E as in Europe Metaphors

von Daniela Bär Daniela Bär, *1989, ist Kulturpublizistik-Absolventin und Zollfreilager-Mitgründerin. gepostet am 21. November 2014
  • Foto: Daniela Bär

The construction of a sense of unity is a prerequisite for every organized community. This is also the case for Europe: It needs the loyalty and the solidarity of its citizens, a sense of togetherness and a corresponding set of symbols. To this end political and artistic actors have always fallen back on metaphors: images as a visual thinking aid for unity.

Europe as a body, a metaphor that is just as old as it is popular: Already at the end of the 18th century, Novalis mentions a European body with a Christian soul in a speech that is later printed with the title Christianity or Europe. Pope John Paul II, shaped by the Cold War, is part of the same story when he notes that Europe needs both lobes of its lungs – that is, the “Western” and the “Eastern” lobes – to breathe. In her work Bodily Concepts of a European Identity, Katharina Leonhardt examines further body(part) metaphors that are barely recognizable as such in linguistic usage: the head of state, the public sector bodies or the arm of the law.

Through the images of body parts and body members, one arrives at family metaphors. “We belong to the family,” says Kürsat Eser, head of the Turkish-European parliamentary commission, as quoted in a Zeit article from 1999. The family also (or: especially) sticks together in difficult times – questioned by the FAZ at the time of the Euro Crisis in 2011, family therapist Michael Winterhoff commenced with a family portrait: “One can compare the European Monetary Union to a family, one that little by little keeps taking in more and more foster and adoptive children. Some are strong and some are weak, but the goal is to integrate all of them.”

Guests from creative fields and from different EU-countries came together for one of the Friday Specials to jointly reflect on a future for Europe. The Spanish art historian Chus Martínez immediately referred to Bruno Latour as soon as she noticed that Europeans feel the pressure to explain: If we understand Europe as our identity, then we need an explanation for it – this we can find in the description of the space. According to Latour, a center or a periphery does not exist. The safety of togetherness is manifested in the connectivity of each of the member nations. The variety of metaphors that was conceived in the discussion rounds is also a statement on Europe’s present: the Euro Crisis, the attempts to adopt new members, the rise of unemployment rates and discourse on immigration – all of these aspects have to be considered.

Falling back on the body metaphor, Chus Martínez believes that Europe is currently being perceived as an animal, “maybe a cow or a bull”, with a large head and rather weak legs. But the visions of the head must be able to be shared by each of the organs. Since the mid-1990s, art is increasingly dealing with the question: “How to deal with not being the head of Europe?” Michael Hadjistyllis, curator of the Cypriot Pavilion at the Biennale, rather believes in a Mediterranean alliance than in an assimilation of all members, because he doesn’t think there is an economic basis for a European unity. He describes Europe’s current condition – we’re using metaphors of graphic representation in all its forms – as a mosaic that is falling apart. Next to Martínez and Hadjistyllis, Rem Koolhaas and Monditalia curator Ippolito Pestellini also took part in a round of talks; they all agreed: Without new ideas, “without a new language” (Koolhaas) and without leaving behind short-lived and failed attempts at adaptation, the stagnation will continue. In order for a more vital Europe to be possible, the old Europe must be left behind. The body is something that, at best, renews and nourishes itself: “Europe is anorexic – we think about food all the time instead of eating automatically.” (Chus Martínez)

These examples demonstrate why metaphors are so popular: They reduce what in reality can barely be put into words, not to mention can barely be translated into concrete measures, to one self-evident image. The audience cheers so enthusiastically for the collective search and finding of an adequate metaphor, you would think that the biggest obstacle was taken care of. Although: finding a fitting metaphor does not necessarily take care of locating the problem. And yet, movements of thoughts and fantasies can develop from metaphors: “We need to change the animal, we need to switch into an octopus,” reckons Chus Martínez, after discussion partner Michael Schindhelm asks about an animal, whose arms can move freely and independently from the brain but still recognizes and follows its coordination work. The English term (“kraken”) is etymologically still unsettled: It is suspected that it has been adopted from the Danish-Norwegian and means “uprooted tree.”

Quellen zum Text:

  • Die Zeit, Wir gehören zur Familie, 09.12.1999.
  • Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, „Europa ist eine Familie mit vielen Adoptivkindern“. Der Therapeut Michael Winterhoff bezweifelt, dass die Völker Europas sich mit Sakntionen und autoritärer Disziplin erziehen lassen, 11.12.2011.
  • Katharina Leonhardt, Dem europäischen Körper eine europäische Seele. Körperkonzepte einer europäischen Identität, 2012.

Translation: Sophia Cosby