Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Cultural Actions for Europe

Another thing to be avoided is that 'cultural actions' become simple symbolic acts like waving a flag. One thing I have started to grasp in organising this Fifth Seminar with its emphasis upon 'cultural actions', is that we must not succumb to an overt form of symbolism with no substance behind it. Instead we should keep things simple, in order to remain 'open' in our attitudes towards the real complexity of the issue(s) involved. The beauty of life can only be addressed by 'cultural actions' that are structured along such differential lines which keep 'diversity' and 'plurality' alive, while approaching the coming together in Europe something like a structured whole. Cultural movements can never be dictated, hence European integration efforts themselves must become and remain authentic, if they wish to hear different voices and to heed the advice of many opinions. At the same time, the very absence of music, a good poem or deep thought is indication enough, that something is already amiss. The very absence of 'culture' can tell us immediately that the actions undertaken have not been convincing enough in human, that is, emancipatory terms related to people able to articulate themselves.

The very context in which we prefer to move in that cannot be made easily compatible with a political will. For this reason, the 'cultural action' programme proposed by European Parliamentarian Alecos Alavanos with regards to the return of the Parthenon marbles from the British Museum to the Acropolis is an example from which all of us can learn. For the return of the marbles, once understood as a crucial, but equally complex 'cultural action' shows that we take a differentiated approach on how to resolve interrelated issues such as having to fulfil conditions of a modern museum in Athens to house these marbles and a clarification by the European Union on how it wishes to regard its 'common heritage' in practical terms. There is the argument of the British Museum to be dealt with as 'the' rightful authority to look after this heritage, while Merlina Mercouri has always claimed the opposite, in defiance of all odds that they would ever be returned. At Brugge it was pointed out already, but how come so many cultural artefacts of the Mediterranean cultures are to be found in the museums of the North. Mr. Galle emphasised even further the fact that the Treaty of Rome already excluded archaeological pieces from the demand of each European country allowing the free flow of goods, since these items are directly linked to the 'cultural heritage' of that respective country. In responding to the initiative of Alecos Alavanos at first only with the openness that the Brugge seminar had brought about with regards to such matters, I found myself after a visit to the British Museum one day after the funeral of Melina Mercouri much more in confrontation with the arguments of the British Museum (see the official press release by the British Museum as part of the document added to the 'cultural action' proposal by Alecos Alavanos in conjunction with workshop 6: Western Civilisation). Certainly many of us have not really heard both sides of the arguments, and it was my intention to have here with us Dr. Williams, the keeper of the antiquity collection at the British Museum. He was prevented from coming due to a major exhibition of cultural artefacts originally from Aegina around the same time. In seeing also the involvement of European parliamentarians supporting Alecos' initiative, I thought any 'cultural action' having to do with this issue must see to it first that the European Parliament is upgraded in levels of competence, so as to achieve in future 'cultural sovereignty' within Europe. For then the European parliament, not the British Parliament has the right to delegate the authority of keeping the common cultural heritage, a matter right now claimed by the British Museum as their privilege due to an endowment given by the British Parliament once it bought the Parthenon marbles from Elgin to the Trustees of the British Museum. In the end, the political conditions for the 'cultural action' related to the return of the marbles must be stated in such terms, that the moment they are fulfilled, this matter becomes a non-issue. Without stating 'clear aims', proposals for cultural actions become meaningless. By the way, if you think the return of the marbles is impossible, allow me to point out one thing. Unthinkable things have happened recently in history, such as the fall of the Berlin wall or the signing of a peace treaty between the PLO and the Israeli state, so why not also the possibility of this - provided the 'cultural action' structured around this issue remains clear in aim: to restore all the fragments of a common heritage in its proper place as an expression of Europe being capable to achieve cultural integration. I ask the participants of this seminar to give their full support to the initiative of Alecos Alavanos who has already collected 265 signatures, more than the majority of the European Parliament, from parliamentarians who wish the marbles to be returned to Greece.

Having said this, I could extend the discussion in the direction of what are my hopes in some of the workshops planned at this seminar. For instance, workshop 6: Western Civilisation and workshop 7: Education for Cultural Diversity could eventually merge and start designing a future course of studies involving both Greek and European studies as a direct expression of this 'common root' in both the past and the present. There is a need to synthesise at all levels of education further going inquiries about our diffuse identities which were cut off in their respective developments by state ideologies misusing them only for purposes of legitimising their own existence. The almost classical three-step schemata for historical developments - first the Greeks, then the Romans and after them 'us' - that reigns almost everywhere in Europe. It has contributed to a false consciousness of how developments proceed over time, Hegel and Marx included, as if there is never any political decision making involved in what eventually shapes the course of history.

But I do not want to get involved right now, here, in that historical debate. Rather I would like to come back 'indirectly' to what I mentioned ought to be avoided, namely that 'cultural actions' turn into symbolic acts like waving the flag. At the last seminar in Brugge, there should have spoken at the workshop 'culture and identity' and which Prof. Bekemans had asked me kindly to chair, Prof. Dyserink, a long-term advocate of 'comparative literature studies', that is, a break with national philological schools of thought which I link directly to the many fatal misinterpretations of Ancient Greece. Fatal in the sense that these interpretations became themselves justifications of racist and elitist ideologies in support of 'leadership over people'. I do not need to refer here to Nietzsche's "Thus spoke Zarathustra" nor to the Heidegger-Gadamer linkage in support of a 'method of truth' called Hermeneutics, a method that led Gadamer to fight, for instance, the poetry of Paul Celan because the philosopher felt such 'messages out of the bottle' would destroy the German language. A second look would allow one to understand the fear of Gadamer, since the other logic of Celan's poetry would prevent effectively the German language to 'lead' people, provided they gave up thinking in terms of 'I'. No wonder then the thesis that thinking in terms of an 'I', that is in the sense of claiming to have a personal identity, that such a claim was labelled as being not only preposterous, but also something which makes people sick by a student of Gadamer and later psychiatrist, who had studied under Lacan in Paris before coming back to Germany with this attack on the 'I'. Such an adopted viewpoint anegating the personal 'I' is really something like the Western version of the Eastern nirvana, or a doubtful spin-off from 'Rationality' into the 'Irrationality' still to be identified most easily in Heidegger's subjective usage of the German language and hence the need to have a leader, if any progress is to be made. That these cultural undercurrents prevail in Europe still today, should not be left out in our attempt to understand European cultural diversity; after all, Heidegger is reviewed in France quite differently, mostly uncritically, than in post-war Germany, while the post-modern philosophical dispute in France has never been really understood in Germany (Martin Jay). In other words, even language and the philosophical concepts that go along with them, should not be reduced to a national nor a European symbol. There are within the true 'Europe of Cultures' many cross-references and interconnections possible and which, if rightly analysed, allows a James Joyce to talk as much about German cultural features, as Kafka could imagine what it would be like to be in 'America'.

There is still a further explanation why symbolic usages of language reoccur. Thanks to Prof. Joris Duytschaever, himself the best linkage to Prof. Dyserink, I received many valuable materials giving me fresh insights into what ought to be our concern as well, namely how to understand each other's cultures in comparative and comparable terms. Prof. Picht had already in Bruge and in response to Kerkhof's study of value systems in Europe pointed out, how different the usage alone of words like 'family', 'home', 'work' etc. is, so that we must be cautious when stating what compounds 'cultural diversity' within Europe. If it is our concern to protect 'cultural diversity', then we must involve ourselves in further going studies as to where such cultural differences exist and yet are often overlooked in our oversimplified or grossly exaggerated terminology when referring to Europe as a whole as being comprised of different cultures, such as i.e. the French, the Germans, the Dutch, etc.. As Bart Verschaffel rightly asks, cultural identity cannot be based on a sort of symbolic, equally collective ownership, i.e. our Flemish painters and the Flemish identity. Art and its receptivity at truly appreciative level is destroyed the moment national or other political identity labels are attached to artists. True art was and always shall be 'universal'; Picasso's Guernica is understood by everyone in acknowledgement of human pain and suffrage due to war.

Joris Dyserink gave me in particular something for which I am infinitely grateful to him, since it proved to be an eye-opener, at least for me. He gave me a book which he had edited with another person on the topic of 'History and Violence in the Anglo-Irish Literature'. Immediately it made sense to me, yes, we can even compare different European societies along such concepts as 'violence' or 'history' since certainly differences will come out of studies of Germany as opposed to Greece or Ireland, that is, a different terminology with regards to violence and the value issue related to that. The very first essay in that book struck a chord in me with many furthergoing vibrations. I mean an essay by the Irish poet Brendan Kennelly on 'Poetry and Violence'. In that essay he criticises Yeats for having avoided the question of violence, making his otherwise good poem into a poor one because his language turned immediately into 'symbolic acts' the moment of confrontation was avoided for the sake of some fake solution. Since I referred extensively to that essay in my opening paper for discussion at the poetry symposium on 'poetry and myth' held in Crete May-June 1994, that is just prior to the start of this seminar, I leave it at that: avoidance of crucial questions marks immediately our 'cultural actions', or attempts to undertake them, by acts of symbolisation. It leads to distortions of not only reality, but also of communication: a most negative consequence. Indeed, once symbols are used for purposes of communication, then this leads only to misunderstanding (Karl Jaspars). In other words, the political language used in Europe, and this includes the overt pressure to simplify by resorting to symbolical language, must be critically re-examined on the basis of 'cultural actions' bringing about a differentiated language reflective of various terminologies used differently in diverse cultural settings.

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