. Moreover, the country has produced three Nobel Literature laureates. Norway does more than almost any other country to support the export of its literature.

A major cultural event and the world’s largest book fair

With over 7500 exhibitors from more than 100 countries and around 285,000 visitors, the Frankfurt Book Fair is the largest book fair in the world. It has taken place in October every year since 1949.

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