Category Archives: West

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

West, then left

imageThe History of the World travels from East to West, for Europe is absolutely the end of History, Asia the beginning. The History of the World has an East… for although the Earth forms a sphere, History performs no circle around it, but has on the contrary a determinate East, viz, Asia. Here rises the outward physical Sun, and in the West it sinks down: here consentaneously rises the Sun of self-consciousness, which diffuses a nobler brilliance.

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

In exploring ideas of South, one is wary of ascribing any essential meaning to the nether regions. After all, South is a purely relative term. It is not a specific place, so much as the direction in which to look. So South in the Northern Hemisphere is associated with the sun and warmth, whereas precisely the opposite holds in the Southern Hemisphere.

But there are other directions that seem to have a more natural meaning. No matter where you are in the world, the sun always sets in the West. In ‘Western’ culture, traditional forms of understanding such as the Bible have identified the East as the source of history. It was the mythical location of the Garden of Eden, from where mankind emerged. In the modern era, the focus shifted more towards the future, where the sun was travelling. So Hegel invoked the travel of the sun to underpin his history of the Idea, which began with the Greeks and then travelled West to Europe. This reached its apotheosis in the New World, with the West as the limitless land of opportunity in which the nation’s manifest destiny might be found (see Ken Burn’s documentary West, episode ‘Geography of Hope’).

So where is the South in this? Put yourself looking West, towards the setting sun. There on your right is North. And South?

Right and left have a natural incline of meaning in themselves. Most people are born right-handed. It is the norm. Those favouring the left are abnormal, ‘sinister’.

So far, I haven’t come across any reference to this characteristic of South, being left of the setting sun. But it has an uncanny economy to it. If we look to the West, we invoke a hierarchy of North about South. But if we reverse, and face East, then South is in the superior position. Strange that Chinese maps are oriented South, whereas those in the West have North as up.

I doubt we can go much further along this path. But it is in the nature of this journey to map the dead-ends as well as the breakthroughs. We may well return to this point coming from a different direction.