The NYT Sunday Review’s opinion pages featured a thoughtful call to action by Olivier Guez, “Are There Any Europeans Left?” It’s the second piece by Guez I’ve translated, after last spring’s “Voting for Yesterday in France,” and the first time I’ve worked on the same author twice for the Gray Lady. Guez is an insightful and informed observer whose slightly sardonic tone is suited to his style of cultural critique. When he says
In important ways, the Europe of 1913 was more cosmopolitan and European than the Europe of today. Ideas and nationalities mingled and converged in a hotbed of creativity. That year saw the height of Futurism, the beginnings of abstraction in Picasso and Braque, the debut of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” the publication of “Swann’s Way” by Proust. Collaborations to uncover science’s deepest secrets jumped borders easily. The architecture of imperial Austria and republican France found imitators in smaller gems of cities throughout Central and Southern Europe; they were called Little Vienna or Little Paris.
And there were large communities of cosmopolitan expatriates — “passeurs” between cultures, notably urbanized Jews, as well as German minorities, scattered throughout Central and Eastern Europe. Though prejudice ran deep and they were harshly mistreated in many places, in others they could identify as citizens of a broader European group, not merely the land they inhabited, and aspire to respect and comfort.
I am reminded of an essay by Roland Jaccard–nihilist, diarist, and disciple of Cioran–one of a handful of his I translated for Absinthe four years ago, in their 11th issue. It briefly sketched the life of Anton Kuh, Viennese feuilletoniste, and ended with the line:
If there is a crime for which I would have liked Hitler judged, it is precisely this: for killing the Viennese spirit.
Which in turn echoes Karl Kraus, who when asked about Hitler had famously “nothing to say.”