vrijdag 17 april 2009


For a few days I happened to be in Bristol and it was nice to be there. Although you could see the damage World War II has done to the city, there was enough to enjoy. Pittoresque streets, squares and houses and above all the Waterfront: the old docks and renovated warehouses with restaurants and pavements.

I felt there what you want to feel when you’re in an ancient historical city. It’s the feeling of being connected with previous generations, with a particular culture, in this case that of a seefaring population. If you are sensitive to that kind of things, it may make you feel more at home in life.

But then, gradually, this may change. You learn a bit more about the city’s history and you realize that Bristol wasn’t just the gate to the New World but also the basis of the English slavetrade.

At such a moment Bristol suddenly is a less pleasant place to stay. The nice alleys lose their innocence. Being at home partly gives way to a kind of uncomfortable feeling.

Isn’t this exactly what happened to our Western culture at large? You could say that we Westerners felt – at least up to World War I – reasonably comfortable in our Europe. But then something irreparable happened, first by the horrors of the trenches of Belgium and Northern France but more so by those of the Second World War.

Since then our capacity to feel at home in our culture is not what it used to be like. Houses, railways, landscapes, they are not just nice and familiar anymore, they can be guilty as well now. They may be contaminated by their past.

I don’t agree with Adorno who suggested that after Auschwitz poetry is not possible anymore. I believe that, in the same way we can still enjoy good food and good sex, we can every time again enjoy poetry and beautiful music. But that good old self-evident being-at-home-in-the-world, that has been hit pretty hard.