Author Archives: Claire St John Eve

Cultural Literacy in lockdown

By Robert Crawshaw, April 2020

Tuesday 17th March 2020 found us desperately trying to leave France.  We had been about to embark on a seven-day, guideless, ski-mountaineering tour in the area of Mont Thabor in the South Vanoise, near the Italian border. Instead, after a fifteen-hour journey, we had found on arrival in Valfréjus that all the Alpine huts were closed. The small, purpose-built resort would be evacuated the following day. Our families were texting us to get out quick while the going was good or we might be there for the duration.  But how? Ingenuity was called for. Friends in Lyon were telephoned. Paris should be avoided at all costs. Macron had spoken the previous evening. Flights had been cancelled and France was in shut down. Patience and alacrity were called for. Just as well we had the language.

The train was packed – ‘bondé’. Passengers were seated or standing, cheek by jowl. Social distance it was not. Most were masked, wiping ethanol on their hands, peeling gloves on and off. Surreal. A scene from a wartime documentary. A race by ghosts in human clothing to beat border closures before the tanks rolled in. Lyon Part-Dieu station was like an evacuation centre. Movement all but impossible. Only a phone call to Brittany Ferries in Portsmouth secured us a place the following evening on the last boat to leave Saint-Malo. Literally the last. But we still had to get there. On-line reservations cut. Dawn found us in front of the automatic ticket dispenser at Lyon-Perrache.  Office closed. Travel authorisation forms compulsory. Security guards everywhere. Imagine our astonishment when, alongside a ticket, a poem by Guillaume Apollinaire popped out of a neighbouring machine.

Five years earlier, I had encountered poetry on the Paris Metro. ‘Vive la France!’ Why couldn’t the Brits do likewise?  It was only when I began researching the topic for a paper on cultural literacy, subsequently published in Liminalities, that I discovered that the London Underground had got there first and that the idea had been imitated all over the world.  Poems in routine public spaces were clearly a marker of a modern society’s attempts to inject humanity into everyday life. Was it now in its death throes?

The poem by Apollinaire was long.  Although grouped in a category called ‘Littérature classique’, it was not one of his best known. It described fairground performers – saltimbanques, even then only rarely to be seen on the streets of Paris, having for most part retreated to the provinces. Alternatively, members of the public could contribute poems of their own. The whole programme had been systemised and technically incorporated into popular experience. Trans-generic cultural embedding à la Fahrenheit 451, in a dysfunctional, mobile world devoid of people and infrastructure, policed by guards and stalked by plague.

Apollinaire died young of Spanish flu in 1918 as modernism hit the buffers. How might cultural literacy be possible now in a space-time compression where traditional educational practices had been virtualised and the very nature of physical human contact called into question. The tectonic plates of western culture were shifting irreversibly under our feet. Yet it was only days after our landfall in the United Kingdom that the implications of separation and their ominous consequences made themselves truly felt:

Un fantôme de nuées

Chaque spectateur cherchait en soi l’enfant miraculeux

Siècle ô siècle des nuages

The aims and objectives of CLE

The CLE initiative has two main aims: to achieve a broad shared understanding of the notion of Cultural Literacy and its importance; and to increase the visibility of the challenge presented by Cultural Literacy and of the contributions which LCS scholars and their fellow researchers continue to make in this area.

To achieve these aims, CLE is bringing together academics, educators, artists, policy-makers and members of the cultural industries, as well as a growing number of partner institutions, in a Forum for discussion and development across Europe and beyond.

The CLE Forum has undertaken the following actions:

  1. created an international Core Group to oversee all activities;
  2. organised a Workshop on ‘Migration’ in May 2016;
  3. organised the second biennial Conference in May 2017, at the Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw;
  4. organised the second Interim Symposium at the Monash Prato Centre in Tuscany in July 2018.
  5. set up Special Interest Groups devoted to key areas and initiatives.

It also continues to assure an enhanced web presence, support the distribution of information, share good practice, research outcomes and communication among interested parties.of information, share good practice, research outcomes and communication among interested parties.

CLE Conferences 2015 & 2017

The first Cultural Literacy in Europe [CLE] Conference took place in London, at the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, on 16-18 April 2015. A major outcome of the conference is a shared understanding of Cultural Literacy as a key societal challenge for the future of Europe and its relationship with the rest of the world. This recognition must lead to common objectives among academics, professionals, and representatives of cultural associations and funding bodies.

Cultural Literacy in Europe 16-18 April 2015

The Conference demonstrated that excellent research and initiatives are already taking place in this area across Europe and beyond its borders. Whether working with methods and tools of Literary and Cultural Studies [LCS] or spanning other interdisciplinary areas, researchers and teachers in the Humanities and Social Sciences can make a key contribution to both understanding and answering the challenge of Cultural Literacy.

The second Cultural Literacy in Europe Conference took place in Warsaw, at the Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences, on 10-12 May 2017.

Meeting the challenge of Cultural Literacy

What is Cultural Literacy?

Cultural literacy is an ability to view the social and cultural phenomena that shape our lives – bodies of knowledge, fields of social action, individuals or groups, and of course cultural artefacts – as being essentially readable. Cultural literacy engages with interdisciplinarity, multilingualism and collaboration. It is a way of looking at social and cultural issues through the lens of literary thinking, employing communication, comparison and critique on a scale beyond that of one language or one nation-state, and avoiding abstraction. Furthermore, it is as much about innovation and creative practice – whether scholarly, artistic or social – as it is about analysis, and it very often brings these two methods together.

Developing knowledge and shared practices in the area of Cultural Literacy must be understood and promoted as a key strategic goal for a meaningful impact on European society and beyond it, by supporting individuals and groups in the continuous effort to achieve greater social justice and active forms of citizenship.

CLE Biennial Conference 2019

CLE Biennial Conference 2019

Cultural Literacy & Cosmopolitan Conviviality

Thu 9 – Sat 11 May 2019, Lisbon

#CLEurope2019

VIEW PROGRAMME, ABSTRACTS & BIOS

We are grateful to the following for supporting this conference: De Gruyter Open Access journals and the British Comparative Literature Association

ACCOMMODATION

During your stay in Lisbon we suggest the following accommodation facilities:
Hotels
Turim Saldanha ****
Hotel Açores Lisboa ****
Hotel Marriot ****
Sana Malhoa Hotel ****
Star Inn Lisbon Airport ***
Radisson Blu Hotel ****
Lisboa Central Park ***
Evidência Light Santa Catarina **
Hostels and GuestHouse
Casa do Zé Guesthouse
Lost Inn Lisbon
Lisbon Chillout Hostel
Lisboa Central Hostel

Most of the Best Medium Hostels in the World according to the Hoscars Awards are situated in Lisbon: http://www.hostelworld.com