Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

What to keep in mind on a day of culture by Hatto Fischer

Europe and its culture is blossoming and at the same time European culture is endangered. Globalisation and socio-economic forces as well as political restrictions on the one hand, lack of practical support needed to further individual and collective creativity on the other threaten to hamper the next generation of artists and cultural workers to make their contribution to cultural development in Europe.

Culture can be hit in different ways. Currently wars, antagonisms, fundamentalism, neo-nazism etc. may lead to the closing of festivals, theatres, annulation of literary prizes etc. "Principis obsta!"

Censorship sometimes comes in disguise; big names and big sums for 'big' projects undermine, if not demotivate the creative spirit of the 'small', be it by foundations, companies and even governmental institutions. 'Cultural capitalism' is taking its toll!

Harmful measures to culture are not merely applied by authorities. Loss of authenticity is equally connected to a definite approach to the literary and cultural tradition as interpreted by editors, publishers, critics, but above all by writers and poets themselves. Günter Grass described how after 1945 post-war writers started to create anti-Fascist heroes that had never existed during National Socialism. He implies that there has to be drawn a line for literature cannot be better than reality and therefore should not go beyond the limitations of man. Adorno would say the story should be told how it was in order to give future generations a chance to learn out of the mistakes which had been made. It would open up the literary writing process to the dimension of redemption as expressed best by Jean Amery in his book 'Beyond Crime and Punishment'. For anything else would be if not propaganda, then a lie.

The same standards should apply to the media which tend to defend often their allegedly, at times indeed destructive opinions by just wanting to reflect society as if if a mere mirror, but they do so without apparent awareness in so reporting they contribute to a vicious cycle not allowing public opinion to get at the matter of truth while searching for solutions. Rather the media should serve like literature the purpose of giving people such self understanding that they can come to terms with events and find a way to survive in today's world with 'human dignitiy'.

It would be a mistake to apply only the market criterion of 'success' to any given cultural event, for that would limit the conceptual understanding of the term 'culture'. The cultural 'event', (inter-) cultural exchange, the cultural encounter is often not measurable and thus difficult to transfer into a meaningful and wise cultural policy based on reliable evidence of what impact certain measures do have. Efforts were made at the EU CIED conference held in Leipzig, June 1999 to focus on the 'measurable of the unmeasurable', and this leads on to how artists can be used as indicators as to what is happening to cultural spaces in cities and regions.

Cultural policy has to sustain cultural activities as independent ones and yet ensure at the same time that they do maintain a positive link to specific needs of economic development. The latter is itself dependent upon new ideas as part of a cultural innovative process and upon people able to fulfil the necessary cultural adaptation process required if new tools (e.g. online distant learning) are to be used in an efficient and practical way. This means literacy especially in a digital age is not self understood but has to be encouraged in order to make a wise use of the new potentialities offered by Internet-based forms of communication networks.

The outcomes of cultural tourism and the things achievable by cultural industries engaged in this field have started to speak about a critical mass of funding being needed prior to becoming really active and a net contributor to the economy.

There is a real danger of falling victim to an artificial 'megalomania' just for the sake of faking a mere market success. While borders between cheap entertainment and true cultural events can easily be blurred, a distinction alone between these two categories have to be made if culture remains to be a critical resistance against over commercialization as this had been one of the leading aims for the Article 10 - ERDF projects funded by the European Commission.

A cultural policy permanently measuring culture by its economic success fails to understand the special need of mankind to value the emotional experience in culture as this is needed the most if to stay alive and be creative i.e. adaptive to ongoing changes. Just as a pause plays a role in any musical score, silence reflects as well what is needed as basis in order to initiate a dialogue with words still retaining their meaning. The latter cannot be replaced by slogans and a skillful rhetoric faking a dialogue where there is none. Any dialogue is based on the 'I-you' starting premise of any philosophical appraisal of thoughts made by human beings and refer to lived through experiences ("le vecu" by Jean Paul Sartre).

Indeed our modern world is called the 'Information Society' and constitutes a new challenge to culture. Due to over commercialization, there is hardly any space left where the existence of different meanings can be discussed in public. Even universities are at risk to lose this ability to validate knowledge by questioning incoming information.

If things are reduced to only fashionable trends as if they indicate 'success' and the direction in which development should head into, then concepts become arbitrary. For they are shifted around so much until they suit current media and political interests linked to commercial success criteria. That reduces interest in communication to just getting one big message across. Any other kind of identification, never mind reflection possibility of societal development being a complex process is left out. The sole aim of single messages is to heighten single economic opportunities. That means the road to economic success is marked by a steady marginalisation of many other cultural acts, including good story telling, imaginative inquiries into what shapes life, and creative thinking processes requiring first of all just a problematization without knowing either the outcome or the solution. By being pressured to produce immediate and visible results, good questions and inspirational insights are left out. Especially political discourse no longer seems to allow to hear the thinking process itself. Nor is it traceable anymore as to how a certain result was attained.

Culture is vulnerable because it can be so easily and readily forgotten what learning entails. All this eagerness to find short-cuts to success is exemplified by a boy dreaming to become a football star since then he does not need to study and to learn since he will be able to make lots of money in a quick way. These models of success have many more implications as future generations are constantly being mislead by these highly commercialized models of success.

Creativity needs time and quality i.e. attention given so that good questions can mature in the mind of the person growing up in a world both complex and fast moving. In the age of fast communication and multi-media preoccupations with fast responses always needed, the outgrowth is an impatience with long term processes. However, the latter are needed if consistency over time is to be attained. Only this can further the working through of contradictions but as Cornelia Castoriadis already said technology not only prevents young people to think in terms of contradictions, but as a tool it has replaced a theory of society.

Culture is based on dialogue, but if this dialogue is to be human, it must be free especially from the constraints of the system and what can only be understood by confirming the categories of the system. The new media does certainly speed up the process of exchanges but at the same time, they slow down in effect the reflection process since much of the communication converges on images rather than on substantial contents. There is at risk that the 'image' only orientation reduces communication to a 'fast food' type of feeding process within the system. Impatience is encountered immediately once messages go beyond the 'norm' e.g. more than three sentences. Quality has been replaced by quantity while information management is becoming an ever necessary tool.

A recent survey indicates that many in today's younger generations strive for two things at the same time: they wish to experience the 'new media' but they yearn equally for 'human experiences'. It seems as if these two desires are incompatible with one another and therefore the test of dialogue is whether or not this can be bridged to help shape attitudes of future generations in continuity of European cultures which are based on 'dialogue' and 'freedom of expression'.

Dialogue implies listening to the other. It goes without saying that no one should super-impose own opinion upon the other (Kant). However, it does not mean that one has to identify oneself with the other or with what kind of reality the other refers to. But dialogue based on empathy for the other has to rely on the imagination making possible the reaching out and the understanding of the other's thoughts, fears and needs. Through such an imaginative dialogue it is possible to stay in touch with the demand for truth as a measure for what can be realized, what not within any given moment and situation. Culture ought to come out of this need for dialogue between what is practical and what else can be imaged to make a difference to the given reality.

All this reminds of how Socrates conceived dialogue: an activity in the streets of Athens and allowing one to express out loud one's throughts in relation to what one thinks one knows about a certain subject matter. True dialogue would come about by opening up oneself to what one does not know and to show this to the other.

Such a dialogue would link innovation in knowledge to practical wisdom. Questions people have would be posed in reference to what has been discussed already in the past, hence dialogue is also based on renewing the knowledge of the past. This aspect means dialogue is active memory work and which would allow a more differentiated viewpoint of what is being presented in the present.

Aristotles added to this that dialogue has to be based as well on knowing the future while showing an ability to appraise the consequences of different options for actions to be undertaken. Dialogue is, therefore, about avoiding negative consequences and which has become within philosophy the question but who develops the ability to listen to the 'voice of reason'?

Nowadays people are filled with great anxiety about their future. Subsequently they lack in self confidence and civil courage. In Ancient Times, the poet Homer did manage to give them such a confidence. It enable them to work with a new measure of time so that they could adjust to the transition from a hunting to an agricultural society. Since then many wars and set backs have broken their confidence, indeed as well their belief in the human being. The Holocaust during Second World War stands for many as an unbelievable set-back in this belief in the human being and in culture from being able to prevent 'crimes against humanity'.

Most telling about the need for culture in difficult times was said June 1942 by George Seferis, the Greek diplomat who turned during Second World War to poetry, in order to pray:

I want nothing more than to speak simply, to be granted

That grace.

Because we've loaded our art so much that its feature have

Been eaten away by gold

Its time to say our few words because tomorrow our

Soul sets sail.

If in 2000 we are to mark the 5th of May as 'Day of Culture' by real dialogue, a few words should be said as to how we conceive our 'imaginative harbours' to be, so that those souls who have set sail, can return by knowing which harbours are their home. It would give culture a renewed confidence because it would not have been left behind by developments and therefore would allow artists and people to become practical without losing their vision of human beings living happily together on this planet Earth.


Responsible for this text:

Hatto Fischer, Advisor to the Greens to the Committee on Culture, Education, Youth, Media and Sports of the European Parliament

In collaboration with Spyros Mercouris and Bernhard Beutler, Goethe Institute in Brussels.

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