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<nettime> manifesto by thierry chervel (launch of signandsight)
Geert Lovink on Wed, 2 Mar 2005 19:47:27 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> manifesto by thierry chervel (launch of signandsight)


Dear nettimers,

since yesterday an english version of the German 'perlentaucher' site
(www.perlentaucher.de) is online. It was Janos Sugar would pointed me
to this great online resource a couple of years ago. It's daily updated

site/e-newsletter that summarizes the 'cultural pages' of German and
also non-German newspapers and weekly magazines. In German that genre
is called 'feuilleton' but that concept doesn't really exist elsewhere

or let's say, it's a bit hard to translate. Now you can read
signandsight and get an idea what the German speaking world is
discussing.

Regards, Geert

http://www.signandsight.com/

--

Manifesto

By Thierry Chervel

Un ange passe, say the French when everybody in the room suddenly stops

talking. The angel is Europe. Recently it passed over the grave of
Pierre Bourdieu.

It's not much of a story - slightly sad, slightly ridiculous, not
really of great relevance. But it does say something about the state of

public debate in Europe. Shortly before he died, the great French
sociologist turned one last time to a subject at once suspect and dear

to him: himself. A farmer's son from the Bearn, Bourdieu had scaled the

cultural cliffs of the Ecole Normale Superieure to emerge a god of
sociology. His own success stood in brazen contradiction to his life's

work, which aimed to explain everything in terms of background and
habitus. Bourdieu died having just finished his "Esquisse pour une
auto-analyse".

Shortly after Bourdieu's death, the Nouvel Observateur caused a huge
sensation by publishing an excerpt from the work. Bourdieu was the last

of the great intellectuals capable of stirring up such fervour in the
French media, which he hated for precisely this reason. Of course, the

Nouvel Observateur had not asked Bourdieu's heirs for permission to
publish the excerpt. Bourdieu had tricked the French press by
stipulating that his text only be published in France after it had been

published in Germany. Bourdieu's intention was to avoid a frenzied
media hype around his controversial, self-reflexive book, and to
provoke a composed and serious debate. But did he want what actually
happened?

What happened was nothing. Several months after Bourdieu's death,
Suhrkamp published "Esquisse pour une auto-analyse" as a slim volume.
Utter silence. The German media failed to understand this as a scoop, a

text that was awaited elsewhere, a gift from Bourdieu to what he
considered a qualified German public. Months later the press published

a few obligatory reviews. The French didn't bat an eyelid. While a
small excerpt had provoked a scandal only a few months before, the full

text went unnoticed. No one in the French media reads the German papers

thoroughly, and no scouts are keeping track of cultural trends in
Germany. Only when the volume was published in France did the usual
brouhaha begin.

Is there a Europe beyond the milk quotas?

If so, then only in the form of an angel passing, creating a pause in
the conversation, a gap in communication. The Bourdieu effect is not
uncommon. When Juergen Habermas launched his "Core Europe" initiative,

no one joined the debate. Who outside the Netherlands had heard of Theo

van Gogh before he was murdered? And when everybody in Paris was
celebrating the 60th anniversary of the city's liberation in August
last year, no one was aware of what was happening in Warsaw at the same

time. While a few streets in Paris were being named after members of
the communist resistance, whose valour is indisputable, Warsaw was
fixated on the enduing memory of Stalin's icy smile as he watched
Hitler bomb the Polish resistance into the ground. The end of
liberation.

The ignorance is greatest in large Western European countries whose
publics twiddle their thumbs in idle self-contentment. Talk is of
national issues - political leaders, late night comedy stars and
football scandals. The intellectuals might as well be sitting in the
cinema, all staring spellbound in the same direction, ignoring their
neighbours and gasping in outrage at the latest evil deed of bad boy
Bush. The phantom pain inflicted by the fall of the Berlin Wall - the
loss of Utopia - is cured with a good dose of globalisation critique.
But it is precisely these opponents of globalisation who spawned the
morbid fixation with America. They relegate evil to a distant place to

avoid having to look around, at Chechnya for example. Or at their
neighbours. It is really the fault of Bill Gates or Steven Spielberg
that the French are learning less German, and the Germans less French?

The French edition of Le Monde diplomatique, the central organ of the
anti-globalisation movement, recently published Bernard Cassen's
proposal of a new foreign language policy. Cassen wants to quell the
influence of English which he considers a vehicle of neo-liberalism.
"The imperial power of the USA is not only based on material factors
(military clout, scientific expertise, the production of goods and
services and control over financial and energy channels etc.): above
all, it represents domination of the minds, cultural signs and frames
of reference - and in particular of language."

English is the dollar of discourse! So Cassen proposes a policy of
language groups. Schools in Romance countries should learn the language

of other "Romanophones" so that a Frenchman can understand a Spaniard
or a Brazilian and visa versa. Similarly, the Germans should enjoy
chatting with the Danes and the Dutch and the Poles will be obliged to

converse with the Russians.

Cassen sees Europe as a Brussels-based institution under threat of
destruction by the English language. Pan-European debate does not
figure in his thinking. He hopes that the Romance languages - which he

refers to as "a single united language" - will form a mighty
counterweight to the loathed language of capitalism. The enemies of
America fall prey to their own fixation.

There is no doubt that the Internet has contributed significantly to
the expanded influence of English. On the one hand, the Net has created

highly specialised public fora, where even a cannibal can find a
consenting meal. But the full potential of the Net can only be reached

if certain standards of communication are maintained. These include
programming languages such as html and linux, compression processes
like MP3 and - stupidly perhaps - the English language. Strangely,
while standards like MP3 and the World Wide Web are European
inventions, Amazon, Google, Ebay and Yahoo are not. These services have

altered the lives of every computer-literate individual. They also give

new shape to public debate. It remains a mystery why none of these
wonderful if problematic ideas originated in Europe.

The English media has also spread its sphere of influence through the
Internet. The New York Times boasts one of the strongest Internet
presences of all quality international newspapers. It probably accesses

a wider audience through its newsletters than with the International
Herald Tribune. Those seeking information about Afghanistan or Islamic

terrorism after 9/11 were far better off if they could speak English.
There was very little information in German or French, not to mention
Arabic. The American media was certainly not the sole source of
information; highly-specialised academic institutes, think-tanks and
Afghani exile associations were also contributing. But Cassen is wrong

to maintain that the English language conveys only one ideology or the

exclusive interests of a single country. The English-language newspaper

Outlook India, which is extremely critical of the U.S., rates just as
highly as the neo-con Weekly Standard on Google. Even Al Jazeera is
about to launch an English service to reach a more global audience.

Nevertheless, the threat of provincialism looms on two fronts. On the
one hand, in the larger non-English-speaking arenas of debate - France

and Germany - there is a tendency towards self-satisfaction. Add this
to the fact that newspapers such as the Sueddeutsche Zeitung or the
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung withhold their content from the general

Internet public by insisting on subscriptions. While European
journalists might use all available sources in English on the Internet,

the papers they write for do not return the compliment. Moreover,
European newspapers have never showed interest in creating a European
network; they also haven't had the means. The only newspaper that could

establish a European readership if its owners wanted to, is the
International Herald Tribune. And its owner is in New York!

Recall the American cinema's love of Paris which continued well into
the 1950s. In those days, eyes were looking in the opposite direction.

Europe had something to say and America seemed interested in listening.

Even debate in the English-speaking world is in danger of becoming
provincial if Europe doesn't do its part.

It is time to avert this fixed gaze, to give our necks a massage and to

focus on our own strengths. Germany for example has the best
feuilletons in the world! On the one hand, they reflect a unique
cultural landscape in a country where most mid-sized cities have their

own first-class opera houses and museums. On the other, they offer a
unique forum for both cultural and political debate. Demographers write

about shrinking cities, medics about biological ethics, Jeremy Rifkin
on Europe, and Gilles Kepel and Bernard Lewis on Islam.

Even though feuilleton editors occasionally nurse the illusion that
their own, oh so brilliant articles are more important than everything

else and that research and story-telling do not belong in their pages,

the feuilletons constitute Germany's only forum for public,
cosmopolitan discussion. It was here that historians sparked the debate

that led Germans to redefine their relationship with their own history.

Here Guenter Grass writes about copyright and Andrzej Stasiuk about the

Ukraine. The proximity of Eastern Europe represents a huge asset,
making Germany far less provincial than the rest of Western Europe or
other English-speaking countries. Would Imre Kertesz have won the Nobel

Prize had he not enjoyed major success in Germany? Germans love foreign

literature. They know that Peter Esterhazy and Juri Andruchowytsch are

outstanding authors.

There are historical reasons for the lively culture of debate in the
German feuilletons. After World War II, the allies issued newspaper
licences to Germans with more or less clean records. "Teach the Germans

democracy," they said, "but for God's sake, don't let them express
themselves: the breeding ground is still fertile." To this day,
political editors have been only too happy to oblige. They have kept a

close eye on their commentary pages, allowing only authorised in-house

editors to have a say. This has turned the political pages into a
sterile preceptory where the same people voice off time and again,
leaving the chaos of the world and the miseries and joys of discourse
to the feuilletons.

Little is known of all this outside of Germany, because the German
language has the status of a modern-day ancient Greek, and few people
speak it abroad. Isn't it time to translate some of this into English?

For the benefit of Europe, and of course for China, Russia, India,
Burkina Faso and the USA?

The sphere of public debate is becoming increasingly international. Le

Monde diplomatique is certainly at the vanguard with its many
spin-offs. Another upmarket example is the Lettre International, which

appears in numerous European cities, and promotes international
cultural awareness with its Lettre Ulysses Award for literary
reporting. Eurozine uses the Internet to publish English, German, and
French translations of cultural magazines from every country.
signandsight.com will present English translations of the
German-language feuilletons. Regional difference can only be
articulated in the idiom of globalisation.

An angel is passing through Europe: Let's talk European!

--

Thierry Chervel, born in 1957, studied musicology at the Technische
Universitaet Berlin. He has worked as film, music and current events
editor at the Tageszeitung, and was cultural correspondent in Paris for

the Sueddeutsche Zeitung. He is co-founder of the online cultural
magazine Perlentaucher and of signandsight.com.


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