Unknown Territories

March 2016
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As  overwhelming and overloaded with information as our contemporary world is, we still often find ourselves lost, when facing different cultures and historical contexts. Although it is also possible that we feel lost precisely for that reason. Being overloaded with variety of truths, positions, perceptions and, by the end of the day, realities, we shut ourselves down, retreating to the safest space, to what we know the best - our own cultural identities.

Those more brave than the others, keep looking and trying to navigate in multiple layers of various cultural contexts, looking for boundaries and meanings, against which the inner self can be confirmed or re-confirmed. And the bravest ones dare not only to look at the contexts that construct the cultural identities, but to question, challenge and often deconstruct them. These latter ones often happen to be the artists.

These Marco Polo-like travels, with records and traces left behind, require significant degree of audaciousness. Basically one has to be able to tell the world that the belief that everything was already opened and discovered is not only untrue, but is also quite delusive. That excess of information does not necessarily mean access to it. That if one tries to step out of stereotypes and clichés, the cultural and political map of the world may look uncomfortably white. Moreover, by telling all this, she or he is essentially saying: everything one knows about oneself may not be true anymore. The safety of the elephant and the three turtles that hold that world is shaking so hard, that it gives hope the turtles might be gone forever.

Almost 60 years ago, in 1959, Czeslaw Milosz wrote about this in his profound and delicate trip into the notion of belonging - “Native Realm” (West- und Östliches Gelände). Unfortunately, neither English nor German translation preserves the original title, which means “familial Europe” or “Europe as a family”. In a way gives a key to the further reading of the book - as an account of very intimate research of identity and belonging that is inseparably connected to the immense transformations in Europe in the first half of the 20th century.

The revolving globe of the earth has become very small, and, geographically speaking, there are no longer any uncolored areas on it. In Western Europe, however, it is enough to have come from the largely untraveled territories in the East or North to be regarded as a visitor from Septentrion, about which only one thing is known: it is cold. […] Undoubtedly I could call Europe my home, but it was a home that refused to acknowledge itself as a whole […] How many times I had remained silent because, having come from those foggy expanses that books, even textbooks, rarely provide information about (or, if they do, provide false), I would have had to start from scratch! […] The first germ of this book, then, was the desire to bring Europe closer to Europeans.

(Czeslaw Milosz. Native Realm: a search for self-definition. University of California Press, Berkeley, LA, London, 1980, p.2)

Sixty years passed and the globe became much smaller, but the two things essentially did not change - alienation and the need for (re)opening Europe for Europeans. Moreover, they intensified drastically after 1989.

The fall of the Iron curtain, the unification of Germany, the regained independence for some Eastern European countries and the newly established one for the others, the emergence of the EU in its current form and the Balkan war with its aftermath - all these developments did not just change the political map of Europe. They created conditions, when the sense of belonging was challenged for the whole...

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Originally Published in This Issue of Krytyka