Europe and its time November 10, 2008Posted by didacgp in Uncategorized.
Tags: Europe, Politics
trackback by Dídac Gutiérrez-Peris
Around this time of year in London everybody walks around with red flowers pinned to their coats. They are the flowers of opium—poppies— that, despite their exotic name, are quite frequent in Europe. They are flowers that grow in removed soils, in bad conditions, abandoned places. Like battlefields.
They are also the flowers that the Royal British Legion sells in the undergrounds and buses to commemorate Armistice Day, November 11, in honour of all those who lost their lives in the First World War. It feels strange to see so many young men and women, a lot of them born in the 80s or 90s, wearing poppies. They are like live monuments to death.
Europeans seem to live anchored in time
But it is because Europe has a special relationship with time. Hundreds of streets and public squares where we, Europeans, walk, are named after philosophers and scientists, statesmen, artists, poets, illustrious military men and Saints. In the last years I myself have lived in Anatole France street in France, in the Captain Nelson square in London and in Fernando VII and Cervantes street in Spain.
Europeans live in a kind of box of “souvenirs” of our intellectual, artistic, literary and political achievements. And it is not a phenomenon that has stopped in recent history. Paris recently inaugurated a street called Simone Veil. In Prague, London, Barcelona, and any other European city we often see little notices on the walls indicating that this or that famous person had lived and died in this place.
In the rest of the world, and more specifically on the American continent, the reality is quite different. The squares often take the names of trees (Willow, Pine, Oak), the boulevards get names related to nature (sunset). In New York, as in Bogota, Brasilia, São Paulo, Lima or Buenos Aires, the streets are differentiated by numbers, letters and geographical orientations (34Bnorth, 54th west avenue …). Nobody parks its car in Dante Alighieri square, or in the Dalí street.
Us Europeans we seem to live anchored in memory, turning our continent into an immense “lieu de mémoire” – place of memories. We live in a sound box of recollections that can be good, but that can also remind us of the darkest moments of our legacy. Europe is a place where the boulevard Auschwitz can be next to the Baudelaire Bridge, where the street that honours the chief of the resistance Jean Moulin is next to the fountain of a conqueror like Pizarro.
So many poets and killers and dead men are inscribed in the signs of marble of our streets. We are born and educate ourselves with the weight of European History.
America has a philosophy of the future
This is perhaps the narrative that separates us from a country where an African-American has just, for the first time, been chosen as president. Unlike Europe, the United States venerates the philosophy of the future, of the sunrise, of innovation. It is a country where “everything is possible,” where we tell ourselves that we can improve, that it is better never to look behind.
Last week a teacher said in class: “if you want to understand the international politics and the role that Europeans play within it, the first thing that you must have in mind is that the Europeans define themselves not in function of their capacities, but in function of where they are in history”.
A Eurocentric view of History and Progress
Where are we? That’s the question.
The answer is sometimes quite Eurocentric, and, therefore, international strategy in the international political system tends to be quite Eurocentric too. That’s why it is important to keep in mind the relationship Europe has with Time when studying international relations. Europe cannot be understood without this Eurocentric vision of History and Progress, even if, as Georges Steiner often warns, it is quite dangerous to depend on.