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Christopher Harvie: “Culture of the Region”

Scottish by birth, but of all places he was teaching at the University of Tuebingen. His contribution to the cultural debate in terms or regionalisation in Europe was a practical recall of the Enlightenment involving also the Scottish movement. As he states in his abstract of the speech he gave on "Culture of the Region": "regional culture is essentially a projection of 'civic values'...They originated in the political theory of the Renaissance and Reformation, and were strikingly incorporated in the political theory of the Scottish enlightenment, with its idea of the pursuit of 'virtue' in the small and 'knowable' provincial polis."

The trouble with that sort of recourse to a particular contribution to European culture and ways of thinking is that it remains specifically tied to a certain period of time. As Harvie would admit himself, "this tradition from George Buchanan to Adam Ferguson, contributed to a discourse which from Burns to Scott to Lord Bryce and Patrick Geddes, remained influential throughout the nineteenth century."

It is important to observe that the influence of the 'Enlightenment' diminished as industrialisation, and with it other developments such as nations in arms during the First and Second World War proceeded to ignore the small and self-controllable way of living: 'in knowledge of what everyone is doing'. Still, he connects this movement with what he sees favourable as the rise of regions and their demands for more control in terms of political, economic and especially cultural policy matters. The context of these particular changes he describes as follows:
"In the 1970s, with the rise of multinational firms and the European Communities, and in the late 1980s, with the end of the Cold War, the competence of the nation-state has been reduced. The simultaneous academic and artistic recovery of not just the history but the political theory of Europe's regions and culture-nations has also contributed to this. Whether this movement is sufficiently far advanced to cope with the challenges of bureaucracy, the breakdown of the 'order' created by the two superpowers, and a hyper-mobile multinational capital, is another, and more uncertain question."


The dilemma, or as a matter of fact the destruction of the Enlightenment movement in Europe was never addressed at the Brugge seminar, even though many speakers made reference to this movement as their cultural orientation. In other words, many of the arguments presented rested upon similar philosophical value premises, i.e. the assumption prevailed that by being in favour of the Enlightenment, this meant almost automatically to go against the power of myths. The latter was identified always as a source of irrationality that Europe had overcome in the process of civilisation. Indeed, the original meaning of Enlightenment was to free man from fear and from mythical powers holding him in stupidity, so that a progressive spirit would motivate him towards his sovereignty, that is, of being free with no one ruling over him except for 'reason'. As Kant would put it in his essay on "What is Enlightenment?", it is 'the courage to follow one's own understanding free from foreign guidance'.

Nevertheless, Enlightenment in Europe does not begin with the Encyclopaedic movement in France or with the philosophy of Kant, but as Adorno and Horkheimer point out in their 'Dialectic of Enlightenment' already with Homer's epic poem 'Odysseus'. The poem itself describes transitions from a hunting to an agricultural society; new values and learning techniques had to prevail, as much as the old Gods and powerful myths of the past had to be pushed back in their place, so as to enable man to survive under new conditions, including the separation of work from pleasure (Odysseus being the only one to hear the enchanting songs of the sirens, while his crew rowed disciplined on, not listening to the commands of Odysseus to unbind him because they had wax in their ears and thus would not fall victim to the luring sirens to experience a fateful form of pleasure). This separation of work and aesthetical experiences constitutes a social order which was to prevail since then throughout Europe. It marks as well the understanding of culture until the most recent times. Survival meant not only overcoming mythical powers, but also one main thing: to attain rationality under the conditions of self-control and self-dominance. It was not seen that this leads on to self-destruction. Many consequences, and critical interpretations of European cultures, movements and issues follow out of that insight into Homer: the most humanistic literature so far written by anyone, according to James Joyce.

The fact that a seminar dealing with the 'Europe of Cultures' did not question these automatic attributions or reason to Enlightenment and irrationality to myths, is an indication of something. This is all the more so perplexing when following the interpretations of Adorno and Horkheimer, we see that many followed the Enlightenment even though seeds of destruction and self-destruction were inherent in such a movement, especially once it discarded the humanistic perspective linking really reason to myth in a dialectical manner. This then makes especially poetry being so close to myths: the beginning of knowledge contrary to what Plato had claimed when justifying the fact that poetry was banned from being taught at the Academy. 'The crisis of man' (Cassirer) begins, with man's lack of knowledge of himself; that is the case when he deprives himself of the 'poetry of life' resting upon a friendly attitude towards the world.

The political theory behind regional movements, or those affirming the small and knowledgeable community, entails always the same pattern of justification for turning back; there are the multinationals and the European Commission, uncontrollable entities threatening life and contributing towards a Mega-Europe of which one does not wish to be a part of. This aspect of 'hostile' attitudes was ignored in the discussion as much as was avoided a critical self-reflection of those Northern European cultural co-ordinates linked to a concept of the Enlightenment and yet equally to the shadowy side, including all the brutalities experienced in wars, colonisation's and suppressions of others.

It may also be an indication that in such academic discussions the critical interpretations of Adorno and Horkheimer have never been really understood in terms of their relevance for the contemporary European situation. As Martin Jay, author of the book 'Dialectic of Fantasy' about the 'Frankfurt School' would say himself, certain theoretical discussions and concepts dwell for a long time at the periphery of attention, until suddenly they converge upon the centre of the discussions and determine the terms. This consideration becomes all the more crucial since at the Brugge seminar there appeared to dominate only certain value premises, i.e. in favour of regionalisation of Europe. The direction many discussions took overturned, so it seemed, almost all philosophical considerations stemming from modern knowledge. Whether Popper, Kuhn, Feyerabend or Lakatosch on the one side, Marcuse, Loewenthal, Fromm, Benjamin, Adorno or Horkheimer on the other, only few like Habermas have tried to bridge the gap left unresolved by the 'Positivism Dispute' of the sixties and seventies. It was not just an argumentation against 'totalitarian societies', but also for a cultural movement which could bridge the difference between poetry and science, practical life in the cities and flights to the moon. By by-passing or ignoring this dimension of reflection called 'philosophy of knowledge', the seminar was left almost empty handed when it came to deal with the most central concept, namely 'culture'.

The lack of a clarification of the concept 'culture' made itself felt throughout the seminar, not only during the plenary sessions but also in the three workshops. This was mainly due to an almost exclusive scientific-administrative orientation while there existed not a sufficient background of artistic expertise and cultural criticism, so that Harvie's claim about artists apparently rediscovering the value of the regions remained unchallenged.

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