Does the Mediterranean exist?
On the map, the Mediterranean is that kind of false blue rectangle which pretends to jealously close in upon itself, but, if one looks closely, is seen to open up via three gates, narrow ones, it is true, onto the vast and multiple universe; mingling its waters at Gibraltar with those of the western Atlantic; cautiously greeting via the Suez Canal the enigmatic world and the gods of the South and the East; holding out, between the shores of the Bosphorus, what we so nicely call, in French, ‘an arm of the sea’, towards the gods, ancient and modern, of the North and the North-East. And so, via three gates only, the Mediterranean manages to look towards the four cardinal points. In this improbable process of three becoming four, I like to see a symbol of the Mediterranean’s singular destiny; whereby the most precise measurements are bent through the intervention of the miraculous; whereby inspiration, which is, moreover, but the response to aspiration, comes along to shatter the reign of rules.
Now, what I mean is that these rules have been invented by we Mediterraneans. The liking for and the meaning of definitions, written law, codification, are specifically Mediterranean creations. We have imagined division, and then choice; separation, and then construction. We have endeavoured to retain in our choices – it will often be held against us, moreover – just those elements capable of making the universe a livable place. In order to guarantee our victories over incoherence and tumultuousness, we have had the courage to do violence to nature: we have invented the straight line: the column, the sphere – and the hemi-sphere: the cupola. We are the fathers of syllogism, of the golden section, and of the syllogism disguised as arabesque: such signs of our culture have in common a desire to integrate the other by bringing it back to the same so that, through and beyond the illusory diversity of appearances, they might reach a place of identity. At the time when tenebrous Masters of deep Asia required man to vanish and melt into the obscure breathing of the Cosmos, we conjured and adopted that assembly of happy and light gods whose ruined temples continue to raise, upon the shores of a shared sea, their smiling challenge. And so, anthropomorphism is, too, a particularly Mediterranean philosophy. At the frontier of the logical and the less logical, the clear and the less clear, we have harnessed the most tenuous and fluid relationships whereby mind reflects world, a world returning the favour, enabling eternal and harmonious exchanges. An old image: Orpheus singing, and cities rising up.
But here is the drama, here the heart-wrenching, terrible moment when the Mediterranean, having reached one of the extremities of itself, opens up and bursts forth. Orpheus, the architect, the builder in the full sun of cities and order, falls prey to a secret infirmity. Within him there rises up, more and more urgently, the call of a lost black Euridice. And this voice of the beautiful black bride, this deep song, this cante jondo as Spain says, how could Orpheus, bewitched by song as he is, escape its fascination? He must, following the inflection of his personal curve oriented by the magnet of a vocation, discover the threshold of hell and undertake the perillous journey on the other side of things which offers, without any possible doubt – perhaps simply because he seizes upon a new unforeseeble direction of being – the road leading to a truth.
This reevaluation of the surface order of things at the very moment it seems to be rising up in the time of some definitive glory – this is what is Mediterranean. It explains perhaps, in part, that the immense and complex machine of the Roman Empire came to a full stop one day, disconcerted before the quiet words of a poor Nazarean. And look: Christianity, like Judaism before it and Islam later, all religions born in this region of the world one must deem inspired, all, instead of biting into Asia, east of their place of birth – Asia to which belong, geographically, both Palestinia and the Arab peninsula – all such religions initially went, as if via some ineluctable accomplishment of an inner requirement – towards the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean whose surrounding region, via diverse itineraries and in differing seasons, such religions spiritually colonised.
Certainly, this did not happen so simply. Men of the Mediterranean, we are, as I have said, men of a certain order. And that is why we begin by violently rejecting Jesus Christ; we denature Al-Hallâj; we persecute Galileo. ‘And yet…’, the latter insisted, in the urgency of being accused of impiety. And we end up admitting he was right, and we raise a tomb in the very bosom of the Church of Santa Croce.
Men of a certain order, but an order without certainty, sureness. Our truth, acquired at some expense, was paid for by such hesitation, the permanent refuting of the pros by the cons, the cons by the pros. It is because we endlessly rectify one thing by another that we appear, perhaps, today, to be advancing slowly, more timidly than other peoples having been able to reach satisfaction more rapidly than we ourselves, deliberately borrowing from us one or the other term of our rich ambiguousness. One day, we are told, the Spanish painter Juan Gris said to Braque: ‘I love the rule that corrects emotion’. And Braque – so often Mediterranean by the desire and affinities of his work – answered: ‘I love the emotion that corrects the rule’. And so, between rule and emotion – which is, is it not, the lesser name of passion – our destiny acts itself out.
This is what I was seeking to get to. I was wondering, at the outset of this reverie, whether the Mediterranean existed. It could, I maintain, be and continue to develop only as a final conjunction of what we bring to it and our most contradictory signs; it could establish itself really, before the vast elementary empires that were built up by bearing to their ultime end, and to the point of caricature, one or the other profile of our definition of freedom and justice, only via a new, more vibrant, more inclusive sythesis of justice and freedom. The gestation, in the Mediterranean, of this new freedom, this new justice, is perhaps what we are witnessing today: and this birthing, as we can see, is bloody and tragical. But for we ancient Mediterranean peoples, the main thing is that in the hour in which a blind and stupid challenge may well disarticulate and reduce the primordial rhythm of our national histories, of our common history, in the hour in which so many dark quarrels – throughout the last fifty years – have so often seemed monstrously to turn to scorn – the main thing is that those for whom, in the universe, the Mediterranean is a burning call to unite, strongly desire, contrary to all imposed formulas and all ‘given’ policies, to question the undesirable order of things and set off, alone if necessary, in search of lost Euridice. ‘The world, Gide argued, will be saved by a few’. Our Mediterranean will, too.
And here I stand still, anxiously questioning myself, and sad not to have found an answer to the question that is perhaps the only one I want to ask at the end of all others I have asked: today, in a time of war and injustice, does the Mediterranean truly yet exist? Yes, I believe it exists and that it is, all considered, merely our trembling questioning as to its reality.
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