Tuesday, December 24, 2019


Some thought that the Kulturkampf was a thing of the past. Too many happenings everywhere show for all who want to see that this optimistic allegation is false. It is not just the Western world which feels trapped in a self-made permanent settling of scores. The former "exotic" utopia, far from Cartesian thought, of the likes of Walter Spies, Gustave Flaubert, Paul Gauguin, Lawrence of Arabia or Victor Segalen, look almost out of place now.  Edward Said saw it coming!

One is too self-absorbed to pay attention to the aberrations that are currently sending Aladdin crashing. The exoticism, which allowed the West to idealize for a while the "otherness", is no longer.  Today, Jerome's "the snake charmer" might as well carry a Kalashnikov. The cultural landscape of yesterday's far abroad has become a battlefield wherein dreams meet their Waterloo.

The language of culture got lost in the chaos of mistaken identification. The travel culture became just another fast food phenomenon. The female explorers (Gertrude Bell, Hester Stanhope) of yesterday's  wonders do not stand a chance today. Now, Christiane Amanpour needs body-guards... 

The "exotic" was often a colonial byproduct and was corrected later on: "decolonized". Still, the old pathetic fantasy looks quaint when compared with the turmoil which is currently setting the world on the path of deconstruction.

In Western Europe the vicious short-circuits are generally hidden from view, compared to i.a. the United States, Brazil and the former Mittel EuropaNevertheless, the fracture in society is real. The ultra-right no longer hides a racist, bigoted agenda. Accepted norms and values are under attack. The railings are being dismantled while civil society is being assaulted through a strategy of occupation of all the intermediary stops (justice, health care...) which were supposed to protect civil liberties.

Both the suicidal choices in the West and the illusion of Arab and other "springs" led to the post hurricane landscape of today. With the exception of some pockets of change for the better, the former Bandung group is no longer. Europe and the Western Hemisphere (with the exception of Canada) can hardly maintain the past success story of the late-20th Century. Today Russia and China upstart their "revenge", while the West blinks and most of the rest sinks.

Mythologies became a fake currency that buys time and only delays bankruptcy. Benign exoticism was replaced by politically more correct diversity. Yesterday's pearl fishers of Massenet muted into today's guerrillas. The former idealization of Castro and Mandela looks almost out of place in a world, orphaned of idealism.

One can still be mesmerized by Angkor Vat ...after surviving the assault of cars, traffic and hotels for all tastes. One can still be impressed by New York's hauteur or Paris' elegance if one can abstract the homeless or the yellow jackets. Still, the French and the Canadians have leaders one might envy. The EU could still regain momentum.

Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations is all too right. The Balkanisation of the world is an agreed conclusion because of the collision between cultural tectonic plates. More attention should be given to the cracks which appear inside the various factions that are no longer monolithic. In tragedy yesterday, parents have devoured their children.  In life today, the terrorist is no longer the frightening, forbidden often foreign or alien recognizable other. He is the neighbor next door, the white supremacist who shops at Walmart and is a climate change denier.

After the decolonization fiasco, the second Iraq war laid bare the cynicism and corruption of an arrogant super power which is no longer able or willing to assume its historical responsibility. Around the widening black hole, spectators watch how towers collapse and how everything turns into rags. They don't realize that they might be the next in line.

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