The cosmopolitan city between language and mother tongue, suburb and hinterland – A remark concerning global aesthetics. To the symposium “It’s all National”, at Skuespilhuset, December 3rd, Copenhagen, 2009
by Carsten Juhl
“In Rome, everybody was a stranger”. Titus Livius (59 AD. -17), Ab urbe condita.
I - The cosmopolitan city
Cosmopolitan, (barbarisms: ‘cosmopolitical’, ‘cosmopolitics’) City or person defining itself from the point of view of the world and of all its movements. Cf. the work of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). See also International and internationalism.
International and internationalism, internationalist Institution, movement, city or person existing, acting or working outside or between nation-states, also in the meaning of ‘trans-national’, trans-border activities or actions. See also Limes and liminality.
Limes (Latin) and liminality Limes is the Latin word for the ending of a territory without a political-legal definition. It can mean the limitation of a private property or the end of a town. The frontier or border of the Roman Empire had fines (cf. English ‘final’), meaning the line separating the field of Roman Law from the fields dominated by other legal orders. Cosmopolitan and internationalist positions always deal with liminality, i.e. with decisions and actions non accepting the frame established by the nation-state. Liminality constitutes a grey zone of indeterminacy: it can be invested by projects of all kinds, from utopias to camps. Its existence is fundamental, otherwise it would be impossible to declare somebody or something ‘outside the law’, and the whole movement of inclusion and exclusion is based upon notions such as off-limits, elimination, limited, but also sublime. Cf. the book of Giorgio Agamben Homo Sacer (Italian, 1995).
II - Between language and mother tongue
Mother tongue “What remains? The mother tongue remains”. Hannah Arendt, “Conversation with Günter Gaus”, German TV, Federal Republic, Oct. 28, 1964. Mother tongue: The connected birth of feeling your self a child of somebody, the sound of it, the interactivity of the relationship, the problem of familiarity and non-familiarity of the signification of events, the language of the first progression of meaning. What Arendt meant was, that with a mother tongue consciousness you can always begin again. More or less the contrary of a Foucaltian “discourse”, which is a sort of ‘father tongue’, a language confirming institutions, explaining interventions and disciplining the general mind.
Language A mean of communication and expression, to interact with your environment, to investigate the world and the way it is constructed, using fields of general knowledge, art and science, and sometimes even mass media. Problems: The term ‘bilingual’. And identity is often a monolingual thing… It is important to separate language from signification, which can be expressed by other sorts of articulations, visual, audio etc.
III - Suburb and hinterland
Hinterland (from hinter-Land (German), the country behind you) A background of nature and tradition, a sort of unity between country-side and town, perhaps even rural life and smaller communities, which is remembered as an organism. Monolingual, with local folklore, myths, music and danse. It is felt as organic, tight and a little slow (at least slower than the suburb and the city), a sort of vertical confirmation of identity. It is often remembered as an atmosphere (German: Stimmung, i.e. with a voice), which you can still hear in your inner ear after having left it. You can forget it, and the process of removal is felt as a longing (cf. the song “Puerto Rico your lovely island” and the fight about nostalgia in the musical West Side Story, Broadway, 1957).
Suburb (from sub-urbs (Latin) under/over/trans town, cf. sublime) Zone of inhabitation, evolution and expansion around a city of a certain importance. Rather desert-like during the day because of its status as a sort of satellite (people working somewhere else), and often also during the night due to a lack of security. Its aesthetics has to do with rhythm, noise, transportation, cars, graffiti, rap-music, rackets moving around, some times even riots and revolt. The feeling of the suburb is an-organic or mineral, open, horizontal and rather rapid. The identity is not vertical or monolingual but has to do with the fact of a multicultural and at least bilingual neighbourhood and some times common problems or enemies. (Cf also French: Ban-lieu, the place of the banned, i.e. a place of expulsion and precariousness)
Slum (origin uncertain) According to Mike Davis’ Planet of Slums (2006), it is a place dominated by the problems of eviction, the sudden arrival of expulsion, which is a sort of political, economic and personal (or total) precariousness. Slum-people are first of all exposed to eviction, as we saw in the slums around Nairobi, 2007; and especially in Gaza a year ago and often before, and to-day in East-Jerusalem: the transformation of the Palestinians into a slum-people seems to be the project of the actual government in Israel.
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