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Category: Non-fiction

Isolde Charim

Ich und die Anderen. Wie die neue Pluralisierung uns alle verändert
[Myself and the Others. How Modern Pluralization Changes Us All]


Welcome in the Encounter Zone

One world has been submerged, and another has become the norm. Even if Isolde Charim can't put a precise date on this transition, she is still amazed that a single lifetime, for example her own, is enough to witness the change of an era. Myself and the Others: How Modern Pluralization Changes Us All is the title of the latest essay by this author, who lives in Vienna and Berlin and whose work can be most commonly found in the taz and Wiener Zeitung newspapers. Her subject matter this time round is pluralism, which Charim describes as a "creeping development you first notice when it's complete." It's only in biographical flashbacks that it becomes clear how fundamentally human co-existence has changed. The Hungarian philosopher Agnes Heller once confessed that she didn't see a black person until she was twenty. This was the result of growing up behind the Iron Curtain – but not only that. Charim confesses that it was much the same for her, growing up in Vienna.
Today plurality is defined as a necessary proximity and coexistence of various cultures and religions, Nonetheless, for Charim, the fact is by no means evidence that a completely homogeneous culture was ever conceivable or desirable. Homogeneity has always been a construction, and the author follows Freud in criticizing the idea of anything being self-identical. Indeed, Freud's ego, which is "not the master in its own house," reveals the illusory nature of the presumption that an ego or by extension a society could ever be identical with itself. Despite that fact, for a long time, nationalism was an eminently successful attempt to maintain this illusion in grand style. And today? Wherever nationalism is reborn, for example, in the current omnipresent right-wing populism or the Brexit movement, invoking the nation only divides, never unites.

One might object that the the celebration of the plural, which conceives of the individual self-definition of the individual as traversing a spectrum of identification protected by mutual tolerance, always presupposes certain cultures and urban space, which had perennially by characterized by particular openness. Charim opposes this with th formulation "global village" and her own optimistic conclusion that today even rural space has urbanized: "Even in the village, that prototype of a homogenous way of life, there is pluralization. In every German or Austrian backwater, there is a kebab shop"
If we follow the author, today ubiquitously pluralized society is an "encounter zone" that profits from the precisely the fact that it no longer promises commonality. For that reason we must not only mistrust but resists all who put themselves upon the political stage with promises of re-homogenization and harmony – by that the author particularly means the far right, which has been strengthened everywhere.

Translated by Jefferson Chase

Book cover Myself and the Others. How Modern Pluralization Changes Us All

By Ronald Düker

​Ronald Düker is a cultural scientist and journalist, and he writes for the German weekly Die Zeit and various daily newspapers and magazines. He lives in Berlin.