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Europe as a space of communication - by Pere Portabella

11/07/2013

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The cultural relationships between the various countries of Europe need to be improved. We are not talking about some utopia of European cultural unity. This makes no sense. Nor is it possible, because national cultures are too powerful; nor is it desirable, as Europe’s strength will always lie in pluralism, pressure and diversity. We are talking simply of creating communication spaces that enable the endogamic tendencies of national cultures to be overcome. And that bit by bit, give a continental dimension to cultural debates. This is a complicated process, as it implies openmindedness, “translation and mourning”, in Paul Ricoeur’s phrase. Openmindedness means a capacity to think in line with the imperative that what you say has universal value. Translation means assuming you have to make yourself understood by the other; mourning, that in a genuine constructive dialogue everyone has to have the generosity to put aside something during the process, to be free enough to let him/herself be onvinced by other people’s arguments.

For this to be possible, communication channels are required: a genuine network of distribution of cultural products between countries (and thus, of citizens interested in these products who makecommunication possible); policies able to grasp that culture is a value of the greatest necessity (which cannot be left completely in the hands of the culture industries); and a leading role on the worldwide web based on a priority, a European cultural search engine. We cannot allow Google the unchallenged freedom to be the world’s most influential intellectual, marking out the routes for the vast majority.

2. Advances in structural changes do not come from the promiscuity of technology, but from their use and the what for, how and who for, in a process of millions of individuals consuming frenetically to the point of addiction. They are demanding users who intervene with the desire and will to take part, create, share and clone, without dissociating the challenge of the new languages of artistic rupture from the expectation of broader changes. New narrative resources, new creative techniques, new ways of seeing and an incessant demand from our society for images. We are talking of the global screen. Of replacing the value of possession by use value. It is a good symptom moving in a good direction for a social movement that seeks to transform things: to join art and politics.

The question is simply to see differently and look straight at the unforeseen, always attentive to chance. To free ourselves from the instant images that occupy the place of experience, retained and kidnapped by memory.

Pleasure and creativity are not alien to each other, just as curiosity, the origin of knowledge, is not alien to involvement, commitment or the right to contemplate: listening to Bach or looking at a landscape or a Rothko for pleasure also makes us free.

The work of art only takes on life in the look of the other, the recipientuser, on appropriating the proposal whilst ignoring the ego of the author, in line with the level of the recipient-user’s demands and experiences giving free rein to his/her feelings, emotions, poetic pulsations or forceful rejection. Science advances comfortably through allegories and metaphors to broaden the space of knowledge. The result of  research is always successful, whether it ends up in a blind alley or hits the target. Politics needs a story to adorn an intelligible and credible discourse to inform and, above all, to motivate and create a following: A NEW NARRATIVE FOR EUROPE.

And to conclude, the process is always the result, not its conclusions, for the simple reason that they are never conclusive.

3.- Crises have the virtue of being revelatory. The current crisis has shown up a certain cultural and moral crisis in Europe. Culture was silent in the decades of nihilist shamelessness when it was accepted critically that there were no limits, that everything was possible. Culture has been a passive spectator of the austerity policies that have led many countries to a profound social crisis, condemning millions of people to social exclusion. And culture has had no response to certain forms of communication and relationship that have marginalised education, as Tzvetan Todorov has explained: direct contact, person to person, giving richness to experience. The dominant ideology that believes that everything has a price, and that it is the economy that has regulatory capacity, desocializes, breaks social bonds and sends people back to their narrow, enclosed family environment. New technology, with its virtual relationships, marks an estrangement, to a distance whose cultural and human consequences we still do not understand. The chain of consumption, as Bernard Stiegle says, removes our libido and leaves us with only pulsations. What are we humans in our relationships with others if we lose empathy? Culture has not been able to open the horizons that politics and economics have closed down. We live in a continuous present, with no past (tradition) or future (projects). And the voice of culture is heard nowhere, reduced more and more to an ornamental option. In this respect, culture has to recover its political dimension.

4.- Europe suffers from a lack of democracy. Between the technocratic legitimacy of the experts and the balance of forces that determines accords between states, there is barely space for citizen participation, for democratic legitimacy. An economic space has been constructed; now a European social space needs to be built. And culture has a lot to say on this question. This is why the principles that gave solid foundations to Europe’s modernity have to be recovered (the radical thinkers of the XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries), before national cultures impose their order. This requires defending a second lay revolution that smashes the nationalist endogamy of the states of the EU, with the result of a currency and a flag at the mercy of the elements. The space of Europe has to be understood as an essentially shared space. A shared cultural space is the basis of “shared responsibility” (Tony Judt), which should be the central idea of a Europe where people can live together in peace.

Unlike what is usually supposed, Bourdieu (and I share this) said that those whom we call “cultural workers”, to the extent that they have an unavoidable public dimension, exist solely if (1) the autonomous intellectual or artistic world, with autonomous meaning relatively independent of religious, political, economic powers etc., to which cultural workers belong recognizes that they have a certain authority and (2) they involve or invest this authority in concrete political struggles. The threat to the autonomy of creators is, therefore, a threat to exclude artists and intellectuals from public debate. It stems basically from the ever-greater interpenetration of the worlds of finance and culture and from the political manipulation this causes.

Pere Portabella - July, 2013

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