Iain Bamforth

The Good European

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Nietzsche, warning his countrymen in the Bismarck era against the nationalism that sought to promote all that was anti-rational in the German tradition, exhorted them to be 'good Europeans', avatars of the enlightened economic man of the eighteenth-century. Yet as RG Collingwood observed in his last great inquiry into the nature of civilisation, a book written to the glory of Hobbes at the height of the London blitz, Nietzsche was himself a victim of the disease he diagnosed. In The Good European Iain Bamforth's reports on fifteen years of 'experimental living' during which his attachment to the old continent brought him from Berlin, in the week in which he saw the fall of the Wall in 1989, to Strasburg, heart of aboriginal Europe and the city of noses in Tristram Shandy. Thrown into a deep identity crisis by Bismarck's victories against the French in 1870, pilot region for some of the modern state's most radical policies (health insurance, public relations), Alsace's divided loyalties have affected the nature of Europe itself. With his ear attuned to the complexities of culture and politics, Bamforth attempts to discover Europe through extra-diplomatic channels: he offers essays on writers and thinkers who have done much to define the small archipelago on the edge of Asia, including classics such as Kleist, Kafka, Roth and Benjamin, WG Sebald and Mavis Gallant. He provides a portrait of the Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt, a send-off for Bernard Pivot's classic literary chat-show Bouillon de Culture, a scrutiny of philosophising media pundit Peter Sloterdijk, landscapes from Provence and Bavaria, reports from Prague and Geneva, Franco-German shibboleths, a sarcastic letter from 'Kakania', and an anatomy of the Alsatian humorist Tomi Ungerer. Europe often reeks of the terminally nostalgic and the curatorial: here a sceptical Scots intelligence reaches out to Musil, Heine, Gogol, Sterne, Montaigne, Rabelais and beyond the 'standard average European' to the gallant, helpless, hero-smitten Don, in the hope that they can help him find the way towards a more generous Europe.
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403 printed pages
Original publication
2011

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