07 Dec 2005

The Problem with Europe

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Matthias Politycki, travelling as a Eurowuss intellectual in the Third World, experiences his own inferiority to the dusky brutes, and pines for a gentle counter-enlightenment. There is term for the condition in which the civilized man thinks himself into a condition of moral paralysis, envies the primitive his lack of thought, and yearns for the dark heat of the blood. The term is decadence.

While researching my new novel, I spent several months living in Cuba, in the predominantly Black south of the island, avoiding dollar tourism and operating with pesos wherever possible. It was an unforgettable time, in the course of which I had to rethink all the positions I had previously stood by unquestioningly. And a time that was so hard, both physically and spiritually, that I was often reduced almost to tears. The brutality of life, taking no notice of the moral (or aesthetic) standards of an Old European, this unfettered wildness of the will that not infrequently burst out in sheer violence — was it permissible for me to despise it as a lack of culture? Or was I supposed to admire it as a superabundance of vitality for which I was never going to be any match? Punching one’s way into a bakery after waiting in line for bread for one or two hours I could understand; but fisticuffs over a seat on a bus seemed to me to point to more than just the struggle for survival, at the very least an energy surplus that we here in sated Europe simply have no idea of.

At times I was so totally embarrassed by these eruptions of physical force that I tried to convince myself that I felt the epochal exhaustion of the entire Old World in my white skin. Faced with the facts, such attempts to camouflage sheer weakness as the superiority of refined powers of reason were no help whatsoever. On the contrary, I could soon feel the power of these people even when they observed me from the roadside. At times there was such a sense of being watched in the air that as a European, you had to really pull yourself together in order to keep your head held high as you went on your way.

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