Sundry Musings on the New Millennium’s Transatlantic Dialogue – Part I
At the turn of the new millennium I joined the online 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 has contributed to the scholarly dialogue on Europe’s cultural identity in both Ovi and Newropeans magazines.
Lately, some four years later I’ve been musings on those essays. I’d like to share those musings. The table of content of the book can be retrieved from the on-line EUObserver bookstore 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 rational 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 Global Spiral.
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.