Arte Is Twenty

10/06/2010 10:45 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Arte, the European, Franco-German TV, is not a channel (this bizarre, ugly word that doesn't fit at all with the space of liberty the artisans of Arte have mapped out and then built over the past twenty years). It is a platform, a forum, a link and a place, a breeding ground for artists, a workshop for potential creations, a reservoir and a factory of forms, a republic of minds, the equivalent of monasteries and universities that were once the source of Europe's inspiration, a permanent manifesto, a monument.

Arte is not about the dialogue of cultures (this expression that is too hackneyed, too vague, an alibi of all precaution and conformity, and one void of meaning). It is the invention, the production of an unidentified cultural object, a chimera that, without the work of Arte, without its frenzied voluntarism, would not have existed or, at least, would not have sprung up in the same way or at the same time. It sprang from two national cultures, the shared dreams of contemporaries, let's say of the German, Wim Wenders, and French-speaking Jean-Luc Godard, or Pina Bausch and Lévi-Strauss, the crafting of this magnificent anthology, new, then, present in each of their two worlds although absent from their own bouquets and that we call, for lack of a better expression, European culture.

Moreover, this is not a cultural affair, but a political one. Yes, political! Inevitably and eminently political! It's called the "cultural channel, Arte", or "Arte cultural television". I myself just wrote "European culture". But that is sheer laziness of language, or the ruse of one who prefers to go forth masked in the war against the barbarians. For the issue is political when one creates images, thus an imagination, thus a soul, hence a shared identity, out of those of two countries. And I'd even go so far as to say that nothing was more political than this sovereign and slightly unreasonable decision, qualified by some we shall be kind enough not to mention here as an "inanity" or a "crime" or a bet that was "lost in advance", to craft something European through the shared efforts of two national workshops. The great European politics of the late 20th century? The first real evidence of leaving the age of nations and their deadly passions behind? The invention, at the very moment when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, of this desire named Arte.

For I must emphasize the point. Arte is not the product of Europe, it is its crucible. Europe did not come first and then, because Europe had come into being, Arte. There is the construction of Arte which, like that of Babel, whose builders, Hegel said, were already the living image of which the tower would be the symbol and the center before the work was finished--there is, I should say, the construction of Arte which was, in itself and from day one, one of the fine and beautiful forges where we began to mint the spiritual currency of Europe. One should no longer say, "the genius of Europe, hence its incarnation in Arte", but "the body of Arte, its organs, its procedures--and through it, the inspiration of a bit of European genius". What other reality can we refer to in this way? Were there, are there, so many other living generators of Europe? Thank you, Arte.
Europe is in a state of crisis? Filled with self-doubt and lacking confidence in its own institutions? In its budgets and its criteria of convergence? In its rules? Its values? That's OK. Arte is hanging on. Arte prevails. In a Europe whose bearings are shaky, Arte remains a zone of stability, a fixed point, the cyclone's eye, an anchor. In the midst of a Europe each of us has finally understood might cease to be, or retreat, or even fall apart, Arte becomes a solid pillar and one, for the moment, without equal. How strange it is. To begin in improvisation and doubt, not knowing exactly where one is going nor if it is reasonable to start down this path. And to find oneself, two decades later, holding an ark of Europe. For us, the Germans and the French together, this is the divine surprise of Arte.

Why only the French and the Germans? And what can one say of this often-deplored failure to extend further south, north, and even east? It is by no means certain that this is a failure. Not at all. For, if there is a failure of Europe, it is, at present, that of its ill-thought-out, ill-planned, and perhaps precipitous extension. And if there is a response to this failure, a remedy to this extension, it can only be in a stronger intention, an increased intensity--and thus, a scaled-down European project, one that is narrower, precisely, like Arte. Otherwise put, what Europe of the 27 has gained in breadth it has lost in thought regarding itself and its principles. And to recover what Europe has lost, to regain some of the terrain of thought it has given up, perhaps it would be good to refocus on the fundamentals of the two-wheeled Franco-German motor. Perhaps it was inevitable -- perhaps it still is -- to plough the furrow in which, ever since the Reformation, and then the French Revolution, up until and including Arte, their paradoxical toing and froing has never ceased to be the beating heart of Europe.

To defend and to celebrate Arte. To protect, reinforce the improbable body which has become like the head of the sick man that is Europe today. This is the heritage of these twenty years. This is the task that will fall to those who pursue the adventure, whoever they may be. It will be their honor and their chance. For, in times ahead, there will not be many other opportunities to be truly faithful to the glorious promise of our fathers.