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Terugblik - 18 November 2016

Into the Writer s Brain: A.S. Byatt meets Neuroscientist Morten Kringelbach and Bas Heijne

'I think of writing simply in terms of pleasure'. Writing is the most important thing in the life of the 2016 Erasmus Prize-laureate A.S. Byatt. Making things, constructing the form of a book or an essay gives her a peculiar aesthetic pleasure. And pleasure is the topic that the Oxford brain researcher Morten Kringelbach is specialised in. He tries to determine where in the brain pleasure is hidden. Writer and journalist Bas Heijne interviews the writer and the scientist on the process of writing and the role of pleasure.

Is it possible to indicate the exact spot in the brain of A.S. Byatt where her pleasure is hidden? What happens inside her head during the hours she is writing, showing empathy with her characters? What makes her, according to Morten Kringelbach, such an excellent writer on emotion and the brain?

A.S. Byatt has won the Erasmus Prize of 2016, for her exceptional contribution to arts and culture. The Booker prize-winning novelist was cited by the judges for "her inspiring contribution to 'life writing', a literary genre that encompasses historical novels, biographies and autobiographies", and which she has "reshaped … in her own way". The judges described Byatt "as a born storyteller with a keen eye for relations in public and private life". In novels such as the Booker-winning Possession and The Biographer's Tale, Byatt "explores the act of writing a biography or conducting research", the citation continues, praising how in her "wide-ranging body of work she unites great erudition with an unbridled pleasure in writing and imaginative power".

Morten Kringelbach is the director of Hedonia, a transnational research group based in Oxford, UK and Aarhus, Denmark. He is a Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford and a Professor at Aarhus University, Denmark, as well as Senior Research Fellow and College Lecturer in Neuroscience at The Queen's College, University of Oxford.

Moderator Bas Heijne writes essays, short stories, and plays, and is a columnist with the daily newspaper NRC Handelsblad. In his work he analyses how the great expectations of the post-WWII era have given way to individualism and xenophobia. In 2011 he published Moeten wij van elkaar houden, het populisme ontleed (Do We Have to Love One Another? Populism Dissected), followed by Angst en schoonheid (Fear and Beauty) in 2013, an essay about Dutch writer Louis Couperus, whom Heijne admires. In 2015 he hosted the five-part documentary De volmaakte mens (The Perfected Human) for Dutch public television. In 2016 his essay Onbehagen – nieuw licht op de beschaafde mens (Discontent - new light on civilized man) was published.

An evening in English, supported by Foundation Premium Erasmianum. Curated by Liliane Waanders (Writers Unlimited).

Writers Unlimited Gemeente Den Haag Fonds 1818 Bibliotheek Den Haag