30 men go in, one man come out, or debating the New(ish) European Identism

The European Union project is spawning its own ideology and intellectuals — as ever — are embracing the ideology-making with gusto.  Partly in order to be relevant — the hunger for political power, the feeling of being marginalized and insignificant has been the mainstay of the class for ever; but partly because it’s all intellectuals can do:  produce ideology with which to bedazzle lesser minds (and each other; and themselves).  I am worried about it:  nothing good has ever come out of this sort of ideology-making.  For now, it seems innocent enough, but so did socialism at first — before guys named Adolf and Vladimir explained it to us a little better.

This new European ideology is, in short, this:  Europe has been a separate well defined entity since its very conception.

Just what it is that makes it Europe/European isn’t clear — people mutter something about Greeks, Bach, and Catholicism.  These are mostly incomprehensible claims. For instance, to say that “Bach is a point of reference for all European music” (I heard precisely this sentence last night) means either that

i) all music made and listened to in Europe is somehow descended from Bach, or informed by Bach, which is an impossible claim; or,

ii) ominously, that every music made in Europe which is not informed by Bach is somehow not European, foreign (and we know where these claims end); or

iii) it means that every musician in Europe has heard the name “Bach”, which is so little of a claim, that one’s hard-pressed to understand why it should be made at all.

More ominously, the claim to European identity is thought to emerge out of contrast with the other (“busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels”, says Hank IV to Hank V-to-be).  And, a momentous point, the Other used here is not the United States, about which most European intellectuals at least know something, but about Asia and Africa about which they generally… know nothing.

This is not only terrible on account of its falsity and glaring ignorance; or its possible political dangers down the road (Euroepan Muslims look out); but also on account of the very culture which it claims to defend.  For the discussion then turns to art and culture seeking to identify what is European about Shakespeare, or Bach, while what is needed is identifying what is good about them.  What we need is not more European art, what we need, dear friends, is more good art. Could someone please stand up for that?  There is no need to stand up for the European Union — plenty of people do that already.

*

So, your correspondent is going to go into this think tank, unarmed, and alone.  A classic western situation:  on the one hand he, on the other 29 participants.  Then, we lock the door.

The Western ending would read:  30 men go in, one man come out.

Not cut out from the Western cloth, I am afraid.  Won’t they club me to death?

4 responses

  1. The idea that Bach=European seems kind of absurd – I can’t actually believe someone said that!

    If anything might lay claim to a “europeanness”, it’s not going to be an individual, but a genre.

    I don’t think it’s entirely crazy to say that something like the novel, in the form of Don Quizote or Tristam Shandy or Werther, had some kind of pan-european quality, in the sense that people across Europe would read them, and their own literature would then be informed by whatever happened in another country.

    In the same way, one could see what Bach did with Vivaldi and French styles and see that there was some kind of aesthetic conversation going on across the continent, but it seems really bizarre to assert that Bach then as a reference point for Europe. Actually, with you, I just don’t understand it!

    October 5, 2010 at 16:49

  2. Hello Andrew:

    the view is of course unbelievably ignorant
    the level of the conference was not high

    October 5, 2010 at 19:00

  3. “I don’t think it’s entirely crazy to say that something like the novel, in the form of Don Quizote or Tristam Shandy or Werther, had some kind of pan-european quality, in the sense that people across Europe would read them, and their own literature would then be informed by whatever happened in another country.”

    I confess I am suspicious of the notion of any pan-European quality. No doubt most Europeans did read Werther and it influenced them — made them more similar to each other on account of sharing some piece of mental furniture — but did it manage to influence them because it was somehow suitable to the European mind to begin with? I wonder what such a claim would mean? That the reading of the Septuagint in childhood makes your mind receptive to a certain kind of novel? (It’s possible, I suppose, but that’s a hell of a claim to make).

    Incidentally, Shandy isn’t read in Eastern Europe at all while Qixote is a familiar figure, the book is hardly read. On the other hand, the one work of literature which enjoys a truly pan-European success is… The Arabian Nights, a 13th century Egyptian vernacular work, which, incidentally, is regarded in the Arab world as embarrassing pop not worthy of a true literary mind. : )

    October 16, 2010 at 09:00

  4. “Incidentally, Shandy isn’t read in Eastern Europe at all while Qixote is a familiar figure, the book is hardly read. On the other hand, the one work of literature which enjoys a truly pan-European success is… The Arabian Nights, a 13th century Egyptian vernacular work, which, incidentally, is regarded in the Arab world as embarrassing pop not worthy of a true literary mind. : )”

    By which I meant to say that the good fortune of distribution — someone happened to translate it; someone else happened to publish and promote it well — counts for pretty much most of the success of any famous literature, i guess: far more than who wrote, where, in what language, and of what religion s/he was.

    October 19, 2010 at 17:51

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