The Pigeon of Minerva

So, I did a thing. In this week’s mail I send out I included the following paragraph:

What an exciting time to live in! There’s elections happening left and right, and more right. Like the one in which the Netherland’s latest enfant terrible Thierry Baudet made a speech about the flapping of the wings of the pigeon of Minerva. Logically we’re concerned about his politics, but we are an inclusive place and always get excited when a politician references mythology. So we decided to invite him to the storytelling open mic later this month. And he accepted!!! We will not give him any preferential treatment though, he gets 8 minutes like everyone else. No matter how big the mythological zoo he decides to bring in his story.

If calling it the pigeon instead of the owl of Minerva didn’t clue you in, then the date the message was sent might have: April 1st. So no, we didn’t invite right wing populist Thierry Baudet to perform in the Mez. The mail did create an avalanche of messages though. Some had guessed it was a prank, others thought we had really invited him. A minority of those who thought we invited him and mailed us thought it was a daring move. Either to diversify the voices that we have on stage, or to show him a thing or two about what storytelling is about. Most people however wanted us to reconsider, and not give a platform to a xenophobe and climate denier. (Though the mails we received were nothing compared to the avalanche of mails congratulating us with a successful prank the day after we confessed).

Beyond the prank there is of course an interesting debate to be had about who to invite to tell stories on our stage. We didn’t invite Thierry, but would we?

A while ago a friend came to a storytelling night and and hearing a particularly irksome performer posted this on Facebook:

May god(s)/the universe save us from the most privileged people who still shamelessly believe them proudly sharing stories of their privileged position within the society can somehow “save” the world.

The message sparked quite a little debate on her wall and in private messages between us. While we had both been annoyed by the performer we decided that we didn’t want them not to perform, if only for keeping the Mezrab from becoming an echo chamber of voices we agree with, shielding us both from different view points as well as the audiences that might want to hear them. The last thing this society needs is more fragmentation, sitting in our respective camps while shaking a fist into the air. We also agreed that we could stomach these voices if there had been put enough effort in finding enough other voices, of people from various backgrounds, genders, and sexual orientations.

There is a big difference though, between inviting people from privileged backgrounds who might be a bit clueless and inviting active supporters of a xenophobic party. Here I personally would still choose to invite the teller. Or at least not say that we can’t. Not for them to propagate an ideology we don’t support, but because I am interested in the stories that make up even this life. How were their parents? What did they dream of growing up? How did heartbreak feel for them? Sure, we might feel uncomfortable hearing some of it, but storytelling isn’t just about feeling comfort.

Finally, would we invite Thierry to tell himself? To that the answer would be a categorical no. When the person has become the party, humanising the person is humanising the party. There is enough media that do that job, every time they go to his house and have him play a bit of piano. We would however enjoy seeing him in the audience, to hear the beautiful multitude of voices that we have on stage.


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