Unfinished conversation – eng

On a February evening between two meetings, I go to see some friends, too neglected as is the usual way. The conversation resumes as though unbroken. As we part, one of them gives me a book, a translation, just arrived from the publisher. The subject is striking. First of all its direction relates to moments that you realise relate to his own journey. But also the poem, that unwinds and interweaves with your own thoughts.

Europe, the European project, thinking about it freely, let’s admit that is very difficult at this moment. How do we carry on a European discussion of scale and desire? In fact it is the same for the questions of cultural policy that preoccupy me, that reflect all debate about public policy. In mainstream European circles, the talk is about authority. For or against. Each brings to it expertise and statistics in a technocratic : era of prediction and potential. Today we even have the happy right to see all of this possibly in algorithms. The machine seems to stay at the head, in denial of the human dramas that encircle it, refusals that increase, opponents who gather round. And yet there are many who would like to speak. Speaking about Europe and peace, Europe and liberty, Europe and shared prosperity. There are many who would like to speak but do not know how.

So quite strangely a poem, apparently quite far from political and bureaucratic thinking, suddenly opens up avenues and reorientates the thinking linked to eurocracy that I pursue today. Perhaps first of all because David Antin, since the book in question is the translation of one of his poems, suggests completely new paths of investigation, quite joyfully speculative research questioning with logical reasoning demanding at the same time art, language, philosophy and science. If only for this, the proposal is heartening when you try to reappropriate thinking about the world and Europe that is far from experts and spaces of authority.

More than this, in his ‘talk poem’ «Speaking at the frontiers» Antin offers a perspective that appears to me to be more powerful. It isn’t « speaking of frontiers » but « speaking at frontiers » (at and/or from). And this is why this gift of a February evening unfolds all its power to rearrange. For quite some time now, including within I-Team, for me it has been about exploring « intersectional » thinking in a cultural approach to European construction. It appears to me that it is at the crossroads, the intersection, that the possibility of creativity, the crossroads of history and memory, our democratic concepts and assertions, wars and dramas as reconstructions and inventions, conquered liberties (all !), … that the European project is under construction. Europe only advances when it invents itself ! It is this thing that didn’t exist that opens up the possible, that of a new political space like that of a reasserted space of solidarity, a reorganising shifting of relationships between power and the principles of redistribution.

« Speaking at the frontiers » is to question what is happening at the intersection from the intersection. Abandoning the position of overview, it is about speaking among and from ; not explaining, still less sentimentalising but simply seeing and recounting. Out of this narrative proposals may emerge and, more certainly, discernment « Tell me what you are talking about and I will say in the construction of what you are taking part » Isabelle Stengers would say. So let us try to see among and from, in short, to move into a demand for what will count in a renewed and rational description of the world, without authority but with humanity and frailty and finally with the real for each person.

so I am convinced                  you should believe that I am           convinced            that speaking is thinking            at least my kind of       speaking is a form of thinking

« Speaking at the frontiers » is also about exploring what is coming about, as Homi K Bhabha might suggest. How physical and political geography but also those of the body, languages and cultures are reforming themselves. In the face of the populists the problem is that we have only this to oppose them with : the reality of metamorphosis in the face of artifice, disarmingly false evidence and inherited essence and identity. All we can do is to oppose our complex relationship with history with histories. How we recount the world from the frontiers that are for some people forming underneath us, perhaps even inside us. Positioned cultures that deny the world today in all its multitudes and creoles. Positioned cultures that continually invent sensitive and moving ways of replaying the world differently. Positioned cultures that show us how far we have passed up the possibilities that would enable us to transform things.

And then, at the intersection, the experience is as collective as it is intimate, a joyful and uncomfortable perspective. Joyful because it is uncomfortable ? « To speak at the frontiers » is also « To exist at its limits » (Judith Butler), a way of experiencing the « liveability of our lives ». Of existing ! But what does it mean to exist ? Unless perhaps in relation to elsewhere, to here and elsewhere ? « To exist. What does it mean ? It means to be outside : sistere ex. That which is on the exterior exists. That which is on the interior does not exist. My ideas, my images, my dreams do not exist. […] I only exist by escaping from myself rowards the others » (Michel Tournier).

Then back into my mind spring texts, images and experiences, all sorts of materials that we have proposed together during these past years of I-Team, hoping that they help each of us find a path in our own personal  journey. Blanchot : « we are in conversation »); Butler : « We are, I am a gathering » ; Haraway : « One is too little, but two is already too much » ; Glissant : « I am a tremor » ; Godard : «the others is the elsewhere of our here » ; …

Through this post I wanted to contribute to our collective experience of thinking Europe and culture in a renewed way. Over these past weeks we have had the experience of our rersistance to « speaking at the frontiers » A thousand little manners and tricks, individual and collective, of resisting setting in motion, disturbing our ideas. Take Tournier again : «  What complicates everything is that what does not exist strives to make us believe the opposite. There is a great and common aspiration of the inexistent towards existence. It is like a centrifugal force that want to push towards the outside everything that stirs in me, images, dreams, projects, fantasies, desires, obsessions. What does not ex-siste in-sistes. Insist to exist.  … » And here is the dare : if we stopped insisting to exist ! and if together we spoke at the frontiers.

And then finally I have to admit that I can’t take any more this time of denial. Today, with more than 3,800 deaths at European frontiers in 2016, nearly 40,000 since the year 2000, it really is hight time to speak « among and from »  Let these 40,000 form us by their silence ! Let these 40,000 be our elsewhere, our tremor, our gathering, also our speech at the frontiers. Lets exist ! Also through them. These 40,000. Above all, through them.

I will make contact with you in Kiev. I hope we will continue there, or perhaps, being honest, we will finally begin our conversations.

… the conversation will be laborious and risks continuing…. but….come another day and you are in your state and someone arrives from their state… and for an unlikely reason… perhops from a frail probability   you are just talking loudly and about something that you do not cease to consider… intermittently… and from time to time you turn a page still speaking… and he looks very attentive… this stranger… he looks over your shoulder and remarks that you are repeating the remarks that someone has written on this sheet of paper… and he looks at you as you continue to speak… looking into the void while a certain number of people sit listening to you… they stare at you but not in the way that they would stare at someone who was speaking to them while you continue to repeat the speech that has already manifestly been promounced by someone else… and as he finds you very strange… he says « excuse me… I come from the other state opposite…. art… and I would like to know why you persist in repeating what someone else has already said and why youy seek to stay so faithful to the way in which he said it… why you hold these sheets in front of you… with what he said in order to continue to repeat it »

Unfinished conversation…

For that I wish us much more than luck, but desire !


Translation: Ivor

Pour lire l’article en version française:

Unfinished conversation -FR

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