Academic journal article European Studies

Introduction: European Encounters Intellectual Exchange and the Rethinking of Europe (1914-1945)

Academic journal article European Studies

Introduction: European Encounters Intellectual Exchange and the Rethinking of Europe (1914-1945)

Article excerpt

Looking back on the intellectual scene of the 1920s, the German critic and literary translator Ernst Robert Curtius recalled the intensive crossborder encounter of the period:

How many paths and encounters there were in the spiritually relaxed Europe of the time! Rilke translated poems by Valéry, who showed them to me in manuscript. At Scheler's I saw the first issue of Ortega's Revista de Occidente. Valery Larbaud introduced Joyce into France. Sylvia Beach's bookstore, 'Shakespeare and Company', was an international meeting place as was that of her friend Adrienne Monnier diagonally opposite. From 1922 on the 'Décades' at Pontigny were taking place again. The Pen-Club was founded (...) A Europe of the mind - above politics, in spite of all politics - was very much alive. This Europe lived not only in books and periodicals but also in personal relations. (Curtius 1973 [1946], 170)

Curtius may not be a neutral observer, for he portrayed a 'Europe of the mind' which he actively supported himself. There is, however, no doubt of the great extent to which the intellectual scene of interwar Europe crossed national boundaries. Writers and artists met within the framework of avant-garde movements, at literary conferences and at cultural gatherings. Cities such as Berlin, Paris and Moscow were the focal points of European encounters, harbouring eager young artists, established academics and uprooted émigrés and exiles. Some were looking for challenges, others were trying to escape hardship and national limits. The Great War gave new impetus to intellectuals in their need to rethink European civilization, as a reaction to the persistent perception of Europe as a civilization in decline.

The shaping of ideas about Europe's 'renewal' was strongly connected with the increase in transnational contact between writers, artists and academics. Cultural exchange resulted from meetings and intellectual debates, but also from the search for inspiration across national borders. Writers in Western Europe turned to Russian literature to revitalise lost European values, Catholic intellectuals in Northern Europe embraced corporatist and fascist solutions, as coined by Salazar and Mussolini, and many others throughout Europe shed national skins to commit to the European federalism of the Pan-Europa Movement.

This volume addresses the making and remaking of ideas about Europe in the interwar period as a result of intellectual exchange. It contributes to the history of the idea of Europe, adding a crucial but understudied perspective: the importance of transnational exchange and transnational inspiration for the construction of these ideas and identities. The volume explores the hypothesis that exchange and the rethinking of the idea of Europe are strongly related. The contributions examine how these mechanisms contributed to the production of new understandings of Europe and of projects for Europe's future. In this introduction, we outline the mechanisms and stages of exchange, and the conditions they set for rethinking Europe.

Intellectuals between the wars

The First World War had a profound impact on cross-border cultural and intellectual contact within Europe. Many of the established networks of artists and academics were seriously disrupted during the war, particularly with regard to German participation (Charle 2004, 119-120, 241; Trebitsch 1998, 51). Many intellectuals, both in Germany and the allied countries, passionately engaged with the national cause and published collective declarations in which they endorsed or even promoted the war. Former friends and colleagues were now considered enemies. Those intellectuals who did not withdraw into the national sphere, attempting to maintain relationships in wartime, had to cope with various difficulties: letter writing was obstructed by severe censorship and travel was only possible by means of permits which were difficult to obtain.

Nevertheless, the war also generated new international contacts. …

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