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Writing Europe

Ursula Keller

Writing Europe

Ursula Keller
Traduction de Andrew Gane

Texte intégral

Fündiger, was das Gemeinsame im Verschiedenen
angeht, sind die Autoren, die es in einem gemeinsamen
europäischen Raum der Erfahrung, der Erinnerung, der
Lektüren und Erzählungen aufsuchen, in jenem
transnationalen kulturellen Echoraum, in dem sich die
vielen verschiedenen Stimmen Europas am ehesten
berühren, überschneiden, verknüpfen und vernetzen.

Europe and Literary Authors

1There were times when the idea of a united Europe was a profound and emphatic concern of the great European writers, giving rise to an abundance of meaningful essays on Europe. Novalis, the Schlegel brothers, Victor Hugo, Heinrich Heine, Rudolf Borchardt, Hermann Hesse, André Gide, Ortega y Gasset, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Thomas Heinrich and Klaus Mann, Stefan Zweig, Hermann Broch, and Alfred Döblin were all writers that not only pinned their political and cultural hopes on Europe, but also worked in various ways toward the establishment of a broader European feeling of community that would reflect pride in the variety and diversity of its culture.

2And yet since Europe stopped being the playground and battle-field of megalomaniac power fantasies or the subject of high-flown ideals and hopes and dreams, since its descent from the utopian heights to the depths of pragmatic realpolitik, the European idea seems to have lost much of its emotional appeal and intellectual power. Moreover, for some time now, the Europe under construction in Brussels appears to have purposely avoided calling upon intellectuals or ordinary citizens to reflect upon or identify and engage with the European project. It has, at best, attracted mere angry polemics. In his essay Brüssel oder Europa — eins von beiden (Brussels or Europe — one of the two), Hans Magnus Enzensberger accuses the European architects in Brussels and their institutions not only of creating decision-making processes lacking in both transparency and in democratic legitimacy, but also of promoting a centralism that will quash Europe’s great diversity of social forms, cultures, traditions, positions, and talents. In order for Europe to survive as an economic power, everything that distinguishes our part of the world from others must be eliminated as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. A competitive Europe must become quicker, larger, and more efficient; it must be more lucid and homogeneous—a kind of synthetic superpower.

3The fact that in the early part of the year it was not overgeneralization by Brussels, but America’s excessive aggression that drove the citizens of Europe onto the streets is not perhaps adequate proof of the formation of a new European public opinion. It does, however, demonstrate the need for Europe to reflect upon itself and the manner in which such public opinion might form. There can be no better time than now to draw Europe’s intellectuals and writers into a discussion about what Europe really means, and about what the continent could and must become if it wishes to be more than merely a pressure group for economic expansion with limited political responsibility. Even without their differences with America, Europeans currently have many good reasons to consider the development of a Europe that is rather different from the Euroland envisaged by Brussels. For this to happen, Europe needs — perhaps more than it realizes — the self-understanding of writers.

4Since Europe’s inception, it is literature, the most self-reflective of the arts, that has played a decisive role in the development of European culture and self-reflection. In the myths, pictures, and stories through which it has told of itself and tried to comprehend itself, Europe has consistently reaffirmed the peculiarity of its culture and its special way of viewing and interpreting the world. At present, however, the continent’s self-image appears more blurred than ever. The Europe in which present-day Europeans might recognize themselves has yet to find its contours.

Europe’s “Best Self

5It is this Europe, so unaware of itself, that the writer and former president Václav Havel takes to task when he writes: The only meaningful objective for Europe in the next century is to be its “best self,” that is, to revitalize its best intellectual traditions and thereby contribute creatively to a new form of global community of living.

6Perhaps Europe will find it easier to be its best self because — more than any other continents and cultures — it has had ample opportunity to become acquainted with its “worst self.” In the course of its history, so full of both promise and devastation, in the course of its dramatic success story, which has outdone all other continents and cultures in terms of the conflict between the most brilliant intellectual, cultural, and social achievements on the one hand and the darkest excesses of destruction and self-depredation on the other, Europe has come to know itself. And in doing so it has exorcised all previous feelings of superiority as well as any naive notions of innocence à l’américaine.

7And thus the soft image of the future Europe that appears on the horizon in the essays composed for the symposium and in the discussions of the invited authors is a long way from that of a proliferating superpower. It is a more considerate Europe, a Europe that recollects, reflects, doubts, and hesitates; a Europe that allows itself the luxury of asking questions before it acts and that refuses, even in the field of politics, to equate an appreciation of complexity with time-wasting or indecision.

8As we know, there is, in today’s world, no shortage of complex and obscure situations in which such European qualities could prove their political worth. To perceive such qualities as strengths and to apply them responsibly in a global context – this is what could enable Europe’s best self to contribute to the new form of global community envisaged by Havel. At present, there is no other actor in sight that would be suitable for this role.

9The essays of Writing Europe offer a first impression of the manner in which European literary authors — who are, after all, experts in matters of complexity as well as scholars of worldly obscurity — could contribute to the purposeful development and application of such qualities. And they may reveal something else too; namely, the extent to which writers — who are also experts in matters of difference — could assist a unifying Europe in recognizing its real wealth, the incredible value of the variety and diversity of its cultures and languages, and of its ways of living and thinking. What could better resist the destructive force of a global mass culture that dispenses with difference than the natural cultural wealth and historical diversity of this patchwork continent?

What is shared in diversity

10The existence of so much difference in such a small area is an ongoing concern of the Eurocrats. But then Brussels still has to discover that such diversity also constitutes a considerable potential. But before it can make such a discovery, Brussels must first develop an awareness of the vital importance of culture for the multicultural and open European identity of the future. This requires it to view the many voices of European culture as sources of energy. It is this very energy that could make Europe’s multiple voices audible to each other, revealing their common tone, if only one could make the contours of an image visible in which Europeans, with their need for difference, might recognize themselves. For only then would they stop saying: “We don’t feel like Europeans even if we are Europeans” or “It’s only in America that you realize you’re a European.”

11It is this balance between difference and similarity, a balance we still have to locate, that many of the essays address. The tension between the two is not to be dispelled by slogans such as “unity in diversity.” It is this tension that makes the European project an open process, for it is within the still unresolved and tense relationship between local, regional, national, and European allegiances and interests that all issues of European identity must be considered, unless we argue them existentially. Europe’s future character will depend upon the success of how we cope with difference.

A single identity, no identity, or multiple identities?

12This is currently the big question facing Europe. Europe has been so taken up with its search for a future political form that it has completely forgotten to examine, a little more carefully, what is often repeated about European identity and its suitability for Europe. What does identity mean for a continent that comprises, above all, difference and contrast and whose very potential lies in the diversity of language, lifestyle, and experience? It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the writers — whose living is based on the art of making distinctions — tend to give somewhat varying and skeptical assessments of whether Europe has one identity or many identities, whether it lacks an identity, or whether it really needs an identity at all.

13Adolf Muschg, drawing on his Swiss experience, lodges a plea for an open, flexible, and vague identity — if any at all. He hopes that the renewable collective energy of Europe will not be absorbed by a single and monotone identity, and promises to stubbornly refuse, if necessary, any unprincipled social metabolism that time and again does away with identity only to re-establish it in some new form.

14This organic and process-oriented identity strategy is supported by the Slovenian poet and essayist Aleš Debeljak in his conception of concentric circles of identity. These emanate from most local and fecund surroundings, from the neighborhood to a region, rippling outward in an ever more abstract manner to national, state, and European identities. They end perhaps and with a bit of luck in our common humanity.

15Such postmodern ideas of concurrent or adjacent identities leave the Irish narrative writer Colm Toíbín cold. For him there is simply no European identity — or at least nothing that might be felt with the same emotional strength as the two other essential identities: the one bound up with memory, family, community, and personal experience, and the other centering on a nation, a state, and an imagined community. For him Europe is nothing more than a name for a set of interests, organized into the European Union, whose liberalizing and secularizing power Toíbín, the Irishman, has nevertheless learned to value. Meanwhile the novels of the Spanish narrative writer Eugenio Fuentes are more concerned with conflicts arising at the transition from regional to continental. If, as a writer, I try to grasp what Europe means for the people who walk its streets, it is my duty to warn that the concept holds both promises and threats. Whether we shall succeed in realizing what is shared and continental without damaging what is peculiar and regional is still an unanswered European question.

16In the view of the Estonian Emil Tode a socially binding identity cannot be founded on purely abstract ideas — it requires real people and meaningful symbols... In my view the attempt to create a common cultural identity in Europe (“European literature,” “European music, “European film”) aims at constructing a counterweight to this dominant power, constituting a nostalgic reminiscence of one’s own lost supremacy ... It would be best if Europe stopped being so self-analytical because Europe fails to find itself — there is nowhere that is not Europe.

17While Tode sees Europe everywhere, the Italian Mario Fortunato, who resides in London, sees it nowhere anymore. For him Europe disappeared some time ago in the fog of planetary homogenization that blurs all contours. Yet again: no homeland. Not in the Fatherland, not in Europe, nor Elsewhere either. There is nowhere else, nowhere: everything the same, everything homogenized and shrunk. This is how he summarizes his thorough disillusionment.

Europe of Books

18When it comes to discovering things we all share in spite of our differences, the most successful authors are those who search in the common European space of experience, memory, reading, and narrative, in that transnational cultural echo-chamber in which Europe’s many different voices come together, intersect, combine, and form a network.

19With great empathy, the French narrative writer Jean Rouaud describes, in his homage to Ernst Wiechert, how two related temperaments and pitches encounter each other in this echo chamber, recognize themselves in each other, and come to the realization that we belonged to the same geographical and mental region — German–French resonance in a place where one might not expect it.

20As a child my first European guests were dead people: Madame Bovary, Robinson Crusoe, Isadora Duncan, and Molière, writes the Turkish-European Emine Sevgi Özdamar. I was in Europe, among my dead friends. And they did not leave me alone. Prince von Homburg, Woyzeck, Hamlet ... Brecht, Kafka — all reside in Europe’s sky, next to the moon, and touch the lives of people even if they are far away. The dead have created the European sky.

21Books you read in childhood form your image of the world; they are a writer’s third parent, writes the Serbian author Dragan Velikić. My tower, which I have inhabited since reading through all of Karl May’s novels, is built from Cervantes’ humor, Italo Svevo’s tensions, James Joyce’s circular routes, Danilo Kiš’ Pannonian remembrances, from Herman Broch’s sleepwalking.

22And just like his tower, so also the towers of many of the authors in both east and west are inhabited by the same pillar saints of European literature. Cropping up time and again, Dante, Shake-speare, Goethe, Kafka, Musil, Dostoevsky, Flaubert, Nabokov, Proust, Joyce, Woolf ... — the Europe of books is astonishingly homogenous; and astonishingly “eurocentric”: Neither Americans, nor Asians, nor Africans appear to have access to the innermost sanctuary of the literary pantheon of European writers. It matters little whether they are reading in the east or in the west or how they feel about Europe, as European authors they are embedded in a cultural context that shapes and contributes to their texts and that they, as writers, continue to mould through their texts.

Europe As an Intellectual Space

23It appears that this cultural context, this Europe considered as a mental space is for many of the authors — in contrast to politicians—unconnected to geographical boundaries. And this is true even if they consider and evaluate Europe’s detachment from the geographical in very different terms. For Adolf Muschg, Europe tends to be an intellectual position, while Andrei Bitov thinks that one can be a European anywhere. For Emil Tode there is nowhere that is not Europe while for the Cypriot narrative writer Panos Ioannides the terms “Europe” and “European” not only define the specific geographical area and its history, but something bigger and wider: they define man himself. Still, regardless of whether they consider it placeless or ubiquitous, mobile or universal, none of the authors really wishes to imagine a Europe closed in by, or locked behind, its geographical borders. Regardless of whether they refer to this cultural context as collective memory, as a European narrative, or a network, web, or fabric that connects over time and space, and whether they perceive it as an invisible watermark in their writing or as a Palimpsest on which they continuously register their thoughts, what is always present is the idea of a common intellectual space permeated by the notions that Europe has thought and stories that Europe has told (to itself).

24I imagine Europe as a living thing cloaked in an aura, an invisible mental substance woven out of every thought, memory, notion, illusion, dream, anxiety, obsession, and trauma, writes the Czech author Daniela Hodrová. For her, stories — individual and collective, ancient and contemporary — are the fabric of the narrative web of literary Europe.

25Writing Europe and reformulating Europe — for the Slovak poet Ivan Štrpka, this would better serve the European project than would any definition of a limited space. Today I wouldn’t describe Europe as a continent, more as a form-creating context. It is an open context in the midst of other contexts. It is writing itself. It is as open as the sea and it continues to open itself, bridgeable, overlayered with contexts ... We are writing ourselves. We are writing Europe. On a clean page? Or on a new palimpsest?

26Of the many possible Europes, Mircea Cărtărescu claims just one for himself: my Europe. It is not hard to see that my Europe has taken on the shape of my own mind and that, indeed, my way of thinking has defined its structure. The surface of my brain, with its motor and sensory areas and zones for language and understanding, is ridged and deeply grooved, but nowhere has it stone walls or iron curtains. It knows no borders.

27The brain of the Belgian Jean-Philippe Toussaint cannot manage completely without borders: I am, then, as much in my life as in my books, a pluralist and nomadic European, taking playful delight in the variety of languages and cultures proper to Europe, at home everywhere on the continent — or nowhere, which amounts to the same thing—as much in Brussels as in Paris, in London as in Venice, in Madrid as in Berlin. One could hardly say it in a more core European way. For him, even today, everywhere in Europe clearly still does not mean Budapest, Bucharest, Prague, Warsaw, Sofia, or Vilnius. The scope of the plural nomads and their intellectual curiosity appears not to reach so far east even now. Even today West Europeans are still far more interested in cultural developments in America than in the literary exploits of their European neighbors. The continuing unequal distribution, on the literary map of Europe, of the scarce resource attention, and the extent to which mutual perceptions are still distorted by ignorance, prejudice, misplaced expectations, and clichés are matters dealt with in many of the essays. It is a European desideratum.

28Another recurring theme is the tension between local, regional, national, and European loyalties as well as the radical singularity and exclusive identity of the writer. Before the authors even begin, in their essays, to consider traces of the European in their writing, they describe themselves as inhabitants of a universe of words, whose sole inhabitants they are. But they do so without overlooking the extent to which this concept alone — the radical autonomy of the writer — identifies them as disciples of the European spirit.

Is the Autonomous Author European?

29For the Danish narrative writer and European escapist Jens Christian Grøndahl, any form of belonging is suspect. For him it is the radical singularity of writing that permits the whimsical claim to such a thing as universal truth. It is his way of writing: setting plots aside in favor of introspection, memory, observation, and reflection, articulating the adventures of the mind rather than those unwinding out there in Reality.

30A novel is not about reality, but about existence, writes Milan Kundera, and the Norwegian author Geir Pollen sees in this position—in this manner of asking existential questions, of groping one’s way forward, of leaving open rather than closing off, always aware that life is never seized and that one writes to think through what one doesn’t understand, rather than merely to recount events — the European signature in my novels.

31For the Hungarian author Péter Nádas, Europe has been, for as long as we can remember, an addle-brained monster slumbering in her beastliness, and writing is a lonely spiritual exercise necessary if one is to each day lift oneself out the primary matter of one’s simple-mindedness. The written word is for him the bulwark, always under threat and always requiring reinforcement, against our sinking back into chaos and modern illiteracy.

32European civilization was built with the participation of the literary hero. First of all, the knight, says the Russian narrative writer Andrei Bitov, and tests some of these heroes for their special qualifications as Europeans. In doing so he reveals, in respect to both the heroes and their inventors, the unmistakably European ability to find one’s own measure, a human measure. We can’t invent anything different. Our own dimensions are our mentality ... In this respect the experience of European civilization is very relevant ... In order to retain our human countenance ... Let us think about people!

33For the Icelander Guðbergur Bergsson, the autonomous author, who repeatedly creates and destroys his or her own literary universe and who repeatedly reinvents and reformulates himself or herself, is following a dynamic of destruction and renewal that is specific to European civilization, in the course of which the towers of Europe are constantly collapsing while their foundations remain intact.

34To the German poet, essayist, and self-declared European Durs Grünbein, in this untiring desire for renewal, understanding, and form, in this so promising intimation of a mixture of an intellectual adventurousness and an almost erotic predilection for personal liberty... there seems to lie a pan-European attitude. You could also call it existential curiosity or a desire to think the unthinkable.

Europe A and Europe B?

35The fact that the broad scope of European attention was focused for so many years on the impenetrable wall dividing the continent, and then turned almost exclusively to the West (whence it will not budge), resurfaces in many of the essays as a blind spot in our self-perception and an open wound in the cultural body of Europe. Whether or not the authors from the eastern part of the continent perceive the West’s absence of glance as disinterest, cultural hegemony, arrogance, or ignorance, their essays nevertheless sharpen our awareness of the harm the new Europe will do to itself if it ignores the great literary wealth on its doorstep. Aesthetically far too aware, contemporary and European to allow themselves to be demoted to the rank of witnesses of events in the east for Western consumption or of mere chroniclers of Balkan chaos, they insist upon their right to be perceived and acknowledged at the height of their literary competence.

36In Europe B, the Serbian novelist Dragan Velikić’s essay Europe imagines the outskirts gazing at it with a certain look in their eyes. This narcissistic view awaits the confirmation of its expectations, that is, a regular supply of stereotypes rather than authentic art pieces — images in which the Balkans are offered up to the civilized West as a place of pure insanity ... as an almost mythical place, a wild place where all is allowed. Graffiti from the darkroom of the continent, enjoyed with a shiver and a shudder. It is this internal European border that is identified by the author and politician from Finland, Jörn Donner. Writing in Swedish, he approaches Europe from the fringe. The big difference between the European center and its periphery is hard to comprehend for those living in the center, which includes a fairly big area. He also sees the Europe of languages transversed by such hierarchies. European languages are often said to enjoy equal rights. This is not true. Especially in the field of literature, we can see a one-way street leading from bigger to smaller languages.

37Looking from another edge, the Albanian author Fatos Lubonja believes the nature of creativity will be jeopardized by the reluctance of Europe to accept writers from small countries ... as European writers, and if it continues to accept them on the literary market only as local witnesses or reporters from remote regions.

38The novelist, essayist, and poet Mircea Cărtărescu has had quite enough of being passed around in the West as a “duty-Romanian,” an East European author with responsibilities dictated by the West. Remain in your designated ghetto... Write about your Securitate, and that dictator of yours, Ceauşescu, and his People’s Palace. Put in something about the feral dogs, the street urchins, and the Gypsies ... As for creating the avant-garde, supporting significant innovations, and generally enjoying normal culture — better leave that to us as well. The literary cosmopolitan from Croatia, marked with the label “Made in the Balkans,” Dubravka Ugrešić had overlooked the established codes between the cultural center and the periphery. I was expected to confirm stereotypes about the periphery, not destroy them. As far as my literary mastery was concerned, I could have chucked it in the bin since it appeared simply to irritate my foreign literary surroundings.

39Twinkling with irony, her essay is at the same time a radical renunciation of all forms of national, regional, or ethnic attributes and identities, including the European. In a world that has become borderless, mobile, transnational, and global, they simply make no sense. For her, the highest point of the mental unification of Europe is the Eurovision Song Contest, while the embodiment of things European is Joydeep Roy Bhattacharya, an Indian living in America, who writes novels that take place in Budapest and Dresden.

Europe — Promise and Disappointment

40Not all the authors are able to depart so happily from the great promises Europe once held for them. Feelings of belonging to the European cultural space became, for East European authors during the decades of their banishment behind the wall, a matter of spiritual survival. Their stubbornly preserved inner Europe was an emphatically loaded place of longing, a refuge saturated with culture, an intellectual home, and a place of escape. And unlike their disenchanted and disillusioned colleagues in the West, and despite all disappointments, they still take Europe’s promises seriously. Everything that they continue to connect with and expect from Europe is, in form and in substance, far more emphatic, even when it is expressed in ironic terms. Even disillusionment has worked to different effect on the two sides of the wall.

41This Europe, which was not one continent, but a state of mind and of words, permitted the Bulgarian poet Mirela Ivanova a life in two parallel worlds, the dusty world of everyday communism and the illuminated world of free European culture. The names of the great poets luminous like altar candles in ubiquitous darkness. And yet despite all the disappointment that the conceited indifference of Europe brought with it to our daily lives, this Europe is still a good place for the parallel existence of two worlds.

42The Latvian playwright Māra Zālīte is tougher on Europe. In her view, the continent has stunningly failed to live up to its potential and lags far behind its great promise: Spirituality, humanism, civilization, democracy — the splendid garb of Europe. Lack of air experienced in a Communist reality makes one take deep breaths of this idealized Europe. Distilled, extracted, clean. The real Europe, however, there is no time to think things through ... Globalization, cultural standardization, and cultural imperialism. A transformation of the world — not included in it, the transformation of awareness, soul, and morality — the Faustian discourse. She sees in Faust the tragic European hero of rash thinking and overhasty action.

43The Greek author Themelis also notes the intellectual drying up of the West. I have the feeling that those values and principles that formed the ideological backbone and the cultural foundations of postwar Europe, and which were distilled in European thought over the course of centuries, are becoming marginalized. I am convinced that citizens are increasingly being presented with oversimplified dilemmas while their problems are becoming increasingly complex.

44We should therefore consider long and hard whether we really wish to raise, for the sake of simultaneity, the European “romantics” from the East to the level of Western disenchantment and disillusionment and the “velociferic” acceleration and virtualization of reality. When it comes to literature, this kind of cleansing of “unsimultaneousness” would not only be a loss for cultural Europe, for it is from the great East European literature of the present, which owes its aesthetic qualities and innovations as well as its intellectual complexity and depth not least to a far more radical confrontation with social reality, that “old” Europe — with its reality-fatigue — could obtain important impulses for the construction of a new Europe. Moreover such impulses will never be found in the smooth and polished American best sellers currently admired by so many. The full extent of the impressive and unknown work still awaiting exploration was one of the most encouraging discoveries on this pan-European journey through literary Europe.

Europe’s “Weak” Strengths

45The myth of the bull’s abduction of the virgin Europa, the account of the founding of our territorial identity, involves not only an act of violence, but a unique historical maturation, generosity, self-determination, and tolerance writes Durs Grünbein, who sees in this ambivalence and inner conflict a central figure of European civilization. The trauma of the story and its extraordinary promise have both contributed to its historical destiny.

46The peculiarities of European culture and European thinking cannot be separated from the underlying tension between the unparalleled success story and the havoc of disaster. It is this tension that has given rise to many of Europe’s “weak” strengths, which may become urgently needed during the construction of a new, alternative Europe and in the global context.

47Adolf Muschg sees the Europe of today in the duty “to hold on to much—as on the shoulders a burden of failure” (Hölderlin) . In essence, the Europe I am speaking of is a common attitude, the fusion of national memories whose components are no longer distinguishable. A civilization of memory. I honor vision, but it can only emerge from retrospective vision. To keep alive and sanctified in memory the horror and atrocities of Europe and to use this memory as a source of equilibrium is a difficult task; but history demands that Europe not shirk this responsibility.

48For the Austrian Jew Robert Schindel, Auschwitz is not only the zero point of European history and the place of its rebirth, as it is for Muschg, but it also requires us to take a final look in the abyss of our own making, in the “European Archipelago” indelibly inscribed onto the map of Europe, a finely meshed spider’s web holding thousands of flies, a city of death serving so many places ... The United Europe of Slaves, of the Aggrieved, of the Dead ... Hardly a nation was missing from the list of inmates. They fed from the same tin basins in harmonious unison, though the harmony was broken when they were shouted at ... the Italians, the Poles, the Germans, the Greek, the Czechs, the Slovaks, the French, and the Dutch ... I emerged from under all that rubble.

49It is from under other no less weighty rubble that Lídia Jorge sees Portugal emerge after the loss of its colonies. Amputated, traumatized, without orientation, and overwhelmed by feelings of guilt, it provoked its writers to a radical and sometimes obsessive confrontation with the bloody past. Acting as proxy, so to speak, literature placed itself “on the couch” and began to tell the shocked country about its mental condition. For Europe, the most important thing that Portuguese literature has to offer is what it says about its relationship to the Other, those that are different. In its multicultural future, it will need the painful experiences — now stored in literature — of the boundary of difference, as well as the bitter realization of the imperative need for dialogue.

50Alongside a Europe that has learned to remember and to enter into a dialogue with difference, the essays refer repeatedly to a Europe whose history, so rich in ambivalence, has taught it to hesitate, to doubt, and to question, a Europe with the power to ask questions and raise doubts about itself. It is a Europe that insists upon its moral uneasiness and that prefers to reflect rather than be carried along by an aimless dynamic and an uncontrolled acceleration. A Europe that takes the time to think.

51Being European, says Mircea Cărtărescu, is not tantamount to being good — or better than the rest; but to being complex, a creature torn by internal conflicts, one who has been able to recognize his inner contradictions and attempted to find a balance between them.

52Nike is most beautiful at the moment/when she hesitates, cites the Polish author Stefan Chwin the poet Zbigniew Herbert. And he does not want this sentence to be understood merely in an aesthetic sense. I would like to make it clear: the real Europe is for me the Europe that hesitates. And that, despite hesitations, can act effectively. The Europe that can, therefore, move through that difficult space between a consciousness of the world’s lack of transparency, which (we sometimes think) weakens us, and the necessity of unambiguous decisions, between doubt that is full of scruples and hard certainty that one is right, between critical self-irony and fervor. It is a moral space that many simply call the space of the European conscience.

53The space in which such traits of European thinking could develop are seen, in two of the essays, as either structured by the European conception of time or illuminated by the special light that shines over Europe.

54For the Bosnian novelist Dževad Karahasan, the unbreakable connection of culture with time is nowhere so obvious as in Europe ... If there exists anything on the basis of which Europe exists as a kind of cultural unity, then it is time — a shared assumption about time ... For all its differences, Europe was always some kind of cultural whole because it was always integrated around an image of time. In the meantime, however, Europe’s fateful history has seen to it that the heart of the continent no longer beats to the same rhythm. It has not only allowed our senses of time to drift wide apart in a Europe of different speeds; it has also transformed the wall between East and West into a time wall, before and behind which Europeans live in different eras. Much will depend on how the uniting Europe copes with this discrepant heartbeat. In respect to this crucial European difference in matters of speed, once again the East would be well advised to steer clear of the fatal and no longer controllable turbulence set in motion by the West, a turbulence that experts in time have learned to fear as raging standstill and that within the Western time aggregate may be considered irreversible. Might not, in this area too, real help be available in the East? Instead of vain philosophical appeals for a life-preserving rediscovery of slowness, we might consider a return to a lived-out slowness stemming from economic backwardness that has protected not only town and landscapes, but also ways of living and thinking from the planning of capitalistic high-speed phantasms. Before “real time” reaches the East, a Europe that is reinventing itself should reflect upon the attractive aspects and creative potential of a reduction in velocity and perhaps move towards a compromise of its various speeds rather than place the East under pan-European time pressure through the subsidized import of the West’s frantic pace.

55Just as Karahasan makes his Europe legible through various conceptions of time, so the Swedish narrative writer and essayist Richard Swartz discerns it in the specific qualities of European light: Europe’s light is distinct from light elsewhere in the world ... Our European light often reaches us in roundabout ways. At times we come across it just by chance. Then it reaches us as a reflection or an afterglow... without this indirect light there probably would be no Europe as we know it. From perfectly natural reasons a light such this is not particularly warming; for us it seems to evoke thoughts and feelings rather than to warm our bodies.

56A plea for a bit of freedom in the European multilingual home is made by the Dutch author Hans Maarten van den Brink, who sees his Europe as a Europe of translators ... My Europe is a house where no one is completely at home and where everyone speaks a language he hasn’t quite mastered. It is a salon where people converse in French, a trading floor where English sentences ring out, a coffee house where lines of German poetry are — always incorrectly — quoted, and a museum where sick and dead languages are lovingly nursed and studied, but without their being imposed on anyone. It is a hotel that earns the Dutch a pretty penny. It sees itself in perspective, but not for want of care or love. It does not retreat, it expands.

57And the Lithuanian poet Tomas Venclova, who lives in America, also constructs his future European home on an altered concept of identity. Part of the beauty and diversity of the world lies in its borders — to the extent that they don’t become insurmountable. The cult of the national state will disappear, but the sense of Heimat and love of a certain region will, I think, always remain. Every region of this kind is a point of intersection of several cultures, and our identity will be precisely of such nature: mosaic-like, made up of segments ... We will not so much inherit as create it ourselves. Although one will always have one’s principal language, multilingualism will become the norm. It’s precisely writers, I think, who will become the pioneers of this future world.

L’Europe Existe, en Miniature

58However diverse the thirty-three European voices that assembled here may have been — in terms of their perspectives and positions, their experiences, expectations, hopes and assessments — the multi-perspective image of Europe that they draw in their essays demonstrates one thing: a centralized, compact identical, exclusive, disassociating, and fortified Europe will not be acceptable to European writers. Perhaps, however, their very different ideas of Europe as a mosaic, network, fabric, narrative, and open, porous, and self­transforming context holds more potential for a cultural Europeanization of horizons than does anything so far envisaged by political Europe. Perhaps these ideas of a Europe of difference, experienced by people as an exchange and a growing network, conceal more that could be used in the construction of an open, dynamic, flexible, and dialogically cultural identity than does an identity debate based on abstract general principles and standardized political and economic rules. Such a constantly growing network of cultures would significantly strengthen Europeans’ interest in each other, providing them with real opportunities for mutual discovery. Europeans will become able to see what is shared rather than what di-vides; to find a common language to express their different experiences; and finally to discover a feeling of community that is proud of the diversity that sustains it.

59As if we had been partaking in a European experiment, for the course of a week we could experience some of all of this at the Literaturhaus. The writers and their various languages, experiences, thoughts, and discourses touched each other, intersected, jolted, and flowed together in a multivocal discussion that spanned many borders. The discussion became permeated by underlying and unexpected cross connections even between the most distant positions; an echo chamber of European resonance was formed. Alongside the multilingual moderators and translators, the writers joined together in a discussion on a common theme serving to highlight their differences of perspective. They formed, for a moment, something like a Europe in miniature. While outside the larger Europe began to divide into the new and the old, inside “writing Europe” gave us a brief glimpse of how things might look if the European project were to succeed.

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Born in Łódź, Poland in 1940, Ursula Keller studied German language and literature, Romance languages and literature, and philosophy in Göttingen, Tübingen, Heidelberg, Aix-en-Provence (France), and Frankfurt. After various teaching assignments and research projects at the University of Tübingen, she completed her PhD in 1980 with Walter Jens. From 1980 until 1991 she worked as a freelance television journalist (literary portraits and film essays) and as a theatre script editor and co-producer (TAT, Schauspielhaus). Since 1992 she has been program manager of the Literaturhaus Hamburg.

Andrew Gane (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2003

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