Sundry Musings on the New Millennium’s Transatlantic Dialogue – Part III
Continuation from Part II.
Indeed, the journey into self-knowledge is integral part of our essential humanity, and not only as individual human beings, but also as people, nations and even entire civilizations and as humankind as a whole. The microcosm reflects the macrocosm but the contrary is also true. This can only be so if there exists a universally human, what the Greeks called the essence of humanity. In thinking about a title for the book I first came up with “Europa Nosce Te Ipsum,” Europe, Know Thyself. This led to another suggestive Latin saying: “Quo Vadis Europa.” which in turn furnished the inspiration for the book’s cover depicting the myth of Europa as found on the wall of a Roman villa amidst the ruins of ancient Pompei. Ostensibly, the question “where are thou going” is posed to the goddess Europa who, as the mythological lore intimates, is about to begin a fateful journey on the back of a bull, none other than a disguised Zeus intent on abducting her. That question too turns out to be a question of identity; for without self-knowledge, one will inevitably fall prey, along the way, to the seductive voices of false sirens and gods, even when they (like the mythical bull) arrive on time and promise an adventurous journey. Those voices (even when they seem to be the voice of Being itself) make it nearly impossible to focus with the mind’s eye on the final destination of one’s journey. For the question “Are you leaving and arriving on time?” hides a deeper, more crucial question: “On time for what?” Unfortunately, too many political-cultural leaders are running headlong toward the future nowadays in fast cars devoid of a rear-view mirror. We sorely need wise guides to navigate the tempestuous transatlantic dialogue. The European Union was begun by visionary giants such as Schumann, De Gasperi, Aidenauer, but alas, it is now guided by half blind midgets unable to see horizons beyond the narrowly economic one.
In the preface titled “An Invitation to the Reader” the reader is invited to be an explorer and make a path as he/she journeys on of the overarching issues explored in the essays. Those issues deal with the idea of Europe, the Janus-like face of Western Civilization (see illustration 5), the relevancy to European modernity of the poetic philosophy of Giambattista Vico (see illustration 4), the duality of rationality and imagination within the Western philosophical tradition, the transmutation of old Machiavellian paradigms (the old wineskins) into new ones in which to pour the novantiqua wine of the new Europe; the ongoing threat of nihilism and relativism coupled with the consequent loss of the sense of the transcendent and of humanistic modes of thought; the nature of the Self vis ‡ vis the Western philosophical tradition (see illustration 12).
The horizon is vast, but the reader is helped in identifying the various issues that concern him most, by a brief abstract which placed under the title of each essay. Nevertheless readers have to keep in mind that this maze of cultural issues is to be kept within the framework of self-knowledge. For, besides empirical knowledge of the sciences, mathematical knowledge, and metaphysical knowledge, there is another overarching kind of knowledge: self-knowledge. If self-knowledge is adopted as the guiding thread of this book, then the question asked to the goddess Europa (quo vadis Europa?), can also be addressed to each one of us contemplating an inner journey. Such a journey is indispensable to any authentic action in the world. The essaying is indeed the attempt to answer that question truthfully, the first universal step of any journey of self-discovery, even when it remains a unique journey for each individual pilgrim and each individual nation.
Joseph Campbell used to enjoin to his audiences: “find your bliss!” The goddess Europa surely must have expected bliss or she would not have left a secure shore to head towards the unknown on the back of a bull. This metaphor is also valid for entire cultures. It is the injunction to search and to find one’s identity, rooted in one’s origins. The book was written in the trust that its essays would prove helpful to readers not so much for the solving of any particular philosophical problem, or worse, as a way of personally confirming their victimhood within the therapeutic society in which we live, but rather, as a navigating chart of sort, should they opt for leaving behind the desolate shores of pure rationalism, technocracy and consumerism, to sally forth on the high sea of the poetical for an adventurous journey of self-discovery. The journey may be dangerous but it beckons because to journey on is, in the final analysis, the destiny of humankind.