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Meetings Calendar 2006
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Muses and Sirens

 

The Muses are the traditional custodians of the Idea of Europe. It is (or was?) impossible to be European without the knowledge of the Muses, as representing the only real European lingua franca, European art: Dante and Cervantes, Michelangelo and Vincent van Gogh, Mozart and Schönberg, Kafka and Pessoa, Fellini and Kieslowsky, Maria Callas and John Lennon, etc. Whatever doubts may exist about what is and is not European, there can be no such doubts about our history and culture.

A leading European humanist like George Steiner blames the disappearance of European identity partly on a loss of cultural knowledge. In his lecture, ‘The Idea of Europe’, he noted:

‘Nothing threatens Europe more radically – ‘at the roots’ – than the detergent, exponential tide of Anglo-American, and of the uniform values and world-image which the devouring esperanto brings with it. The computer, the culture of populism and the mass-market, speak Anglo-American from the nightclubs of Portugal to the fast-food emporia of Vladivostok. Europe will indeed perish if it does not fight for its languages, local traditions and social autonomies. If it forgets that ‘God lies in the detail’. [...] The dignity of homo sapiens is exactly that: the realisation of wisdom, the pursuit of disinterested knowledge, the creation of beauty. [...]. But if young Englishmen choose to rank David Beckham high above Shakespeare and Darwin in their list of national treasures, if learned institutions, bookstores, concert-halls and theatres are struggling for survival in a Europe which is fundamentally prosperous and where wealth has never spoken more loudly, the fault is simply ours.’

Historians have not forgotten that for many intellectuals, poets, and artists, one of the many driving forces underlying the First World War was a conflict between ‘Kultur’ and ‘Zivilisation’, between cultural, metaphysical values on the one hand, and political and social values on the other. ‘Zivilisation’ won, but with the freedom of the individual came the culture of the masses. Why should that be a problem? Haven’t the Muses frequently turned out to be Sirens that plunge Europe into disaster? And don’t films like Star Wars, Schindler’s List, and The Matrix have just as much educational value as, say, War and Peace? Isn’t the plea for ‘high culture’ inspired all too often by nostalgia for a Europe that has vanished, or is there in fact a link between the fact that this culture is like a museum and the Europeans’ identity crisis? What knowledge do we need to be European? What images can we use, what do we communicate when we are Communicating Europe?

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Date: 31.01.2006