Extreme Europe by Stephen Barber

By Stephen Barber

Extreme Europe explores the city extremes of Europe of their cultural, actual, geographical and legendary dimensions, contemplating the background and visible tradition of Europe within the decade after the autumn of the Berlin Wall. Barber's function is to envision Europe's towns and their surrounding components as websites of a clash among the enchanting, all-engulfing energy of visible media and the hardly surviving lines of tenacious old tradition; his premise is that the "breakdown zones" at Europe's city edges are the websites the place its oppositional and most important photos and languages are being created today.

Barber units out to discover and outline Europe's political and conceptual edges, first creating a circuit eastwards via Albania to Turkey, then south- and westwards alongside the Mediterranean coast, with stops in Crete and Marseille. The book's different sections stream, first, via a number of many years of historical past as they are often learn in either the surviving and the reworked materials of Berlin, and, ultimately, during the frayed, disaffected multicultural landscapes of Paris's outer suburbs.

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Occasionally, from that vantage point, the unscreened interior identity of contemporary Europe becomes momentarily apparent, revealing a transparent, schematic terrain blunted by the oblivion exacted by its media into a desultory state of loss. Even the resilience of atrocity and its imageries will become a matter for nostalgia, in Europe’s anaesthetic future. Europe’s contemporary identity – timeless, its origin cancelled out – forms a central sensory black-out: its own end. In the very last days of the twentieth century, I travelled through Berlin.

The city bleaches out like an overexposed image, and its surface only buckles at rare intervals: at the bridge over the canal where the battered corpse of the murdered Rosa Luxemburg was thrown into the water in 1918, or at the Bendlerblock building where many of the participants of the failed 1944 coup against Hitler were executed. Over the twentieth century, one atrocity was nonchalantly exchanged for another in this city, just as one calm everyday silence mutated, passed through fire and emerged as banal as ever.

The great sensory rush of the city’s noise is silenced only from the terrace of the basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde, on its hill far above the white buildings and boulevards. The walk up to the basilica is a hard climb, through twisting alleyways of decrepit houses, neighbourhood bakeries shuttered against the afternoon sun and replaced by longbroken bread-vending machines. Only the insane would make such a journey in the Marseilles heat. A nun is there to bless you as you complete your miraculous ascent.

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