Camille de Toledo: "We need a European people"

Article published on July 17, 2014
Article published on July 17, 2014

How do we cre­ate a new Eu­rope and which lan­guage will it speak? In the con­text of the con­fer­ence SE­CES­SION, writ­ers, philoso­phers and artists will ded­i­cate them­selves on Sep­tem­ber 23, 2014 to the fu­ture of the Eu­ro­pean idea. Camille de Toledo con­tem­plates in ad­vance how Eu­rope will be able to con­tinue. A guest con­tri­bu­tion. 

In a time, dur­ing which the Eu­ro­pean Union must bear the bit­ter re­sults of the recent elec­tions, we must take a mo­ment to try to glimpse into the fu­ture. We know that a po­lit­i­cal Eu­ro­pean Union in the long-term is only ac­cept­able and con­ceiv­able when a Eu­ro­pean demos (a Eu­ro­pean peo­ple, Ed.) emerges from it - one na­tion en­com­pass­ing all na­tions. The EU re­quires a peo­ple, for with­out it only a "kratos" - or an im­pos­ing power - can come from a democ­racy. The lack of a peo­ple re­sults in the suc­cess of the sep­a­ratists and pop­ulists and leads to a strong move­ment to­wards the reter­ri­to­ri­al­iza­tion of iden­tity.

How does a eu­ro­pean na­tion emerge?

To re­spond to the di­min­ish­ing per­cep­tion of a "Eu­ro­pean en­tity," it is im­per­a­tive that we call for a Eu­ro­pean na­tion. The key­word for an all-en­com­pass­ing na­tion build­ing within a mul­ti­lin­gual re­gion such as Eu­rope, with its mul­ti­lay­ered his­tor­i­cal and ex­ile-re­lated ex­pe­ri­ences; for the dis­sem­i­na­tion of knowl­edge, ed­u­ca­tion and in­for­ma­tion, lib­er­ated from the fear of oth­ers, shaped by eman­ci­pa­tion and a new de­f­i­n­i­tion of civil in­ter­con­nec­tion, would for me be this one word: trans­la­tion. This word forms the key to a new way of think­ing about eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal cit­i­zen­ship which is in­clu­sive of vary­ing iden­ti­ties. My dream for such a new na­tion is that it im­me­di­ately take steps to­ward the re­viv­i­fi­ca­tion of the Eu­ro­pean pro­ject. Un­for­tu­nately we are still stuck in old thought pat­terns, in which the af­fil­i­a­tion with one na­tion is in­born, hing­ing on one's mother tongue, ed­u­ca­tion, com­mu­nity of val­ues, his­tory, cul­ture, ter­ri­to­ri­al­ism and bor­ders. 

In the same token, we've al­ready been liv­ing in a mul­ti­lin­gual, multi­na­tional re­gion for some time. We live in an in­ter­me­di­ate space, be­tween re­al­ity and fic­tion, be­tween two coun­tries, be­tween a na­tion cho­sen for one­self and one as­cribed at birth. The Eu­ro­pean Union has con­ceived of a uni­fy­ing mar­ket, not a "coun­try". Which coun­try, which new form of cit­i­zen­ship could serve as an an­chor in the Eu­ro­pean re­gion? One could picture fu­ture Eu­ro­peans as being cit­i­zen-trans­la­tors or "trans-cit­i­zens": Certain theorists might conceive them as up­graded cit­i­zens who are per­ma­nently bound to an ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence like Joaquin Phoenix in Spike Jonze's re­cent film HER (2014). In this case we will have ac­cepted Sil­i­con Val­ley's post-hu­man dream. We would wear Google's aug­mented-re­al­ity glasses that au­to­mat­i­cally trans­late news­pa­per ar­ti­cles. With an at­tached mi­crochip with a lan­guage iden­ti­fi­ca­tion sys­tem, we would be able, like C-3PO in Star Wars, to speak every Eu­ro­pean lan­guage. But if one imag­ines the Eu­ro­pean cit­i­zen in this way, one ig­nores the ques­tion of a "na­tion," as well as the ques­tion of the emo­tional sig­nif­i­cance of lan­guage. 

We need a eu­rope in­fused with feel­ing

de­mo­c­ra­tic demos isn't born from the in­si­tu­tional reg­u­la­tions of ra­tio­nal cit­i­zens, but rather out of a mu­tual feel­ing that re­volves around free­dom and eman­ci­pa­tion. If we want to con­tinue to feel Eu­ro­pean, then it must be in the name of an af­fec­tive con­nec­tion to a lit­er­ary, in­tel­lec­tual, artis­tic or per­sonal his­tory of in­ter­cul­tural re­la­tion­ships. It is a mat­ter of de­lib­er­ately iden­ti­fy­ing the op­po­si­tion be­tween an af­fec­tive Eu­rope and a Eu­rope with a flat af­fect: a longed for, emo­tion­ally in­fused Eu­rope and the Eu­rope of the Eu­roland, which has been turned into a re­ac­tionary ma­chine. 

Out of his di­chotomy we pro­pose the de­vel­op­ment of a Po­et­ics of the In­ter­me­di­ate, a di­vided af­fect for the sake of jolt­ing the old EU of­fi­cials and to pro­mote a new po­lit­i­cal vi­sion of Eu­rope in the 21st cen­tury. On a continent on which cul­tures and lan­guages merge; where young Spaniards flee in throngs to Ger­many to find work in exile; where Pol­ish peo­ple, young Tunisians or Chi­nese em­i­grate to France, Den­mark or Italy: trans­la­tion is no longer the af­fair of cos­mopoli­tan elites. It is the cen­ter­piece of our re­la­tion­ship to the world. In Eu­rope the af­fir­ma­tion of a cit­i­zenry of trans­la­tion would be a three-fold rev­o­lu­tion:

1. To un­der­stand the demos-to-be as an ef­fort of trans­la­tion be­tween mul­ti­lay­ered iden­ti­ties.

2. The preser­va­tion of a po­lit­i­cal aware­ness of a lin­guis­tic ethos, in con­trast to the de­vel­op­ment of a tech­no­cratic or me­chan­i­cally pro­duced lan­guage. 

3. To build up the Eu­ro­pean pro­ject on a foun­da­tion that does not re­pu­di­ate mi­gra­tion cul­tures, but rather uses them as points of ref­er­ence.

If, after the re­cent elec­tions, we be­moan the lack of Eu­ro­pean sen­ti­ments, it is be­cause such sen­ti­ments are cur­rently di­min­ish­ing in our tran­si­tion from a gen­er­a­tion of rem­i­nis­cence to a gen­er­a­tion of for­get­ful­ness. We can't in­def­i­nitely avoid for­get­ful­ness. The past that le­git­imized and shaped the Eu­ro­pean pro­ject is re­ced­ing. Out of this past a Eu­ro­pean phan­tas­mic peo­ple has emerged. We have built up the EU around a peo­ple that doesn't exist, a peo­ple of the dead. How­ever, if we wish to pro­mote the Eu­ro­pean pro­ject in the 21st cen­tury, we must de­velop it on the basis of a fu­ture na­tion, in which hopes and as­pi­ra­tions flour­ish. It is our wish that such a na­tion be bold. And if we al­ready know that trans­la­tion is its lan­guage, then it is out of this lan­guage that we must de­rive mean­ing, an ethics and a pol­i­tics of imag­i­na­tion.

Ber­lin/Paris, May 2014. 

Don't be scared of the Eu­ro­pean dream

In Sep­tem­ber and Oc­to­ber 2014, SE­CES­SION will imag­ine and dis­cuss a Eu­rope after the reign of the bu­reau­crats. What would it look like and what roles would artists, writ­ers and trans­la­tors have? Since Cafébabel Berlin is con­vinced that Eu­rope rep­re­sents more than ad­min­is­tra­tive in­san­ity, we'll nat­u­rally be in at­ten­dance. More info on Face­book and Twit­ter.