Dr. M. (Maria) Boletsi

  • Lecturer
  • Literary Studies

Telephone number: +31 (0)71 527 2357
E-Mail: m.boletsi@hum.leidenuniv.nl
Faculty / Department: Faculteit der Geesteswetenschappen, Centre for the Arts in Society, Literatuurwetenschap
Office Address: Witte Singel-complex
van Wijkplaats 2
2311 BX Leiden
Room number 1.03b
Personal Homepage: hum.leiden.edu/​lucas/​members-modern-contemporary/​boletsim.html

Curriculum vitae

Maria Boletsi is Assistant Professor at the Film and Literary Studies Department of Leiden University. She received her Ph.D with honors from Leiden University (Barbarism, Otherwise, 2010). She holds cum laude degrees in Classics and Modern Greek Literature (BA, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki), Comparative Literature (BA, University of Amsterdam) and Cultural Analysis (MA, University of Amsterdam). She has been a visiting scholar at Columbia University (2008-2009) and a participant in the Cornell School of Criticism and Theory (2006). Maria has published on several topics, such as the concept of barbarism, Greek, Dutch, Anglo-American, and postcolonial literature, post-9/11 literature and political rhetoric, and alternative forms of subjectivity in the context of the Greek (and Eurozone) ‘crisis.’ Her work has appeared in edited volumes and in journals such as Comparative Literature Studies, Arcadia, The Journal of Dutch Literature, and The Journal of Modern Greek Studies. She is also co-editor of the volumes Inside Knowledge: (Un)doing Ways of Knowing in the Humanities (Cambridge Scholars Press, 2009) and Barbarism, Revisited: New Perspectives on an Old Concept (with Christian Moser; in press, forthcoming end 2015 by Brill Publishing). Maria’s book Barbarism and Its Discontents has been published by Stanford University Press (2013). Her most recent book, De lichtheid van literatuur, co-authored with Sarah de Mul, Isabel Hoving, and Liesbeth Minnaard, was released in the summer of 2015 by Acco. She is currently working on a book on the contemporary “spectral lives” of the Greek poet C.P. Cavafy.

Barbarism and Its Discontents

Barbarism and civilization form one of the oldest and most rigid oppositions in Western history. According to this dichotomy, barbarism functions as the negative standard through which "civilization" fosters its self-definition and superiority by labeling others "barbarians." Since the 1990s, and especially since 9/11, these terms have become increasingly popular in political and cultural rhetoric in the West—a rhetoric that divides the world into forces of good and evil. 

This study intervenes in this recent trend and interrogates contemporary and historical uses of barbarism, arguing that barbarism also has a disruptive, insurgent potential. Boletsi recasts barbarism as a productive concept in cultural theory, finding that it is a common thread in works of literature, art, and theory. By dislodging barbarism from its conventional contexts, this book reclaims barbarism's edge and proposes it as a useful theoretical tool.

De lichtheid van literatuur

De lichtheid van literatuur: Engagement in de multiculturele samenleving (The Lightness of Literature: Engagement in the Multicultural Society) is a plea for the social relevance of literature. The book delves into an age-old debate about literature and social engagement, which has recently been reinvigorated in Dutch literary studies. But it centers specifically on literature’s function in the current debate on the multicultural society – one of the most pressing issues in Holland and Belgium. The authors argue that literature can play an indispensable role in this debate precisely due to its ability to convey complexity. Discussions about multiculturalism often resort to simplification. Certain stereotypes and rhetorical strategies recur: the theme of menace and doom, the figures of the ‘common man’ and the barbarian, the desire for an uncontestable ‘truth.’ Through analyses of recent Dutch literary works, this book offers an insight into the background and implications of such stereotypes and modes of thinking.

Is there an alternative to populism and oversimplification? The authors of De lichtheid van literatuur believe there is. To convey our multicultural realities, literature uses a language that is figurative, playful, and produces multilayered meanings. The non-serious language of literature marks its force in the social field. Its transformative character takes effect not despite, but because of its difference from public rhetoric: its unbearable lightness, which can have dead serious implications for society without being serious or making truth-claims.

NWO Internationalisation project

Maria has recently received an NWO internationalisation grant for the project “Barbarism: History of a Fundamental European Concept from the 18th Century to the Present.” This collaborative project aims to explore the modern history of the concept “barbarism” in Europe and the West. Responding to the contemporary popularity of the term “barbarism” in political and public rhetoric, and the lack of reflection on the implications of its use, the project will contribute to a historically grounded understanding of its past and contemporary uses. It will also foreground this concept’s foundational role in modern European history and identity, which has not been adequately acknowledged. This NWO project sets up a collaboration between scholars from Leiden University, The University of Geneva, and Bonn University. Besides these partners, the project also engages researchers from other countries and universities. The project is directly related to an overarching research project led by Prof. Markus Winkler (Geneva) and funded by the SNSF (Swiss National Science Foundation).

Go here for more information.

Fields of interest

Maria's fields of expertise include literary theory, cultural and political theory, postcolonial literature and theory, modern and contemporary Anglo-American and Greek literature.


Her current research involves the modern and contemporary functions of the concept of “barbarism"; new directions in art and literature after "9/11”; the rhetoric, aesthetics and politics surrounding the Greek ‘crisis,’ and particularly alternative forms of subjectivity emerging through this context.  Part of her research also focuses on the Greek poet C.P. Cavafy.

Key publications

Articles/Book chapters 

“Warten auf die Barbaren in der bildenden Kunst. Zwei Inszenierungen von Konstantinos Petrou Kavafis’ Gedicht.” Texturen des Barbarischen. Exemplarische Studien zu einem Grenzbegriff der Kultur. Ed. by Carla Dauven-van Knippenberg, Christian Moser, and Daniel Wendt. Heidelberg: Synchron, 2014: 195-213.
“Mehrsprachigkeit und ihre Herausforderungen: Barbarismen in Guillermo Gómez-Peña's Performance-Literatur.” KultuRRevolution. Vol. 65, No. 2, 2013: 47-57.

“Η θερμοκρασία της ειρωνείας στον Κ.Π. Καβάφη.” [The Temperature of Irony in C.P. Cavafy]. To Dentro [Tο Δέντρο] 193-194: 83-88.

“Cannibalism and Literary Indigestibility: Figurations of Violence in Bart Koubaa’s De leraar.” Journal of Dutch Literature. 3:2, 2012: 39-67.

“Barbarism as a Mode of (not) Knowing.” In Inside Knowledge: (Un)doing Ways of Knowing in the Humanities. C. Birdsall, M. Boletsi, I. Sapir and P. Verstraete (eds.). Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009: 57-75.

“A Place of her Own: Negotiating Boundaries in Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place and My Garden (Book).” In Migratory Settings. Murat Aydemir and Alex Rotas (eds.). Amsterdam/New York: Rodopi, 2008: 229-46.

“Barbarian Encounters: Rethinking Barbarism in C.P. Cavafy’s and J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians.” In Comparative Literature Studies. Vol. 44, No. 1-2, 2007: 67-96.

"How to Do Things With Poems: Performativity in the Poetry of C.P. Cavafy.” In Arcadia: International Journal of Literary Studies. 41: 2, 2006: 396-418.

“Between Hospitality and Hostility: Crossing Balkan Borders in Adela Peeva’s ‘Whose is this Song?’ ” In Boer, Inge. Uncertain Territories: Boundaries in Cultural Analysis. Mieke Bal, Bregje van Eekelen and Patricia Spyer (eds.). Amsterdam/New York: Rodopi, 2006. 239-58.


Boletsi M., Hoving I., Minnaard L. & Mul S. de (2015), De lichtheid van literatuur: Engagement in de multiculturele samenleving. Leuven: Acco.

Barbarism and Its Discontents. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013.

Barbarism, Otherwise: In Literature, Art, and Theory. Leiden University, 2010 (Ph.D dissertation)  

Inside Knowledge: (Un)doing Ways of Knowing in the Humanities. Co-edited with C. Birdsall, I. Sapir and P. Verstraete. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009.  

Prisma Groot Woordenboek Nieuwgrieks-Nederlands/Nederlands-Nieuwgrieks. Houten: Het Spectrum, 2008. (in the editorial team)  

Last Modified: 10-12-2015