I found Europeana by Patrik Ouredník in one of those spinning wire frames that they have at municipal libraries to store books too clever, new or unused for the shelves. However this spinning wire frame, replete with flaking white paint, was not in a library, nor in England, but in a tiny bookshop in Berlin. We rode out to it, Cara and I, through threatening weather that never broke. Past the parks and heaving Saturday boulevards of the south of Berlin, out to the books.
Ouredník presents the last century, the twentieth century, to the reader in its entirety. In Ouredník's entirety. A short work, one hundred and twenty pages or so, is densely packed with unsourced and redemptive statistics, sprawling overviews, prose-strangling anecdotes, savage ironies, and more than a little bitter humour. An almost wikipedic foray into non-neutrality, it is gloriously unconcerned with a shared historicity, providing a representation of a Europe that exists not through borders and geographies, but through a collective consciousness born of a confused history.
When speaking of form, Ouredník employs devices of juxtaposition and recontextualisation to strip theoretical discourse of its semiotic bearing, to remove statistical data of its inhumanity, to place ideology alongside perversion and to expose visions of utopia as being at the heart of all fascism. By ranging through the century, by situating and intertwining the histories of barbie dolls, space programmes, Freudianism, eugenics, bicycle seats, gas chambers, network cultures and more, Ouredník offers a representation of Europe, the supranation, as an impossible notion. This is both a warning against nation states and a warning against cultural hegemony.
The twentieth century was the modern century. What else can we call it? The century of oppositional politics? 100 years of capitalism and communism slogging it out? Ten decades of intense technological progress? The death of all art as a mode of truth-giving? The bloodiest, most inhuman century to have existed? And yet, at some many points, there was so much fresh hope. The ruptured century.
(I watch myself now. I'm on shaky ground and in the presence of others better qualified than I. Quick, talk about the weather again, talk about riding your bike and things that you own that you broke recently! Go, read Badiou!)
Modernity often, to my mind, concerned itself with ruptures within a continuum of time. That was the century that was. Modernism, as the prevalent form of the twentieth century, helped the century to represent itself. It distorted presentations (presented distortions?) of that continuum. It upset the timeline, but crucially did not dispense with it. Following two world wars, how could it do anything else? Events that took human capabilities for destruction and cruelty to a new level destroyed all frames of reference, yet lessons were learnt that were not allowed to be forgotten. Memory is time-based; how can we remember without time?
Ouredník confirms the temporality of the century, its cruelty, its obsession with time and space. Attempts to explode temporality and spatiality were always movements out, movements ex. Let's rewrite human history with a supernation. Let's abandon spatiality with moon landings. Ha! Merely inversions of hierarchies that in fact reinforced the hierarchies.
What possibility then, at this juncture, this boundary that is so clearly a new century, that we will finally achieve a true aspatiality and a true atemporality? Has technology progressed far enough to allow this? A century of attempts at supersonic flight and space travel has faded into grey; those attempts hopelessly unable to escape physicality and timelines. Abandon acceleration as a meme; that ugly equation of distance/time is the hallmark of spatiality and temporality.
What chance then that the new century brings a true atemporality and aspatiality? What chance I am unqualified to do more than ask questions? Weekend sun demands a journey into the city. Enough aimless circlings here, the tautologies are evidence of a gross lack of foundation that can only remedied by ceasing immediately.