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Parallel to the writing and the international research and teaching career Adolf Muschg was a public figure in the Anglo Saxon notion. He again and again actively participated in the political life of Switzerland. He was a member of the Federal Commission for a Revision of the Federal Constitutions. He was a candidate in the Canton of Zurich to become a Senator (Ständerat). In 1995 he was a member of a project group Human Solidarity Switzerland. He was a co- founder of the "Gruppe Olten" of Swiss authors, and is a member of academies of various German cities. For many years Muschg had a close relationship to Germany in teaching, lecturing and being member of various academies, finally becoming the President from 2003 to 2006 of the Academy of Arts in Berlin, where he also was a fellow at the Wissenschaftskollegium. He constantly commented on issues and developments in Swiss cultural and political life and thereby integrated his cosmopolitan life and experience. He usually argued from a Continental European perspective. He is known to have taken a critical position on Switzerland's role in World War II and its trials and tribulations in relation to European Integration. The essay Wenn Auschwitz in der Schweiz liege (If Auschwitz would be in Switzerland) implied Switzerland directly with Nazi Germany in a contested and extreme position.
In November 2004 and February 2005 Muschg gave four public lectures in the German city of Essen entitled Was ist Europäisch?(What is European?) with the subtitle Reden für einen gastlichen Erdteil (Lectures for a hospitable continent). The lectures were held in the "Villa Hügel" of Essen which in analogy to the "Grüner Hügel" in Bayreuth symbolizes the former pre-eminence of German culture in the world. Muschg approached the question "What is European?" not from a specialist but from a writer's position. The lectures were delivered during the time, in which Muschg was the President of the Academy of Arts in Berlin, what he calls a European institution. In the series of lectures Muschg insists, that the lectures have to be seen on the background of his home country Switzerland, which in the life time of the speaker is unlikely to change the votes of the people and the Cantons to become a full member of the European Union. Muschg therefore declares himself to be a divided (gespaltener) friend of Europe and an - active - participant in this dilemma of the Swiss people.
The text at hand is the text of lecture four Europa: Das Fest, Der Tod und die Andern (Europe: the feast, the death and the others) Zitat: „In diesem letzten Kapitel möchte ich mich auf die Suche nach Europas bindender Kraft machen, nach der Essenz dessen, was es im Innersten zusammenhält. Der feingliedrige Erdteil mit der blutigen Geschichte: er hat die Welt geteilt, um sie zu beherrschen, und sich selbst dabei zerrissen." He chooses as a topic the search for the binding forces within Europe, and for the essence, of the soul and the core intrinsic nature of Europe. The essay breaths the rhetoric of the oral presentation and is complex. His Swiss background and the writing of Gottfried Keller, an eminent Swiss poet are at the centre of his line of arguments.
Muschg is an important, albeit at that time controversial, writer of essays on various aspects of Swiss culture. He has an impressive biography as a post World War II cosmopolita in several respects. He foremost is as a poet and writer who has been awarded many prestigious prizes. From 1953 to 1959 he studied Germanistik, Anglistik and Psychology in Zurich, with two trimesters as a Research Student in Cambridge - England. He obtained his doctoral degree Dr. phil. at the University of Zurich with Emil Staiger. From 1959 to 1962 he was a teacher at the gymnasium in Zurich; from 1962 to 1964 he was a lecturer at the International Christian University of Tokyo; from 1964 to 1967 he was a scientific assistant at the University of Gottingen; from 1967 to 1969 an assistance professor at Cornell University, Ithaca N.Y.; from 1969 to 1970 he was researcher at the University of Geneva and in 1970 he became a Professor of German Language and Literature at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.He is an emerite since 1999.
The text has a refined and complex structure and does not lend itself to a straight forward summary. Muschg in writes on a search of what the binding forces of Europe are, and what the essence, what Europe at the bottom of the heart, is. He begins his observations that, according to the logic of history, Europe after World War II might as well have disappeared and that the ensuing division of Europe in the middle in a bipolar world order was brought about by powers outside of Europe. In the aftermath of this dramatic and paradoxical development, Muschg searches for the origins of a strife for a unity of Europe, which at least politically has never has been a reality in the past. Muschg opens the discourse with a series of lead questions - with pointed inserts - on Europe such as: Where does this Europe, which learns to read itself, reconstitute its necessary "Wir Gefühl" (feeling of togetherness) Will the continuing nationally defined identities be transcended or even replaced by a new collective identity of a continent, the geographic borders of which are not even yet defined? Are we victims of a resignation or even of a capitulation faced with the logic of economics? Has the development without further discussion become an uncontested reality like formerly the dogmatism of church? Where is the vision fuelled by an allowing imagination allowing attentatives? Where are the borders of a new and at the same time reconstructed Europe? How could Europe despite the retained divisions but maintaining a self-chosen openness, look like? How do we tap the source of a European "Wir-Gefühl" which may neither be totally lacking nor become recklessy controlling? Based upon what force does Europe create enough cohesion in order not to blow up in pieces and how does it retain enough openness in order not to become a rigid fortress? And is Europe globalized in a world of a rhetoric phenomenon, a geographic fiction as it was in the brains of the humanists?
In the main part of the text Muschg develops his complex arguments by using his Swiss formation and experience. He openly shows his colours and states that his answer to the question in the title What is European? is: "Meine Antwort auf die Titelfrage: "Was ist Europäisch?" ist nicht ohne Emphase, aber auch ohne Einbildung und vor allem ohne Illusionen, die Schweiz (p.103) („My answer to the question in the title „What is European?" is - not without emphasis, but also without presumption and above all without illusions - Switzerland.")
Muschg develops the fruitful analogy by the use of novellas (Erzählungen) of Gottfried Keller, a Swiss representative of world literature, whom Muschg has a thorough knowledge of and about whom he has written a seminal biographical monograph. The source of these analogies, is the formation of the Swiss Confederation in 1848, which still is a unique historic and political experience and experiment in Europe, which had not been followed and equated in Europe at that time. Keller's – and in the text Muschgs – reasoning speaks of ideas of political community, love, passion and death. Muschg refers to the biblical narrative of the Arch of Noah, which the protagonist in the novella of Keller speaks of. Muschg names the basic idea of factual representation of the "different" in a confederation, which is conceived among mutually hospitable people as a finite and not eternal endeavour, as the dowry of Switzerland to the European unification, Muschg argues that the historical and unique role of a guardian of the limits of the Republic made Switzerland an early trustee of a European hope. In that sense Muschg argues that Switzerland brings a culture generating principle as its European gift to the table. Switzerland has found a niche and upon there constantly finds new equilibria in the flow of the unexpected and of time. Switzerland for centuries has acted as if it were a self-purpose (Selbstzweck), it never aimed at more than the basic existence, but with minimum material welfare, also of political rights of the citizens. It would be fit Europe to take note of the dictum: "So ernsthaft wie möglich, so humoristisch wie mötig", (as serious as possible, as humoristic as necessary) Muschg writes that it would be a miracle for Europe, if the framework of the European Union would also fulfil the bare goal to make possible for the participants a dignified and relatively secure but also a self-determined and self-willed life.
Muschg refers and explains his findings to each of the metaphors used in the subtitle of the lecture and embeds his answers to the question "What is European?" in a broader context.
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