Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Considerations and reflections by Hatto Fischer

Children have this beautiful appeal whenever activities start: 'mitnehmen' - to be taken along. It is part of growing up, to learn to situate yourself into situations through which 'learning' facilitates growing up in the world. Now, why this huge steer painted on the outside of a vase? Or how to explain then to a child the usage of money in times even before the Minoan culture developed fully, especially when there in the vitrine heavy stone-like weights which could be compared to the times, when gifts to a king were made by bringing not eight, but sixteen barrels of wine. Such things are conveyed by literature, or the 'literary eye'. It helps seeing into places where usually no one goes, and it allows voices in the streets to be heard that no king or administration of the land ever gets to hear. That is why in enchanted times, such as in China's reign of the emperors, it was a novelty when one of them put on a disguise and mixed with ordinary people, to hear not only their sounds like Odysseus the 'sirens', but also their sorrows and worries. Moreover, people tend to see things which are amazing. As if the walls of the emperor were full of holes and nothing could be kept private. Everyone knew, except the emperor himself.

Times change. There are no longer kings or emperors around, even though Belgium as Holland or England still retain their monarchy besides parliament. However, government do tend to have their own difficulties with facing reality or to hear true voices giving freely their opinion, that is, without fear of consequences. It is said that Chancellor Kohl's government is suspended due to a heavy system of favouritism used by the chancellor himself to show strongly his likes, but equally dislikes. As if he is to judge alone what is good for him and the country.

There, where one can hear again the voice of a child saying: 'Ich moechte gerne' - 'I would like to have very much'. Children want always something. Even nothing is but an empty glass if they want orange juice. Yet they grow up under various systems. James Joyce in "Portrait of a young man as artist" describes towards the end of this novel the situation at home, for once the family while eating turned conversation towards political matters, that was the end of everything: eating, drinking, talking. The rift in families over apparent mere opinions, value judgements, understandings of situations all reveal sometimes unbridgeable differences between political attitudes having some reflection in reality, i.e. in the existence of certain parties and what they stand for.

It is interesting that this topic of 'families and political attitudes' was not discussed in the workshop as a possibility to gain time for understanding each others' contribution. Again, if someone suddenly leaves, a child would ask immediately: "wohin gehst Du" - 'to where are you going' - as if it not only wanted to know your whereabouts in case that you would go alone and the child stayed behind, but also to judge if it would like to come along. Next to the 'where' the 'how' one intended to go - on foot, by bicycle or car - children consider most important to know. It all depends on their decision power. They cannot as of yet really decide over the actual means; they can only respond to the choices offered to them and express preferences. Not everything has consequences and yet everything does. But to return to this theme of 'family' and 'political attitudes' which at times are apparently unbridgeable, I think that the example of James Joyce shows the plights of family life being torn apart by political rifts difficult to heal. Or else, such political attitudes prevail that effectively can mean such a conflict between the generations, that an absolute break takes place (as was the case of many '68 students who since then wish no future generation to go through a similar break due to the pain it involves, and many other consequences in terms of socialization and possibilities in society). This 'family' factor is so crucial not because the political outcome is so vital - that is important, indeed, but because the identity formation process begins here. Hence if there is a broad theme like 'cultural identity', the level of 'culture' in a family has to be considered within societal differences which no longer distinguish so much 'classes', but 'consciousness for communities' or 'vital linkages to other people', to use the theme mentioned by Maja Panajotova. With her question about 'world literature', and after all what is read at home has an influence upon attitudes towards others, she brings back into this series of seminars about 'Europe of Culture' the important issue of universalism. For this question belongs to the kind of cultural concept which is favoured or not by political initiatives like that of the Flemish government, but also to the theme what kind of identity is gained through literature.

When speaking about literature is such a way, then there is no assumption that this is identical to poetry. They are distinct and very different forms of expressions. That ties in with what Bart Verschaffel conceives as being the 'chance' of the Flemish culture which having really no tradition - the old battles against the influence of Catholicism have been won, the transition made from a rural, village oriented culture to one of cities like Antwerp, Brussels, Leuven, Liege, Bruge made (see even the paper by Andrι Loeckx as to the development towards the 'edge city' in the gap between the historical centre and the fragmented, modernized ones networking various suburbs with all the cultural ramifications of having no desire for public squares, but just a lawn in front of the house and the children playing with the dog: these idealized dreams of an eternity when in fact children grow up so quickly and are sooner out of the house than one can remember that they still wanted milk and slept at noon, although in Greece, for instance, parents and children tend to stay together throughout their lives with many parents building for their children nearby or in the same house an apartment for their families, so that often three generations are together and the grandmother quite important, actively involved in not only the house, but in looking after children). He states that this chance is being close to a diverse Europe so that Flanders can be a place of meeting even a personal levels, using the freedom to develop ideas which can grow in that 'oxygen' available there. His argumentation is quite important for he underlines culture with the quality of 'friendships', not so much with family life, the organized way of living one's privacy with someone becoming a part of one's life especially due to the children and the pressures upon one to organize life in a certain manner. This difference is crucial to bring about some recognition of Flemish culture, namely through self-recognition.

Both papers of Bart Verschaffel and Joris Duytschaever are very important insights for anyone not really familiar with the Flemish culture, in particular with its emphasis upon 'language' to gain and to maintain identity. Both papers come to the conclusion, that this should not be the issue which the government ought to force. First of all, identity and language according to Verschaffel is not so crucial, but rather the 'where' one finds oneself. This is underlined by the need to continue learning other languages, if one wants to interact with the rest of Europe and the world. Secondly, the Dutch / Flemish language is not in danger of becoming a 'dead' language; rather the danger of reducing the quality of one's own language comes from within since especially those proponents of the Dutch / Flemish language, as Joris Duytschaever points, as in the 'Flemish bloc' show that they have really no command of their language. The political implications of that debate should not be overlooked; as in the case of the child asking 'where are going', the whereabouts of oneself is crucial in beginning to understand one's cultural identity. Culture and family, friends and surroundings, education and activities, all these are vital linkages for anyone wishing not only to come to terms with the diversity within Europe, but to also live it with enjoyment. As the dispute in Canada between the French speaking province Quebec and the English speaking other provinces reflects, language issue are used in politics overtly to suggest discrimination and structural disadvantages, so that 'political favouritism' not as a system, but as a fraud between citizens and state appears to exist. It is, therefore, most revealing the comparison Joris Duytschaever makes on the basis of cultural studies between Ireland, Flandern and Scotland that the latter having a long history and tradition behind them, including a culture influenced by the Enlightenment movement, that they do not want to go so far in emphasizing a separate identity from Great Britain, that they have no other choice but forcing themselves into forming an own state. The true political issue is where future developments in Flandern lead to. It is important to hear its intellectuals reflect in such an open, self critical and critical manner about plights of their own culture, while not endorsing blindly any kind of political direction, but rather try to create a context of understanding and discussion. Actions that could follow relate thereby very quickly to the knowledge of one's own limitations, culturally speaking, and what are the true limits of ones culture. This acknowledgement is directly connected to the kind of writers involved in the cultural scene, while realizing fully that critics and publishers can do a lot to raise or else keep at a low level the culturally determined discussion about 'oneself / ourselves'. For instance, the need to go outside Flanders and perhaps to Amsterdam to find a serious publisher with not only a greater market in terms of 6 or 20 million Dutch speaking people willing to read has not only to do with wishing to publicise, but also to have a more normal, that is 'balanced' feedback to one's own activities. As the Irish poet Brendan Kennelly explains why he made the choice to publish in England rather than in Ireland, is that there he can reach a wider audience and obtain as a result quite a different resonance than had he published only in Ireland with its inbred, indeed incestuous atmosphere that has become a long time ago extremely one-sided, especially if it talks only about the Irish viewpoint. That is detrimental to literature and poetry if that precarious 'balance' is lost. Together with trust and openness, it is a reflection of the kind of cultural atmosphere created when writers and poets become subjects of a cultural policy and are celebrated only because they are a German, Greek or Flemish writer. In terms of world literature, that does not say anything either to the insiders or to the outsiders, who are excluded from that cultural circle 'enlightened' only by the fact that they think it is important to promote their own image mistaken as a sound enough identity for literature to be formed.

There are a couple of issues behind this case study of the Flemish culture, that more should have been said about the interrelationship between literature & poetry and 'cultural policy'. It matters very much what literary categories are involved in judging things. For the 'grammar of life' is very much also the hidden dimension of politics, only that this political relationship between writers and artists to their state was more apparent in the former Communistic countries than in the West where modern communication systems seem to mediate more between public and writers, so as to rob the latter of any meaningful interaction or, at least, it appears to be the case. In reality, there is more at stake, politically speaking, for not only small cultures with one of the 'unofficial languages', but for Europe and the World. Speaking many languages, not only English, is by any comparison an advantage. If  'cultural diversity' can only be maintained and lived by speaking the languages of Europe, then all cultural policy should go in that direction. It would mean effectively that citizenship and 'one language' - the national one preferred by the administration of that state - is a thing of the past. Yet the emphasis upon regions, culturally defined, and selecting poets or writers from these regions, in order to bring them together for cultural manifests of the European diversity, while really reinforcing the idea of networks only along a most favoured regional identity, i.e. the Dutch or Flemish, in the case of the European Network for the Promotion of Poetry, seems to be short-sighted and robs that network much of its truer potentialities, namely to promote poetry irrespective of the wish to be a showcase of a more or less organized effort to be doing something about the regions of Europe. It becomes rather negative or even politically dangerous, when such political categories enter the concepts used to select and to invite people for poetry readings. As Conlin Wagner said already in his concluding remarks of the speech he gave at the Fourth Seminar in Bruge, cultural diversity begins with the differences between individual writers and not with that of regions. There may come four different poets from Dublin, but none of them can be really used as examples of Irish Poetry, even though such a literary category prevails for reasons of convenience. One knows apparently where the poet comes from and to where he belongs. It was good in this case to read the reflections by Bart Verschaffel on Localism, in order to see where to these questions and needs about 'belonging to a collective we' can lead to, or when politics seizes upon cultural worlds, to make them become 'local', that is closed worlds without any communication anymore with the outside one. In anticipation of Prof. Louis Baeck's paper about "The Revival of the Moral Base in the Soviet Union", this condition will not only impede development, but also there will incur such 'cultural shifts' as culture is understood to protect people feeling endangered when reforms and administration seem no longer able to co-ordinate all efforts on a 'moral base'. In other words, the integrity of the writers and poets is a prerequisite that the morality of a culture is maintained independent of politics. That is why both Bart Verschaffel and Joris Duytschaever emphasize that a Flemish writer is still Flemish, even if chooses to write in French rather than Flemish - as was the case in the past, and given the changes in the museum in Antwerp, there might be in future a more relaxed attitude inside of Flanders towards a writer wishing to express him- or herself in another language but Flemish. It might be needed to revitalise the cultural base of that Flemish development.

Along those lines, it is a most serious finding of this Fifth Seminar what Joris Duytschaever says about the success of the ERASMUS programme with regards to educating students on the basis of an open exchange form rather than keeping them confined within one culture, just to ensure its being endangered by outside forces can be continuously justified by academics and politicians working together in using the 'Subsidiarity' principle as a counter European integration weapon. As the case of former East Germany before the fall of the wall showed, there where is no true chance of comparison, there is no possibility to verify pictures of reality by travelling and working elsewhere - a part of the conditions of freedom in the human rights charter. The fact that this issue has been highlighted in workshop 7 under the chairmanship of Prof. Picht, shows a linkage exists between these two approaches, the cultural studies and the educational one. It points out that under such a principle and concept as 'subsidiarity', Europe is in a real danger to loose all advantages it has so far, namely to familiarize its students and teachers with the real situation of cultural diversity. Interesting is that this concept has an epistemological background, as Joris Duytschaever points out, since it was used already within the long history of struggles between local bishops in the Catholic church and the ecumenical council in Rome. That, in turn, would mean the cultural background and the political dispositions of the Maastricht Treaty have not been as of yet really identified and that even the short discussion in the First Plenary Session of the Fifth Seminar around the implications of the Treaty upon the 'Europe of Cultures' was insufficient to highlight the real forces which influenced the form and final language of that treaty. That, in turn, means many more discussions and 'hard debates' are needed, in order to comprehend the 'cultural conflicts' to be decided upon, aesthetically speaking, when in fact they reflect deeper structural shortcomings of the European Union and the political forces right now able to shape even the future treaty to be signed 1996. This includes the committee set-up to draft the treaty for 1996; as political appointees, there is no one to represent the writers or independent from political governments, or people able to speak about the 'Europe of Cultures', so as to ensure that the Treaty is truly based on 'cultural consensus' and hence convincing for everyone.

The workshop reflects not only the different approaches between philosophical-literature and poetic approaches, but also what asides from language counts in both literature and poetry. These are the themes by which situations of the times become localised through metaphors. Again, it is important that this has not only to do with myths per say, but how mythological materials are used and from where they are derived. Jean-Michel Maulpoix speaks about the linkage between Orpheus and 'silence', in particular that of the animals, a theme which is more fully developed by Anne Born, who was prevented from coming just at the last moment. While Orpheus points towards the 'voice' being so important, the moving poetry translated and written by Anne Born reveals not only different cultural adaptations of the same myth in, for example, the Scandinavian countries, but also what mythological theme is not directly derived from Ancient Greece, i.e. that of the Unicorn. Since George Steiner linked lately the lack of narrative stories to Europe's own inability to generate new myths, myths which are independent from Ancient Greece, there is a question behind these attempts to clarify the role of myth in modern poetry. For even while such themes as the Orpheus myth reocurr in countless examples, as does the Unicorn motive, they do not as of yet answer the question, whether European integration requires such myths as the combination of the lion and the unicorn, as in the case of the Scottish King becoming also King over England (see here the interesting linkage between Joris Duytschaever and Anne Born when they both touch upon the same subject matter, but from entirely different angles, which makes 'cultural studies' comparative to that of art historical studies evolving out of poetic responses to visual images on tapestries, i.e. the poems by Rilke), so that the 'moral base' of European cultures taken together are reflected by the arts. It was Picasso who referred to 'Minotauros and the lady'. It becomes a constant theme of his, namely to save the arts from certain death. One great danger Picasso saw as a result of modern communication developments, determined by a violent use of the technological possibilities that go along with it, was that of the isolation of the arts. They would become voiceless. Hence the Orpheus theme really picks up that problem again from that of 'silence' and thus could be brought into relationship to what Eugene van Itterbeek had brought into conjunction with those artists being silent because of  lacking affiliation with the state, with some overall project. The real question before anything else here would be, however, to restate the purpose of poetry. Jean-Michel Maulpoix concludes his paper with the thesis that we must learn to recognise poetry as "the one veritable transitory power", for "poetry mainly links what is and would be, reality and ideality: it tries to describe and define a fair attitude in which it will be possible to see what human beings are really capable of by means of a deviation through irreality". A key word is 'fair attitude' which is lost, the moment 'balance' is no longer even attainable through off-setting, that is counter criticism, but also recognition to the negative, one-sided opinionated labelling system of cultural feuilletons, that praise only that what is 'politically' preferred at the moment. But before things are taken in a one-sided direction, poetry can speak such sentences that allow the avoidance of ends; art is the bringing together a plurality of categories, so that life itself can go in different, rather than fateful directions.

Anne Born makes us aware of the kind of attitudes that prevail with regards to animals, endangered species that they are. Hence her reflections give really insights into various 'models of behaviour' that includes more than ourselves. Cultures reflect themselves in such a serious manner, that the state oriented poet Virgil could say, the moment man no longer knows how to cut the olive trees and tame a horse, that this would be a sure sign of the end of the empire. Something is amiss when certain actions are no longer performed that a society needs for upholding its entire fabric. Cassirer reminds us in his 'myth and religion' essay in 'Crisis of Man' that the practical purpose of myths was to remind, for instance, what people working in the agricultural sectors had to do in the various steps, in order to be able to harvest in the end what they had put as seeds into the ground some time before. As a reminder it has to do with memory which has to be available at the right moment.

To what extent this can be related to Andre Loeckx and his thesis about cities being 'built memories', perhaps that gap between myth and modern developments can be bridged by planning a follow-up of this year's poetry symposium in Kamilari, Crete with one around the theme 'myth of the city' which can include also anti-city or suburban attitudes. Practical consequences underline also right away that before such a large project as a writers-in-residence for, let us say, six months (as already practiced by the DAAD in Berlin by inviting artists and not only writers for a period of one year to stay in Berlin) can be started, 'cultural actions' must approach such projects on a more modest scale. For financial support is only obtained in the long run by being convincing in the short term, that is, being able to make things possible. That transforms 'cultural actions' also into something like fact-finding missions before more serious decisions with long-term or structural impacts are taken. Definite is that both papers about 'myth' reflect the true linkage between the Fifth Seminar and the XVI European Poetry Festival which started in Kamilari, Crete with a symposium on the theme 'poetry and mythology'. The follow-up symposium is a proposal independent from the resolutions due to not only a difference in approach from regional cultural policies, but also in wishing to come to terms with such a complex topic. For any kind of gathering of poets in whatever 'cultural action' must retain an open and critical distance to the complexity to themes which can point in certain direction, but also direct in a subtle manner things in a wrong one. Thus, the failure of 'cultural actions' to do justice to the full potential inherent in many cases, but usually never realised do to narcissistic as much as political attitudes interfering in artistic processes, is also underlined by the fact that rarely true cultural actions reach finally the public in the name of which the actions were undertaken in the first place.

Literature and Poetry is discussed differently when it comes to the 'moral' binding forces of any specific culture. There is, however, a common denominator throughout Europe and which can be grouped today as an odd confusion between positions of Enlightenment, Post-Modernism and Post-Enlightenment. Repeatedly reference is made to the Frankfurt School and it was a pity that its main historian, Martin Jay from Berkeley University was also prevented from coming to the Fifth Seminar. His approach derived from 'Intellectual History', a special field of studies available only at few and then American universities, is a most powerful analysis of 'cultural conflicts', may that be between Bataille and Breton about 'vision' (whether a total one or not), or in California whether or not to get rid of a progressive Minister of Education precisely because the 'cultural conflicts' are no longer nowadays between those who used culture as defining element of their class as being distinguished, and separate from the uneducated masses (that is not Kant's literary public) and those opposing the establishment like the '68 movement. Rather the Italian election victory of media owner and neo-fascistic and separatist movements show that the moral crisis of a state is covered over by even greater anti-democratic forces which are unable to maintain any kind of 'political cohesion' due to their lack of knowledge in what directions they want future societies to be taken. That, in itself, can indicate that there is a lack of true poetry and hence authentic voices pointing paths into the future. Literature and poetry do not need to have prophetic character, but by being close to reality, human aspirations and 'logics of organization' which are not anti-humanistic become visible. The counter-figure in the nineteenth century was in that sense Dostoevsky's 'Grand Inquisitor' and repeated in this century by the brilliant description of the 'Kettman' by Milosc in 'betrayed thinking': the unbeliever leading all the believers, the only seeing man in a mass of blind people.

If it is to come to some practical conclusions, then around the theme of the untranslateablility of poetry. In Kamilari, the poets read to all the people of the village. Each poet introduced the next poet, and every foreign poem was read in a translated version by one of the Greek poets in the group in Greek afterwards to the audience. It was most impressive not only to the audience, but the kind of spontaneous solidarity which sprung up between the poets from different parts of Europe. By working on the poems of the others, they became more appreciated. Poets in that sense can easily form spontaneous multi-linguistic communities and in such moments translatability is enhanced by a unique transfer of knowledge about not only languages, but hidden concepts and intentions of words which even express in but a helpless way some greater complexity than what is conceivable to be said. In that sense and especially after reading the poem by Pia Tafdrup in Anne Born's translated version much can be anticipated. It underlines what Kris Rogiers said in his evaluation of the poetry reading, that is was a pity that Scandinavian voices could not be heard amongst all others. Pia Tadrup has written a deeply moving poem because of  facing a universal issue and which many poets tend to avoid, with negative consequences (see the thesis by Brendan Kennelly), and that is the issue of 'violence'. In other words, poets and writers need to remind each other and their readers that there are 'universal', not only local issues. Humanity does after all live but on one globe, this earth to which we all belong, but which no one owns. Culture cannot nor should accept the borders of a 'economy of flow', nor the tight reigns of sacred people in fear. In that sense, it is interesting that both Joris Duytschaever and Maja Panajotova referred to the Islam either as an added creative impulse for European cultures or as something to turn to when European intellectuals, and not only they, wish to break out of a closely-knit community, in order to adhere to other values aspiring equally towards 'universality'. The latter would be the political claim that it is applicable to all mankind, a claim which so far has made the progress of civilisation centred around such value systems not open to cultural issues, to be discussed in a friendly atmosphere, but rather violent and brutal if they could not convince immediately others of the righteousness of their respective claims. In that sense the issue points to a further need of clarification between the concepts of civilisation and culture, an issue discussed also in workshop 6 and in workshop 10 where especially cultural exchange was a serious matter of consideration. In other words, what do writers and artists need to do, in order to avoid a clash of civilisations, culturally speaking, while not making their own culture appear to be so universal, that no further consideration of other cultures needs to be undertaken. A progressive adherence to the culture of regions may be an important European corrective to a false claim of universalism, while opening a way to appreciating other cultures. The voices of the intellectuals and writers coming from Flandern point especially in that direction. If so the case, then this initiative can become in future an important cultural impulse for all European cultures, provided networks, festivals, forms of translations and contacts are not based again on preconceived political concepts, but rather let cultural questions be worked through so as to supply the entirety of Europe with much needed 'oxygen': cultural air to breathe in freedom clear ideas not trying to fool anyone.


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