When Valére mentioned locking me in the cellar I knew it was really time to leave!
We spent a couple of hours walking through the Middelheim Sculpture Park, talking mostly about history. In Europe, this involves talking about (and sometimes re-living) elements, aspects, fallout, and memories of war. The abstract violence that I had some dim peripheral knowledge of from early education grows in palpability the longer I stay here and the more people I meet.
Frankly, at a visceral level, I am creeped out by the immanent presence, tribality, and viciousness of violence in Europe.
This is in contrast to the US – where we only went at each other once, long enough ago that re-enactments of the Civil War are a game (which is not to deny the political fallout of the past century and a half). Violence in the US, after the genocide of American Indians, has been at the fringes of legitimacy. Yes, for terrible decades, lynchings of Black Americans were social events supported by local authorities, but anonymity and secrecy (of the KKK, for instance) was – and remains – evidence of impermissability. Yes, we have outrageous statistics of random violence – murders, for instance, but we have not drafted up our youth to go killing each other generation after generation after generation…
This history makes the project of the European Union particularly special. Europhiles know it, Euroskeptics doubt it. While my own research is not focused on the content of the debate between these forces, I have gleaned that the anti-Europeanists are skeptical not only because they perceive human behavior in Hobbesian terms, but because they sense another version of overarching fascist control. They may be right, and so the Europhiles need to generate real mechanisms of democracy that can be participated in by citizens in their day-to-day life. Only deeply-grounded practices of shared culture are capable of competing with the ideologies being implemented by local and national governments – regardless of whether their policies are in concert or competition with the EU’s larger aims.
After our long, leisurely stroll, in which we noticed the preponderance of statues of women posed in domestic and sensual splendour interspersed by some statues of men portraying engagement in “something important” (such as thinking or proselytizing), we settled down for a delicious meal.
Our talk turned to language.