Author's Roundtable I: Roberto Dainotto's Europe (in Theory)

Guest Writers Curbelo and Serrano

Thursday, September 18, 2008

posted under , , by Unit for Criticism
Written by Katia Curbelo (ICR/Cultural Studies/Italian and Spanish) and Amauri Serrano (Italian/MSLIS)

In Europe (in Theory), Roberto Dainotto traces theorizations of Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, singling out the surfacing structures and paradigms that have shaped current ideas of Europe and its cultural identity. He does so by attempting to provide a “genealogy of Eurocentrism.” He argues that modern theories of Europe cannot be explained by the antithesis between Europe and Asia; rather Eurocentrism begins with a modern theory of identity, specifically identity as dialectics of the same, which according to Dainotto begins with Montesquieu and finds its final nineteenth-century form in Hegel’s Europe as the “end of history.” Therefore modern European cultural identity begins when Southern Europe becomes the internal Other. He cites the writings of the philosophes and even Rousseau to illustrate how the south was seen as a “distant fantasy of primitivism – nature; past – against which modern and northern Europe, with nostalgia and pride could theorize itself.” Dainotto further utilizes the noncanonical writings of Juan Andrés, a literary historian, and Michele Amari, an Orientalist, to describe the Other Europe, a Europe theorized for and from the south. Both Andrés and Amari see the Orient as an integral part of European history and identity, and the analysis of such sources challenges current and past depictions of southern Europe.

Professor Dainotto presented his book at the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory’s roundtable discussion last Monday night by outlining his motivations for writing the book. He described the book as an end product of multiple anxieties: being called ‘PIGS’ (Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain), becoming European as well as a teaching and researching in a humanities under seige. The book itself, according to Dainotto, is a justification of the humanities; however it is not meant to propose a clash of the disciplines. Rather its purpose is to show how different mythologies, in the case of Europe (in Theory) – a philological approach – are all part of a larger whole. The constant questioning of the humanities led Dainotto to question another area of personal identity: his (trans)formation into a European citizen, not only an Italian. It is here that he looks at his Europeaness from his point of origin – that of a southern Italian. As he explains, he starts where everyone else ends – in Southern Europe. Europe divides itself from the external Other (Asia) because it has the Other contained in itself (South). In Dainotto's words: " [There was a] latitudinal shift: it's not East and West anymore, but North and South. A shift that reconceptualizes Europe […] a shift that is not finding its other in Asia, but looking for its Orient in its South".
During the discussion several interesting comments and questions were made that were briefly addressed but would be worth discussing further.

How can we produce a new vocabulary to speak about what 'Europe' and 'Europeaness' should 'look like', if we were to take the Other out of the idea of 'the Southern Other'? What other terminology would we use to refer to 'the South'? Can we apply concepts drawn from postcolonial studies? What about migration—or the 'networks of migration', to cite directly from the roundtable—that are present in the EU? The continuous monitoring of the European Union over certain 'borders'? Who gets to pass, who gets to stay behind?

What terminology (i.e. in Italian as 'ex-comunitari') would mark those countries geographically seen as Southern? How would Europe define itself if the internal Other, just like its external Other, became nonexistent and/or could not be racialized anymore? Can we think of an Arabo-Islamic approach to speaking about the beginning of Europeanness?


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