Category Archives: journey

From heresy to beauty products–the idea of South in France


It is tempting to position the South as a victim of the North. Certainly, the conflict between the French North and South appears to be a story of ruthless oppressor that violently subjugates a peace-loving and tolerant victim. Is that necessarily so? Whichever way, French history straddles a cultural fault-line that continues to move in opposing directions.

France contains at least two nations. While the north was populated by Franks from Germany, the south was a separate entity ruled by Visigoths in the Middle Ages. They were more closely connected laterally with the Catalans than vertically with the Franks. During its independent history, the South, known as Occitania, was a site of resistance to imperial rule.

Their first form of Christianity was Arianism, which taught that God came before Jesus. Around the tenth century, an interest in ‘courtly love’ emerged under the influence of poetry from Andalusia. The word “troubadour” was derived from an Arabic root ta-ra-ba meaning “to be transported with joy and delight”. The literary genre of ‘chanson de geste’ emerged celebrating refinement of taste in contract to the tales of war and heroic deeds prevalent in the north.

Cathars expelled from Carcassonne in 1209.
Cathars expelled from Carcassonne in 1209

At the same time, the religion of the Cathars developed, which denigrated earthly life and adopted values of simplicity and abstinence. In 1208, a Papal legate was assassinated in Saint-Gilles which prompted the Franks in support of Rome to cleanse the South of heresy. The Albigensian crusade led by Simon de Monfort became legendary for its brutality. In 1209 the town of Beziers was sacked and none of the population was spared, even those who sought refuge in the church. When the commander was asked by a Crusader how to tell Catholics from Cathars once they had taken the city, the abbot supposedly replied, Neca eos omnes. Deus suos agnoscet, “Kill them all, God will know His own.”  The second crusade against the South involved the siege of Montségur (Montsalvat) during which the inquisition was first established.

The successful completion of the crusade led to the Frankish domination of the South and the status of France as a unified country. Nonetheless, the South continued to be a source of suspicion, characterised as stubborn and greedy. During the reformation, it contained Protestant strongholds. As administration became more centralised around Paris, French was enforced as the language of administrations.

Frédéric Mistral
Frédéric Mistral

From the Revolution, the South was identified as a source of political change. Some autonomy was restored to the Midi, as it was now called. In the nineteenth century, writers such as Augustin Thierry and Michelet celebrated the South as a source of democracy. In 1854 Frédéric Mistral founded the Félibrige, dedicated to supporting Occitan literature, which gradually shifted to support for the Catholic Right. Inspired by his Nobel Prize in 1904, the Chilean poet Lucila Godoy Alcayaga changed her name to Gabriela Mistral. The mystical legend of Cathars was established by Napoléon Peyrat with the 1871 publication Histoire des Albigeois. But at the same time, there was pressure to standardise French under la Vergonha (the shaming), which prohibited the teaching of Occitan in schools. In reaction, the youth movement

Hartèra emerged to promote Occitan, as one of its posters says:

To hell with the shame…
Our patois is a language: Occitan;
Our South is a country: Occitania;

Our folklore is a culture.
We want respect for our difference.
Share, mix, walk!!

During the 1930s, there were attempts to identify the Cathars as ancestors of the Nazis, particularly through the romantic myth of Montsalvat. However, during Second World War, the area of France not occupied by Germans corresponded to that of Occitania. In 1940, editors of Cahiers du Sud, including Simone Weil and Louis Aragon called a gathering in Marseille to found a community of tolerance. As Weil said at the time, ‘Catharism was the last living expression in Europe of pre-Roman antiquity. It is from this thinking that Christianity descends; but the Gnostics, Manicheans and Cathars seem to be the only ones that remained faithful to it.’ After the war, the South became a site of creative experiment. In 1946, the Dada poet Tristan Tzara founded the Institut d’Etudes Occitanes in Toulouse.

Popular interest developed in 1960 with a two-part television series Les Cathares, drawing on Peyrat’s romantic history. The South became an issue in the revolutionary movement of May 1968

imageNow the South has become a significant luxury brand, associated with the region of Provencal in cuisine and home goods. Olivier Baussan founded the company l’Occitane, ‘L’OCCITANE has drawn inspiration from Mediterranean art de vivre and traditional Provencal techniques to create natural beauty products devoted to well-being and the pleasure of delighting and caring for oneself.’ This company has now extended its southern taste to other countries. The brand L’Occitane do Brasil expresses the authenticity of a first natural sun care line made exclusively in Brazil.

Part of the mythology of L’Occitane revolves around the ‘everlasting’ flower immortelle, the source of eternal youth.

Meanwhile, the flower has become a rallying point for revival of Occitan culture. In 1978, the band Nadau composed the song L’immortèla (The Edelweiss) which tells of the flower of love and the mountain journeys of the southern people,

Up we’ll walk, Little Peter, to the edelweiss
Up we’ll walk, Little Peter, until we find that place!

Occitania follows a familiar path in Europe, where civilisations known for their tolerance and poetry fall victim to the northern military regimes. This internal colonisation then provides the rehearsal for the subjugation of peoples beyond. Once the target of heresy has shifted to the colonies, then the internal other becomes a subject of nostalgia and commodification.

Rather than a single identity, countries like France seem constituted by a dialogue between opposing halves. While the heretic South helps to sharpen the values of the North, the brutality of the North conjures the idea of a sensual and tolerant South.

Spain as South – the Black Legend has a warm heart

‘Africa begins at the Pyrenees.’

“Whatever has black sounds has duende.”
Garcia Lorca

imageSpain seems an exception to civilised Europe. While the Enlightenment promoted the pursuit of reason based on natural order, Spain remained captive to a theatre of violence as it persecuted heretics and bulls. Is this a true image of Spain?

What has been termed the ‘Black Legend’ of Spain emerged during the Reformation, where the Inquisition was depicted by Protestants and Anglo-Saxons as a sign of inherent Spanish cruelty.

The negative view of the Spanish was further elaborated by the French. To their neighbours across the Pyrenees, the Spanish were a barbarous people, tainted by their African influence. They were variously described at Turkish or Arab Christians—anything but European. According to Stendhal, ‘Blood, manners, language, way of living and fighting, everything in Spain is African. If the Spaniard were a Muslim he would be a complete African’.

French soprano Emma Calvé as Carmen in George Bizet's opera Carmen From 1795, Spain was occupied by Napoleonic France for nearly ten years. After expelling the French, the restored King Ferdinand VII initiated a reaction against liberalism. The resulting French disdain for the Spanish cast an orientalist shadow, popularised in the literary genre of travel writing known as the Espagnolade. The Spanish themselves conspired to construct a romantic image of themselves: the middle class reacted against the Bourbon invaders by inventing a defiant national culture drawn from the Madrid working class, including bull-fighting and flamenco.

The rest of Europe used Spain as a stage for the grand passions. The Spanish south, in particular Seville, became the setting for the passions of European opera, such as Barber of Seville, Don Giovanni, and Il Travatore. This culminated in Bizet’s Carmen, which orchestrated and choreographed the wild Andalusian spirit. Spanish orientalism continues today in the world music scene, as flamenco is celebrated in the cinema of Carlos Saura and Tony Gatlief.

As with Italy, Spanish culture internalises this division within its own territory. For nearly 800 years, from the early eighth century, the south of Spanish was an Islamic civilisation. In 1492, on the same year that Christopher Columbus set out to find the New World, the new Christian monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella forced the surrender of Granada, the last Muslim city, and expelled the Jewish population from the entire peninsular.

Capitulación de Granada, por Francisco Pradilla y Ortiz: Boabdil frente a Fernando e Isabel. 1882After the Reconquista, those of Moorish background were always under suspicion. The original terms of surrender guaranteed that Moors would keep their goods and continue to observe Sharia. But forced conversions soon followed. Even those who converted became victim of new laws, such as the limpieza de sangre (purity of blood). Granada soon lost its once thriving silk industry and was eventually eclipsed by Seville, which became the gateway to the new world.

image After having brutally expelled the heretics, signs of regret began to appear. This ambivalence is particularly strong in the classic novel of Spanish literature, Don Quixote. The story of the knight-errant and his squire takes the form of a journey south, from Castile and towards Seville. In the course of his adventures, Quixote feels free to identify any untrustworthy character as an Andalusian moor. However, in attempting to revive the earlier romances of Spanish classical literature, Cervantes finds parallel in the opposition between brutal Visigoths and noble Basques and the harsh treatment which the Spanish handed out to the Moors. Don Quixote in the end sides with a Moorish lover (Abindarráez), against his Christian rival. Most remarkably, the book itself is revealed to be written by a Moor, Cide Hamete Benengeli and includes a long passage identifying all the Spanish words that come from Arabic language, such as almorzar, to have lunch.

At the end of Don Quixote, a lead box is found that contains laudatory poems. This alludes to the lead books that were supposedly discovered in Granada in early sixteenth century. Known as the plomos, they contained manuscripts in Arabic, supposedly signed by St. Cecilio, which implied that Granada was at the heart of the mystery of Immaculate Conception. They were in fact forgeries attempting to show that the Moriscos were actually early Christians, thus deserving respect.

image The north-south fault line re-emerged in the twentieth century with the Spanish Civil War. The Republican forces were focused in the south-east of the country, supported particularly by Catalan radicals. Soon after the war began, the Republican poet Garcia Lorca was murdered by fascist forces. Lorca had championed the South as the spiritual home of ‘duende’, the dark passion that informs great art, embodied in the cante jondo (deep song) of Flamenco singing.

The continuing feeling for the South as a region of the vanquished past is evoked in Victor Erice’s film, El Sur, which conflates the rift between families caused by the civil war and a story of love  lost in the division between south and north. One of the films touching scenes is during the daughter’s first communion when she dances with her father, joining together the southern past with the northern present.

Given more recent tensions in the Middle East, this south of Spain has become particularly interesting as a region where the three religions of Islam, Judaism and Christianity were seen to co-exist relatively peacefully and productively. The Convencia was known particularly for its philosophy: scholars such as Averroes developed the Greek classical tradition of Aristotle into systems of thought that would lay the ground for Scholastics such as Thomas Aquinas.

image What joined these philosophers was a sense of the limits of knowledge. Maimonides in the Guide for the Perplexed developed an apophatic theology which argued that divinity could never be understood within human terms, only negatively. In the early 12th century, Ibn Tufail wrote a philosophical novel, which was eventually translated into English as Improvement of Human Reason: Exhibited in the Life of Hai Ebn Yokdhan. This tale of a man who grows up isolated from all civilisation inspired the first novel in English, Robinson Crusoe. Tufail encouraged Averroes (Ibn Rushd) to write his commentaries on Aristotle, which developed the belief that ‘existence precedes essence’. Such views had a strong influence on the Enlightenment and secular views that emerged much later in eighteenth century Europe.

It was through the Convivencia that the West ‘discovered’ Arabic numerals, paper, rice, sugar, cotton and the tradition of courtly love poems, including troubadours. From this perspective, the Reconquista seems like an act of grand theft, in which the benefits of civilisation were stolen and all traces of their previous ownership removed. But that would be to forget the curiosity about this abandoned past that continued to shadow the glories of the Spanish nation. Recent gestures like Erice’s El Sur attempt to rediscover how those pieces might fit together.

The possibility of reconciliation continues to haunt contemporary Spain. It’s part of a larger story about the two Europes – the modern North and backward South. The price of victory in the North came at the cost of the heartfelt traditions it seems to yearn for in its lost South. Whether or not reconciliation is possible, this dialogue continues to define the identity of Europe.


José Colmeiro ‘Exorcising exoticism: Carmen and the construction of oriental Spain’ Comparative Literature (2002) 54: 2, pp. 127-144

Judith Etzion ‘Spanish Music as Perceived in Western Music Historiography: A Case of the Black Legend?’ International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music (1998) 29: 2, pp. 93-120

Nicholás Wey Gómez The Tropics of Empire: Why Columbus Sailed South to the Indies Cambridge, Mass: MIT, 2008

Eric Clifford Graf Cervantes and Modernity: Four Essays on Don Quijote Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2007

A. Katie Harris From Muslim to Christian Granada: Inventing A City’s Past In Early Modern Spain Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007

Michael Richards A Time Of Silence: Civil War And The Culture Of Repression In Franco’s Spain, 1936-1945 : Cambridge University Press, 1998, pp. 67-69

The German idea of South – high noon in the Black Forest

Spernere mundum, spernere te ipsum, spernere te sperni.
Scorn the world, scorn yourself, scorn being scorned.
St Filippo Neri quoted by Goethe

The Faustian quest

image Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is today the proud hero of enlightened Germany. Institutes in his name disseminate German culture around the world. And the core of this culture, Das Drama der Deutschen, is Goethe’s most key work, Faust (1808). Goethe’s drama turns on a deal between Mephistopheles and Faust: Mephistopheles will do the hero’s bidding on earth if he can show Faust a moment that we would like to last forever. The contract embeds a critical paradox: a quest in which the ultimate goes is to be free of the need to quest.

In the case of Faust, the assumption is that the state of acceptance represents the ultimate goal of life—to be happy where one is. It opposes the restless questing for a distant goal against the simple acceptance of life as it is. This is an opposition between today and tomorrow, the relation between the ground under your feet and the horizon beyond, sequence of noon above and sunset disappearing, and, in the Germany story particularly, the relation of South to North.

This simple opposition between here and there provides a way of reading the idea of South in German culture. There are moments when tomorrow eclipses today and North triumphs over South. And there is an alternative line whereby the ground under one’s feet offers blessed relief from the ever receding horizon beyond, and South supersedes North. In the case of Goethe, we see a balance between both.

For Goethe personally, this opposition is played out during his journey through Italy. He contrasts the happy lives of Neapolitans against the deferment of pleasure in the North:

Nature compels the Northerner to make provisions and preparations, the housewife to pickle and cure, so as to supply the kitchen for the whole year, the husband to see to the stores of wood and grain, the fodder for the cattle, etc. Consequently the most beautiful days and hours are lost to enjoyment and devoted to work… These natural influences, which have stayed the same for millennia, surely have determined the character of northern nations, which are admirable in so many respects.[1]

Goethe’s Italian Journey is told as a struggle between his restless German self and the ‘school of light and merry living’ that beckoned him in Naples and Sicily. Goethe identified with the Northern mentality, while acknowledging the lack of Southern equanimity.

Other thinkers, however, turn this confirmation of North identity into a condemnation of the South. Others still reverse this hierarchy and see the Southern equanimity as superior to the distracted North. And then within Germany itself is its own internal division between North and South that is constitutive of its national identity.

The Classical Ideal

image Goethe’s travel to Italy was inspired by Johann Joachim Winckelmann’s pioneering treatise on classicism, History of Ancient Art (1764). Winckelmann articulated a positive relation to South, at least to Germany’s immediate south in the sites of classical civilisation, Italy and Greece.

The cosmography for this classical world was derived by Winckelmann from the Aristotelian theory of climate. In Aristotle’s position, extremes of climate focus the individual on physical needs, while temperate environs such as in Italy or Greece enabled creativity to flourish: ‘A flower withers beneath an excessive heat, and, in a cellar into which the sun never penetrates, it remains without color.’[2] While this understanding may seem to position Germany unfavourably, at the cold extreme where little grows, Winckelmann’s project has been interpreted as aligning Germany culture with the classical ideal.


image With the enlightenment came a notion of modernity that distinguished forward looking nations from those oriented backwards. Immanuel Kant’s essay Answering the Question: What is Enlightenment? (1784) argues that ‘Enlightenment is mankind’s exit from self-incurred immaturity’. In this can be seen a foundation for the difference between an active North and a dependent South.

Kant clearly believes that the world is not equal, but he refrains from geographic determinism. In his earlier text On the Different Races of Man (1775), Kant had argued for the superiority of the German peoples. Though Kant had a lifetime interest in geography, he did not subscribe to the climate as a cause for racial hierarchy. Such would contradict his overall philosophy of freedom. In his Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View (1798) he argues that ‘it does not depend on what Nature makes of man, but what man makes of himself.’ For Kant, the critical factor determining racial hierarchy was less defined, amounting to a kind of infection that afflicted the darker peoples.[3] Though maybe not part of Kant’s world view at the time, his categorial imperative (the moral principle of reciprocity, that one acts as one would wish others would act) can be seen as a driving force in the development of new southern perspectives, which seek more reciprocal intellectual exchange between the West and its other.

What the dialectic leaves behind

image In the case of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, however, there were clear reasons in nature why the North was superior to the South.

In his lectures on the philosophy of history (1837), Hegel placed Germany in a privileged position to inherent the mantle of civilisation from the classical world. He developed the Aristotelian position beyond a simple symmetrical relation between North and South, cold and hot. For Hegel, history demonstrates that the North is privileged:

The true theatre of history is therefore the temperate zone; or, rather, its northern half, because the earth there presents itself in a continental form, and has a broad breast, as the Greeks say. In the south, on the contrary, it divides itself, and runs out into many points.[4]

Hegel distinguishes a developed North from an undeveloped South. To argue this point, he cites the case of the nature in New Holland, where streams have not developed channels as rivers but ‘lose themselves in marshes’.[5] The world contains an obvious vertical hierarchy.

Laterally, Hegel articulates the Occidentalist position that progress follows the sun, therefore ‘The History of the World travels from East to West, for Europe is absolutely the end of History, Asia the beginning.’[6] But while the sun may once have shone in countries like India and China, it has never graced the dark expanse of Africa—‘the land of childhood, which, lying beyond the day of self-conscious history, is enveloped in the dark mantle of Night.’[7] So while the lateral journey of the sun places east in the beginning (dawn) and west at the end (sunset), the South is a permanent night. In this vision of a dark South, Hegel extends the solar trope beyond analogy into pure metaphor.

Nordic ideals

image By the nineteenth century, this conceptual hierarchy of North and South began to take political form as a belief emerged in the racial supremacy of Nordic peoples. In 1851, Schopenhauer argued for the superiority of the white races in direct contradiction with Aristotle. It was the very physical hardships experienced by white peoples in their migration north that equipped them with powers of invention.

This different became the subject of scientific study. In 1888, the Russian émigré known as Madam Blavatsky published The Secret Doctrine, the Synthesis of Science, Religion and Philosophy which focused this argument particularly on the Aryan races. In 1930, the leading intellectual forces of the Nazi movement, Alfred Rosenberg, published The Myth of the Twentieth Century which located the origins of the Aryans on a lost landmass off the coast of north-west Europe, from where they spanned eastwards to found civilisations as far as Iran and India.

image Such views serviced Germany’s colonial ambitions. In the early 20th century, these views were used to justify the policies of the Deutsch Ostafrikanische Gesellschaft in Africa, for whom ‘The purpose of colonization is, unscrupulously and with deliberation, to enrich our own people at the expense of other weaker peoples.’[8] In 1903, German colonists invaded Namibia displacing the Herero people who subsequently rebelled. In response, the Germans drove the Herero into the deserts and poisoned wells, herding the survivors into concentration camps to work as slave labourers. This is regarded as the world’s first genocide, and a rehearsal for the later extermination of Jews. In response to international protest at the time, the Germans claimed that the Herero were sub-humans.

image Nordicism was associated with particular physical features, such as dolichocephalic heads (long-skulled), blond hair, blue eyes and tall stature. In 1933 Nazi theorist Hermann Gauch argued that birds can be taught to talk better than other animals because ‘their mouths are Nordic in structure.’ Such racial superiority became the justification for conquest. For Adolf Hitler, the German quest was to plant the ‘seed of Nordic blood’ and so regenerate the world.

This quest to conquer the South reached its apotheosis with the Third Reich—so ends the story of Northern superiority. But this is not the only German story. Amongst a parallel line of thinkers we can see alternative attitudes, sometimes even reversing the relation between Northern struggle and Southern acceptance.

The ‘great noon-calm’

According to the dominant narrative, the restless North overcomes a lazy South. But there were many for whom this hierarchy was reversed—the dislocated North seeks a centred South. Oswald Spengler published Decline of the West in 1918, arguing for an organic notion of culture that grows and dies. He described Gothic architecture as the expression of a Faustian North, with its focus on the ‘I’ and flying buttresses.

He contrasted this against the Apollonian South, realised in Renaissance, whose contribution is that ‘in lieu of the Northern Sturm und Drang it breathed the clear equable calm of the sunny, carefree and unquestioning South.’[9] The Renaissance gave expression to the ‘fullness of light, the clarity of atmosphere, the great noon-calm, of the South’. While still elevating the Northern Gothic as a source of innovation, Spengler shared Goethe’s understanding of the South as an alternative way of being.

image The reversal of value was given most powerful expression by Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche criticised the Aristotelian hierarchy of temperate zones and praised ‘tropical man’. In Beyond Good and Evil (1886), Nietzsche continued his attack on Christianity, particularly northern Protestantism.

He contrasted the heavy German music of Wagner with the ‘childish delight’ of Mozart. The Northern German is ‘manifold, formless, and inexhaustible’, associated with clouds, twilight and dampness—all that is still in the process of development. In Wagner, one finds ‘no beauty, nothing of the south, nothing of the fine southern brightness of heaven, nothing of grace, no dance, scarcely any will for logic’. The Germans ‘belong to the day before yesterday and the day after tomorrow—but they still have no today.’

One of Nietzsche’s key ideas is the Eternal Return of the Same, in which we are bound to experience our immediate present forever, invalidating the ceaseless questing beyond. Like Goethe’s Faust, Nietzsche focused on the elusive quest to be without quest.

Caught between North and South

image In the arts, the division between North and South is often more balanced. Thomas Mann’s novella Tonio Kröger (1898) seeks to understand how this opposition can be contained within a single person. The hero is born of a Puritanical German father and impulsive Italian mother. He escapes the bourgeois comforts of the north for the ‘cities of the south’, ‘for he felt that his art would ripen more lushly in the southern sun’.[10] Yet there is a time we he also seeks the heartfelt melancholy of the North, fleeing to Denmark, saying ‘I can’t stand all that dreadful southern vivacity, all those people with their black animal eyes. They’ve no conscience in their eyes, those Latin races.’[11] In the case of Mann, this incommensurability of North and South is a source of tragedy.

We can see modern versions of this with films such as Doris Dörrie’s Bin ich schon? (Am I Beautiful?) In this road movie, a German family undertakes the epic journey across to Spain for a holiday. In the process, the film continually contrasts the obsessive German mentality with Spanish spontaneity.[12] For Dörrie, the passion of the South undercuts Northern pretensions. image

While the South may be variously charged positively or negatively, it is inevitably cast as other to German culture. But what is authentic German culture? The popular image consists of men in lederhosen slapping their thighs, drinking steins of beer and ogling at the maidens in dirndls. The ‘Oktoberfest’ Germany is only a recent appendage—Bavaria is only a late addition to the German kingdom. Indeed, the internal polarity between Bavaria and Prussia may almost be as stark as the external difference between Germany and Italy.

The South within

image As the ‘Texas of Germany’, Bavaria’s folk culture is at odds with the restless Prussian north. Its Catholic culture reflected a traditional allegiance to ritual contrasting with the austerity of the Protestant north.

From the north, Bavaria is seen as a quaint and ridiculous region. When Bismarck was manoeuvring to incorporate Bavaria into the German state in 1866, he described the typical Bavarian as ‘half-way between an Austrian and a human being’. Eventually, when the treaty between north and south was being framed, the Jewish founder of the National Liberal Party, Eduard Lasker, advised, ‘The girl is very ugly indeed, but nevertheless she must be married.’ Bavaria was a necessary evil, wrested from Austria to bolster the Prussian state.

The treaty was negotiated with ‘mad’ King Ludwig II, who is most famously remembered today for squandering his kingdom’s fortunes on personal follies. But as with most southern stereotypes, there’s another side the story. Luigi Visconti’s film version of Ludwig’s biography constructs a scenario parallel to his depiction of Sicily in The Leopard: a proud aristocrat attempts to sustain the magnificence of his position against the odds of an ambitious new bourgeoisie. Bavaria is proud, sensitive, cultivated, while Prussia is brazen, boorish and philistine.

There is a strain of German culture which expresses Drang nach dem Süden, a yearning for the South. This is a South of acanthus leaf, orange grove and marble colonnade. It is a world of fantasy and wonder, far from the austere Prussian north.[13]

For the Altbayen, Prussia was an upstart nation. The word ‘Preuss’ was used in Bavaria to describe any unwelcome foreigner. Bavaria’s great cultivation was reflected in the capital, Munich, known as the ‘Athens of Isar’. Its destiny as a cultural capital culminated in the majestic Ring Cycle, staged for Wagner by King Ludwig in the town of Bayreuth. Later the English writer Walter Pater evoked the image of King Ludwig as a ‘northern Apollo’…’god of light, coming to Germany from some more favoured world beyond it, over leagues of rainy hills and mountain, making soft day there.’ To a degree this creative leadership continues today in jewellery, where exchange with the Munich Academy in Australia and New Zealand has inspired their own cultures of adornment.


While this is a core story of the German idea of south, it cuts short at the significant German interest in the Southern world, particularly the Pacific. This includes the German presence in New Guinea, Solomons, Samoa, the settlements in South America, as well as the extensive network of Lutheran missions in Australia. Germany is likely to be a regular presence as the idea of south continues its journey.

In the case of Germany, we find a fraught story that seems to realise the most extreme version of Southern inferiority. Yet because of this, there are lines of thought that develop quite a strong idea of south—as an eternal midday, clear, still and in the moment.

[1] J.W. Goethe Italian Journey (trans. Robert R. Heitner) New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994 (orig. 1786), p. 265

[2] Johann Joachim Winckelmann’s History of Ancient Art (translated by Giles Henry Lodge) J. R. Osgood, 1849, p.36

[3] See Jonathan Goldberg Tempest In The Caribbean Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004

[4] G.W.F. Hegel The Philosophy Of History (trans. J. Sibree) New York: Dover, 1956 (orig. 1831), p. 80

[5] The Australian writer Paul Carter has described this anxious policing of boundaries between water and land as ‘dry thinking’.

[6] G.W.F. Hegel The Philosophy Of History (trans. J. Sibree) New York: Dover, 1956 (orig. 1831), p. 103

[7] G.W.F. Hegel The Philosophy Of History (trans. J. Sibree) New York: Dover, 1956 (orig. 1831), p. 104

[8] Marc Ferro Colonization: A Global History (trans. K.D.Prithpaul) London: Routledge, 1997 (orig. 1994), pp. 83-84

[9] Oswald Spengler The Decline of the West (trans. Charles Francis Atkinson) New York: Vintage, 2006 (orig. 1918), p. 123

[10] Thomas Mann ‘Tonio Kröger’, in (ed. ) Death in Venice and Other Stories (trans. David Luke) London: Vintage, 1998 (orig. 1903

[11] Thomas Mann ‘Tonio Kröger’, in (ed. ) Death in Venice and Other Stories (trans. David Luke) London: Vintage, 1998 (orig. 1903), p. 167

[12] Peter M. McIsaac ‘North-South, East-West: Mapping German Identities in Cinematic and Literary Versions of Doris Dorrie’s “Bin ich schön?”’ The German Quarterly (2004) 77: 3, pp. 340-362

[13] Christopher McIntosh The Swan King, Ludwig II of Bavaria London: A. Lane, 1982, p. 11

Zimbabwe: The Colossus from the North Finds Ruins in the South

If I had a mother,
Oh Time, leave me alone.
She would offer me food when she ate herself,
Oh Time, leave me alone.
It’s only the gods who know,
Oh Time, leave me alone.
She would say, ‘Here you are my child’.

Patrick Chakaipa[1]

Now we take a sideways leap from the South Pacific to Southern Africa. Both parts of the world have evoked lost worlds and so lent themselves to Western primitivism. These romantic visions mask the often violent political realities of colonisation. But while Tahiti has retained its commodified tourist value, Zimbabwe has become symbolic of all that can go wrong in the South. Is the South inherently less civilised?

The history of Zimbabwe reflects a violent opposition between north and south. Once a thriving empire in its own right, Zimbabwe was crushed by northern colonists and is still yet to recover.

image The name Zimbabwe comes from the phrase, dzimba dza mabwe, which means ‘house of stone’. The legendary city of stone known today as Great Zimbabwe has been carbon dated by western methods back to approximately 600 AD. From the thirteenth century, the Maputa Empire traded gold along the Indian Ocean coast, in exchange for goods such as chinaware and Gujarat textiles. In the late 15th century, the empire split into two parts, Changamire in the south (including Great Zimbabwe) and Mwanamutapa in the north. Arabs still populated the trading towns.[2]

Then in the early 16th century, Portuguese traders began to arrive via Mozambique. In response, Swahili traders began to re-direct trade away from Portuguese dominated ports through alternative routes north. This began the decline of the Maputa Empire. Eventually, the Ndebele, fleeing the Zulu king Shaka, invaded and established their empire of Matabeleland.

image The British arrived in 1880s with Cecil Rhodes’ British South Africa Company. With intimations of the apartheid to come, Rhodes announced in 1887 that ‘the native is to be treated as a child and denied the franchise’

Zimbabwe was a special prize for Rhodes. He subscribed to the myth of the lost tribe of Israel in which the South is seen to contain remnants of Biblical stories. The legendary city of Ophir, the source of King Solomon’s wealth, was presumed to be that of Great Zimbabwe. The quest for biblical wealth became the subject of the novel King Solomon’s Mine by Ryder Haggard.

After having appropriated the Promised Land for Britain, Cecil Rhodes was given a burial that reflected both black and white cultures.[3] His body was carried north by train along his own railway in Bechuanaland (called by Rhodes ‘the Suez of the South’). The body of Rhodes was placed immediately after the engine, ‘so that even in death the great leader still led the way northward’. He was eventually buried in the Matopo hills, a traditional manner signifying his status as a deity of the land. In his will and testament, Rhodes proclaimed a universal Anglo-Saxon world government that would reunite Europe and the USA.

Rhodes’ colleague Lord Baden-Powell pursued the theatre of empire in Rhodesia during the Second Matabele War, when he established the art of scoutcraft to be taught to young boys. It was here that he fashioned the fleur de-lis as the emblem of his movement, so that the boys would always know the way north, no matter how far away they were from England.

Rhodes’ land eventually became Rhodesia, notorious for the apartheid rule of Ian Smith. In 1950, Doris Lessing’s first novel, the Grass is Singing, evoked the hatred fostered between black and white:

When old settlers say ‘One has to understand the country ‘, what they mean is, ‘You have to get used to our ideas about the native.’…

When it came to the point, one never had contact with natives, except in the master-servant relationship. One never knew them in their own lives, as human beings. A few months, and these sensitive, decent young men had coarsened to suit the hard, arid, sun-drenched country they had come to; they had grown a new manner to match their thickened sunburnt limbs and toughened bodies.[4]

image In the midst of this cold regime there were attempts to celebrate Shona culture. In 1966, the free-spirited Frank McEwen arrived from Paris where he brought a passion for primitivism to his new position as Director of the Art Gallery of Rhodesia. Seeking to engage the local culture, McEwen encouraged some museum guards to start carving soapstone and then started exhibiting their dreamlike creations. For Thomas Mukarobgwa sculptor McEwen, their ‘adult child art’ drew from the dormant cultures of Great Zimbabwe.[5] Freed of art education, their creations were ‘born directly, locally, from natural elements in the virgin ground’. McEwen organised successful exhibitions of their work in Europe and thriving market for their work ensued.

image While successful abroad, Shona sculpture is seen as disconnected from the political realities of life in Rhodesia.[6] A new generation of writers sought to depict the tensions between black and white, urban and rural. Charles Mungoshi’s The Setting Sun and the Rolling World reflects changes and separated generations. The father tries to convince his son to work the land, though he knows there is no future there

The sun was setting slowly, bloody red, blunting and blurring all the objects that had looked sharp in the light of day. Soon a chilly wind would blow over the land and the cold cloudless sky would send down beads of frost like white ants over the unprotected land.[7]

image Such divisions also separate writers themselves. Charles William Dambudzo Marechera was widely celebrated when he arrived in Europe brimming with negritude. He would say, ‘If you are a writer for a specific nation or a specific race, then fuck you.’ This nihilism was criticised in turn as an embrace of European modernism and denial of his roots.

image On the other hand, the playwright Ngugi wa Mirii remained in Africa to pioneer community theatre, particularly in Kenya. Until his recent death in a car accident, he was one of the most revered writers by the ZANU-PF movement.

While deeply divided over allegiances to global north and south, Zimbabwean culture has its own internal bearings. Shona traditions located the realm of the departed in two different regions.[8] Kubashikufwa is the land of ghosts deep underground, while Kwiwi is the land to the East is where the creator resides.

The South itself has particular meaning for the Venda, who journeyed into South Africa.[9] Their trek was accompanied by a drum called Ngowtu-lungundu, seen to play a role similar to the Arc of the Covenant. It was critically important that the drum never touch the ground in their southward journey.

image From the West, there are few countries in the world that seem as dysfunctional as Zimbabwe. The dispossession of white farmers and officially condoned violence seems to fulfil the worst prejudices of previous generations. Some allowance needs to be made for the fear and distrust that brewed during apartheid. But the challenge now is find a voice for Zimbabwe beyond fear and pity. The Chinese don’t seem troubled by this, and are happy to get down to business regardless of politics. When will the western world be open again to the words, songs, images and objects that emerge from this historic land?

The idea of South in Zimbabwe begins with a mythical lost world, which then unravels to a hell of violence and misery. Can we see beyond this idea to find a Zimbabwe of the future?


Thanks to David Jamali for his advice and encouragement. As the Zimbabwean proverb goes, ‘An elephant’s tusks are never too heavy for it’.

Next: Uruguay

[1] G. P. Kahari ‘Tradition, and Innovation in Shona Literature: Chakaipa’s Karikoga Gumiremiseve’ Zambezia , 2: 2, pp. 47-54

[2] Randall L. Pouwels ‘The Medieval Foundations of East African Islam’ The International Journal of African Historical Studies (1978) 11: 2, pp. 201-226

[3] Terence Ranger ‘Taking Hold of the Land: Holy Places and Pilgrimages in Twentieth-Century Zimbabwe’ Past and Present (1987) 117, pp. 158-194

[4] Doris Lessing The Grass is Singing Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1961 (orig. 1950), pp. 18-19

[5] Frank McEwen ‘Shona Art Today’ African Arts (1972) 5: 4, pp. 8-11

[6] Carole Pearce ‘The Myth of ‘Shona Sculpture” Zambezia (1993) 20: 107, pp. 85-103

[7] Charles Mungoshi The Setting Sun And The Rolling World : Heinemann International, 1989, p. 93

[8] Denys Shropshire ‘The Bantu Conception of the Supra-Mundane World’ Journal of the Royal African Society 1931, 30: 118, pp. 58-68

[9] A. G. Schutte ‘Mwali in Venda: Some Observations on the Significance of the High God in Venda History’ Journal of Religion in Africa Vol. 9, Fasc. 2. (1978), pp. 109-122.

Tahiti – Time to eat time!

Around 1,000 years after Tahiti was first settled by Polynesians, the English sailor Samuel Wallis arrived to claim the territory as ‘King George the Third’s Island‘. The Tahitians attempted to repulse the intruders, but the superior weaponry of the English made an unequal match. When the French explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville arrived the following year, in 1768, he was given a much friendlier reception. In response, he claimed the territory for France as ‘New Cythera’. In his 1771 publication, Voyage autour du monde, Bougainville depicted the island as an earthly paradise, far from the corruption of civilisation.

imageBougainville’s report had a strong effect on the French enlightenment, inspiring the utopianism of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In his Supplément au voyage de Bougainville, Denis Diderot uses the Tahitian figure Ohou as a foil for critiquing Western civilisation. Ohou explains the readiness of Tahitian men to share their womenfolk with the Europeans as a long-term strategy to appropriate all the best of their civilisation into their own culture. Diderot reflects, ‘Savage life is so simple and our societies are such complicated mechanisms. The Tahitien is near the origin of the world, the European near its old age.’ While the idea of South as a child is often presented negatively, particularly in a developmental paradigm, in this case it indicates an innocence with more future than the jaded Old World.

Following two visits by James Cook, Tahiti was chosen by the English as a source of breadfruit to be used as cheap food for slaves in the West Indies. In 1789, the captain of the ship commissioned for this purpose was deposed by rebellious sailors who turned their backs on civilisation and resigned themselves to die in the antipodes. The ‘mutiny on the bounty’ reflects the conflict in expanding English empire between the force of order located in the cold dark North and the temptations that seemed on offer in the warm verdant South.

image The spirit of Fletcher Christian continues. While playing the rebel in the 1961 film version, Marlon Brando turned his back on America, married his Tahitian lead and purchased the island first chosen by Bligh’s deserters as an escape. This came to a violent denouement when his first son called Christian murdered his Tahitian daughter’s native husband. The real Fletcher Christian’s men settled on Pitcairn Island, burnt the Bounty, and created an English-Tahitian hybrid micro-society, which is still alive today in Norfolk Island. As is usual, the only news coming from this world is of sexual abuse and murder. We hear little of the thriving artistic and literary life on the islands.

Norfolk Island fibre artist Margarita Sampson ‘Welcome/Greetings’ (2006) recycled books & ink. 6ft x4 ft wide. Photo: Alex Kovoskali, shown at Craft Victoria along with Dar Plait fe Ucklun Norfolk Island Weaving for Common Goods. image

Bounty Chocolate Bar, produced by Mars, used the idyllic image of the Pacific island as a fantasy for consumers to indulge while eating a ‘taste of paradise’.

image One enduring legacy of these first visits is the tattoo. In a society without capital, the tattoo was a principle means by which power and status could be acquired. All it needed was the capacity of the individual to endure great pain. After recovering from the ordeal, proof of their strength was available for all to see. The European sailors who acquired tattoos for themselves then introduced this skin economy into the West, where it still flourishes today, particularly among those who do not have access to other forms of capital. The tattoo is one of the most visible ways in which the South has imprinted itself on the rest of the world.

In 1842, Queen Pomare signed a treaty that made Tahiti a French Protectorate. Etablissements français d’Oceanie became a space for artists to position themselves against the conventional order. In 1891, Paul Gauguin arrived in Tahiti seeking escape from the modern world. Having grown up in Peru, Gauguin shared with van Gogh a love of ‘primitive cultures’ such as the Brittany peasant. His journal Noa Noa documents Gauguin’s journey away from civilisation into the full life of nature. After joining vigorous work with natives, Gauguin can finally claim to be one of them:


This cruel assault was the supreme farewell to civilization, to evil. This last evidence of the depraved instincts which sleep at the bottom of all decadent souls, by very contrast exalted the healthy simplicity of the life at which I had already made a beginning into a feeling of inexpressible happiness. By the trial within my soul mastery had been won. Avidly I inhaled the splendid purity of the light. I was, indeed, a new man; from now on I was a true savage, a real Maori.

imageGauguin’s paintings have become a universal symbol of Tahiti as a world of classical beauty. This has become ever more commodified through tourism and consumerism. In 1913, the first postage stamp from this region contained a dusky beauty with a hibiscus flower behind her ear. It was only a matter of time before Club Med set up shop.

In 1963, as France anticipated Algerian independence, Charles de Gaulle chose the Pacific territories as the new site for nuclear testing. The assumption was that the atolls and their surrounding waters were empty. Tensions rose during the course of atomic explosions on Moruroa. In 1977, the Polynesian Liberation Front was formed by Oscar Temaru, who is now president of the local parliament. In 1992, during the ‘day of the waters’, PLF leaders gathered in Salzburg to articulate their position. Myron Mataoa stated, ‘Now this island of Moruroa — you know what Moruroa means? Moruroa means “the land of secret”. The land of secret. And today that land is really a land of secret where we don’t get any information from the French administration on how bad was their testings since 1966.’

Tourism is a dominant force in contemporary Tahiti. The German-born sculptor Andreas Dettloff has produced a series of work in the mode of ‘reverse primitivism’, depicting forms like shrunken skulls but with Western iconography such as Coca-Cola. One of his most successful series were skulls supposedly of Gauguin. A resident for twenty years, Dettloff’s work is disliked by tourist operators, but enjoyed by native Tahitians.


Gauguin in his last décor (Andreas Dettloff, 2008)

image A major force in Tahitian cultural revival was the poet Henri Hiro, who called on his people to recover their lost culture. His called on Tahitians to ‘Eat the time! It is necessary to eat time! You must eat the time lost by your past!’ The Tahitian concept of time and space is opposite to the Western: Tahitians look forward to the past, while their backs are turned to the future. To eat the time is to devour the process of Westernisation that has alienated Tahitians from their culture. Like the Brazilian concept of anthropofagi, it evokes cannibalism as a cultural response to the outside world.

Hiro has been followed by a number of women writers whose writing has been described as a form of ‘ancestral realism’ in which previous generations are considered an active presence in daily life.

From the Western perspective, Tahiti represents the idea of South as a prelapsarian world from which an attack can be mounted on the dominant order. Tahiti was first used by bourgeois French intellectuals to critique the over-civilised Ancien Régime, and continues to be used as a satire on the contemporary global order by those at its periphery.

And where do the Tahitians themselves stand in this. Are they mere extras in cinematic Western fantasies? Recent Tahitian voices seem to revert back to the hostility they showed their first English visitor, Wallis. Perhaps that is the legacy of innocence. Cast as children, Tahitians are positioned beyond the law, without adult forms of exchange. Violence might seem the only way to assert identity. The situation appears similar to the myth of El Dorado in Colombia.

This duality of innocence/violence seems an important dimension to Western ideas of South. It’s interesting to understand its dynamics and whether the same applies to ideas of South from other directions.


  • Greg Dening Mr Bligh’s Bad Language: Passion, Power and Theatre on Bounty Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992
  • Denis Diderot Supplement to the Voyage of Bougainville (1772)
  • Rod Edmond Representing The South Pacific: Colonial Discourse From Cook To Gauguin New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997
  • Paul Gauguin Noa Noa: The Tahitian Journal (trans. O.F. Theis) New York: Dover, 1985 (orig. 1919)
  • Miriam Kahn ‘Tahiti: The Ripples of a Myth on the Shores of the Imagination’ History and Anthropology (2003) 14: 4, pp. 307-326
  • Dan Taulapapa McMullin “The fire that devours me’: Tahitian spirituality and activism in the poetry of Henri Hiro’ International Journal of Francophone Studies (2005) 8: 3, pp. 341-357
  • Robert Nicole ‘Resisting orientalism: Pacific literature in French’, in (ed. Vilsoni Hereniko, Rob Wilson) Inside Out: Literature, Cultural Politics, and Identity in the New Pacific : Rowman & Littlefield, 1999
  • Robert Nicole The Word, The Pen, And The Pistol: Literature And Power In Tahiti Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001
  • Tattoo: Bodies, Art and Exchange in the Pacific and the West edited by Nicholas Thomas, Anna Cole and Bronwen Douglas London: Reaktion, 2005

Thanks to Margarita Sampson and Andreas Dettloff.