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Sundry Musings on the New Millennium's Transatlantic Dialogue
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2009-02-05 10:02:00
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At the turn of the new millennium I joined the on-line dialogue and debate on “The Future of the European Union.” It was inaugurated by Tony Blair and the then President of the EU Council Romano Prodi. They invited all Europhiles to participate with their own contributions and ideas and thus further the democratic spirit of the new polity. I began to routinely exchange observations, comments, reflections on various aspects of modern European culture and how it was perceived across the Atlantic.

One of the hottest issues was that of the emerging EU Constitution. To make my notes more retrievable, I synthesized them under topic and issue headings. Most of them evolved into the articles and essays. I subsequently published those essays as a book titled A New Europe in Search of its Soul: Essays on the European Union’s Cultural Identity and the Transatlantic Dialogue (AuthorHouse Bloomington, Indiana, 2005). The book was reviewed positively in Europe by a European, Dr. Francesco Tampoia who is part of the Ovi team and has contributed a scholarly article on Europe’s cultural identity.

Lately, some four years later I’ve been musings on those essays. I’d like to share those musings with the Ovi readership which may have spotted the book advertised in the Ovi pages from time to time and may have been wondering what exactly those essays were all about. If the reader clicks on the book he will get to a brief description of it in EuroObserver bookstore and the table of content which lists the titled of all the thirty one essays.

At first glance those titles may appear somewhat disparate; there is nevertheless a fundamental guiding thread to the complexities of different viewpoints and perceptions of European culture and it is this: the awareness that an essay, besides elucidating a specific subject, is also a reflection of the self on the self, a revelation of the mind at work within, at times in contrast to, the spirit of the age, as indeed is the case with any human artifact. Those artifacts in turn mirror the culture of a civilization as narrated and transmitted via language. Man makes language and artifacts and symbols, but paradoxically, as Giambattista Vico and Carl Jung discovered (see illustrations 3, 24 in the book), the opposite is also true: language and artifacts and symbols make Man.

In preparing the book I began by eliminating any reference to the above mentioned transatlantic dialogue, but I soon changed my mind. It occurred to me that part of the uniqueness of a book of essay is to give the reader a glimpse as to where the self is coming from and where it is heading as it dialogues with other selves across the Atlantic. Moreover, what is unique is the fact that the dialogue occurs among ordinary citizens.

Indeed, in these essays you will rarely find rigorously defined, systematically argued academic positions as underpinned by “clear and distinct ideas,” leading to unassailable logical conclusions. Rather, these reflections invite and challenge you, the reader, to relinquish the privileging of rationalism over the poetical, to involve your own imagination, to interact rather than merely react to the text, to attempt on your own the exploration and the discovery of new ground across disciplinary boundaries. For, it is at the edge of boundaries that life and knowledge, experience and theory, meet most fruitfully. Besides, rational logical arguments underpinned by “clear and distinct ideas,” are not congenial to the essay. Etymologically, essay means “an attempt.” Both the author writing an essay and the reader reading it, need to find the courage to attempt something. In reading and interacting with an essay, both author and readers are challenged to give up old comfortable assumptions and make an attempt, i.e., to carry on a brave novel exploration of the issues at hand across rigidly conceived disciplinary boundaries. It is there, by the way, that I see the unique merit of an on-line magazine such as Ovi.

These essays attempt to share the exploration of various aspects of both the European cultural identity and the transatlantic dialogue on it; an ongoing dialogue between cultures and civilizations which, if truth be told, begins way back in 1492. To assist the reader in that attempt, one will find interspersed throughout the book a “leitkultur,” i.e., cultural guides: charts and maps that allows the reader to navigate the stormy ocean of the transatlantic dialogue where the icebergs of nihilism and extreme rationalism float silently by in the tick of night. The very first essay provides this guide in the guise of that great humanist that was the Neapolitan Giambattista Vico. Which is to say, those charts are metaphors for living people and their experience: the admirable and exemplary visionaries who became the architects of a New Europe, mostly poets and philosophers, as mentioned throughout the book.

All of these essays issued out of a series of reflections. Some were at first jutted down as diary entries, others became articles of various length, and several of them became full length essays (such as the very first one or the 14th on the Janus-like face of Europe), still others were originally lectures delivered at various institutions of European Studies and Congresses on the EU in the United States or abroad (Florida University at Gainesville, January 2002, University of Miami, 24-25 April 2002; University of Nebraska at Omaha, 14-16 October 2002; First and Second International Conference on the Transatlantic Dialogue, Miami, 24-25 April 2002; April 26-30, 2004; Rollins College, Orlando, 4-6 March 2004), a couple were even translated and delivered in Italy. All were written in the four years spanning the advent of the third millennium and the second half of the year 2004. They all issued out of a passionate, ongoing interest in the development of Western Civilization with its deepest roots in European culture; to wit my doctoral dissertation at Yale University, related to a problematic aspect (that of the concept of Providence) of the philosophy of history and civilizations in Giambattista Vico’s New Science (1725).

Vico is considered by many scholars the culmination of Italian and European Humanism (see illustration 3 in the book). This interest led me eventually to the writing of a book on the hermeneutics of Vico’s speculation on the interface of language, history and literature. Likewise, literary theory and criticism, and their nexus to cultural anthropology are prominently featured in this book’s ruminations, with a further stimulus arising from the emergence of the European Union’s Constitution in 2002. In as much as a constitution is analogous to the vital signs of a body politics and reflects its value system, its analysis is essential for determining that body’s moral and social health as well as suggesting an appropriate diagnosis and prognosis. A whole section of the book (Part 3 titled: On the European Union’s Constitution containing four lengthy essays) is dedicated to the EU constitution and the intriguing events that have led to its drafting, the comparisons with the US constitution, its signing in Rome in October 2004 (see illustration 6), the attempts to ratify it, not yet fully accomplished, the changing of the name from Constitution to Treaty, the perplexities it has engendered on both sides of the Atlantic.

But to return to the above mentioned existential philosophical aspects, these reflections, more than with the being of Man, are concerned with the ongoing journey of Man. A spiritual or intellectual journey may imaginatively originate at any point on the hermeneutical circle, to eventually return full circle to its place of origin. This paradigm which believes that in the beginning there is the end and in the end there is the beginning, may at first appear cyclical and closed upon itself, merely immanent, a sort of Nietzschean eternal return, but in fact it is more like a forward, or even upward moving spiral (see illustration 2). To be sure, on a spiral one can also move downward, as Dante’s descent into hell amply suggests (see illustration 4), but even there it eventually leads to the other side of the earth and then upward, via the mountain of Purgatory, to the final destination in heaven, God’s vision. Indeed, for Dante the way up is the way down. This Vichian structure of the narration of Man’s journey is not always linear narration and may at times make the essays appear contradictory. But such is the story of Man, as imaginatively remembered and as narrated to oneself, beginning at any place of the hermeneutical circle.

Contrary to what one may think when entering the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s narration does not begin with the creation of Light by God but with the drunkenness of Noah. It is via narration, rather than via logical clear and distinct ideas standing behind words, that Man discovers that he is his own history and that while the cycles of the “story” may recur, they also move spiral-like toward a providential final purpose or “telos.” We may then be surprised to discover that transcendence and immanence are not mutually and logically exclusive but complementary to each other. The mind’s restless cognitive operations reflect at least that much. The same inventor of the essay, Michel de Montaigne, some five centuries ago, jotted down this acute insight into the nature of his essays as they related to his own self: (see illustration 4): “If my soul could only find a footing I would not be essaying myself but resolving myself” (from essay “On Repentance”).

It is through the attempt to know the workings of our mind, that we may hope to arrive at self-knowledge and begin to realize that in the final analysis, the way to a recovery of transcendence and humanistic modes of thought in Western culture cannot possibly be an Hegelian-Marxian historical paradigm of inevitable progress, or its corollary, manifest destiny, allowing colonizers of various stripes to ride rough shod over native cultures, but rather a new humanistic Vichian-Joycean paradigm intimating “back to the future;” the awareness, that is, that paradoxically the emerging new Europe is neither old nor young, but novantiqua; that old stale unimaginative cultural paradigms rooted in a Machiavellian “real-politik mind-set” need to give way to a more Vichian poetic approaches.

Indeed, the journey into self-knowledge is integral part of our essential humanity, and not only as individual human beings, but also as people, nations and even entire civilizations and as humankind as a whole. The microcosm reflects the macrocosm but the contrary is also true. This can only be so if there exists a universally human, what the Greeks called the essence of humanity. In thinking about a title for the book I first came up with “Europa Nosce Te Ipsum,” Europe, Know Thyself. This led to another suggestive Latin saying: “Quo Vadis Europa.” which in turn furnished the inspiration for the book’s cover depicting the myth of Europa as found on the wall of a Roman villa amidst the ruins of ancient Pompei. Ostensibly, the question “where are thou going” is posed to the goddess Europa who, as the mythological lore intimates, is about to begin a fateful journey on the back of a bull, none other than a disguised Zeus intent on abducting her. That question too turns out to be a question of identity; for without self-knowledge, one will inevitably fall prey, along the way, to the seductive voices of false sirens and gods, even when they (like the mythical bull) arrive on time and promise an adventurous journey. Those voices (even when they seem to be the voice of Being itself) make it nearly impossible to focus with the mind’s eye on the final destination of one’s journey. For the question “Are you leaving and arriving on time?” hides a deeper, more crucial question: “On time for what?” Unfortunately, too many political-cultural leaders are running headlong toward the future nowadays in fast cars devoid of a rear-view mirror. We sorely need wise guides to navigate the tempestuous transatlantic dialogue. The European Union was begun by visionary giants such as Schumann, De Gasperi, Aidenauer, but alas, it is now guided by half blind midgets unable to see horizons beyond the narrowly economic one.

In the preface titled “An Invitation to the Reader” the reader is invited to be an explorer and make a path as he/she journeys on of the overarching issues explored in the essays.  Those issues deal with the idea of Europe, the Janus-like face of Western Civilization (see illustration 5), the relevancy to European modernity of the poetic philosophy of Giambattista Vico (see illustration 4), the duality of rationality and imagination within the Western philosophical tradition, the transmutation of old Machiavellian paradigms (the old wineskins) into new ones in which to pour the novantiqua wine of the new Europe; the ongoing threat of nihilism and relativism coupled with the consequent loss of the sense of the transcendent and of humanistic modes of thought; the nature of the Self vis à vis the Western philosophical tradition (see illustration 12).

The horizon is vast, but the reader is helped in identifying the various issues that concern him most, by a brief abstract which placed under the title of each essay. Nevertheless readers have to keep in mind that this maze of cultural issues is to be kept within the framework of self-knowledge. For, besides empirical knowledge of the sciences, mathematical knowledge, and metaphysical knowledge, there is another overarching kind of knowledge: self-knowledge. If self-knowledge is adopted as the guiding thread of this book, then the question asked to the goddess Europa (quo vadis Europa?), can also be addressed to each one of us contemplating an inner journey. Such a journey is indispensable to any authentic action in the world. The essaying is indeed the attempt to answer that question truthfully, the first universal step of any journey of self-discovery, even when it remains a unique journey for each individual pilgrim and each individual nation.

Joseph Campbell used to enjoin to his audiences: “find your bliss!” The goddess Europa surely must have expected bliss or she would not have left a secure shore to head towards the unknown on the back of a bull. This metaphor is also valid for entire cultures. It is the injunction to search and to find one’s identity, rooted in one’s origins. The book was written in the trust that its essays would prove helpful to readers not so much for the solving of any particular philosophical problem, or worse, as a way of personally confirming their victimhood within the therapeutic society in which we live, but rather, as a navigating chart of sort, should they opt for leaving behind the desolate shores of pure rationalism, technocracy and consumerism, to sally forth on the high sea of the poetical for an adventurous journey of self-discovery. The journey may be dangerous but it beckons because to journey on is, in the final analysis, the destiny of humankind.

To buy the book, visit EU Bookshop.com

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