What is the 'idea of Europe'? The answer, sadly for non
Christians, is 'Christendom' and what grew out of it. George Steiner, being
Jewish, gives a different answer-
Lightning-rods have to be grounded.
Like everything else, they can't just float in the air at a fixed location.
Even the most
abstract, speculative of ideas must be anchored in reality, in the substance of
Sadly, this isn't true. Godel described a Universe in which Time travel is possible. It is abstract, it is speculative, but it isn't grounded in reality at all.
What, then, of ‘the idea of Europe’?
Like the idea of anything else, it may be grounded in stupidity, not reality, depending on whose idea it is.
Europe is made up of coffee houses, of cafés.
No it isn't. It is a landmass made up of fields and valleys and mountains and rivers. From the spiritual point of view, its Churches and Cathedrals and Monasteries may be said to knit it together and give it an identity distinct from the Islamic portion of the former Roman Empire. But Coffee houses and cafes are not unique to it. Like brothels and massage parlors, they exist everywhere.
extend from Pessoa’s favourite coffee house in Lisbon to the Odessa cafés
haunted by Isaac Babel’s gangsters.
I suppose this explains why the gangster king, Benya Krik, is mentally so like the erudite, English speaking, Pessoa whose school education was in Durban, South Africa.
They stretch from the Copenhagen cafés
which Kierkegaard passed on his concentrated walks, to the counters of Palermo.
but reappear on the other side of the Mediterranean in Alexandria. Indeed, there were cafes and coffees houses stretching all the way down to the Cape- as in Pessoa's Durban.
No early or defining cafés in Moscow, which is already a suburb of Asia.
Yet Moscow produced Dostoevsky- a far greater figure in the European literary firmament than either Pessoa or Babel.
few in England after a brief fashion in the eighteenth century.
The English 'penny university' declined for three reasons- firstly, the coffee-men tried to monopolize the burgeoning newspaper business ; secondly, people were growing more affluent and could afford more than a penny when socializing or transacting business, third, a private club could also serve alcohol, food, and provide other types of entertainment rather than just stilted conversation.
None in North
America outside the gallican outpost of New Orleans.
Prosperity means the opportunity cost of leisure time increases. Only when almost everybody's purse is pinched will people throng to coffee houses or smoking parlors to distract themselves from the pangs of hunger.
In America, the diner offers limitless coffee because both food and this beverage are chiefly valued for fuelling productivity. It is no accident that Count Rumford- one of the first global 'efficiency' experts who was derided by Marx- patented a Coffee percolator. By the beginning of the Twentieth Century, inventors were filing patents for disposable containers for coffee 'to go'.
Europe lagged in productivity. Talent had fewer outlets. The half starved hack sitting in front of a cold cup of coffee working on a verbose feuilleton may have been picturesque. But his American, or even British, counterpart was dining well on roast meat and finding it easy to sell topical articles, written in a breezy style, to a wide range of magazines and newspapers.
There were small oases of 'Cafe Society' in England and some American Cities. But they were for the nouveau riche for whom leisure was still a novelty. But, if their wealth did not prove ephemeral, the soon joined gentlemen's clubs while their wives cobbled together salons.
As for the young intellectual or artist, the comforts of suburban life soon drew them away from the gimcrack splendor of the Cafe Royal to the more solid virtue represented by the Chelsea Arts Club & the pleasures of riverside life in Fulham or, as the Edwardian Age's golden afternoon yielded to evening's softer shades, the Elysian fields of Chiswick or villas in Twickenham where the fair Hesperides hold Court.
Draw the coffee-house map
and you have one of the essential markers of the ‘idea of Europe’.
Yet Morocco and Egypt and Turkey had plenty of coffee shops.
Indeed, the thing was Islamic- wine being forbidden- and once had a Papal bull
condemning it. But most European socialized over alcoholic beverages. Jews,
having low alcoholism, may have been different in this respect. But it is
questionable as to what extent 'Europeans' considered Jews to be indigenous. On
the other hand, the Nordic countries became addicted to coffee. Laxness tells
us that the Icelandic shepherd used coffee to treat distemper amongst his sheep. But this has
little to do with the 'idea of Europe'. Steiner is simply being silly.
The café is a place for assignation and conspiracy, for
intellectual debate and gossip, for the flâneur and the poet or metaphysician
at his notebook.
But the cafe serves wine and beer and cognac as well as
coffee. In any case, the pub or beer-hall or gin palace would do just as well
for the purposes Steiner mentions. Dedicated club-houses would do even better. The ancient Greeks- who originated the word 'Europe' and to whom 'the idea
of Europe' might plausibly be ascribed, hadn't needed Coffee shops to have a
lively civic culture.
It is open to all, yet it is also a club, a freemasonry
of political or artistic-literary recognition and programmatic presence. A cup
of coffee, a glass of wine, a tea with rum secures a locale in which to work,
to dream, to play chess or simply keep warm the whole day.
So does the pub or the wine bar or the bistro or canteen.
But a salon presided over by a sensible lady is better conducted and less injurious to one's health.
It is the club of the spirit and the poste-restante of
No it isn't. The Club is the club of the spirit- though a
charming lady's salon may more overflow with esprit.
the poste restante of the homeless, it is the Post Office.
In the Milan of Stendhal, in the Venice of Casanova, in
the Paris of Baudelaire, the café housed what there was of political
opposition, of clandestine liberalism.
Nonsense! The cafe was riddled with spies. The blue-stocking’s
salon, or the Free Masons' Hall, was safer. The point about a Club is
that not just anyone can stroll in to eavesdrop.
Three principal cafés in imperial and inter-war Vienna
provided the agora, the locus of eloquence and rivalry, for competing schools
of aesthetics and political economy, of psychoanalysis and philosophy. Those
wishing to meet Freud or Karl Kraus, Musil or Carnap, knew precisely in which
café to look, at which Stammtisch to take their place.
But bars and beerhalls too had 'stammtisch' signs. It is
easy to reserve a table, or a nook, at a pub. Obviously, it wasn't cafes
patronized by Jews which determined the fate of 'inter-war Vienna'. Steiner may
have had a point about Kraus. But to meet Freud you made an appointment and
handed over a goodly sum of cash. Musil, like other similar writers, was best
observed at the salon of wealthy females.
Danton and Robespierre meet one last time at the Procope.
Which was a 'Schelling focal point' only because it
was next to a famous Theater.
When the lights go out in Europe, in August 1914, Jaurès
is assassinated in a café.
But it might just as well have been called a Taverne
fact is, the guy was eating his dinner there because it was a unpretentious neighborhood restaurant of a solid, bourgeois, type . He
hadn't gone there to exchange ideas with anyone or plot a conspiracy.
In a Geneva café, Lenin writes his treatise on
empirio-criticism and plays chess with Trotsky.
But these guys were from 'a suburb of Asia'. According to
Steiner, they would have been happier with a samovar.
Note the ontological differences.
An English pub, an Irish bar have their own aura and
Because more drinking than eating is done there and alcohol
is favorable to legend.
What would Irish literature be without the bars of Dublin?
But Joyce is very much a European writer embraced by Lacan
and Derrida and so forth. Clearly, there was no 'ontological difference'
between a Parisian drinking hole and one in Dublin or Cork.
Where, if there had not been the Museum Tavern, would Dr.
Watson have run into Sherlock Holmes?
So Taverns in London are interchangeable with Cafes in
Vienna. But Holmes and Watson could just as easily have run into each other at
Simpsons of the Strand or the Army and Navy Store or the local tobacconist.
But these are not cafés. They have no chess-tables, no
newspapers freely available to clients on their hangers.
England was richer than the Continent. Temperance Hotels and
Public Libraries and Working Men’s clubs had reading rooms. But if you could
afford a pint, you could afford to buy a newspaper of your own.
It is only very recently that coffee itself has become a
public habit in Britain, and it retains its Italian halo.
Actually, it was the mods who had a mania for expressos and
Lambrettas and so forth. Their drug of choice was speed. My memory is that the
rockers kicked the shit out of them.
The American bar plays a vital role in American
literature, in the iconic charisma of Scott Fitzgerald and Humphrey Bogart. The
history of jazz is inseparable from it. But the American bar is a sanctuary of
dim lightning, often of darkness.
The Procope was very dark when it opened. People commented
It throbs with music, often deafening.
Some do. Others have the TV tuned to Sport. Yet others are
Its sociology, its
psychological fabric are permeated by sexuality, by the presence, hoped for,
dreamt of or actually of women.
No one writes
phenomenological tomes at the table of an American bar (cf. Sartre). Drinks
have to be renewed if the client is to remain welcome. There are ‘bouncers’ to
expel the unwanted. Each of these features defines an ethos radically different
from that of the Café Central or the Deux Magots or Florian.
Because France was poorer- or the French were more thrifty-
than their English or American counterparts. As for 'books on phenomenology'-
they are shit. Who cares where they are written?
“There will be mythology so long as there are beggars”,
said Walter Benjamin, a passionate connoisseur of and pilgrim among cafés.
But mythology existed before there were coins to throw to
beggars. Benjamin, clearly, had shit for brains. Fantasy is not the same thing
So long as there are coffee houses, the ‘idea of Europe’
will have content.
Thus, the coronavirus could kill the thing off. But no such
luck. Europe as an idea was well established long before coffee was known to
Europe has been, is walked.
So what? The same could be said of every continent save
Which is how come the Australian Aborigines, with their
'song-lines', were all Capitalist plutocrats.
The cartography of Europe arises from the capacities, the
perceived horizons of human feet.
Rubbish! The cartography of Europe arises from sailors
drawing charts of landmasses and navigable rivers and then military or cadastral
surveyors slowly filling in the blanks.
European men and women have walked their maps, from
hamlet to hamlet, from village to village, from city to city.
No they haven't. They have leapfrogged by boat or covered
More often than not, distances are on a human scale, they
can be mastered by the traveller on foot, by the pilgrim to Compostela, by the
promeneur, be he solitaire or gregarious.
Sheer nonsense! It was quicker and safer to get around by
boat. Horses were the next best thing. Feet have their limitations.
There are stretches of arid, forbidding terrain; there
are marshes; alps tower. But none of these constitute a terminal obstacle.
Europe has no Death Valley, no Amazonia, no ‘outback’ intractable to the
Nor has anywhere else. Steiner doesn't get that indigenous
populations had crossed 'Death Valley' and 'Amazonia' and the 'outback' long
before Europeans got there by sail. But since vastly greater numbers could come
swiftly by the same means, Europe prevailed in the 'New World'.
This fact determines a seminal relationship between
European humanity and its landscape.
No it doesn't. The fact is 'European humanity' is no
different from any other type of Humanity. Hitler didn't understand this. But
then he hadn't been to College. What was Steiner's major malfunction?
Metaphorically, but materially also, that landscape has
been moulded, humanised by feet and hands.
By people were already doing that in Asia and North Africa before
they migrated to Europe. On the other hand, the 'hands' and 'feet' of indigenous
hunter gatherers hadn't 'humanised the landscape' very much at all. Large
swathes of Northern Europe ceased to be inhabited during the Ice Age.
As in no other part of the globe the shores, fields,
forests and hills of Europe, from La Coruña to St Petersburg, have been shaped
not so much by geological as by human-historical time.
Has this guy never heard about China? Fuck he thinks
happened there? What about India- which was once a great big forest. Its Iron
Age clearance predates that of Europe and its sacred geography is genuinely one
defined by the 'teerth yatra' which has been, and will be, paced by the feet of
millions of Hindus from age after age. By contrast, Europe has nothing similar.
The ‘padyatra’ has no special sanctity. There is no pilgrim circuit which
encompasses Europe. What there is is merely local, or, at best, crosses a
single national border. They do not link up with each other in the manner of
the 'Bharat darshan', or 'Ekta Yatra', so as to define a unified spiritual heimat- or ‘karmabhoomi’.
Indeed, there is only one ethnic group which regularly crosses borders as part of an itinerant way of life. It is the Gypsies, who are of Indian origin. Unlike Europe, roads in India are only difficult to traverse during 'chaturmas'- the four months of the monsoon'. Kipling's Kim describes life on the Indian Grand Trunk Road which stretches from Bengal to Afghanistan. In India, this gives rise to the distinction between 'Margi'- High Road Culture- and 'Desi'- purely local Culture. Nothing similar could be said about Europe. King James's jester, Coryat, did walk across much of Europe learning its various languages before ending up in India. But in Europe he was considered a zany. In India, he was considered a Saint and his tomb in Surat attracts pilgrims. It remains the case that Europe despises as a gypsy or vagrant, those who regularly cross borders whereas in the East the 'dervish' has spiritual sanctity. Yatra sayamgrho Munihi
- the Muni's house is where night falls on the path- is an Eastern, not a European, sentiment.
At the glacier’s edge sits Manfred.
But, for Byron, Christian Greece is central to 'the idea of
Europe'. He gave his life to drive the Muslim Turk out of that spiritual
Chateaubriand declaims on the rocky headlands.
But he initially was disparaging of the living Greeks- as
opposed to those long dead- in his reports of his travels in Ottoman domains.
As a Diplomat upholding the Holy Alliance he was silent on the Greek Revolution
only becoming a Philhellenist after he fell out with the Bourbon Government. By
then Byron was dead.
Our acres, be they under snow or in the yellow noon of
summer, are those experienced by Bruegel or Monet or Van Gogh.
Or Gaugin who ended up in Tahiti. To see what Bruegel or
Monet or Van Gogh saw, we would still need to travel out of the Cities in which
three quarters of Europeans live. But this is also true if we wish to see
The darkest woods have nymphs or fairies, literate ogres
or picturesque hermits in them.
dark woods have these fabled appurtenances.
They are severely lacking in Piccadilly Circus.
The voyager seems never to be altogether out of reach of
the church-bell in the next village.
Unless he is stuck in one of those dark woods.
From time immemorial, rivers have had fords, fords also
for oxen, ‘Oxfords’, and bridges to dance on as at Avignon.
But this is also true of India. The word 'teerth' means a
'ford'. But in India, these 'teerths' are linked up into a 'Bharat darshan'.
Nothing of the sort obtains for 'the idea of Europe'.
The beauties of Europe are wholly inseparable from the
patina of humanised time.
Yet they are visible to the Japanese or Chinese or Bengali
landscape painter who capture, it may be, something yet more radically
'humanized'- as opposed to reified by an elite paideia- in comparison with the
Academy. Indeed, there was considerable Japanese influence on Manet, Monet,
Degas, and most importantly Van Gogh.
Again, the difference from North America, let alone so
much of Africa and Australia, is radical.
So what? Europe should be comparing itself with other ancient
Civilizations- Indian, Chinese, Arab, Japanese and so forth. What happens when
such a comparison is made? We notice immediately that Europe saw itself as a
congeries of Nations of diverse origins. The Han Chinese or Hindu Indians or
Arab Muslims saw themselves as belonging to different regions or zones but as representing a single nation united by a common creed. A 'separatist'
politician in China or India or the Arab lands may be assassinated by his own
cousin who considers the fellow to be a traitor to the Nation. Nothing of the
sort is feared by European politicians who whip up hatred against the European
One does not go on foot from one American town to the
Whereas Steiner himself regularly went on foot from
Cambridge to Geneva.
The deserts of the Australian interior, of the American
south-west, the ‘great woods’ of the Pacific states or of Alaska, are virtually
By contrast to the Baltic or Ionian Sea which one can easily
walk across with a picnic basket.
The magnificence of the Grand Canyon, of the Florida
swamps, of Ayer’s Rock in the Australian vastness, is that of tectonic,
geological dynamics almost menacingly irrelevant to man.
Because the indigenous people of those areas are wholly invisible to this exceptionally stupid man.
Hence the feeling, often voiced by tourists to Europe
from the New World or ‘down under’, that European landscapes are manicured,
that their horizons suffocate.
Not to mention the fact that European savants have such
horrible halitosis that anyone in the vicinity is in danger of asphyxiation.
Hence the feeling that the American, South African and
Australian ‘big skies’ are unknown to Europe.
Whereas they are taken for granted by New Yorkers.
To an American eye, even European clouds can seem
domesticated. They are so crowded with ancient deities in Tiepolo costumes.
American eyes work in exactly the same way ours do. In
London, they are more likely to see the skyscapes of Turner and Constable.
They'd be lucky to glimpse anything Rococo. But this is a matter of meteorology.
The fact is, clouds do not choreograph tableaux vivant
accord with the taste of a Roi Soleil
Integral components of European thought and sensibility
are, in the root sense of the word, pedestrian.
But only in the same sense that all thought is pedestrian
because humans have feet not wings.
Their cadence and sequence are those of the walker.
No. They are those of the talker who may be lame or lazy.
In Greek philosophy and rhetoric, the peripatetics are,
literally, those who travel on foot from polis to polis, whose teachings are
Yet, Socrates stayed home- only venturing abroad as part of
the Athenian infantry.
In western metrics and poetic conventions, the ‘foot’,
the ‘beat’, the enjambment between verses or stanzas remind us of the close
intimacies between the human body as it paces the earth and the arts of
And in Sanskrit verse we speak of 'padas'. In Arabic too we
speak of 'feet' but both language also have a notion of rhythmic 'gait' which may be that of a camel or an
elephant or even a tiger.
Much of the most incisive theorizing is generated by the
act of walking.
More isn't. It depends on sitting at your desk checking and
Immanuel Kant’s daily Fußgang, his chronometrically
precise traverse of Koenigsberg, became legend.
But he never left his natal town. He was scarcely a
'peripatetic'. What he knew of the World he knew from what he read, not from
where Shank's pony had taken him.
The meditations, the rhythms of perception in Rousseau
are those of the promeneur.
More, they are those of a widely travelled man who had lived
with 'the Quality'.
The extensive rambles of Kierkegaard through Copenhagen
and its suburbs proved to be a public spectacle and the object of caricature
Like Kant, he was a bit 'neuro-diverse'. But plenty of
people, all over the world, take regular walks. If their appearance is
eccentric and they have attained a certain celebrity then the thing may become
an object of remark.
But it is these rambles, with their diversions, their
abrupt changes of itinerary and gait, which are reflected in the syncopations
of his prose.
In the opinion of Steiner. But what is the 'Structural
Causal Model' he is appealing to? Is it really the case that if you walk like
Kant you will talk like Kant? On the other hand, if you pause your
peregrinations every so often to throw off your clothes to turn naked
somersaults up and down the Mall then you are bound to end up writing like George Steiner.
In an American age, which is that of the automobile and
both of which were invented in Europe
we can scarcely imagine the distances covered and put to
intellectual and poetic purpose by European masters. Hölderlin goes on foot from
Westphalia to Bordeaux and back.
Because he was a badly paid private tutor trying to save
money. He was not yet much of a poet. The travel money he was given amounted to
half his wages. Clearly Europe had terrible roads and conveyances at the time.
The young Wordsworth walks from Calais to the Berner
Oberland and back. Coleridge, a portly individual, with various physical
afflictions, routinely covers twenty to thirty miles per diem across difficult,
mountainous ground, composing poetry or intricate theological arguments as he
But Theodore Roosevelt hikes were far more impressive than
either. People walk. There is nothing particularly European about walking.
And think of the role of the wanderer in some of the
greatest of our music: in Schubert’s fantasies and songs, in Mahler.
But the strolling minstrel exists in every culture. However,
they are equally good if they ride a horse or a donkey or a camel.
Again Benjamin’s enigmatic prophecy comes to mind:
throughout European allegory and legend, the beggar who comes to the door, the
beggar who may be a divine or daemonic agent in disguise, has come on foot.
But there are plenty of such beggars in the Arabian Nights
and in the ancient literature of India. Indeed, the 'dervish' and the 'bhikku'
can have a very high ritual status in Islam and Hinduism though at one time
Christendom too had licensed 'bedesman' and other respectable mendicant
The streets, the squares walked by European men, women
and children are named a hundredfold after statesmen, military figures, poets,
artists, composers, scientists and philosophers.
Like the streets walked by Indians and Egyptians and so
This is my third parameter. My own childhood in Paris
found me taking, on numberless occasions, the Rue La Fontaine, the Place Victor
Hugo, the Pont Henri IV, the Rue Théophile Gauthier.
And mine in Delhi found me taking Kasturba Gandhi Marg,
which used to be known as Curzon Road, to Connaught Circus, which is now known
as Rajiv Gandhi Chowk. After the fall of the Ancien Regime, the French took to
changing the names of streets. The Rue Descartes was given that name in 1809,
having previously been named for a family prominent in the thirteenth century.
The rue Grat-Culle (scratch arse) was renamed after a martyr of the Second
Republic once the Third Republic was safely in the saddle.
The streets around the Sorbonne are named after the high
masters of medieval scholasticism.
But only if, like Bernard of Clairvaux, they were also
canonized as Saints. France is a Catholic country.
They celebrate Descartes and Auguste Comte. If Racine has
his street, so do Corneille, Molière, Boileau.
But this was a Nineteenth Century fad. Paris was after all,
a tourist trap, and in any case the City was rebuilt at least partly for
political reasons so as to make it easier to police and for the militia to
The same is true of the German-speaking world, of the
myriad Goetheplätze and Schillerstrassen, of the squares named after Mozart or
Again, for obvious reasons, this was a modern development of
a sort which smacks of municipal pride and a narrow petit bourgeois sensibility
rather than anything representative of an unchanging essence.
The European schoolchild, urban men and women, inhabit
literal echo-chambers of historical, intellectual, artistic and scientific
But whose native genius was better represented by streets
named 'Scratch arse' and 'pull cock'.
Very often, the street sign will carry not only the
illustrious or specialised name, but the relevant dates and a summary
Which is why we consider the bildungsburgertum
be essentially petty bourgeois, provincial and philistine. Flaubert, the most
effective satirist of this class, had a street named after him by a Property
Company redeveloping a decrepit Factory.
Cities such as Paris, Milan, Florence, Frankfurt, Weimar,
Vienna, Prague or St Petersburg are living chronicles. To read their street
signs is to leaf through a present past. Nor has this pietas in any way ceased.
The Place Saint-Germain has become the Place Sartre-Beauvoir. Frankfurt has
named an Adornoplatz. In London, a prodigality of blue plaques
Hence Fredric Raphael's Old Testament curse- 'a plaque on both your houses!'. I once pranked a friend of mine by sending her an official looking letter informing her that a great Nigerian Lesbian activist had lived at her newly purchased house. The poor lady was terrified that hefty African dykes would be constantly battering down her door.
houses in which not only medieval, renaissance or Victorian writers, artists,
natural scientists are thought to have lived, but these associated with
Bloomsbury and the moderns.
Yet, Europe fell behind America- which had to come save it
from self-destruction and which still has plenty of military bases and over
60,000 troops stationed there. Clearly, naming streets after writers doesn't
make a country smart enough to defend itself.
Observe the almost dramatic difference. In the United
States such memoranda are few. Endlessly, streets are named ‘Pine’, ‘Maple’,
‘Oak’ or ‘Willow’. Boulevards are entitled ‘Sunset’, the noblest of Boston
streets is known as ‘Beacon’. Even these are concessions to the humane.
American avenues, roads, streets are simply numbered or, at best, as in
Washington, known by their orientation, their number being followed by ‘North’
or ‘West’. Automobiles just do not have the time to ponder a Rue Nerval or a
Steiner thinks Automobiles, unlike horses, don't have time
to read and ponder over the names of streets. No wonder the Europe of his
idealization was so fucked in the head.
There is a dark side to this sovereignty of remembrance,
to Europe’s self-definition as un lieu de la mémoire.
Is it that European cars keep crashing into each other coz
they are constantly 'pondering a Rue Nerval or a Copernicus concourse'? I
sympathize with Steiner. I had a car like that. Sadly, the police thought all
the accidents it caused were my fault for being drunk off my head.
The shields affixed to so many European houses tell not
only of artistic, literary, philosophic or statesman-like eminence. They
commemorate centuries of massacre and of suffering, of hatred and of human
sacrifice. In one French town, a commemorative plaque to Lamartine, most
idyllic of poets, faces an inscription on the opposite side of the street which
records the torture and execution of resistance fighters in 1944.
We get it, Steiner dude. Europeans are utterly shit.
Thankfully, America keeps 60,000 troops on European soil so as to stop those
stupid fuckers fucking each other up in saecula saeculorum.
Europe is the place where Goethe’s garden almost borders
on Buchenwald, where the house of Corneille abuts on the market-place in which
Joan of Arc was hideously done to death.
But it is currently safe coz of Uncle Sam.
Memorials to murder, individual and collective, are
everywhere. The marbled roll-call of the dead often seems to outnumber the
living. Most problematic have been the decisions made, the methods employed, in
reference to the reconstruction of the destroyed cities and artistic heritage.
Doubtless, the millimetre by millimetre restoration of the old quarters of
Warsaw according to eighteenth century topographical paintings is a wonder of
craftsmanship and of willed recollection. As is the restitution of Dresden to
much of its past radiance, or the facsimile-rebirth of many of the splendours
of what was Leningrad. But as one walks amid these solid spectres, a sense of
the uncanny, of utter sadness obtrudes.
Which is when you know it is time to stop off for a Big Mac
or Starbucks latte. Anyway, Europe has changed. Disneyland Paris is actually
quite a cheerful place and doesn't smell like shit.
There is something wrong in all the rightness. As if even
the perspectives of depth were only a façade. It is very difficult to put into
words the warmth, the aura which authentic time, time as lived process, gives
to the play of light on stone, on courtyards, on roof-tops. In the artifice of
the reconstructed, the light has the taste of neon.
While in the original it smelt of shit.
The issue is, of course, a deeper one. Even a child in
Europe bends under the weight of the past as he so often does under that of
schoolbags far too crammed. How often, when plodding the Rue Descartes or
crossing the Ponte Vecchio or passing Rembrandt’s house in Amsterdam, have I
not been overwhelmed, in even a bodily sense, by the question: ‘What is the
use? What can anyone of us add to the immensities of the European past?’
Evidently, not often enough which is why Steiner kept writing worthless books.
Paul Celan enters the Seine to commit suicide, he choose the exact point celebrated
in Apollinaire’s great ballad, a point situated below the windows of the room
in which Tsvetaeva spent her last night before returning to desolation and
death in the Soviet Union.
Go thou and do likewise, Steiner you pretentious twit.
A literate European is caught in the spider-web of
an in memoriam at once luminous and suffocating.
Coz it smells like shit. Still, one could take a shower, go
to Disneyland Paris, study a STEM subject and emigrate to America.
It is precisely this weave which North America
Which is why Europe needs American troops to avoid going
back to its bad old ways. Sadly, Donald Trump may force them to pay more for
Its ideology has been that of sunrise and futurity. When
Henry Ford declared that ‘history is bunk’, he was giving a password to
creative amnesia, to a power of forgetting which underwrites the pragmatic
pursuit of utopia.
Actually, he was saying History was confabulation of a
paranoid type. Then he himself became infected by a European strain of that
The most elegant of new buildings has an obsolescence
factor of some forty years.
No new building has been elegant since the Regency.
The Vietnam War did cast an almost old-world
not in France which lost 55,000 soldiers there. America- a much larger country- lost 58,000. The old world was more prodigal of human lives.
the 11th of September did send a tremor, a memento mori through the
Uncle Sam's war of revenge killed 1.3 million Muslims and has left tens of millions displaced. No doubt, this is the fault of Starbucks and other such coffee shops.
But these are exceptional and most likely transitory motifs.
The strongest memories in American sensibility
Steiner means the memories of Americans of European descent.
and idiom are these of promise,
of that contract with open horizons
as opposed to the lash and the barracoon.
which have made, of westward motion and
scan, planetary travel a new Eden.
a Wilderness Zion, perhaps. But all roads are from Eden.
Hence the growing malaise at the very
thought of memorialising the destruction of the World Trade Center.
Two holes in the ground which are as ugly as fuck.
deliberately brutal and, in my view, misguided symbolic mausoleum entombs a
central space in Berlin.
Which richly deserves it.
How much truer to Jesus’s maxim ‘let the dead bury
their dead’ are the men and women of the New World.
because they follow Jesus. Steiner forgets the rest of the 'maxim'. It's tough being a Jew.
Still, its good to know that Steiner's 'idea of Europe' isn't that different from
Trump's- except Trump sugar-coats things because of his more genteel upbringing
The ambiguous weight of the past tense in the idea and
substance of Europe derives from a primordial duality.
Ambiguity is impossible if Monist univocity obtains.
This is my fourth axiom:
the twofold inheritance of Athens and Jerusalem. This relationship, at once
conflictual and syncretic, has engaged European theological, philosophic and
political argument from the Church Fathers to Leon Chestov, from Pascal to Leo
Only because those witty Athenians thought bumming little boys a good thing. Jerusalem was unenthused by such shenanigans.
The topos is as rich and urgent today as it ever was. To be a European
is to attempt to negotiate – morally, intellectually and existentially – the
rival ideals, claims, praxis of the city of Socrates and of that of Isaiah.
But Americans are even more inclined to elide a Gothic
inheritance to concentrate on what they owe to Jerusalem and Athens. But
it is otiose to negotiate anything in this respect this late in the day.
Hellenization by conquest occurred from the Third Century B.C onward. Second Maccabees,
written in Greek, is considered a canonical by Catholics. In Theology. too, the
tradition inaugurated by Philo of Alexandria tended to prevail.
The seminal role of Hellas is manifest.
In Islamic philosophy but that doesn't make Arab countries
Three myths, which are among the most ancient in our
but which are not confined to Europe.
tell of the origins and mystery of music. What is
arresting is the perception in archaic Greece, via the tales of Orpheus, of the
Sirens and of the murderous contest between Apollo and Marsyas, of the elements
in music beyond rational humanity, of the power of music to madden and destroy.
This would indeed be 'arresting' if we hadn't grown up with
Heavy Metal rock-stars biting off the heads of bats and praying to Satan.
Our mathematics have been ‘Greek’ at least until the
proposal of non-Euclidean geometries and the crisis of the axiomatic implicit
in Gödel’s Proof of non-consistency.
No. Medieval Mathematics was indebted to Islam though the
Arabs borrowed freely from both the Greeks and the Hindus. The word algebra is
from the Arabic. It is this 'devil' which prevailed over 'the angel' of a
Geometry whose axioms were synthetic a priori judgments of a type which
validated maiuetics or the phenomenological method.
To think, to dream mathematically is to follow on Euclid
and Archimedes, on the first conjectures as to paradoxical insolubility in
No it isn't. Number theory gives rise to the notion of a
series and the limit of a series which in turn gave rise to calculus which in
turn was enormously helpful in the burgeoning of Science and Technology.
Plato bade no man enter his academy who was not a
geometer. He himself, however, directed the western intellect towards universal
questions of meaning, of morality, of law and of politics.
But universal questions are universally asked. Why mention
'the western intellect'? The fact is everybody in all countries thinks
philosophers and belle lettrists
are as stupid as shit. It is the STEM
subjects which have enabled us to live more prosperous, more secure, lives.
As A.N. Whitehead famously put it, western philosophy is
a footnote to Plato
a pithy saying
and, one would add,
only if one were a verbose cretin
to Aristotle and Plotinus,
whose work could be quite properly called footnotes to Plato
Parmenides and Heraclitus.
Who preceded Plato. One could say Plato was a footnote to Parmenides. However, mention of Heraclitus contradicts Whitehead's point by reminding us of the importance of the pre-Socratics to the line of Philosophy associated with Nietzsche and Heidegger. I jest. That shite has no importance.
The Socratic ideal of the examined life, the
Platonic search for transcendent certitudes, the Aristotelian investigations
into the problematic relations between word and world, have set out the road
taken by Aquinas and Descartes, by Kant and by Heidegger.
But we now know it was a road to nowhere.
Thus these three
pre-eminent dignities of the human intellect and of shaping sensibility –
music, mathematics, metaphysics – underwrite Shelley’s statement that “we are
Music sounds good and those with talent can do very well out
of it. Math is useful and has made us all much richer. Metaphysics is
worthless. So is most poetry. How much Shelley does anyone read?
But the inheritance of Athens extends much further.
Athens, like Jerusalem, inherited whatever was available from its neighbors and passed on that heritage. However, for purely Religious reasons, Jerusalem has a special sanctity.
vocabulary of our political and social theories and conflicts, of our athletics
and architecture, of our aesthetic models and natural sciences remains
saturated with Greek roots in both senses of the word. ‘Physics’, ‘genetics’,
‘biology’, ‘astronomy’, ‘geology’, ‘zoology’, ‘anthropology’ are terms derived
immediately from classical Greek.
So what? The content of these disciplines has greatly changed or was wholly unknown to the Greeks. The etymology of a word does not matter. It does not determine the trajectory of what it points to.
In turn, the names carry with them, as does
‘logic’ itself, a specific vision, a particular mapping of reality and its open
This is nonsense. Names exist so as to solve coordination or discoordination problems. But names can be changed very quickly to anything you like because they are wholly unconnected to reality.
It is an exaggeration, but a suggestive exaggeration, on
Heidegger’s part to affirm that a false translation of Greek “being” or “to be”
into Ciceronian Latin determined the destiny of Europe.
If Steiner is right then shitheads like himself would be
able to give valuable advice as to which Scientific research programs were
likely to succeed. Philologists would head up Venture Capital funds. Einstein
would have asked Husserl or Heidegger for help finding a Unified Theory. Sadly,
etymology doesn't matter. Hermeneutics doesn't matter. Metaphysics is a pile of
shite even if it isn't wholly shite at ancient Greek.
It is no exaggeration whatever to add that this destiny
springs no less from the legacy of Jerusalem.
There is no legacy from a geographical location. There is only a legacy from people associated in some way with that place. But for us to receive anything of value, a whole bunch of people had to work very hard in a consistent manner over long stretches of time.
There is scarcely a vital node in
the texture of Western existence, of the consciousness and self-consciousness
of Western (and, thereafter, American) men and women which has not been touched
by the heritage of the Hebraic.
Which is why everybody loves Jews. By contrast, claiming to
be of Cherokee descent while being a practicing Zen master isn't cool at all.
This is as true of the positivist, of the theist, of the
agnostic as it is of the believer.
In which case, it is only true because it is meaningless.
The monotheistic challenge, the definition of our
humanity as in dialogue with the transcendent, the concept of a supreme Book,
the notion of law as inextricable from moral commandments, our very sense of
history as purposeful time, have their origin in the enigmatic singularity and
dispersal of Israel.
But this strain in Jewish thought was the result of
Hellenization by conquest. Isonomia was imposed by Alexander.
It is a cliché to cite Marx, Freud and Einstein (I would
add Proust) as the begetters of modernity, as the artisans of our current
It is not a cliche, it is false.
But underneath the cliché lies a formidably complex
situation: that of secular Judaism and of the translation into secular terms
and values of profoundly Judaic antecedents
The idea of Israel has profoundly Judaic antecedents,
though, no doubt, its roots are in the Ashkenazi pale. The idea of Europe does
not have profoundly Judaic antecedents.
Marx’s rage for social justice and messianic historicism
are directly concordant with that of Amos or Jeremiah.
Nonsense! Neither Amos nor Jeremiah were Revolutionaries.
Marx's inspiration was French, not Jewish.
Freud’s strange assumption of an original crime – the
killing of the father – mirrors, graphically, the scenario of the Adamic fall.
No it doesn't. It is a parody of the Eucharist.
There is much that is wonderfully close to the promise of
the psalms and of Maimonides
Anything influenced by the Aristotle of Islam will be
wonderfully close to Maimonides who fled Spain and found security in Egypt.
in Einstein’s trust in cosmic order, in his tenacious
refusal of chaos.
Okay, okay. Einstein was wrong. Don't rub it in.
Judaism and its two principal footnotes, Christianity and
utopian socialism, are descendants of Sinaï, even where Jews themselves were
nothing but a despised, hunted handful.
Fuck utopian socialism. Christianity, however, is still
going strong. But we could equally speak of it as a footnote to an Agricultural
Revolution which began in the Levant or in Asia Minor some ten thousand years
Relations have never been easy. The tension between Jew
and Greek obsesses the Pauline invention of Christianity.
St. Paul converted to Christianity. He did not invent it.
Tension between Jew and Greek was Alexandrian- not a feature of Asia Minor
The Church Fathers are anxiously alert to the dual
magnetism of pagan Athens and Hebrew Jerusalem.
Magnets have poles of opposite valency. A 'dual magnetism'
cancels itself out.
How is the truth of Jesus to incorporate the
indispensable legacy of classical Greece? – a legacy made the more troubling by
its transmission via the Arab and Muslim world.
But the Great Church Fathers, with the exception of Pope
Gregory, died before the Prophet Muhammad was born. The way we
'incorporate indispensable' stuff is by stealing it and pretending it was a
legacy from that Uncle of ours who emigrated to Venezuela a few years before he
was born which is why nobody has ever heard of him.
Time and again, the polarities sharpen.
But only in the clouded minds of professional gobshites.
More often, European humanism from Erasmus to Hegel seeks
diverse forms of compromise between Attic and Hebraic ideals.
Compromises are only desirable if there is some cost or
benefit to a negotiated settlement. European humanism was merely a Straussian
esotericism of a more or less cowardly type. The truth is neither ancient
Athens or Jerusalem matter in the slightest to sensible people.
But after a lifetime of scrupulous inquiry, Leo Strauss,
equally steeped in Talmud and Aristotle, in Socrates and Maimonides,
actually he was an amateur when it came to Hebrew
that no satisfactory understanding could be negotiated between the
ultimate imperatives of philosophic-scientific reason as set out in our Greek
heritage and the imperatives of faith and revelation proclaimed in the Torah.
Syncretism, however ingenious, would always be flawed. Thus, the ‘idea of
Europe’ is indeed a ‘tale of two cities’.
Strauss had the good sense to run away to America though he
later cautiously dipped his toe into Israel. Europe wasn't a 'tale of two
cities'. It was a shit-show. American troops might keep a portion of Europe
safe. But Israel would have to fend for itself. The fact that they did so very
successfully caused Strauss to exaggerate his family's orthodoxy. Israel
military success was making it safer and safer to be Haredi.
My fifth criterion is an eschatological self-awareness
which, I believe, may well be unique to European consciousness.
There can be a self-awareness of approaching the eschaton.
There can't be de re
eschatological self-awareness because the
self is obliterated at that point. It's like asking how a person put through a
meat grinder feels about the experience.
True, Occasionalism says God could have willed some
monads to have this quality. But it still wouldn't be 'self-awareness'. Rather
it would be God's gift of a type of awareness which does not arise from the
Self. Still, this could be useful to assert that God has a hidden hierarchy of
'pillars' who uphold the Cosmos. But that sort of thing gets silly very
quickly. I could claim that my neighbor's cat is the axis mundi.
Buddhism has a no-self doctrine only because it can't have
an eschaton. There is no Past or Future, only this instant and the intension
formulated in it.
But better yet is the common sense notion that giving a
thing a name don't make it real.
Long before Valéry’s recognition of the “mortality of
i.e. German pedantry of even the most pains-taking
sort had nevertheless rendered that Nation stupider than shit
or Spengler’s apocalyptic diagnosis,
Spengler incarnated that shittier than shit stupidity
European thought and sensibility had envisaged a more or
less tragic finality
Till Uncle Sam stationed troops there and Europe could begin
to relish its ancient heritage of burgers, pizzas, frankfurters &
Christendom never relinquished completely that
expectation of an end to our world which had so deeply marked its early,
But, this is also a big feature of Shia Islam.
Long after what historians have called “the panic of the year
one thousand”, prophecies of eschatological doom, numerologies which seek to
fix its date, throng the European popular imagination.
But the recent Mayan doomsday prophesy gained more traction
in the popular imagination. Jerusalem and Athens are now one with Machu Picchu
& Angkor Wat.
But such expectations were rife not only among the less
educated. They busied no less a mind than Newton’s.
Because Newton understood a big meteor strike really could
obliterate all life on earth. That was what he found in the Mathematics. It was
an empirical matter that telescopes enabled Astronomers to see that the
probabilities were acceptably low.
In a secular, intellectualised format, a “sense of an
ending” is explicit in Hegel’s theory of history as it had been in Carnot’s
momentous formulation of entropy, of the inevitable extinction of all energy.
Steiner is being silly. Hegel and Carnot knew calculus. They
were speaking of equilibrium as the limit of an infinite series. But, by the
time Steiner was writing this, it was clear that random 'zero point'
fluctuations could reverse 'heat death'. Anyway, that's what I read in my
Or think of the panoramic paintings of European cities in
flame or under raging floods which are so curious an aspect of romantic art. It
is as if Europe, unlike other civilizations, had intuited that it would one day
collapse under the paradoxical weight of its achievements and the unparalleled
wealth and complication of its history.
But that intuition turned out to be wrong. Europe was
valuable enough to merit American protection.
Five axioms to define Europe:
Europe is a geographical expression and thus ideographic not nomothetic.
the coffee house; the
landscape on a traversable and human scale; these streets and squares named
after the statesmen, scientists, artists, writers of the past; our twofold
descent from Athens and Jerusalem; and, lastly, that apprehension of a closing
chapter, of that famous Hegelian sunset, which shadowed the idea and substance
of Europe even in their noon hours.
These axioms define Israel. They don't define Europe. Israel
lives with the possibility of its annihilation. Fortunately, Evangelical
America has some bizarre eschatological belief regarding how this event would
link up to the Rapture. Shiah Islam has an even more elaborate eschatology
where there are two Resurrections so as to permit a final final Battle. But all
this has nothing to do with Europe which had bigger Empires than Alexander and
reached pinnacles of Knowledge undreamt of by Solomon.
From Sarajevo to Sarajevo, ethnic hatreds, chauvinistic
nationalism and regional claims have been Europe’s nightmare.
Coz them Serbs be kray kray. If only the Archduke had been killed by a Muslim- as was the original plan- perhaps there would have been no First or Second World War.
cleansing and attempted genocide in the Balkans are only a recent example of a
plague which extends to Northern Ireland, to the Basque country, to the
divisions between Fleming and Walloon.
Nonsense! Nobody expects any similar genocide in Spain or
Belgium. On the other hand, the Swiss are bound to start killing each other
with pikes any day now.
Legitimately, the global spread of the Anglo-American
language, the technological standardisation of daily life, the universality of
the internet, are taken to be great steps towards an abrogation of frontiers
and ancient hatreds.
This was a plausible view back when Steiner wrote this. Now?
Not so much.
Innumerable organisations – legal, economic, military and
scientific – strive towards an ever-increasing degree of European collaboration
and, ultimately, union. The fantastic success of the American model, of its
federalism across immense distances and differing climates, calls for
imitation. Never again must Europe succumb to internecine warfare.
Nor become the destination of a folk-wandering. What made
Europe vulnerable was France’s lack of an offensive military doctrine from the
1860’s till it gained a nuclear force de frappe
It may be that the future of the ‘idea of Europe’, if it
has one, depends less on central banking and agricultural subsidies, on
investment in technology or common tariffs, than we are instructed to believe.
Having a highly effective common border security force to
keep out refugees is what the 'idea of Europe' requires. Otherwise, Nations
will secure their own borders. Goodbye common European heimat
! So long Shengen!
It may be that the OECD or NATO, the further extension of
the Euro or of parliamentary bureaucracies on the model of Luxembourg are not
the primary dynamics of the European vision. Or if, indeed, they are, that
vision is hardly one to rouse the human soul.
Sadly, what most 'roused the human soul' in Europe in the
Twentieth Century was total war and genocide.
Yet this ideal of unison is undeniable. It inspires
important elements of European thought and statesmanship since Charlemagne.
What about Ceasar? Surely he was even more successful?
But it is, I believe, only one side of the picture.
There is no picture here. At one time there was a notion of a Christendom as the successor of the Roman Empire. But that notion foundered for both theological and geopolitical reasons. Western Europe was contiguous to the New World by Sea. This gave the edge to the Atlantic littoral. The pitiable condition of Europe's roads and the fractured nature of its polity meant that it was cheaper for Nineteenth Century Germans to start a new life across an ocean than to relocate within its borders. Over 5 million Germans went to America where, with 50 million descendants, they represent the largest single ethnic group.
The genius of Europe is what William Blake would have
called “the holiness of the minute particular”.
In which case Steiner's generalizations are un-European.
He who would do good to another must do it in Minute
Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer;
Art and Science cannot exist but in minutely organized Particulars,
in generalizing Demonstrations of the Rational Power:
Steiner, in between mention of 'axioms' suggestive of 'Rational Power' admits, Europe was not united by people walking
around. It was divided by bad roads and customs barriers and police check-posts.
'Minute particulars'- like Road repair and maintenance- mattered. Generalizations were the stock in trade of the
'scoundrel, the hypocrite and the flatterer'.
In contrast to the awesome monotony which extends from
western New Jersey to the mountains of California, in contrast to that lust for
sameness which is both the strength and vacancy of so much of American
existence, the splintered, often absurdly divisive map of the European spirit
and its inheritance, has been inexhaustibly fertile.
Steiner speaks as a man of the late Twentieth Century used
to fast trains and motorways. But the motorways of the Shengen zone are just as
monotonous as any traversed by the Teamster. The difference is America has more
dramatic landscapes and contrasts. Where is the Grand Canyon and where Cheddar
Shakespeare’s ringing phrase ‘a local habitation and a
name’ identifies a defining character.
No it doesn't. Character, if it is definable at all, is
changeful. A local habitation and a name may be a Krpikean designator of
identity. But it isn't a designator of character. The character of my
neighborhood has changed greatly over the last 10 years. But its name and
location has not changed.
There are no ‘small languages’.
Yes there are. They go extinct all the time.
Every language contains, articulates and transmits not
only a unique charge of lived remembrance, but an evolving energy of its future
tenses, a potentiality for tomorrow.
The opposite point may be made with greater truth. No
language suffices to communicate anything truly lived or any genuine
potentiality. Poetry is this heartbreak.
The death of a language is irreparable; it diminishes the
possibilities of man.
Sadly, the reverse appears to be the case. Keeping a dead
language on life support diminishes the human possibilities of the pedants paid
to do so.
Nothing threatens Europe more radically – ‘at the roots’
– than the detergent, exponential tide of Anglo-American, and of the uniform
values and world-image which that devouring esperanto brings with it.
Steiner is being silly. The tide he speaks of has been
around for seventy years. It may indeed have served a detergent or disinfectant
function. But, that is a good thing because Europe was going down the toilet
and taking half the world with it before America stepped in.
The computer, the culture of populism and the
mass-market, speak Anglo-American from the night-clubs of Portugal to the
fast-food emporia of Vladivostok. Europe will indeed perish if it does not
fight for its languages, local traditions and social autonomies; if it forgets
that ‘God lies in the detail’.
We all know what happened when Europe started fighting for
stupid shit. Why encourage the Continent to go back to its bad old ways?
This assignment is one of the spirit and of the
No. It is that of stupidity. Language doesn't matter. Math does. Science does. The Humanities could matter- if Professors didn't keep
trying to shit higher than their arseholes.
It is nonsense to suppose that Europe will rival the
economy, military and technological might of the United States.
It is also nonsense to think it couldn't. But America is not the danger. It isn't really
true that America is pushing its popular culture down our throats at the point
of a bayonet or that technology or economic forces have some sinister agenda of
their own. On the other hand, there are guys with hooks for hands who genuinely think the only good kaffir is a dead kaffir.
Already Asia, China in particular, is set to surpass
Europe in demographic, industrial and, ultimately, geopolitical significance.
So what? Suppose someone else has a bigger dick than you and
you find out that a guy who had a real small dick has successfully had penis
enlargement surgery, why should you care? There's always someone with a bigger
or smaller dick. Sensible people don't get worked up about this. But Steiner
isn't sensible. His stock in trade is his actually being European, though he went to school in Manhattan.
The days of European imperialism and diplomatic hegemony
are as far gone as the worlds of Richelieu, of Palmerston and of Bismarck.
So what? Europeans are very much better off.
The tasks, the opportunities now before us are precisely
these which witnessed the high morning light of Europe in Greek thought and
Fuck off! Back then there was little in the way of
technology and so Math had few applications. Thus smart people had to content
themselves with poetry and philosophy and religion. But those days are long
It is vital that Europe re-affirms certain convictions
and audacities of soul which the Americanisation of the planet – with all its
benefits and generosities – has obscured.
Must 300 million people really all decide to do what some
silly Professor suggests?
Let me formulate these all too briefly
Steiner can't be brief.
The dignity of homo sapiens is exactly that: the
realisation of wisdom, the pursuit of disinterested knowledge, the creation of
As opposed to writing shite like this to make a little money
and gain a little celebrity amongst Credentialized cretins who want to feel
superior to the hoi polloi.
Making money and flooding our lives with increasingly
trivialised material goods is a profoundly vulgar, emptying passion
Like wanting to be a celebrity public intellectual and
getting to screw a lot of star-fuckers of a physically less appealing type and thus who
wouldn't make the cut for a poke from a sports hero or a rock musician.
It may be that in ways as yet very difficult to make out,
Europe will generate a counter-industrial revolution even as it generated the
industrial revolution itself.
There have been counter-industrial revolutions featuring
Luddites and saboteurs and so forth. They could succeed in shifting industry
out of their own backyard. But this is old news. It makes sense for the nicer
bits of Europe to concentrate on high value added services. Doing good science
or making really beautiful clothes or setting up a Mindfulness resort is
actually more profitable than setting up dark satanic mills.
Certain ideals of leisure, of privacy, of anarchic
individualism, ideals almost stifled in the conspicuous consumption and
uniformities of the American and Asian-American models, may have their natural
function in a European context, even if that context entails a measure of
Sadly, 'anarchic individualism' is stuff the super-rich will
pay a lot for. That's why the talentless in the Arts have to fake it so desperately.
Those who knew Eastern Europe during the bleak decades,
or Britain in austerity, will know what human solidarities and creativities can
derive from relative poverty. It is not political censorship that kills: it is
the despotism of the mass-market and the rewards of commercialised stardom
Post-war Britain had rationing and industrialized production
of the necessities. Eastern Europe may have had the same qualities. However
both had celebrities with a relatively privileged life-style. Evelyn Waugh's
'Scott-King's Modern Europe' deals with a Classics Professor who had travelled
widely and comfortably before the war- as had many British people of quite
modest means- who has to rely on the largesse of some new 'People's Republic'
to taste some small crumb of the good-life in those grim days of Exchange
Controls and Travel permits. Waugh foresaw that the Humanities would be
corrupted by the eagerness of the 'State trained Academician' to gain
invitations to Conferences of a meretricious type. Arthur Koestler's 'The Call
Girls', which was published some twenty years later, features more luxurious
travel and accommodation for the celebrity public-intellectual, but the quality
of discussion is now Steiner-level vacuous.
These are dreams, perhaps unforgivably naïve. But there
are practical ends worth aiming for. It is desperately urgent that we arrest
the Call-girls of the Conference circuit?
, so far as is possible, the drain of our best young
scientific (but also humanistic) talent from Europe to the edenic offers of the
United States. If our best scientists, our finest young architects, our
musicians and scholars abandon Europe, if the gap between American and European
salaries, career opportunities, resources for research and collaborative
discovery is not bridged, we are indeed doomed to sterility or the second-hand.
Steiner is being silly. If Europe started charging an arm
and a leg for Credentials tailored to the credulous, then, sure, it could offer
higher salaries for 'super-star' Professors. A better way forward is to spend
money on things like CERN. The truly smart will flock to where the research
opportunities, not the salaries, are best.
Already, in key domains, the situation is almost
desperate. Yet correction of this is not beyond our means. If young Englishmen
choose to rank David Beckham high above Shakespeare and Darwin in their list of
national treasures, if learned institutions, bookstores, concert-halls and
theatres are struggling for survival in a Europe which is fundamentally
prosperous and where wealth has never spoken more loudly, the fault is very
Is Steiner going to confess that he and his ilk are shite
and have been talking pretentious bollocks all their lives?
As could be the re-orientation of secondary education and
the media which would amend that fault. With the collapse of Marxism into
barbaric tyranny and economic nullity, a great dream – that, as Trotsky
proclaimed, of common man following in the wake of Aristotle and Goethe – was
So, Steiner believes 'the common man' is less than an
Aristotle or a Goethe. Oddly, this is not a view either, at their best,
actually affirmed. Marxism did not 'collapse into barbaric tyranny'. Bolshevism
did. But then the regime it replaced wasn't exactly all sweetness and light.
Free of a bankrupt ideology, it can, it must be dreamt
And again and again every time a shithead Professor wants to
dash off another worthless article on the idea of Europe.
It is only in Europe, perhaps, that the requisite
foundations of literacy, that the sense of the tragic vulnerability of the
condition humaine, could provide a basis.
Perhaps. After all, Europeans are as stupid as shit- as
their history in the Twentieth Century amply demonstrates.
It is among the often weary, divided, confused children
of Athens and of Jerusalem that we could return to the persuasion that ‘the unexamined
life’ is indeed not worth living.
Which is why Steiner makes a better corpse than he did a