Gilgamesh and Grief: Finding Meaning in the World’s Oldest Written Story

I was more shocked than delighted when the Vox Book Club voted to read The Epic of Gilgamesh. Why did students at a technical university choose this text – and by a landslide? Sure, I studied Gilgamesh as an undergraduate, but I did Creative Writing at British university, where professors wore tweed and pored over ancient manuscripts. And here were future engineers volunteering to read it, in their spare time?

The Epic of Gilgamesh is an epic poem from ancient Mesopotamia, a historical region of West Asia. Captured on stone tablets, it is the oldest known written story. The age and fragmented nature of the text make it impossible to date the story as a whole. But the “Old Babylonian” version, which is the oldest that survives, is estimated to be from the 18th century BC. It tells of the adventures of King Gilgamesh of Uruk and his companion Enkidu, the wild man.

Nervous about whether the book club would actually enjoy the text, I volunteered to give an introduction at their first meeting. A mini-lecture, if you will. After all, short as it may be, Gilgamesh is a lot more enjoyable when you know what the hell is going on. The students were also nervous. Was I going to talk for an hour? Was I joking when I said there was going to be a quiz? I kept to my twenty-minute time slot on the day, but this article is my revenge. Without further ado, here is my answer to the question: why read The Epic of Gilgamesh?

The World’s Oldest…?

One of the first challenges in discussing this text is how to classify it. Due to its action-packed nature, the scale of the journeys described, and the monster-hunting, it is tempting to think about it as an early fantasy novel. There certainly are similarities, but there are also some key differences.

The novel in its current form is a relatively new genre. Its popularisation coinciding with increased leisure time, literacy, and availability of commercial printed texts during the Enlightenment. Early hits were texts like Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe in 1719. In the table below, I’ve highlighted some of the things that distinguish an epic poem from a novel.

Epic poem Novel
Partially divine protagonist (hero). Fictional narrative of connected events, divided into chapters.
Great journeys and deeds, often related to the traditions of a people. Written in prose.
Encounters with gods. “Book-length”, from 50,000 to over 20,000 words depending on genre.
Stems from oral poetry. Deals with the human experience, typically without the scope of an epic.
Uses traditional verbal formulas to aid memorisation. Individualistic in nature compared to the epic.


Comparative Mythology and the Flood Tablet

Allow me to introduce Tablet XI: the infamous Flood Tablet. It is, of course, in the British Museum, because what culturally significant artifact hasn’t been plundered by the Brits?

Tablet XI, The Flood Tablet, 7th century BCE, The British Museum.

Tablet XI caused a sensation when it was first translated in the 19th century. Have a look at the table below. It lists key narrative points from the Epic of Gilgamesh, as captured on tablet XI. Let me know if it starts to sound familiar.

The Flood Narrative
1. God/gods decide that mankind has become a pest. 4. The man is ordered by god/gods to build an ark. 7. The hero sacrifices an animal.
2. God/gods decide to send a flood. 5. The ark is loaded with breeding pairs of all animals. 8. God/gods are pleased with the sacrifice.
3. A single, worthy man is chosen to survive. 6. The hero sends messenger birds to look for land. 9. God/gods reassess their actions and will not repeat.


The exact same narrative points are present in the Book of Genesis. The biblical hero, Noah, repeats these points step by step. Considering that the book of Genesis is dated around 3-5th century BCE, you can see why this discovery caused a stir. The Gilgamesh Flood Tablet predates Genesis by several centuries. In fact, there is evidence that the origin of this flood narrative lies much earlier than that.

So what does it mean? Yes, Mesopotamia had a lot of flooding. The resonance of a flood narrative and its associated symbolism of death and rebirth can be explained. But the strange entanglement of different flood narratives and their cultural significance are much more mysterious. In Gilgamesh, the gods are at times blood-thirsty, loving, cowardly, and generous. In Genesis, god may be wrathful and merciful at intervals, but he is always right. The Genesis narrative depicts essentially the same events, and yet the conclusion is a benevolent promise and a blessing for all posterity. Whereas the hero Gilgamesh, upon being told the story of the flood, is disappointed. The flood story is told to Gilgamesh precisely to extinguish his hope that he will be chosen and blessed with eternal life.

This is essential. The way we interpret these two texts, Gilgamesh and Genesis, couldn’t be more different. The contemporary Christian interpretation of the flood narrative is one of hope and protection. If you read Gilgamesh, the conclusion is much bleaker.


Why Do We Die?

The emotional core of the Gilgamesh narrative is grief. Midway through his adventures Gilgamesh loses his friend; his other self; the man who was literally created in opposition to him. Enkidu dies and leaves Gilgamesh bereft. What’s more, the king of Uruk begins to consider his own fate. The remainder of his story is a supernatural quest. Frightened by what has happened to Enkidu, Gilgamesh attempts – and ultimately fails – to secure immortality.

His struggles brought to mind another text I was reading around the same time. In his Confessions, Augustine of Hippo writes of the premature death of his closest friend. The language he uses is strikingly similar to that of Gilgamesh.

For I wondered that others, subject to death, did live, since he whom I loved, as if he should never die, was dead; and I wondered yet more that myself, who was to him a second self, could live, he being dead. Well said one of his friend, “Thou half of my soul”; for I felt that my soul and his soul were “one soul in two bodies”: and therefore was my life a horror to me, because I would not live halved. And therefore perchance I feared to die, lest he whom I had much loved should die wholly.

Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, AD 400.

As befitting the man who would later be declared a saint, Augustine ultimately chooses the Christian solution. He lets go of mortal things. Instead of holding on to grief, he decides to only love the immortal, i.e. god, through his creations. This takes the sting out of grief, because mortals are a mere sign of the eternal. But this option isn’t available to Gilgamesh. His gods are too human. They cannot be loved in this way. When he is finally thwarted in his goal to achieve eternal life, he has irrevocably lost his other half, and knows that his own mortal self must also be lost to death. What does Gilgamesh do then?

He builds walls. The only escape from death offered by the text is through great works, the likes of which will be told and retold through stories, for generations to come. If he was ever a real man, aspiring to such lasting fame, he has achieved his goal many times over, even after the fall of the walls of legend. Whether that fame provides consolation for grief over a loved one, or the inevitability of our own deaths, is for us all to decide.


Note: I read The Epic of Gilgamesh: An English Version with an Introduction by N. K. Sandars. This, however, was my undergraduate Penguin Classics purchase, so there may be better versions out there with more up-to-date scholarship!

Can anger be used for good?

Can anger be used for good? Typically, I begin a story like this with a brief update on recent climate disasters such as heatwaves, floods, or areas drying up. But I’ll skip that for now. We get it. And I’m not particularly inclined to dwell on it. Like many, I’m overwhelmed by various emotions when I hear yet another story about the climate catastrophe. Guilt over our own contribution, sorrow for what we see disappearing around us, fear for the future… But the most intense emotion of all is undoubtedly anger. Anger because the problem just isn’t being truly addressed, and even the less destructive target of a 2-degree Celsius warming before the end of the century, as per the Paris Agreement, won’t be achieved.

And that anger undoubtedly applies to many more people. But anger is a tricky emotion. Traditionally distrusted as destructive and dark, the emotion over which we have the least control. Hence, for governments, anger is the most threatening. In essence, the policy around protests and demonstrations is mostly anger management. The greatest fear for any government is the enraged citizen.

Anger is dark, irrational, and personal. But is anger always so dangerous? The first line of the most famous epic in Western civilization—the Greek military campaign against Troy—starts with the word anger. The anger of Achilles, to be precise, who, after the death of his beloved comrade Patroclus, sees red and jeopardizes the entire military mission due to feelings of revenge.

But at the same time, it is precisely anger that gave the Greeks the power to break free from submissiveness and indifferent narrow-mindedness. In ancient Greece, anger was always associated with that part of ourselves that longs for recognition, justice, and self-worth. It is a force that, once ignited, can compel individuals to stand up against oppression, fight for their rights, and strive for a better world. Anger, called thymos by the Greeks, can indeed have a clear public function. Political change never starts with argumentation alone—a concept that we sometimes find difficult to understand in our rational, liberal society.

Research in the field of psychology has shown that anger, when channeled constructively, can be a powerful catalyst for change. Various studies show that individuals who effectively harnessed their anger were more likely to address injustices and instigate positive social change. Much more than hope, to give an example. This intriguing finding challenges the conventional wisdom that anger is inherently negative.

Consider the stories of historical figures who harnessed their anger to bring about positive change. Mahatma Gandhi’s anger at the injustices of colonial rule in India ignited a nonviolent revolution, leading to India’s independence. Rosa Parks, tired of racial segregation, refused to give up her seat on a bus, sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott and igniting the Civil Rights Movement. These individuals channeled their anger into actions that reshaped society.

But the question is how to turn a personal emotion into a public struggle for justice. Especially since demonstrations also evoke anger as a reaction—see the hatred that climate protests generate, and especially the highway blockades. It is then an art to not succumb to provocations and hatred despite your own anger—something that in today’s media society would immediately be taken as evidence of loss of control and danger.

In the words of Aristotle, ‘Anyone can become angry—that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way—that is not easy.’ According to him, such an emotion must be tempered with reason, guided by what he calls virtues: justice and fairness.

The force of thymos can be harnessed for good. When we recognize the constructive potential of our anger and use it as a catalyst for positive change, we tap into the heroic spirit within us. Anger can lead us towards a brighter future, where injustice is confronted and transformed. But like any powerful force, anger has its limits. It must be wielded with care and wisdom, for it is in its balance that we find true strength and progress.

Leon Heuts, head of Studium Generale TU Delft

Intimacy & Technology: So connected, yet so lonely

Introducing Q2’s theme: Intimacy and Technology 


So connected, yet so alone 

Isn’t this one of the greatest paradoxes of modern society? What are we really connecting to with all our advanced technology if more than 50% of the population feels lonely or depressed? 

We’ve got ubiquitous gadgets, 24/7 streaming services, climate controlled interiors, and everything from dinner to fresh underwear delivered to our doorstep. If the covid pandemic lockdowns showed us anything, it’s that our technological advancement has brought us to the point where we can live in almost complete isolation from the world. Safely locked away in our little apartments, but connected through our digital interface. (And, more importantly, through a vast network of underpaid and overworked people in retail, transport, delivery, food services, etc. The “essential” jobs, remember?).  

Sometimes, it felt eerily similar to the massive hive in The Matrix movies that humanity lives in, fully sustained and imprisoned by machines :S  

Apologies for bringing this dark perspective to Delft, where technological progress is sacred. But if you look back far enough, which my training in anthropology sort of forces me to do, you tend to get a cynical perspective on technological advancement. From mastering fire eons ago, to building walls and screen doors, we’ve made life easier, and we’ve put ever more barriers between ourselves and the nasty bits of nature. Like (corona)viruses, the rain, mosquitoes, the cold, and predators. But these barriers also block so much of life. So much of ourselves, of society, and of the world ‘out there.’ 

But of course, technology isn’t all bad. Of course. And where there are barriers, there are also bridges. The increasing connectivity of the world can bring us closer to people and events around the globe. The diverse infrastructure of services and devices can support and enable life for those who would be limited without them. And all this new technology introduces new forms of intimacy. 

But the question is, closer to what? To the world, to each other, to ourselves? Or to the world of machines? That’s what we want to explore in this quarter’s theme on intimacy and technology. Join us and share your thoughts. And bring a little (smartphone camera flash-)light to balance the darkness of this Matrix fan’s perspective. 

Klaas P van der Tempel, program maker SG 

Check out SG’s related events this quarter on the theme: Intimacy and Technology

This quarter at SG, we’re taking a deeper look at the connections we have with and through technology. Technology is becoming ever more intimately involved in our lives and has enormous potential to bring us closer together. But can technology truly offer an intimate experience?

This theme is part of the series For Love of the World, in which we explore alternative stories and forgotten knowledge that can (re)connect us to our world.

7 Nov – 21 Dec                Art Exhibition & survey                                                                                                            The Nook/Theater de Veste
14 Nov                                  Existential Tuesday: How Do You Know You’re Not a Robot?                                                  The Nook
14 Nov                                  Art & Tech Cafe: Can Technology Bring Us Closer Together?                                                   Theater de Veste
15 Nov                                  VOX Book Club: The Epic of Gilgamesh, book distribution                                                        The Nook
28 Nov                                  Existential Tuesday: Could you love a machine, and could it ever love you back?         The Nook
28 Nov                                  VOX Movie Night: Ghost in the Shell (1995)                                                                                       TBA
14 Dec                                  VOX Book Club: The Epic of Gilgamesh, book discussion                                                            The Nook


Caught between climate denialism and doomism, is there a way out?

Caught between climate denialism and doomism, is there a way out?

Written by Sara Vermeulen, originally published on September 29, 2022, images created by 

Should I stop watering the garden in dry summers? Can I take the car to go to the supermarket when it rains? But also, much more pressing: should we consider relocating to avoid flood risk? Should we save up for buying a rainwater harvesting tank or invest in growing more drought resilience crops? Do my actions actually make a difference or are we just doomed to go extinct anyway and should we not bother anymore?

Climate change is making people increasingly doubt everyday actions and contributes to growing moral disruption. Although the character of this moral disruption is quite different in the Global North than in the Global South, the main focus here is to address and explain uncertainty and moral disruption in relation to climate adaptation more broadly.

Moral disruption

Moral disruption is a relatively new concept within Philosophy of Technology and is usually discussed in relation to developments in fields such as AI, biotechnology or high-tech materials. It has only recently been discussed in relation to climate change and has so far been underexposed. But clearly, we can speak of moral disruption as a result of energy technologies in the fossil fuel industry. After all it has become clear that we need alternatives to petrol, coal, and gas. More and more people suffer from flight shame. At the same time, energy transition has only just begun and the infrastructure of renewable energy sources is not yet fully developed. People expect security and reliability, even when they travel by electric car to the south of France for their summer holiday.

I believe the notion of moral disruption deserves more attention in the context of climate change, because this type of disruption can help us understand changing values and to find new action perspectives and clues for revised and renewed responsibility arrangements. To do so, I will first show how moral doubt can lead to denialism and doomism, two patterns of behavior that usually lead to inaction, which is the opposite of what is needed to tackle the climate crisis.

Photo by Stormseeker on Unsplash

Climate change denial

Climate change denial is the dismissal, or unjustified doubt that contradicts the scientific consensus on global warming. This includes the extent to which climate change is caused by humans, the effects of rising temperatures on nature and human society, or the potential for human adaptation to global warming. People who deny, ignore, or have unreasonable doubts about the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming often self-identify as ‘climate change skeptics’, which some experts have pointed out is an inaccurate description[1]. Denial of climate change can also be implicit when people or societal groups acknowledge the science but fail to accept it or turn their acceptance into action. Several social science studies have classified these beliefs as denialism, pseudoscience, or propaganda.

Climate change denial is the dismissal, or unjustified doubt that contradicts the scientific consensus on global warming.

Climate doomism

Fueled by the climate denial machine, denialism has been rather dominant and rigid over the last few decades[2]. However, as the impacts of the climate crisis have become harder to ignore, the doomists seem to be taking over the floor. In 2018, Jacquelyn Gill, a climate scientist at the University of Maine, noted fewer people telling her climate change isn’t happening and more those, that are now termed doomers, who believe that nothing can be done. Climate doomism is the false belief that we have passed the point where we can do anything about global warming and that humanity is doomed to become extinct. Although incorrect, the debate is gaining traction online.

Climate doomism is the false belief that we have passed the point where we can do anything about global warming and that humanity is doomed to become extinct.

In some ways, it has been argued, doomism is more harmful than denialism. Micheal Mann, one of the world’s most influential climate scientist working at Pennsylvania State University, said in an interview with The Guardian that: ‘as a threat and a tactic, doomsaying has surpassed denial. Inactivists understand that if people believe there is nothing they can do, they will become disengaged. By giving up, they unknowingly serve the interests of fossil fuel companies’. While Mann et al. (2017) suggested that too negative depictions of climate change can be discouraging for taking climate action, Christensen (2017) explained how climate doom and gloom narratives can be effective if messages also incorporate examples of individuals taking action.[3]

Now, back to moral disruption. The term was originally coined by Robert Baker in 2013 when he wrote that: ‘moral disruption is a process in which technological innovations undermine established moral norms without clearly leading to a new set of norms’ [4]. Nickel et al. point out that moral disruption is known for two phenomena of special relevance: moral uncertainty and moral inquiry [5]. They further describe that moral uncertainty is usually seen as unpleasant, harmful, and weakening of moral agency, and therefore it is said to contain the seeds of disruption. Uncertainty usually begins at the individual level, but it can also spread to a group, such as practitioners, when they are unsure on what values to apply or how to apply them.

Image by via Shutterstock

Furthermore, uncertainty undercuts common sense justifications for action, such as the everyday ways in which individuals and groups benefit from and contribute to existing social and material arrangements. When it comes to moral inquiry, the social community as a whole engages in contradictory and occasionally antagonistic discourse, displaying a collective uncertainty regarding moral values, principles, and judgments. It is exactly this antagonistic discourse and collective uncertainty regarding moral values that lies at the heart of moral disruption in climate change action.

Taebi et al. state that the climate crisis is disrupting life as we know it and potentially leading to complex cases of normative uncertainties [6]. They describe four types of normative uncertainty, namely evolutionary uncertainty, theoretical uncertainty, conceptual uncertainty and epistemic uncertainty. Thinking back about doomism, I want to suggest that there is a fifth type of uncertainty, namely is existential uncertainty. When it comes to climate change, I think existential uncertainty overshadows the four types of uncertainty mentioned earlier. Existential uncertainty can make us doubt whether it even makes a difference what we do if there is a good chance that it all doesn’t matter much anymore. Doomism, in that sense, is a manifestation of existential uncertainty.

Higher degrees of certainty is not what is going to get us out of inertia. The ability to act in the face of uncertainty, on the other hand, will.

To conclude, I would like to argue that higher degrees of certainty is not what is going to get us out of inertia. The ability to act in the face of uncertainty, on the other hand, will. Despite changing values, a lack of theoretical knowledge, shifting conceptions, and epistemic ambiguity, it is always possible to act in accordance with one’s best knowledge. To that end, we need to focus on strengthening technomoral virtues, such as courage, flexibility and relational understanding in the context of climate action [7]. But we can only do so if we become aware that climate change comes with moral disruption and we are willing to explore how we want to respond to that.


  1. Björnberg, K.E.; Karlsson, M.; Gilek, M.; Hansson, S.O. Climate and environmental science denial: A review of the scientific literature published in 1990–2015. J. Clean. Prod. 2017167, 229–241, doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2017.08.066.
  2. Dunlap, R.E. Climate Change Skepticism and Denial: An Introduction. Am. Behav. Sci. 201357, 691–698, doi:10.1177/0002764213477097.
  3. Ettinger, J.; Walton, P.; Painter, J.; DiBlasi, T. Climate of hope or doom and gloom? Testing the climate change hope vs. fear communications debate through online videos. Clim. Change 2021164, 1–19, doi:10.1007/s10584-021-02975-8.
  4. Nickel, P.J. Disruptive Innovation and Moral Uncertainty. Nanoethics 202014, 259–269, doi:10.1007/s11569-020-00375-3.
  5. Nickel, P.J.; Kudina, O.; van de Poel, I. Moral Uncertainty in Technomoral Change: Bridging the Explanatory Gap. Perspect. Sci. 202230, 260–283, doi:10.1162/posc_a_00414.
  6. Taebi, B.; Kwakkel, J.H.; Kermisch, C. Governing climate risks in the face of normative uncertainties. Wiley Interdiscip. Rev. Clim. Chang. 202011, 1–11, doi:10.1002/wcc.666.
  7. Vallor, S. Technology and the Virtues: A Philosophical Guide to a Future worth Wanting; Oxford University Press, 2016; ISBN 9788490225370.
Sit like a lady

What If Women had the Power?

This fall at SG, we’re going to find out what the world would look like if women had the power. We’re going to erase the dominant patriarchal perspective for a moment and substitute it with an alternate reality. What would it look like if the tables were turned: would women set the standards, could men be vulnerable? Would we let go of the old ways and celebrate gender fluidity?

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If you build it, will they come?

Since our very beginning in 1946, Studium Generale has been a nomad. For almost a century, SG was a vagabond, with no home to call her own. We have roamed the city and the campus, never residing anywhere for more than a few years. Now, for the first time in our history, we can ask the question: has the time come for SG to settle down?

Studium Generale organizes events that challenge the status quo. We bring people together to learn, to engage, to think critically about our crazy world. We host lectures, discussions, screenings, and workshops. We have a mission from the university – from the government, in fact – to serve students and the wider university community to create proper, critical, intelligent citizens. We are supposed to help them find their place in society – but we have never had a place of our own to practice what we preach. We don’t have our own building on campus; no fancy theater hall; not even a dedicated closet in the basement that we can use for our events. Instead, we’ve had to rely on the availability of lecture halls (boring), study spaces (impersonal), and rented spaces downtown (with strings attached).

And it’s not just the events. Our office also has changed location every couple of years, from somewhere along the Kanaalweg (in the now defunct Faculty of Philosophy and Social Sciences), to the former Cultural Centre (1998), to TPM – under the wings of the philosophy section (2002), to our present nest in the Library (2012). Once, we sat in glorious office spaces in the central Library hall, visible and approachable, but we were soon relegated to an invisible office behind a stack of books and a locked door.

Sad, right? Does nobody want us? If we need to serve everyone everywhere, don’t we need to belong somewhere? Imagine SG as the pet kept on a leash in the backyard, staring at the door with big puppy dog eyes, never brought inside the house. Picture the annoying younger sister that wants to tag along with the older kids, but is never invited. When we so dearly want to be called into the house, to have our own space among the other departments!

Anyway, that’s the tragic origin story that introduces a brighter future. Because SG’s nomadic existence will soon be a thing of the past. We are claiming our space. We are taking root. We are creating a home for ourselves. And so we introduce to you: The Nook.

A nook is a small corner of a house – cozy and comfortable, where you snuggle up to read your book by the fireplace. Similarly, The Nook is our informal, personable event space, tucked away in a corner of the TUD Library. It’s where you go to discuss the insanity of everything that’s happening in the news; to plumb the depths of existence over a cup of tea with total strangers; to read wild sci-fi books; to write prose or poetry or sketch with other budding artists; to watch movies and shorts and rate them over pizza.

The Nook will be the heart of the campus, a microcosm where people from all over can connect socially, intellectually, and creatively. Make new friends, cultivate new insights, have an epiphany. And when you move on, you can leave memories behind in the form of words or objects, for future visitors to discover. At the Nook, we will do what SG is all about – get together to envision a better and more beautiful world.

We’ll kick off with a series of events in September. There will be critical surveys, weird art objects, an interactive canvas on which to spout ideas and start anonymous dialogues. And, most importantly, there’ll be you: the keen, socially-minded, intellectual rebel nerd who wants their university experience to really mean something.

This is only the beginning. What is now only a Nook, will one day be the entire building. We won’t settle for less. And you’re invited.



Klaas P van der Tempel – program maker Studium Generale

Reparations for slavery: one of the most divisive topics of our time?

The majority of people in the Netherlands are against reparations. But why? And do you know where you stand?

150 years after the abolition of slavery in the Netherlands and its colonial territories, the discussion about the legacy of the past is gaining traction. The Dutch government, the national bank, and several cities and municipalities have already offered official apologies for their role in slavery. To some, the logical next step after apologies is to talk about reparations: financial compensation for the suffering and damages done by slavery.  To others, however, the thought of reparations isn’t logical but irrelevant or even terrifying because of the economic implications. To say that it’s a divisive topic is an understatement. In this brief article, I will share some background info and some questions to help you navigate the complexity of this societal debate.

Take a quick look at what has been written on the topic recently: 

Opinion in the Netherlands is divided, but clearly most people seem to be against paying reparations. But why? Is it pragmatism? Fear? Prejudice? Or pride? Are we even informed enough to make an opinion? How many people know, for instance, that former slaveowners were compensated with 300 guilders per person freed from their plantations because of ‘economic damages’ caused by abolition, while formerly enslaved people only went from bad to worse?

I’m no expert, but I do find it important to be better informed before I make up my own mind. And to think about it with other people. There are and have been several opportunities to do so with SG: we’ll talk about it over dinner at the upcoming Keti Koti event; we’ve got a related survey up in the Library right now; and I hosted a small discussion on reparations back in May.  

In the discussion with students, we asked these core questions:

Why should reparations be paid?
Who should receive them?
Who should pay them?
What form should reparations take?
And finally, What would the impact be?

To be honest, we couldn’t reach a satisfactory conclusion after the discussion. The issue was just too complex. But if you’re looking to inform yourself, I can recommend exploring these questions. In fact, this year for Keti Koti, ask your mom or dad’s opinion. Grill your siblings. Start a conversation with your housemates. Reparations, yea or nay?

Regardless of where you stand on the issue, slavery and (colonial) economic inequality are an undeniable aspect of Dutch history. I leave you with this painting, part of the artwork decorating the royal carriage (de gouden koets). It’s called “Hulde der Koloniën (Tribute from the Colonies)”. To be fair, the royal family finally stopped using the carriage in January 2022 because of public outcry. But it stands as a shocking reminder of why we should be talking about this in the first place. Look at it. If not reparations, what then? 


“Hulde der Koloniën (Tribute from the Colonies)”, detail from a panel on the royal carriage (1898)

Klaas P van der Tempel – Program maker Studium Generale

Why Bother Talking to a Jellyfish?

This Thursday, Studium Generale invites everyone to come meet our jellyfish. A larger-than-life projection of climate data, this art installation has the floating beauty of a jellyfish, and captures a little of the wonder and mystery that we feel when faced with nature. But we’re not just going to gaze at it. We are asking everyone to listen to it, to let it speak to them, to imagine that we could relate to a jellyfish as if it was another person. Someone with the same value and depth of feeling as a human being.

And we’re not just doing it because it’s fun – which it will be! According to philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, it is the face of the other that invites us to relate to them, which appeals to our sense of responsibility. Without that interpersonal dimension, it is impossible to treat them the way they deserve to be treated. “The face presents itself, and demands justice.”

Now, a jellyfish doesn’t have a face. Our planet cannot speak to us and demand justice for our oceans. What to do?

This is the issue that the jellyfish is designed to solve. We are flooded with data about the climate crisis. We know that it’s going from bad to worse. We also know that it will have an untold impact on things that we care about: nature, animals, other people, future generations, and indeed our own lives. But how do we process something so huge, so beyond our own experience? And how do we act accordingly?

So, this Thursday, we will be asking you to use your imagination. You will be invited to speak to the jellyfish, to touch its smooth surface, to ask it questions. If our planet could speak, what would it say? And if we could listen, what would we do?

To find out for yourself, join us in the Library Central Hall, Thursday June 8th, 4 – 5pm.