Personen | Beitragende | Eelco H. Runia

Being spoken to

Jean Cocteau said that Victor Hugo was a lunatic who thought he was Victor Hugo – and indeed, only an uninhibited madman could give such free rein to his narcissistic originality as Hugo did. In my talk I will argue that productive monsters like Hugo are very much the exception, that in fact the myth of Echo illustrates both our fear of expressing ourselves freely and the ingenious way we have come to dissimulate originality. I will sketch the adaptive benefit of exchanging ›speaking‹ for ›being spoken to‹ and will explore some of the strategies we use to dissimulate originality – in history (where ›vision‹ always wears the cloak of ›revision‹) but also in literature and the arts. A very interesting one is the use we make of moods (›Stimmungen‹) – in a mood we are ›being spoken to‹ by what doesn’t square with what we consider to be our identity.


Dr. Eelco H. Runia studied history and psychology at Leiden University, worked for some years as psychologist at the Faculty of Medicine of the Erasmus University Rotterdam and was a visiting scholar at the Netherlands Institute of Advanced Studies. Starting from 1999, he had a private practice as coach/supervisor for medical doctors. In these years he also wrote a novel – Inkomend vuur (Incoming Fire) – about the disastrous Dutch mission to Srebrenica in 1995. In 2002, his research project Committing history was awarded with a 5-year grant by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research – and he became a full time historian at the Department of History of Groningen University and (since 2004) chair of the Centre for Metahistory Groningen. From January till July 2007 he was visiting associate professor at Stanford University. His current research explores the question how humans energize their own evolution by habitually creating situations (›catastrophes‹, sublime historical events) that put a premium on mutations. Among his books are: De pathologie van de veldslag (The Pathology of Battle. History and Historiography in Tolstoy’s War and Peace, 1995 also PhD thesis), Waterloo Verdun Auschwitz. De liquidatie van het verleden (The liquidation of the past, 1999) and two novels. His new book Moved by the past is in press.