For a Cosmopolitan Alliance – About the Political Necessity of Transnational Magazines

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Arts, Media & Internet Activism
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Today a magazine can only be international in its composition and cosmopolitan in its emotion and desire. What must arise is a wayfarer, an eternal vagabond, running the world after a scattered tribe of minds. 

The magazine must be let to fluctuate between the seas. But this fluctuation is not a ‘visit’; the journal does not ‘land’ in a country to speak of what it sees. This is no longer the time for the simple presentation of culture and politics beyond nations. No, the magazine lands to refuel on ideas, be they ideas of the immediately near, of the distant, or of that which does not set foot on any ground. It is not a transnational presentation that is at stake, not a global survey that is sought after. But a cosmopolitan alliance. 

But perhaps this is an impossible stance. After years of integration, despite investments and calls for its creation, even a European public sphere has not yet emerged. And to think just our distance from a cosmopolitan paradigm – how many European magazines still have most of their board from a single European nation! But the public sphere today has stale air. It is weighted by its hubris of unity, its tentacular reach, its closure. (An example of that closure – and of its beauties – comes from the last surviving artistic product on Italian television: Blob. Blob cuts a selection of brief television sketches and edits them into gems of irony and insight. Irony and insight that can only be drawn out from within, when the whole concatenation makes sense to us, when the faces are familiar, the stories known.) 

But it is not necessary that a sphere of publicity be entirely familiar to every visitor. On the contrary; this space can contain unseen perspectives, can dislocate and disrupt; presenting alterity, it becomes the factory of an unknown. What does this mean? It means that we must forego the conception of a public sphere as an enclosed cluster of assumptions, as a place where everyone feels intellectually at home, where the vocabulary employed, the themes raised, the reasoning followed—all strike one as familiar, as daily bread, as the halo of maternal society. And what in its place? A field of overlapping commitments. A field of overlapping interests, of overlapping languages. Of overlapping, struggling ideas.  

But perhaps this is a politically suspicious stance. For in such an open space of possibility, amidst the cacophony of one thousand languages, how can the opportunity for engagement arise? Do we not edge dangerously close to an elitist cultural production, one that juggles a plurality of thoughts, browsing through a market of ideas where nothing is ever bought.? And so, how can a cosmopolitan magazine be political? 

But must an answer to this question really come from somewhere else, must it be created, or is it not perhaps already amongst us? Let us ask it again: For in such an open space of possibility, amidst the cacophony of one thousand languages, how can the opportunity for engagement arise? But have we not seen just the attempt to practically forge such a political space in the past ten years? What was the movement for an alternative globalisation if not a space of global polyphony? These are not the most popular times to chant its praises. But what is the lesson that it has taught, and that most likely it will continue to teach in the years to come? That global participation can be stimulated around local struggles; that a tribalistic understanding of commitment – commitment to what touches me – can be left behind. And at the same time that the plurality of local struggles can come together, producing a critical mass that demands nothing short of another world. And what are the latter two statements if not the clearest definition of the political task of a cosmopolitan publication? To stimulate a compassionate response, which means to move, regardless of geographical distance. And to articulate the emergence of a world to come from no privileged vintage point, from no urban centre, but through shifting geographies of thought. 

And there is more. A cosmopolitan magazine becomes political the moment it ceases to be alone. The moment its concert of voices enters in direct relation with – and in this relation, dialectically, it also finds itself – with others. Exchanges of activisms. Exchanges – and here is a further, crucial political dimension, - that enable to surpass one’s own constituency, one’s own group of the converted, and that open a vision to and for society. And these can only be exchanges that stretch into public space, that occupy, with drums and trumpets, the sphere of publicity. Exchanges that both found and represent a political consciousness beyond borders. An example? The joint transnational publication and dissemination of statements, invectives, positions, pamphlets, or announcements, that appear simultaneously in the streets, cafés, galleries, universities, work places of cities across nations. 

For the crucial task of magazines is to advance a political-cultural project. A project must not mean a blind adherence to a single position, membership of a single party. But creation and reformulation of the categories that govern our society. A project that is as broad and open and polyphonic as the transnational project sketched. And then—to allow for that project to emerge and be articulated, to grow and evolve and assume the shapes of history. 

The hands of editors must be black of ink and commitment.

About the contributor

Lorenzo Marsili
Co-Founder & Director, European Alternatives

Lorenzo is the founding director of the transnational civil society organisation European Alternatives and one of the initiators of the pan-European movement DiEM25. He has previously worked in publishing and was founding editor of the cultural quarterly Naked Punch. He is an active commentator and public speaker internationally. Lorenzo is also co-author of the book "Citizens of Nowhere".