What does the future of europe hold and does Europe have a future? How are its meanings shifting in response to internal stresses and conflicts as well as the remorseless pressures of globalization? Is the idea of a new Europe merely a fiction engineered by Brussels Eurocrats, or can we discern a slow weaving together from below of cross-border affinities and attachments? Is it possible to affirm Europe without Eurocentrism? Are we seeing the emergence of new ways of becoming-European that do not fit the usual paradigms of identity or community? And what can the humanities contribute to this process of rethinking Europe?
As the current economic crisis unfurls, with its drastic implications for European unity, these questions turn out to be unusually timely (a timeliness underscored by the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union a few days before this issue went to print!). Yet this issue of New Literary History responds not only to the drama of contemporary headlines but also the division of intellectual work. Anyone surveying the scholarship on the present and future of Europe cannot help being struck by the sovereignty of the social sciences. Centers for European Studies exist at major universities around the world but are staffed almost exclusively by political scientists, economists, sociologists, and historians. A similar lopsidedness afflicts the flood of writing on Europe in recent decades. The contrast to, for example, postcolonial studies, where virtually all of the most influential figures were trained as literary critics, is striking. Where, in debates about the present and future of Europe, are the art historians, the literary scholars, the philosophers, the cultural critics? Not entirely absent to be sure, but their role remains modest, often marginal. And while European film studies is a thriving field—thanks, in large part, to the proliferation of film departments that have rendered "European film" a popular course title, textbook topic, and area of specialization—there is little dialogue between film scholars and others about larger European issues.
Why such disparities and missed opportunities? The nation, of course, has long been the defining rubric of literary studies, and the expectation that texts be read closely in their original language meant that many [End Page v] scholars could only hope to achieve expertise in one foreign language and body of literature. Comparative literature, which did stipulate knowledge of several languages and cultures, was until recently oriented toward Europe as a norm and a horizon—but because this orientation was largely taken for granted, Europe did not emerge as a theoretical problem. Much the same can be said of other humanities disciplines such as art history. And in recent years, as Western scholarship has been forced to confront its ignorance about the world's cultures, its gaze has turned outward—scrambling to make up for lost time by redefining the scope of disciplines and pouring resources into the teaching of non-Western languages and cultures.
In such a climate, a focus on Europe may seem old school, even regressive—especially in the United States, where scholarship in the humanities is often tied to minoritarian interests and overt political commitments. The topic of Europe is still contaminated by lingering fears of Eurocentrism. And yet, as we will see, Europe is now being rethought in eye-opening ways—in dialogue with transnational and postcolonial theory, for example, where it offers a test case for not just applying but also recasting ideas about ethnicity and nation, culture and citizenship, borders and belonging. And here the humanities can throw a valuable light on the process of "signifying Europe"—to pick up on the title of a recent book by Swedish cultural theorist Johan Fornäs—by highlighting its imaginative, expressive, aesthetic, and affective dimensions.1 There is a certain irony in the fact that "culture" is now being widely invoked as a solution to the divisions within Europe—on the grounds that economic and political ties between nations are not sufficient—while scholars of culture are all too rarely heard in debates around Europe.
Any new Europe can, of course, only be a "new old Europe," to pick up a phrase from Nilüfer Göle...