“If I were to do it again from scratch,” Jean Monnet supposedly said in the ’70’s, “I would start with culture.”
Who wouldn’t? There will be good reason that the treaty of the European Union opens with the words:
“Drawing inspiration from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe.”
Well. More than three hundred years after Pierre Bayle printed his Nouvelles de la République des Lettres in Amsterdam, we all read Ferrante, Houellebecq and Knausgård. And we all look at Van Gogh, Picasso and Da Vinci.
But a truly European intellectual life is a bloodless abstraction nowadays.
Culture is filtered through national and metropolitan sieves; the “European” intellectual atmosphere is thin, beset by endless handwringing: about whether a common culture can emerge from a political and economic union.
“Crisis” abounds, lulling language into platitude, making Europeanism into a bland vegetable fed to children: Europe is good for you.
“Europe” deserves better critique.
First it needs a better cultural conversation.
The European Culture is now the Italian plus the French, plus the German, English, Greek and so on.
But Descartes was a Frenchman who worked in The Netherlands and Van Gogh was a Dutchman painting in France, England and Belgium.
Leonardo da Vinci did not have an Italian passport, Rubens did not have a Belgium passport, Erasmus did not have a Dutch passport.
We need a cultural conversation that crosses borders.
How to establish this?
Multilingualism is a problem. Multilingualism can be a solution. We’re playing a utopian language game.
The European Review of Books will publish essays both in English and in a writer’s mother tongue.
Pieces written in Greek or Arabic or Italian or Polish or Dutch—or, or, or—will be available in English and in the original.
The fact that it’s possible to get by in English, that English is practically second nature among young Europeans, can give the impression of an inclusive lingua franca, as frictionless as the flows of goods and capital.
But it’s a fantasy, and to celebrate it would be to celebrate a shallow internationalism.
So we’re making an English-language magazine that resists, or plays with, the seeming hegemony of English. Committed both to a true lingua franca and to exclusive fluencies, to translation and to the untranslatable.
Call it predicament, irony, contradiction, paradox: we want to use the ubiquity of English to animate the multilingual. And to animate an intellectual conversation in which we can explore, experience and design together.
There could even be a European tradition for this.
Julia Kristeva, a Bulgarian-French American raised scholar characterises European identity as follows:
“When asked who am I the best European response is not certainty but a love of the question mark.”
We needed to crowdfund.
At the website you can read some example-articles. The past weeks gave us courage. Some of the best European writers and scholars are joining. Their reactions were heartwarming.
Many Europeans are (and Americans?) supported the crowdfunding. It is aimed at paying our contributors fairly.
Our backers are, in effect, supporting writers who write in a language they don’t speak in a place they haven’t been to, not only out of the goodness of their hearts but because of the promise of something new. That we are committed to.
There are many obstacles yet on the road, we will need to find additional funding for our first years, and we’ll eventually need to pay ourselves (we are not in the budget), but if at June 19th we have reached the crowdfunding goal, The European Review of Books will exist for at least a full year.
Read and explore some of our example-articles here:
“The final frontier” - new fiction from Ali Smith, for the ERB
“Stupid illnesses called ‘childhood’” - from the rediscovered memoir of Marina Jarre
“A kayak in Zierikzee: on American discoveries of Europe” - George Blaustein
Our friends, future contributors and friendly propagandists come from Europe and beyond:
Ali Smith | Deborah Levy | David Mitchell | Sandro Veronesi | Elif Shafak | Pamela Druckerman | Tim Parks | Kalypso Nicolaidis | Rem Koolhaas | Glenda Carpio | Werner Sollors | Lara Feigel | Nate Chinen | Adania Shibli | Etgar Keret | Paolo Giordano | Adam Thirlwell | Lauren Elkin | Benjamin Moser | Linda Kinstler | Chad Harbach | GM Tamàs | Tom Lanoye | Anna Luyten | Emily King | Simon Kuper | Patricio Pron, and many more.
Here’s the link to our Crowdfunding website: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/erb/the-european-review-of-books/
And our website: https://europeanreviewofbooks.com
About the author:
Sander Pleij is one of the founders of the European Review of Books and a member of New Europeans