Mediterranean Perceptions, A Long-Lasting Laboratory - IEMed

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Mediterranean Perceptions,
     A Long-Lasting Laboratory
     Maria-Àngels Roque. Anthropologist, European Institute of the Mediterranean

     Is there a shared imaginary of the Mediterranean? Or rather are ambiguity and rejection the
     discursive elements that make up this area? The truth is that many of the traditions that each
     group considers “their own” also belong to “the others” as they are the result of migrations, trade
     or mutual, often violent, civilising processes. These phenomena have developed over centuries, as
     Fernand Braudel pointed out in his study on the era of King Felipe II, which was characterised
     by the clash between the different cultures of the Mediterranean.

     For the historian Fernand Braudel (1966),          raphers and finally European Romantic writers
     civilisations are layers of endless historical     and travellers left their fantastic, realistic or
     continuities. But this historian of the Mediter-   moral observations on the lands surrounding
     ranean also believes that geographical genetics    the Mediterranean Sea long before the weight
     exist on both shores: the civilisation of the      of “Mediterraneaneity” fell almost exclusively
     rocky promontories, ancient Mediterranean          on the shoulders of academic anthropology.
     civilisations prior to the Roman settlement            From the outset of the discipline, in the
     that have conferred on it a particular character   late 19th century, the myths and descriptions
     in time. Both in the north and south of the        of the Mediterranean have been – and still
     Mediterranean, the features of the West have       are – a source of reflection and comparison,
     always been different from the East. From a        to the extent of becoming a classical space in
     sociological point of view, the phenomenon of      anthropology studies. Although it is true that
     the countryside-city opposition was a key issue    part of anthropology was developed by colo-
     that the Maghrebian historian Ibn Khaldun          nialism, the colonial atrocities cannot simply
     had already developed in the 14th century.         be attributed to this discipline: the political
     Braudel argues that, from a historical point of    doctrine or the economy, for instance, had
     view, the difference between Europe and Islam      more significance than anthropology itself,
     is that in Europe the cities imply “the peasant    which at least provided a major corpus that
     cultures” while in Islam there is a greater dif-   today helps us to know about elements from
     ference between these two elements.                other cultures that no other discipline would
         The approach to the Other has a long tradi-    have provided. In any case, anthropology has
     tion in the Mediterranean. First Greco-Latin       also helped to put forward demands for equal-
     mythographers and historians, then Arab geog-      ity by the subjected or peripheral cultures. We

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16         Mediterranean Perceptions, A Long-Lasting Laboratory                                     Maria-Àngels Roque

        are not only referring to colonialism: we can                         The problem of current sociological analysis
        apply the same idea to the homogenising and                       lies in the fact that cultures are increasingly
        “civilising” nation-state.                                        more complex and that, like it or not, societies
            Are they the local cultures? Are they an                      are less homogenous in terms of lifestyles.
        adaptation to the territory, to ecology? Yes and                  Thus, it is a mistake to speak of contemporary
        no. The ownership and manifestation of a                          societies as if we were speaking of societies
        specific culture are based on a specific territory                enclosed in themselves with predetermined
        but we can never ignore the transformations                       codes. We find the same aspirations to welfare
        of values or the aspirations of the people in                     and security in the north and the south, each
        these territories. Conflicts consume a great                      one seeking faults in the system. In the south,
        deal of energy; however, they frequently serve                    with the emergence of a civil society fighting
        to drive the changes that adapt society and re-                   to achieve citizen rights and, in the north, with
        sources to a new reality. The contemporaneity                     critical currents faced with a system of exac-
        of cultures consists of witnessing their own                      erbated economic liberalism that has brought
        transformations.                                                  about a deep crisis in which the rights acquired
                                                                          are at risk.
        Cultures are increasingly more complex                                Nietzsche was a great champion of the ob-
        and, like it or not, societies are less                           servation of cultures from their ethos. In The
        homogenous in terms of lifestyles. Thus,                          Birth of Tragedy he looks at classical Greek
        it is a mistake to speak of contemporary                          culture and establishes an approach in which
        societies as if we were speaking of                               he discerns the values that become apparent
        societies enclosed in themselves with                             through their artistic expression. In this work
        predetermined codes                                               he describes how, during tragedy, the state of
                                                                          civilisation remains on hold: man identifies
            It is difficult to describe a culture without                 with the satyr chorus, the primitive founda-
        taking into account otherness, given that the                     tion of tragedy, and returns to a state prior to
        different human groups possess their own cul-                     civilised life, where he coincides, in ecstasy,
        tural specificities. When valuing a culture we                    with the desire for universal life.
        tend to develop an ethnocentric character, in                         The Nietzschean analysis reveals how
        keeping with the classical concept of centre-                     Greeks symbolised the conception of art, not
        periphery in relation to the prevailing system                    through concepts but through embodiments of
        or position, as we can see in some Greek myths.                   their deities Apollo and Dionysus. The Diony-
        Within a civilisation there will always be some                   sian spirit may seem barbaric to the Apollonian
        guidelines that provide a “civilising” cohesion.                  spirit, but they cannot live without each other.
        These can consist of religious, legal, political                  In the necessary interaction, Nietzsche seeks to
        or economic parities.                                             explain how the disappearance of the Diony-
            The ethos or behaviour of peoples is linked                   sian spirit is related to the surprising degenera-
        to collective values and representations, and                     tion of Greek society. Although focused on art,
        these are linked to the specific history. In the                  the Nietzschean distinction – and conjunction
        social dynamic, values vary with time. There-                     – between Apollonian and Dyonisian is not just
        fore, within everyday collective identities                       an artistic categorisation: it is the expression of
        several lifestyles become apparent that entail                    forms of culture that, in the end, are lifestyles.
        new complexities and involve a friction-fusion                    The influence of these two expressive poles of
        between tradition and change.                                     representation has been very suggestive for

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     intellectuals who have introduced them into         nent Anglo-Saxon philologists were absorbed
     their reflections on society in different fields.   by Nordic culture and only thanks to artistic
                                                         heritage would it maintain the honour of be-
                                                         ing “the cradle” of civilisation. In the late 19th
     Trends Creating Mediterranean                       century, in certain Italian, French and Spanish
     Imaginaries                                         intellectual circles, the idea of the incapacity
                                                         of the Latin people faced with the power and
     After the Second World War, a large number of       strength of Anglo-Saxons took shape, embod-
     anthropologists who studied at the University       ied by the Prussian victory over France and
     of Oxford used fieldwork methodology to look        rounded off by the loss of the Spanish colonies.
     for their study subjects in mountain areas, in
     the small Iberian, Italian or Greek peasant         The end of colonialism and the need to
     settlements or within the Maghreb or Middle         create an identity different to that of the
     East tribes. They were mainly Mediterranean         colonisers did not contribute too much to
     communities in which we find some exoticism         creating a “Mediterraneaneity” common
     in relatively similar societies. The early com-     to the two shores, as Albert Camus would
     parative works include the essays collected by      have wished
     Julian Pitt-Rivers (1963) and J.G. Peristiani
     (1968), who tried to give substance to this no-         The fact that the Latin identity served as a
     tion of Mediterranean society by emphasising,       basis for Mussolini to dress the fascist spirit and
     beyond the real diversity of societies and cul-     that, after the Second World War, the French
     tures, the existence of related forms of social     thinker Alexandre Kojève resumed the idea of
     organisation and shares values. In contrast, we     the Latin Empire, did not enhance its prestige
     could cite the work by the anthropologist Ernest    too much. In 1945, Kojève tried to persuade
     Gellner (1969), in which the term “Mediter-         Charles De Gaulle that, under the leadership
     ranean” is used less to qualify shared features     of France, Spain and Italy, as well as south-
     than to designate the “mirrored” oppositions        ern Mediterranean countries under French
     between southern European Christianity and          control, should join the Latin Empire. The
     North African Islam. However, the realities are     end of colonialism and the need to create an
     multiple and even in scientific studies we know     identity different to that of the colonisers did
     that the results depend on the place of focus.      not contribute too much to creating a “Medi-
     If we deal with Mediterranean cultures, and         terraneaneity” common to the two shores, as
     we focus on orthodoxy, Gellner is right but if      Albert Camus would have wished.
     we look at popular practices we recognise the           Several decades went by before the vision
     “family resemblance” of which Julian Pitt-          of the Mediterranean, at least the European
     Rivers talked.                                      Mediterranean, re-awoke positive images
         We should recall that in Europe the com-        related to progress. We should recall that in
     pliant stereotype of the Mediterranean was          the first Clash of Civilizations, published by
     consolidated thanks to Romanticism. But this        Samuel Huntington in 1987, the author sub-
     harmonious and solar culture to which Goethe        divided contemporary civilisations into Protes-
     referred on his journey to Italy quickly trans-     tant Nordic, Catholic Latin, Arab, Slav, Hindu,
     formed into a synonym of backwardness and           Chinese, Malaysian, Japanese and African. Six
     mere remembrance of the past. The essences of       years later, in the 1993 version, Huntington’s
     Greek and Roman classicism recovered by emi-        division had reduced the number of civiliza-

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18         Mediterranean Perceptions, A Long-Lasting Laboratory                                   Maria-Àngels Roque

        tions: Nordic and Latin formed a single group,                    la Mediterrània, contributing debates on issues
        which were now Western societies.                                 of interest with the participation of specialists
            After the Fordist industrial crisis, the de-                  from both shores. All of them were committed
        centralisation of more customised products                        to dialogue in a moment when it was necessary
        and greater demand for services, small and                        to emphasise what unites us, always bearing in
        medium-sized family enterprises that seemed                       mind the specificities.
        close to extinction reappeared in Italy and
        Spain, as values on the rise. In Italy, the Veneto,               Until the attack on the Twin Towers in
        Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany emerged in                             2001, the 1990s were a time of creation
        what I would call “the third Italy”, whose re-                    of dialogue and search for Mediterranean
        gions are considered the wealthiest and most                      cultural bridges. The 1st Euro-
        dynamic and are not related to the model of in-                   Mediterranean Ministerial Conference
        dustrial Italy, the North or the Mezzogiorno. In                  held in 1995 was a historical milestone,
        the case of Spain, Catalonia, Valencia and the                    when the idea of creating a free trade area
        Balearic Islands embodied the emerging Latin                      by 2010 was discussed
        arc, where the human capital of which the
        sociologist Robert Putman speaks was valued.                          The French editors of “Les représentations
            Until the attack on the Twin Towers in 2001,                  de la Méditerranée” pointed out on the book
        the 1990s were a time of creation of dialogue                     flaps: “Speaking of the Mediterranean has a
        and search for Mediterranean cultural bridges.                    different meaning depending on the country,
        The 1st Euro-Mediterranean Ministerial Con-                       be it Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey, France and
        ference held in 1995 was a historical milestone,                  even Germany or Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon or
        when the idea of creating a free trade area by                    Morocco.” To this end, they sought the tandem
        2010 was discussed. Politicians mentioned for                     of a writer and a specialist from each of the ten
        the first time the need to have civil society as                  countries that formed the collection. Some of
        the driver of development and democracy of                        the writers, particularly those from southern
        the peoples.                                                      countries such as Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt,
            It was then when many political and                           acknowledged in their texts that they were
        economic fora were held on this issue, in                         rather confused about having accepted such a
        which the thinking of both shores focused on                      challenge but excited to participate in the pro-
        “searching” or, rather, “recovering” a shared                     ject. It is not surprising that both the Moroccan
        imaginary, with greater knowledge of the socie-                   Mohamed Berrada and the Egyptian historian
        ties and their culture through the recognition                    Mohamed Afifi mentioned, in relation to the
        of mutual contributions. In the late 1990s,                       Arab world, Taha Hussein (1889-1973). Hus-
        a series of collections on the Mediterranean                      sein was a renowned Egyptian intellectual who
        appeared. In France, under the direction of                       in his work The Future of Culture in Egypt
        Thierry Fabre and Robert Ilbert, the collec-                      put forward the vision of the Mediterranean
        tion “Les représentations de la Méditerranée”                     as the main element, along with education
        was launched. The Italian publisher Jaca Book                     reform, for the desired changes to take place.
        joined efforts with other international publish-                  He divided his work into three sections: The
        ers to release in Spanish, French, English and                    Mediterranean-memory, the Mediterranean-
        Arabic the Enciclopedia del Mediterraneo.                         civilisation and the Mediterranean- prospect
        Several journals appeared such as Rive, which                     for the future, of that bright future, reflected
        only lasted eighteen months, and Quaderns de                      Berrada, to which Moroccans passionately

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     aspired at that time. The Moroccan writer ad-       ties and enables the existence of xenophobic
     mitted: “In the 1950s, when I was a student, I      countries in Europe.
     was impressed by Hussein’s work, a convincing           In the early decades of the 21st century
     apology for the ‘model’ that also seduced the       many elements contributed to the creation of
     Arab intellectual elites of the time: the Western   a fragmented language, such as the financial
     rationalist and democratic social model that        crisis, the transformation of economic organisa-
     hoisted the standard of humanistic humanity.”       tion according to the global network logic and
         Berrada also explained that Taha Hussein        the incapacity of the contemporary state to em-
     had written this book in the 1930s before the       body a project that goes beyond corporatisation.
     outbreak of the Second World War but that it        The outburst of identity demands that go in
     was not published until the end of the armed        parallel with the failure of the great ideologies
     conflict. “However, the writer did not make any     can be seen in a powerful return to the local
     change, as if fascism or Nazism had nothing         space as a tool of construction or vindication of
     to do with Mediterranean culture.” Berrada          cultural identity and social solidarity.
     admitted the rejection he felt of the policies
     of the European colonialist states that tried to    In the late 1990s, rather than a shared
     perpetuate the regime of control at the heart       vision, the culturalist thesis took root. This
     of the Mediterranean but he identified with         appeared at the time of the Gulf War
     the literary and artistic work that had emerged     and the political and cultural crisis of the
     in the European countries. This same value of       Muslim countries
     shared emotions appears in the representation
     of the Mediterranean by the different writers           Today the Mediterranean is a border again.
     in the collection. Most of them mention the         One of the most eloquent and macabre rep-
     cultural heritage felt and shared with writers      resentations is that of a big watery tomb in
     such as Homer, Cervantes, Federico García           which thousands of migrants from the south
     Lorca, Juan Goytisolo, Pierre Loti, Albert Ca-      fleeing their countries in search of a better life
     mus, Pirandello, Alberto Moravia, Yasar Kemal,      disappear and meet their death. The recent
     Nazim Hikmet and Ivo Andric and artists such        history of the Mediterranean again shows an
     as Picasso, Miró, Delacroix, Matisse and Mo-        extremely complicated relation with European
     hamed Kacimi.                                       policies that, far from the humanistic vision,
         Moreover, in the late 1990s, rather than a      turn their back on suffering and dignity.
     shared vision, the culturalist thesis took root.        We could argue that, throughout the 21st
     This appeared at the time of the Gulf War and       century, the challenges of dialogue have not
     the political and cultural crisis of the Muslim     stopped growing, according to conflicts such as
     countries. Huntington’s culturalist thesis that,    9/11, the wars of Afghanistan, Iraq and Israel
     in this case, concerns the Mediterranean on the     and Palestine, the terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda,
     conflict of civilisations and the incompatibility   the cartoons conflict, the lecture of the Pope at
     of their value systems found, from that mo-         Regensburg University, Islamic State staging
     ment, feverish advocates both in the West and       terror, the destruction of the war in Syria and
     the Arab world. In both parts the exceptional       Iraq, the hundreds of thousands of displaced
     aspects that confuse religion with politics were    people or the suicide attacks in Europe, every-
     discussed. It was considered that the system        thing followed by a media outburst that only
     of Western democracy serves to stimulate the        increases the fragmentation of cultures and the
     entry into the governments of Islamist par-         difficulty of dialogue.

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20         Mediterranean Perceptions, A Long-Lasting Laboratory                                     Maria-Àngels Roque

            The British anthropologist Edmund Leach                       through the Web, of a world of hedonistic and
        (1978) noted the communicative importance of                      competitive values.
        culture: “If we are to understand the ethical                         For these reasons, Arjun Appadurai warns
        rules of a society, it is aesthetics that we must                 us that “no one can enter into dialogue without
        study.” And he added: “In origin the details of                   taking serious risks.” This statement is opposed
        custom may be an historical accident; but for                     to the common vision of dialogue as something
        the individuals living in a society such details                  informal, quotidian and even secondary with
        can never be irrelevant, they are part of the                     respect to the true operation of power and
        total system of interpersonal communication                       wealth. According to this anthropologist, if we
        within the group.” At present we are witnessing                   accept that dialogue is always a risky matter, we
        the reformulation of imaginaries through the                      can ask ourselves about the implicit risks and
        icons conveyed by the media, creating myths                       why it is worth, and even becomes obligatory, to
        of great scope. The social networks also con-                     accept such risks today. Unfortunately, it seems
        tribute urban stories or legends, most of them                    easier to kill than to dialogue because some do
        adaptations and/or recreations that reflect the                   not want to be convinced with reasons. The
        classical myths mass broadcast via Internet.                      human being is a symbolic animal and conflicts
                                                                          appear as a result of lack of knowledge of the
        At present we are witnessing the                                  meaning of things or, even worse, the differ-
        reformulation of imaginaries through                              ent interpretations we make of the meanings
        the icons conveyed by the media, creating                         and the complexity of coming to terms with
        myths of great scope. The social networks                         the diverse affiliations. The Lebanese writer
        also contribute urban stories or legends,                         Amin Maalouf argues: “The identity of each
        most of them adaptations and/or                                   one of us is formed by many affiliations but,
        recreations that reflect the classical myths                      instead of coming to terms with all of them,
        mass broadcast via Internet                                       we usually choose only one – religion, nation,
                                                                          ethnicity or others – as a supreme affiliation,
            The anthropologist Luís Díaz Viana, in                        which we confuse with total identity, which
        his recent publication Miedos de hoy (2017),                      we proclaim in front of others and in whose
        reminds us that living in a panorama of                           name sometimes we become murderers.” And
        non-places has not necessarily made us more                       he adds: “Would it not be more lucid and in
        cosmopolitan or safer or confident. The fact of                   keeping with today’s realities for each one of
        moving in the fleetingness of no-time, the in-                    us to come to terms with all the affiliations?”
        stant, the acceleration, has also not made some                       Art, literature and poetry contribute
        of us more contemporary than others. The fact                     beauty, horror and complexity: fragmented
        that we are overwhelmed by global informa-                        images that today depict a dark imaginary of
        tion day after day has not made us wiser, and                     the Mediterranean. Dionysian elements that,
        the apparent obsession to “memorialise” any                       as in the Nietzschean analysis, are imbued with
        event – from tourist trips to the big catastro-                   dramatic expression with the aim of acting as
        phes – has not make us experts on the past or                     a socio-cultural spur. Because art, be it literary,
        saved us from forgetfulness. The information                      visual, audiovisual or cinematographic, creates
        and communication technologies have become                        an empathy that brings us closer to the culture
        a deus ex machina that, threateningly or play-                    of the Other, to tragedy and longings, and urges
        fully, gives us back ancestral fears, as well as                  us to think about our own culture, which is less
        the possibility of being able to be protagonists,                 Apollonian than we think.

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