Piet Devos

writer and literary theorist

Lectures & workshops

I believe it is a great privilege to be able to share my knowledge and experiences with others. This is why I regularly give lectures and (guest) talks and facilitate workshops on the issues that interest me: sensory perception, literature, living with a disability, literary translation and so on. I am happy to adapt my exact topic and method to my audience. Whether my listeners are academics, young people or art lovers, the main aim is to spark off a fascinating conversation between us!

On the Lectures page you will find several examples of lectures I have given in the past. You can also take a look at the Calendar of my upcoming appearances.

If you would like to invite me to come and speak at your organisation, you are welcome to choose one of the lecture concepts below. But I also enjoy the challenge of a new question or topic. So please feel free to contact me!

Concepts: lectures & workshops

I can address the topics below either in the form of a lecture (with a discussion afterwards) or in the form of a workshop. In the latter case, I take an interactive approach all the way through: I provide the audience with excerpts from literature and philosophy to interpret together.

1. The Truth of Sleepless Nights: on insomnia as an existential experience

Many people regularly suffer from sleeplessness. I do not give relaxation tips or other remedies, but investigate the question: what is going on in our body and mind during those sleepless hours? Why is insomnia often linked to feelings of fear and desperation? At the same time, it appears to sharpen our perception and we dare to face up to great truths in the dark that we prefer to forget in daylight. In the good company of notoriously bad sleepers from literature and philosophy (Van Ostaijen, Akhmatova, Borges, Nabokov, Levinas and others), I go in search of the existential meaning of this liminal experience.

2. In Contact with the Other: the sense of touch as a source of knowledge, beauty and morality

Aristotle called touch our most fundamental sense. And yet, in today’s visual culture, we are no longer conscious of the basic, structuring function of touch in our relationship with the world and other people. So we need to ask ourselves how we should define touch: does it only consist of sensations in the skin, or does it also include our ability to move and our internal perceptions? Stories and poems by writers including Stefan Hertmans, Gertrude Stein and Julio Cortázar allow us to rediscover the richness of the sense of touch. Work by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Edith Wyschogrod and others subsequently provide the necessary philosophical depth.

3. The Recumbent Speaks: from vulnerability to the wisdom of experience

We tend to see the body as an instrument that needs to work perfectly: failing parts have to be repaired or replaced as quickly as possible. This instrumental vision of the body is also the best suited to the arena of a profitable economy and health industry. However, people with chronic diseases and disabilities understand the vulnerable, unpredictable aspects of our physical and mental condition. Authors such as Virginia Woolf, the MS patient Barbellion and Joë Bousquet, a paralysed poet, who were often confined to their beds, have left us with priceless testimonies of this situation. Their reflections will help us to revise the instrumental vision of the body and express criticisms. Their texts speak of a body that knows suffering but also the joy of economically ‘useless’ sensation.

4. An Overwhelming New World: back to modernism and the belief in art

Art has the power to let us see, hear, feel, taste and smell worlds that are as yet imperceptible. At least, that was the firmly held belief of the early twentieth-century modernists who aimed to invoke surprising images and alternative realities with their experimental methods. Sometimes this conviction formed the basis of an elitist aesthetic; at other times it fed a clear social commitment. In this series of lectures/workshops, we will discuss both the theoretical and the practical implications of this modernist belief in the revelatory power of art. We will explore work by writers such as Aragon, Proust, Kafka, Canetti, Djuna Barnes and García Lorca. With a literary text as our starting point, we will also continually create links with contemporary developments in the visual arts, philosophy and science.