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‘Civilisation’ - a hard term to define. But while every society has a distinctive culture, authentic civilisations must offer those they subjugate an attractive way of life. Their imprint outlasts their imperium.
A century ago, Debray argues, there was a European civilisation of which America was an outlying culture; but today the relationship is reversed. ‘In 1900, an American of taste was a European in exile; in 2000, a trendy European is a frustrated American – or one waiting for a visa’. Characteristic of American civilization is its three overarching fetishes: space, image and happiness. America is a civilization of space and image, whereas Europe was one of time and writing. And its kitsch infantilism blinds itself to the tragic complexities of human life. A measure of America’s success is how its ‘globish’ jargon has so successfully infiltrated European languages.
For Debray, the dominance of American civilisation is a historical fait accompli, yet he sees a model for Europe in Vienna after its exclusion from the German Reich. For decades to come, Europe can still offer a rich cultural seedbed. ‘Some will call it decadence, others liberation. Why not both?’