Homo Europaeus: Does European Culture Exist? by Julia Kristeva

Homo Europaeus: Does European Culture Exist?1

 

Is Europe dead? On the contrary: Without Europe chaos would reign. Why? Which identity?
European culture never ceases to unveil a paradox: there exists an identity, mine, ours, but it is infinitely constructible and de-constructible. To the question “Who am I?” the best European response is obviously not certitude but a love of the question mark. After having succumbed to identity-focused dogmas, to the point of criminality, a European “we” is now emerging. Though Europe resorted to barbaric behavior—something to remember and examine incessantly—the fact that it has analyzed this behavior better than others perhaps allows it to bring to the world a conception and practice of identity as a questioning inquietude.

It is possible to rethink European heritage as an antidote to tensions of identity, both ours and others. Without enumerating all the sources of this questioning identity, let us remember that ongoing interrogation can turn to corrosive doubt and self-hate: a self-destruction that Europe is far from being spared. We often reduce this heritage of identity to a permissive “tolerance” of others. But tolerance is only the zero degree of questioning; when not reduced to simply “welcoming” others, it invites them to question themselves and to carry the culture of questioning and dialogue into encounters that problematize all participants. This reciprocating questioning produces an endless lucidity that provides the sole condition for “living together.” Identity thus understood can move us toward a plural identity and the multilingualism of the new European citizen.

Diversity and its languages
“Diversity is my motto,” said Jean de La Fontaine in his “Pâté d’anguille.”2 Europe is a political entity that speaks as many languages as it has countries, if not more. This multilingualism is the basis of cultural diversity and it must be saved and respected along with national character. Moreover, it must also be open to exchange, mixing, and cross-pollination. This is a novelty for Europeans that merits reflection.

After the horror of the Shoah, the bourgeois of the nineteenth century as well as the rebels of the twentieth century are now confronting a new era. Europe’s linguistic diversity is creating kaleidoscopic individuals capable of challenging the bilingualism of “global” English. A new species is emerging little by little: a polyphonic subject and polyglot citizen of a plurinational Europe. Will the future European be a singular subject, with an intrinsically plural—trilingual, quatrilingual, multilingual—psyche? Or will she be reduced to “global speak”?
 

More than ever, Europe’s plurilinguistic space calls upon the French to become polyglot, explore the diversity of the world, and bring their specificity to the understanding of Europe and the world. What I say for the French holds for the other twenty-eight languages of the European polyphony. It is by making incursions into other languages that a new passion for each language will arise (Bulgarian, Swedish, Danish, Portuguese, and so on). This passion will not look like a shooting star, nostalgic folklore or vestiges of academia, but will function as the index of a resurgent diversity.

Getting out of national depression3
Whether lasting or not, the national character can experience real depression just as individuals do. Europe is losing its image as a world power and the financial, political, and existential crises are palpable. But this is also true of its constituent nations, including France, one of the most prominent, historically.

 

When a psychoanalyst treats a depressed patient, she begins by shoring up her self-confidence. This establishes a relationship between the two protagonists of the cure in which the spoken word becomes fecund once again, enabling a critical analysis of the suffering. Similarly, the depressed nation requires an optimal image of itself before being able to take on, for example, industrial expansion or a better reception of immigrants. “Nations, like men, die of imperceptible impoliteness,” wrote Giraudoux. A poorly understood universalism and colonial guilt have led politicians and ideologues to behave with “imperceptible impoliteness,” often disguised as cosmopolitism. They act with arrogant spite towards the nation. They aggravate the national depression and infuse it with a maniacal exaltation, both nationalistic and xenophobic. Europe needs national cultures that feel pride in themselves to bring to t...