Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Silence and Resistance - the position of Eugene van Itterbeek

That is not at all a soft spoken humanistic position, but rather a clear and sober analysis as to where the 'secularisation' will take us. In that sense, I have difficulties to follow the position of Eugene van Itterbeek. I ask myself, is the silence of contemporary intellectuals really to be explained by this departure from a state structure, and hence from big political projects which had given them in the past grounds to speak?

Foucault had shown quite a different reason as to why so many people fell 'silent': they were oppressed by a one-sided definition of reason used by the state to declare a definite identity or form of project as being self-sufficient. Once such a process of finding out what project to undertake was terminated, others were no longer included in the project nor consulted whether they agree or not. That raises further questions about the kind of 'self-sustainable' culture we may want to try to realise. For that can mean quite the opposite to an open culture, ready to talk with others, since usually once things are settled, then they are pushed through, irrespective of the costs. Our various legal systems support that: a person keeps building despite that he is destroying a sensitive ecological balance in a lagoon, but because of the legal permit he can continue to build. This dogmatic usage of reason means repression. Foucault shows in the 'history of the insanity' silent became those declared to be 'insane' and put into mental asylums. The separation in society began already in the sixteenth century when Brant wrote his poem called 'Ship of Fools': it was about those people put on ships due to their differences and hence potential challenge to the sameness and oneness a state would like to have uniformly established in the territory it liked to rule over. These people were never allowed to go ashore again.

That 'logic of partitioning' and the methods of 'silencing' potentially threatening intellectuals, in particular those open to others and ready to question at all times their basic assumptions because of the prime interest not to be in the right, but to come closer to the truth of human reality, made many suffer over centuries. In the end, Foucault spoke a very programmatic sentence indeed. It can serve equally as a maxim for 'cultural actions' pertaining to poetry and for contemplating some modern misuses of poetry for political purposes. That touches to my mind upon other kinds of 'silences' we ought to talk about, even those committed presently by former intellectuals of the left like Enzensberger or Botho Strauss (the latter has questioned any left-wing identity with the help of confronting the cynically experienced reality, in which nothing moves and no individual can be creative, with 'mythical-conservative belief sentences' - Joachim Kaiser - while the former was already criticised by Uwe Johnson as 'someone who believes to improve his morality by changing states', that is when Enzensberg left at the height of the Anti-Vietnam protest movement the United States, in order to go to Cuba). Foucault said: 'we have to find the places of silence in people before the lyrical protest covers them up'. People should be allowed to live in and with their silence, not be forced to speak when they do not want to. That is like leaving spaces unused, hence 'potentials' for the future. 'Lyrical protest' is not poetry, but a political act disguised as poetry, in order to bring human emotions in line with a politically desired direction. It is the case when a Rumanian poetess Liana Ursu begins all of a sudden after national liberation from Ceausescu to identify her poem with the feelings of the 'brothers and sisters' constituting a Rumanian minority living in Hungary. What is perturbing in such a political attempt to form coalitions across borders, is that they draw new borders, exclusive ones, at an even sharper level than overt 'cultural identities' dealing with modern things like shopping, washing the car or else bringing children to school. For here cultural subversion, making emotional reactions become flag-waving like acts of symbolism, is an attempt to reshape the European map apparently according to more convenient forms of rulership by the state using means of culture to suggest that there are family bondages, when in fact, in this day and age with so much alienation, indifference, cosmopolitan, internationalisms, etc., anything other than but real close ties exist. Naturally that explains a longing for such family ties, but as Kennelly said already, they are mere pretensions, for used out of convenience to solicit more money for oneself, they lay claim to be a purposeful entity linked to 'cultural identity', but one under self-control. It is a dangerous illusion, but quite often a very effective political rhetoric as used by the German conversatives in their ideological relation to former East Germans as 'our brothers and sisters'. After the German unification, quite different relationships spoke a much harsher language, but then 'politics and family' has never been really a human affair.

That brings me to ask Eugene van Itterbeek also about his reference to the existence of 'resistance'. In search of a backbone of literature, he suggests by going back to the roots which he identifies as being Rumanian villages which have apparently withstood year long dictatorship by Ceausescu, that he would find there such inspiration as to withstand the 'silence of intellectuals'. I would be wary of such a projection, even if Itterbeek claims that these peasants alongside with the petite bourgeoisie are really the 'humus' of great literature. That is also a dream of novelists like Solshenitzyn, or other Russian writers still thinking about the great aristocratic past. It may be that what they are longing for, and here Eugene van Itterbeek can be included, was the aristocratic ability to delineate oneself from the peasants as the source of culture one assumes to have while they do not. Such a cultural identity rests hence on clear differences, never to be questioned by the 'laws of the land'. That problem of delineation is real. Klaus Heinrich at the Free University of Berlin described the German philosopher Kant as having a special problem with that, for he tried to climb the social ladder, but was unsure whether or not he attained the desired recognition for his newly wanted identity; as a consequence, Kant had a servant who had to put himself into uniform to make delineation easier. Everyone could recognise in the streets who was the master, who the servant.

However, I do not want to abnegate completely Eugene van Itterbeeks reference to the 'petite bourgeoisie'. I recall a discussion amidst the shouting remnants of the '68 student movement upon having received a letter by Holger Meins who under self-criticism admitted that the movement had made a huge mistake by throwing out the 'petite bourgeoisie' and therefore the innovative forces of society; instead the movement had only internalised 'death' by having used an unreflected mythical figure of change, the worker, as potential coalition partner, but in the failure to see that this worker had joined himself the force of the petite bourgeoisie, overlooked the very potentialities in life. Perhaps Eugene could expand a bit more what this means finally in terms of 'cultural actions' and how to overcome in future 'the silence of intellectuals'.

By going back also to Sartre and Merleau-Ponty, or even Malraux (who was at the height of the student movement in Paris 1968 minister for culture under Charles DeGaulle), Itterbeek tries to bring back to us some of the 'auras' of those moving times, including some novel radicalism. I think, however, that the 'silence of modern intellectuals' requires still another analysis and critique. It may have something to do with the lack of freedom at universities or what is happening inside many institutions dealing with knowledge and lately even more so with 'communication' as part of the 'Information Society'. Much is done, but not under the conditions of 'academic freedom'. The political conditions are extremely repressive, the 'scissors in the head' but one indication of an internalized censorship. I will leave it at that, only to be taken up again later, perhaps in workshop 8 dealing with literature, identity and discourse, if so desired by others. Only one point I would like to add as a sort of afterthought. I think that the term 'intellectual' is overused; not everyone who reads and writes is automatically an intellectual. Rather very few deserve such a title. They are people like Arthur Koestler who live by their convictions and try to raise the voice to a 'moral' level to be heard by all. Example for this is Koestler's joint effort with Albert Camus against the usage of the 'death penalty'. For intellectualism has something to do with articulating value issues, a difficult task indeed, for values are usually set, not talked about (Cornelius Castoriadis), or else if talked about, usually end up prescribing morals to others, something that leads more often than not to perpetual war (Robert Musil) or else to suppression (see Iran after Khomeiny took over power from the Shah).

'Let's keep European integration as simple as possible while remaining open to its complexity' - a first, possible value premise

Let me re-iterate at the end some personal thoughts on how to approach this difficult question of 'cultural identity' within the overall project - to use it perhaps in the sense Eugene van Itterbeek means it - of European integration. Certainly that is a project with a positive purpose. We can give our best to achieve it by respecting our different cultures and deepening 'cultural diversity' as a practical outcome of such a respect.

Indeed identity in relation to thought has to do with historical places. Andrι Loeckx describes it beautifully as the 'historical city being a mimesis of society'. Culture itself, however, cannot be reduced to mimesis alone, for that would mean everything is based on sheer imitation of what had been before or what will come in future (the 'mimesis of the shadows of future development' being the fears projected ahead). I argue for such a 'cultural identity' having also to do with 'untouched' things: potentially there, existing, but not used, that is in the sense that we do not write on it, spoil nature by littering or even building on that ground. Things should be left open. The word 'nature' does not cover this, for such open spaces of unspoiled nature imply nowadays 'cultural landscapes'.

When coming first to Greece, I felt this immediately: landscapes created by water, blue sky, fir trees, heat playing at noon with the shade, places with shade giving themselves some coolness to anyone crazy enough to be outside around that hour of the day. Still today many foreign tourists do not comprehend why Greeks themselves live withdrawn in their houses, all windows shut, to have as little light as possible, but the 'hunger for light' by those forced to live in Northern cities is all too understandable. Simple cultural differences. In the Greek landscape, grounds become 'holy' or rather poetic when stimulating thoughts. That you find where the openness between one's inner and that amazing beautiful outer world exists. The Greeks called it the 'topos' of their world: locations where to built their temples. It is not an arbitrary world we live in. That thought has remained true since then.

This positive aspect can still be experienced in the Greek landscape, despite of all the recent constructions spoiling a nature which is not at all hostile, when compared, for example, with the woods in Northern Canada or the Alps where the weather can play at any moment havoc with your chances to survive. There is a 'light' which dominates in a different way from northern countries. The latter know only day and night, two abstract poles, whereas anyone living in Greece will have to learn very quickly different layers of light during the day and hence cultural orientations, for night in Berlin is but in Athens still early or late afternoon. That has to be considered in all its variations, especially if also the Scandinavian countries will join Europe and then the time-zones will have to be bridged in more than one sense. Culture is a matter of living the days like light-years. This difference was described by Klaus Heinrich as three days in the South become retrospectively upon returning home from vacations an impression of having lived there three years, whereas three months in the North shrink afterwards into one day like water droplets running together on a hanging washing line after the rain has gone. Bruno Kartheuser characterises this even more beautifully, when he calls such days in Greece as an 'undefeatable summer' that remains within oneself for a long time after having returned home.

There is still more to be said in this connection. In reading reflections by the Greek poet Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke on how she sees 'light' affecting her identity as a Greek poetess, then I know her language is both concrete and abstract: common words take on mythical significance and vice versa, mythical powers can slip in the disguise of some common person into daily life. It is all there; you see it and you don't. Why, because you do not believe that it can exist and yet it does. Mythical language in reality is the interplay with the imagination words can create to allow 'seeing' of a different nature. That is what 'myth' is about in the real sense of the word for Greek poetry: it is always there, within reach, because the landscape itself tells you how to see things, once you touch upon one of the beautiful forms and most unusual expressions, but beautiful, because so simple and convincing like a little pebble still enemating its colour as long as wet by the water of the sea. Indeed, this Greek landscape is a cultural landscape because it is not confined to just rocks or raw materials, but it leads the thoughts to a wonder about the world, the universe, about man and his measures, about what to eat and to drink, and what to do about a love that does not 'simply' come to one. It gives reasons to think about anguish and laughter, as much as about our friends or enemies. There is no such thing that not everyone cannot become a friend, but the fact that we have so many enemies, that is a fact in need of explanation - so the convincing reasoning of Katerina, the poetess living in both Athens and Aegina.

When talking about myth and seeing, then in a double sense of the word: we see it and we don't. Was it not the goddess Athena who made Odysseus invisible, so that he could pass unnoticed through the city, in order to reach the core of power and challenge its premise, before any guard could ever react? That is an important lesson Homer tells us: the futility of being on 'guard'. Pseudo-revolutionaries always liked this parable for whatever reason, but they did not understand or seem to care for all the implications when trying to be 'vigilant'. Being on guard all the time meant eventually a completely state controlled society kept in fear of outside forces encroaching while the famous mistrust within 'rank and file' did the rest to keep everyone at bay. There was no time for discussion; the rule of necessity governed with 'iron hand' (see, for example, the usage of the myth of Hercules in Peter Weiss' novel: 'The resistance of Art').

Thus, the very position of the Greek poetess Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke is also a significant mediation between outer and inner worlds without trying to psychologise them. She simply spells out what life is about: this, Grammar, the rules of life and always some hidden dimension like a laughter or a sad tear, but which no one speaks about. She too knows silence, especially after having undergone so many leg operations to a kind of polio disease, and hence about the many things which are rarely talked about. She trusts her feelings in the direction of the emphasis upon 'simple things', i.e. the love for a dog. It is akin to children who coming home from school, throw down their burden of learning, i.e. their rucksacks filled with books, in order to touch and to stroke a dog, happy to see so much attention being given all at once to him. Is that a life-learning moment, or just a fleeting one, too little in importance to be bothered about? Many things happen every day and none of them are remembered, as if our memory works according to another schedule, assumptions of reality and certainties as to what is true. It is the subtle nature of poetic language which might bring us closer to the difference of myth and a kind of rational reasoning which, if not called Enlightenment, pertains still to 'rationality': a way of seeking explanations through the already known, lived through experiences included, in order to come a bit closer to the real 'unknown'. The proximity to truth is a distance to that unknown; it is measurable through life alone.

Thus, if I follow the 'voice' of Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke, one of Greece's most important, contemporary poetess, then her sound and laughter becomes a 'mythical' description of beauty in life, precisely because there is 'wonder' in her voice. It can be doubt, it can be analytical scepticism, but there is something which makes her show her love for this land of the 'light' not in formal or nationalistic terms, but in truly poetic forms calling upon resistance and human compassion. She supports the immediacy of language, such as the 'glittering of water between olive trees when looking out to the bay'. And always in the Greek landscape there are 'rocks' which give a particular colouring to everything. In the German language, there exists this beautiful, but untranslatable word called 'Wortkarg' - economy of words. I think that finally the duality between perception and senses boils down to that: many wish less, rather than more explanations. Life is too complex, that is why things should be kept 'simple', so Katerina, in order to have a glimpse of all the beauty that is out there, in the world.

Those who project upon Europe a negative kind of 'myth', namely as being merely Brussels of the bureaucrats producing endless reports that no one reads, they are right only in one sense: some statements could be brief and they need no further comments, especially if outside that proximity to truth. However, the importance of culture for the entire European integration requires something more than just brief explanations. That is why I do no accept the usual criticism of those who say the European Commission produces too many texts, that is, endless ones, as if the administrative oriented national politicians are in a position to criticise the misuse of 'lines and paragraphs' in order to postpone decisions and to take another approach than agreed upon, in order to resolve the problem in question. If there had been no agreement about the problem in the first place, how then can there be a talk of resolvement? It is not a 'cultural consensus' which is then given the prime importance by which we can act, but an increasingly disturbing ideology in the making, one that tries to evade crucial questions and give mere symbolic answers, even without having realised that in an open culture there are no answers, at least not definite ones that would terminate life for once and all. On the contrary, life is as much enjoyment as doubt; restless feelings follow if we do not succeed in living up to that truth. We go on looking for answers that allow us to create our 'cultural identities'. The best guarentee for that is being ourselves, in dialogue with others.

Hatto Fischer Athens/Spetses 1994-95

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