Rock, Mirror, Mirage: Europe, Elsewhere

Boldrini, Lucia. 2021. Rock, Mirror, Mirage: Europe, Elsewhere. In: Vladimir Biti; Joep Leerssen and Vivian Liska, eds. The Idea of Europe: The Clash of Projections. Leiden: Brill, pp. 99-120. ISBN 9789004449442 [Book Section]

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Depicting scenes of abject poverty and destruction, Hans Magnus Enzensberger reveals that the ‘Third-World’ places he described at the start of his famous essay ‘Europe in Ruins’ (1990) – Luanda, Beirut, El Salvador, Sri Lanka – were in fact European cities in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War: Rome, Frankfurt, Athens, Berlin. The double-take thus forced on the reader highlights how close we are to disaster, how short our memory. He quotes Martha Gellhorn, who reported that, according to those she interviewed in Germany, the Nazis had always been in the next village, never ‘here’.

In a particularly strong image, in his 1995 Panfleto desde el planeta de los simios [Pamphlet from the Planet of the Apes], Manuel Vázquez Montalbán compares the European project to a young woman repeatedly pregnant after being raped, for whom the fiction of the Immaculate Conception continues to be invoked. Europe, the Immaculate, reflecting herself in multiple distorting mirrors, ignores the barbarians in its midst, her own barbarians, and waits for the Golden Age.

In ‘Café Europa’ (1996), Slavenka Drakulić remarks on the aspirational nature of the name ‘Europe’ in countries of the former Eastern bloc: it assumes that we know exactly what it means, it offers plenitude, belonging, comfort, choice; ‘a promised land, a new Utopia, a lollipop’; or perhaps, ‘the ability to just survive in impossible conditions’.

In Tahar Ben Jelloun’s 2006 Partir [Leaving Tangier], young Moroccans in Tangier wait at dusk for the twinkling lights of Spain to appear, as a mirage, across the Strait of Gibraltar, and dream of leaving.

In Amara Lakhous’s Scontro di civiltà per un ascensore a piazza Vittorio (2006) Amedeo – polite, well-educated, who reads the broadsheets and speaks perfect Italian, the most integrated, the least despicable Italian of the myriad characters who hate foreigners but despise those that come from different parts of Italy just as much – turns out to be the Algerian Ahmed, holding a mirror up to Italy’s divided history and lack of national integration: ‘if Amedeo is not Italian, then who is the real Italian?’. The question would still apply if ‘’European’ replaced ‘Italian’.

This paper, which will be by necessity fragmentary in nature, will draw upon essays, poetry and fiction from different parts of Europe or looking at Europe from outside its borders to reflect (on) the impossible definition of Europe, the shifting ideas, constructions, dreams and nightmares of a geologically, politically, culturally rock-solid or plastic, fluid or utterly imaginary Europe that repeatedly dissolves and re-forms elsewhere, ‘otherwhere’, differently.

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Book Section

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English and Comparative Literature


December 2018Submitted
15 January 2019Accepted
13 March 2021Published

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14 Dec 2018 16:50

Last Modified:

25 May 2021 09:16


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