Literatur as an early warning system
Project Cassandra was created to take literature seriously as a knowledge resource. Literature is the world’s largest archive: a unique storage medium of human experience. It is even capable of representing the unspoken: Whether it is the hidden sensitivities of individuals or collective feelings and mentalities, literature succeeds time and again in capturing the important but often elusive shoals and undercurrents of complex societies in vivid narratives and images.
Since the 1980s, project leader Jürgen Wertheimer, Professor of International Literature, has been investigating how social moods and feelings are reflected in literary texts – and how, conversely, literary texts can also have an impact on society and reinforce certain developments.
For three years, Project Cassandra researched the prognostic potential of literature in conflict-prone regions on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Defense. The hypothesis: crises and conflicts are already visible in literature years before their violent “outbreak”. Most wars are preceded by a “war of words”. Project Cassandra has set itself the task of identifying impending crises and conflicts in their latency phase by means of literature and reception analyses. Literature as an early warning system to avoid being surprised by supposedly sudden “changes of times”.
Literature and resilience:
the right not to be surprised
Literature plays out all possibilities in advance – and can thus make us more experienced, more resilient. In the words of Israeli author David Grossman: “You are less likely to be victimized.”
The earlier one recognizes a danger, the greater the scope for action to counter it. The close reading of literary texts and the attentive observation of their reception make it possible to recognize social fracture zones and lines of conflict at an early stage.
Project Cassandra does not want to eliminate AI and Big Data from the world – but its advantage is that it not only relies on pattern recognition, but has specialized in the perception and interpretation of complex contexts and communication techniques. Ambiguities, allusions, identity-forming images, and motifs, tightrope walks between fiction and reality, the activation of cultural memories and affects. All of these things are practically part of the daily routine in literature, but to a certain extent, they take place beneath the surface.
Literature is not clairvoyance. Project Cassandra is not about the plane prediction of facts and events, but about showing potentials. It is about a “something” that is perhaps even unconsciously inscribed in a story: for example, a gradually building nervousness and uncertainty, social tensions and irritations, subcutaneous feelings of threat …
Project Cassandra strives to connect with as many writers and readers around the world as possible. The vision: to build a worldwide network of Cassandra voices to draw attention to emerging crises and conflicts as early as possible. In 2019, Project Cassandra was a founding member of the “Parlament des Écrivains de laMediterranée” (PEM). Since the project’s inception, Project Cassandra has also been a regular participant in the Munich Security Conference (MSC).
Prof. Dr. Jürgen Wertheimer – Universität Tübingen
Head of Project & Contact
Prof. Dr. Monika Wolting – Universität Wocław
Florian Rogge – Universität Tübingen & Helmut Schmidt Universität Hamburg
Since the beginning of 2022, Project Cassandra publishes its own newsletter, which can be obtained at email@example.com.
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