Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer as a Luxury Immigrant: A European Public Intellectual and the ‘Refugee Crisis’

  • Sarah Beeks


Central to this article is the Dutch poet and writer Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer who in recent years has positioned himself explicitly as a European intellectual. Using Odile Heynders’ definition of the public intellectual, it examines the ways in which Pfeijffer has contributed to the public debate on the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ in and beyondhis literary works. By means of a close reading of Brief aan Europa [Letter to Europe] (2015), the article examines the literary tools with which Pfeiffer tries to add complexity to this debate, for instance techniques such as personification, focalization and identification. In his literary writings Pfeijffer seems to prompt his readers to rethink their luxury position and to direct their attention to the complex issues underlying the ‘refugee crisis’. Simultaneously, however, he also uses images that appear rather problematic and result in stereotyping. Finally, the article also touches upon the more general difficulties of writing on the ‘refugee crisis’ today. Is a Western, privileged writer like Pfeijffer allowed to use the stories of refugees for his own economic benefit? By looking into his public position and performances, the article shows that his economic success and cultural authority are intricately connected to his position as a public intellectual writing on the ‘refugee crisis’.