La sustitución de Europa / Héctor Silva Michelena

The Substitution of Europe

Such is the title of a posthumous work by Carlos Silva (Caracas, 1937-2002), published in 2005 by Siglo XXI of Spain. Its author was a doctor in Philosophy of Art (University of Turin), under the tutelage of the great philosopher Gianni Vattimo.

Which is the substitue and why does such a substitution occur? It's not only about the displacement of European imperial power by that of the U.S. We should remember that Europe was, above all, a differentiating unit of discourses, a paideia, understood as the teaching of ethical rationality and practical morality, starting from common modes of living for sharing an essential nucleus of values.

Such forces were born in Greece, passed on to Rome and later, during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, built that great palace of lights (still) called the West. The deep Eastern cultures were only known and appreciated by the enlightened elites.

In its origins, that substitute inititated in the middle of the XX century began to infiltrate like a filiation, as though it came from the great resevoir of the Old Continent, or as though it were a dynamic reproduction of the avant-gardes. If the physical change has been explained, nothing has been said regarding the supplantation in the higher levels of culture and ethics; it's a matter of replacements accepted in an acritical manner, as though Europe, since more than five decades ago, had lost its fine and powerful capacity for discernment in all the arts, in literature and even in the very wonder of imagination.

The substitute, then, is the formation of very modified cultural strata apparently different from those that generated the European genius, fallen asleep with modernity's final sighs.

For Silva, the avant-gardes (Futurism, Constructivism, Suprematism, Neoplasticism and Surrealism (he expressly excludes Cubism)) illustrate quite well the final lapse of modernity. The author insists that most of what appears as a substitute originates in Europe itself, but that starting at the beginning of postmodernity, in WWII, when history branches (the independence of African colonies and others), it has turned against Europe in a major transformation. An examination of what substitutes, in relation to cultural strata, can illuminate much of what is occurring in the West and other regions.

To explain the substitution, Silva constructs a model composed of specific genetic-cultural centers, in permanent interaction and change according to the eras. Those centers are the dynamos, internal instances of social energy, genetic nuclei of European culture.

Those dynamos are: ritual, symbol, power and the erotic, very different among each other but complexly causal, since none weighs more than the others; they can be found in other civilizations where European pedagogy was decisive. To my understanding, the model is very original, but it has traces of those metanarratives that become confused with a philosophy of history, when one tries to explain facts.

Out of affinity, I cite a phrase from the Dada Manifesto. Tzara says: "Perhaps you will better understand when I tell you Dada is a virginal microbe penetrating all of Reason's spaces with the insistence of air."

{ Héctor Silva Michelena, TalCual, 13 February 2006 }

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