Images of Europe: The (de)construction of European identity in contemporary fiction

Sven Vitse


In recent years the problem of European identity has become increasingly urgent. The Dutch and French voters rejected the EU’s Constitutional Treaty in 2005 and the debate about EU membership for Turkey threatens to cause a rift in the European community. What do Europeans have in common and what is typically European about Europe’s history and culture? This article wants to tackle that question from a literary perspective, arguing that literary texts contribute to the construction of a shared sense of belonging among European readers. It examines in what way novels by Koen Peeters, Christoph Ransmayr and Michel Houellebecq help shape a collective European identity by negotiating a shared historical narrative and a shared cultural and philosophical heritage. The main thesis of this article is that European identity in these novels is constructed in a critical and self-reflexive manner: European identity is as much deconstructed as it is constructed. The destructive flip side of European modernity informs that identity as much as its social and cultural successes. European identity, these novels also suggest, is always the combined effect of national and transnational modes of identification.


European identity; Contemporary European fiction; Collective memory

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