In a Europe of Waters

This is part of our special feature, Rethinking the Human in a Multispecies World.


The devastating July 2021 floods in the Rhine’s watershed in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands (not to mention the deadly inundations elsewhere on the globe at the time) have served to remind residents and any observer of late modern human beings’ vulnerable habitation in a powerful liquid nature. As the awareness and understanding of that predicament has slowly advanced amid the climate’s transformations in the Anthropocene, it has become evident that humanity’s self-incurred threats can materialize through any of the basic elements of earthly life—as raging fires would attest the very next month. Pending radical reorientation and effective counter-measures, such crises will continue to afflict the global habitat. What political and scientific, economic and cultural forces must be mustered to facilitate greater human responsiveness? How “in” and “for” the world can the required reorientation be put into action? In lieu of hazarding answers to these questions, this contribution to EuropeNow’s special issue on “Rethinking the Human in a Multispecies World” offers an approach relevant to such concerns by outlining a hydrocentric framework for European Studies appropriate to a Europe—and a European Union—in flux and perceived to be treading in a prolonged state of crisis.[1]

In a small continent surrounded and permeated by water, life in aquatic nature has elicited much storytelling and myth-making, from quotidian exchanges about weather through speculation about the primordial separation of land and water to fanciful sea tales about Europe’s origins. A well-nigh constant of human life, struggling with the elements also engenders narration and, through such interpersonal activity, the collective interpretation of reality. A passage from Ivo Andrić’s 1945 modern epic The Bridge on the Drina (Na Drini ćuprija) may be taken as illustrative thereof. Recounting changes occurring in Višegrad during the Austro-Hungarian occupation, Andrić draws attention to the extensive repairs of the book’s eponymous bridge undertaken by the Schwabes, as the occupiers are collectively designated in the South Slavic idiom, at the beginning of the twentieth century. Their initiative sparks commentary from the onlooking residents of the Bosnian town. The ensuing discussion elicits an intervention by the village hodja, Alihodja Mutavelić, whose perspective Andrić foregrounds across the pages of his chronicle’s long dénouement. Alihodja relates a cosmogonic origin tale of first bridges: subsequent to Allah’s creation of the world, an envious devil expressed his ire by scratching the earth’s surface with his nails as forcefully as possible, thereby creating divisive rivers and ravines that compromised the interaction and travel of human beings. In lieu of being able to reverse the diabolical act, Allah supplied earthlings with angelic assistance. Spreading their wings over crevices, God’s angels provided humans with the possibility of passage and the knowledge of bridge-building. The startling conclusions Alihodja draws from this, however—namely, that it is a blessing to be able to build bridges, but a sin to interfere with any—rather reflect his inveterate historical skepticism, indifference to human efforts, and deference to providence than any faith in Austrian engineering.[2] Superimposing cultural myth onto inscrutable nature, the stark binary opposition with which Alihodja toys, while couched in the religious terms of a divine earth pitted against diabolical waters, is nonetheless characteristic of an anthroparchal modernity of the kind the phrase natureculture has been coined to overturn. Bereft of supernatural aid and left to their own devices, disenchanted moderns have necessarily focused attention on building bridges across the devil’s chasms and taming the earth’s waters, as the Schwabes proceed to do vis-à-vis the town’s water supply in Andrić’s tale. Later times have revealed both the hubris and shoddiness of our transgressive constructs, the instability of the land upon which any bridgeheads or footings might be secured, as well as, still metaphorically speaking, the absence of capable engineering crews … a state of affairs, in other words, that has given rise to the frequent production of civilizational crises at and in waters. As anthropogenic tendencies compel the revision and remedy of nature’s subjection to unwitting human mastery, they simultaneously underscore the need to somehow hold together in thought and analysis the complex (geo)political, social, economic, and technological dimensions of a natureculture that is humanity’s planetary habitat.

The notion that the challenges of such an entity as the European Union are entrained in and to be observed from its waters not only brings the latest summer floods to mind, but still more powerfully images from the peril at sea to which migrants venturing across the Mediterranean and other waters have been subjected in attempting to penetrate Fortress Europe’s outer and inner borders. From a broad vantage-point on late modernity, the two phenomena are linked. European sociologist Zygmunt Bauman has introduced such a linkage provocatively by theorizing liquid modernity’s “toxic waste production” not only in terms of capitalism’s ample generation of “industrial and household waste,” but also that of a “human surplus population” without home in the world: rejected by turbulent global labor markets, impoverished and imperiled amid climate change as well as (geo)political instabilities, subjected to European, US, and other economic hegemonies, which privilege the production and circulation of goods and even the flexibility of labor, yet rule over the location of human beings, faced with frequently ill-fated attempts to enforce such power through military and destructive means, millions find themselves on the move amid the mass production of refugees and proliferation of camps.[3] Indeed, perhaps indicative of the pull of survival narratives highlighted above, of the materials one could assign in the kind of German and European Studies courses I teach, images from the Mediterranean migration and the ensuing challenges of migrants on European shores, as depicted in documentary and features films from the twenty-first century’s second decade—e.g. Fuocoammare/Fire at Sea (2016), Eldorado (2018), Styx (2018)—have most grippingly captivated the attention of students in the removed and comparatively secure space of the US classroom. One may surmise that it is not only the dramatic portrayal of existential human plight as such, but also—and perhaps surprising to some—of the forbidding face of Europe today that rattles spectators, compelling them to revise their preconceptions of an older and supposedly more learned continent occasionally still idealized as an alternative to US empire, with whose perpetrations of atrocity at home and abroad they may be more familiar. Whether or not there is some vicarious transfer of insecurity in such spectatorial experiences—whereby premonitions of precarity among the protected and privileged curiously mingle with the imperiled via processes of empathetic identification—there is clearly an intensity in the encounter with the liquid condition of humanity. At the very least, riveting forms of vulnerability and abandonment, the insufficiency or absence of life-lines and bridges, or the constitution thereof only along elaborately construed, but remarkably transparent mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion, in addition to causal analyses of the predicaments as such, make for important topics to be addressed in classroom discussions. They simultaneously provide further rationale for advancing the conceptualization of European Studies as a critical discipline.


Notes towards a hydrocentric Europe

Prioritizing the continent’s aquatic geography, the shift from land to water in perspectives on Europe presents a host of productive gains for research and pedagogical endeavors alike. The first issue pertains to the question of European Studies’ units of analysis and forms of inquiry, which have in the past mostly been construed in the social sciences on the model of Area Studies and in the humanities on the model of national cultures, the latter in part due to linguistic considerations, which may or may not line up with individual nation-states, the precise shapes of which have fluctuated greatly over time. Against the terra-centrism underlying such approaches, as well as the telluric pull of territorially oriented nation-states that have afflicted the continent’s lands and those residing there, a hydrocentric mapping of Europe’s rivers, seas, and watersheds yields a refreshingly defamiliarized continental cartography (figure 1), puts geo-cultural sites that have entrained short- and long-term formative processes of mutual influence into view, and may therefore prove a better heuristic for addressing naturecultural phenomena, regardless of their national, multinational, transnational, or non-national constitution. Such a paradigmatic shift, moreover, need not only concern past forms of European multiculture of the kind so vastly reduced and obliterated during the national homogenizations and racist genocides of the twentieth century, but can also foster sensitivity to present and future, i.e. emergent cultural forms of Europeanization amid twenty-first-century processes of political unification, however fraught. In other words, in what may constitute an epistemological advantage for European Studies, thinking with water, rather than against it or in negligence thereof, brings the forms of inquiry that structure its observations and analyses into potentially greater synchrony with the dynamic character of natureculture in a Europe in flux.

Figure 1. “European Watersheds.” Wikipedia entry, accessed August 6, 2021. Creative Commons Share Alike.


Second, attention to a Europe of waters can exploit the real as well as semantic dimensions of water’s quintessentially dual characteristics in the lives of human beings: an element of sustenance as well as peril, a liquid portal of transit as well as a demarcation of borders, aquatic nature—rivers that can be crossed and seas that can be navigated—connects as well as divides. Much energy in the European cultural imaginary has accordingly been expended to extol the unifying capacities of waters against odds and obstacles, i.e. notwithstanding the naturalization of political borders and regimes of separation frequently construed in view of geographic determinants on or around the continent. Two suggestive exponents of the continent’s aquatic and nonnational imaginary may be taken as illustrative of such work. The first is the study of the Rhine river by Lucien Febvre published in French in 1935. Written against the grain of the river’s nationalist appropriations by France and Germany, Febvre’s Le Rhin: Histoire, mythes et réalités grasped the Rhine region as a “charnière” of nations and peoples: its riparian borderlands, he argued in unfolding the longstanding pre-national multicultural mix of a massive north-south and east-west axis of western Europe, are not “des pays d’arrêt,” but rather zonal sites of vast connectivity—claims that would be more appreciated after the twentieth-century catastrophe to ensue than at the time of the book’s publication.[4] The second concerns the more recent work Uwe Rada has spearheaded for Germany’s Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung (Federal Agency for Civic Education) on an extensive dossier entitled Geschichte im Fluss: Flüsse als europäische Erinnerungsorte (The Flow of History: Rivers as European Memory-Sites), a multi-authored and multinational project canvassing and conjoining some nine of the continent’s transnational riparian regions.[5] “Rivers know no nations,” Rada avers in one of the publications there, but rather figure as antidotes to the increasing renationalization of memory intensifying inner-continental divides.[6] Productively advancing the notion that non-national historiographies and memories can help abate contemporary reversions to tribalism, Rada attends to the expansion and transformation of perspectives that time spent alone or with others at and with waters large and small can afford: as sites of reflection and often transnational encounter, as windows into the distance, sea and river, maybe even—given the departure from solid ground that any recreational dive provides—lake and pond, invert one’s senses for what is near and what is far, inviting retreat from and revision of false fixities of self, space/time, and nation. Rada’s vision accords with the poetic, or more precisely, the hydropoetic imagination—exponents of which include Bertolt Brecht’s 1919 lyric “On Swimming in Lakes and Rivers,” from which my bracketed addendum to Rada was just spun, as well as the elaborate mythopoetic geographies Friedrich Hölderlin once generated for a fluvial Europe. It is a vision that has since morphed into a cultural project of acute political significance: the multinational and multidirectional rewriting of European history from its waters constitutes a faint and gentle, yet palpable current auguring resolution and undergirding the kind of continental interconnectivity on which the quality of life in Europe and presumably the fate of something like the European Union will also turn.

These observations relate to a third salient aspect of reading and teaching in a Europe of waters: the intermittently revealing as well as unnerving register of conceptual metaphor, which can be addressed by attending to the dialectics of dissolution and reconstitution found in the works of the Triestine literary historian and writer Claudio Magris and Zygmunt Bauman, in which conceptual metaphors of fluidity and liquidity abound. There is perhaps no single greater testament to the value of thinking through culture with water than Magris’ still resourceful Danubio, first published in Italian in 1986. Traversing the proverbially Iron Curtain lacerating the continent at the time, Magris’ cultural-historical journey through numerous countries and languages down the river from the Black Forest to the Black Sea was—presciently?—conceived as an attempt to circumnavigate the hardened scars accrued from the traumatic experiences of World War II and the sedimented deadlock of Cold War geopolitics. While Danube is not alone in betraying the burden culture bears when tasked to perform political labor surreptitiously or via surrogate, this by no means deters Magris in his aspiration to dissolve prevailing identity-formations in riparian waters to write central and eastern European multiculture anew. Eschewing myth-making’s foundations, disavowing the certainties of the river’s origins and the legitimacy of any authority, neutralizing, in other words, cultural and political claims to descend from, own, distinguish, dominate, and classify, Magris subjects genealogies oriented to the past to critique across Danube’s pages in order to begin to sound the futural “chorus of a human race united, despite everything, in the variety of its languages and cultures.”[7] Water’s promises proving deceitful, however, such prospective triumphalism is tempered not only by the author’s realistic premonition that he is as equally likely to encounter an “arena of bloody battles” in Danubia, but also by the humility with which rivers—given flowing waters’ potential to upend the fixity of any beholder’s gaze—endow human vision.[8] Such humility is perhaps also reflected in Magris’ characterization of his book as a “specie di romanzo sommerso,” whereby the submerged perspective from below and askew of the terra-centric cartographies to which political regimes remain oriented includes not only that of the journeying author, but could also be applied to hydrocentric European Studies. Of course, the other service to which Magris puts Danubian submersion concerns his orchestration of a hydropoetics of naturecultural life on the model of the actually existing non-identity of human beings: that is the precondition for their being written or rewritten by the river exercising a fluid power of signification all its own.[9] Outlining all manner of suggestive intersectional syntheses in Danubian Europe’s multicultural mosaic, Danubio provides a crossing from postwar Europe into the continent’s less bordered transnational phase, in which Magris’ bottled messages resurface amid warmer currents and rising waters.

To wit, Danube’s celebration of cultural fluidity betrays a slippery semantics and thus a possible limitation vis-à-vis subsequently emerging challenges. The condition of fluidity touted by Magris has since passed, on Bauman’s extensive socio-theoretical watch, into calamitous destabilization. Liquid life in a liquid modernity, Bauman observes, is not soft, but tough: “think of a deluge, flood, or broken dam.”[10] Amid the rapid meltdown of previously trusted social forms, the dismantling of the social state once oriented to the collective protection of citizens, the multifarious effects of negative, i.e. “one-sided, privatized and deregulated globalization”[11] and its exacerbation of exponentially increasing inequality across the globe, late moderns subsist as unmoored individuals in a new world disorder of intensified precarization and uncertainty. That the fragmentation of the social world and the flexibilization of human labor capacities—as Oskar Negt has maintained in analysis closely related to Bauman’s[12]—serve to fortify neo-liberalism’s regimes of domination also underscores the need for setting Magris’ cultural appeals into sharper relation to their possible bases. Distinguishing between a solid, heavy, and “Fordist” modernity and a liquid, light, and consuming modernity, Bauman marks an historical watershed, the consequences of which his many short books limn in diagnosing the vagaries, vicissitudes, and vortexes of liquid life’s situation and challenges. Bauman’s appeal to the new tasks that accrue to critical theory convincingly fall on bridge-building as a (counter-)conceptual metaphor for all societally relevant attempts to resist and remedy late modernity’s myriad tendencies to devastate human life. The first of these, as he put it in Liquid Modernity, would concern closing the gap at the core of individuality between de jure and actual freedom via the recultivation of “citizen tools,” a task surmountable only on the reconstitution of public sphere and public power.[13] Otherwise, it is likely that manifest tendencies towards retrenchment on local, national, and transnational levels will prevail and that any dialectical rescue out of liquid modernity’s floodwaters, i.e. any reassertion of the ability to “recover and repossess control over the forces shaping our shared condition while setting the range of our possibilities and the limits to our freedom to choose” will fade entirely from view.[14]

The last and perhaps most important aspect of a hydrocentric Europe can be approached by observing how the cardinal points of geographic orientation—west and east, north and south—have been wielded in prejudicial evaluative matrices of ethnocentric superiority complexes on the continent, afflicting people’s lives and corroding Europe’s cultural compass. Oppositions of west to east and north to south continue to constitute fault lines of European division, as evident from the ways in which various contemporary challenges of unification in the twenty-first century have been interpreted according to differentials in political and economic power as well as misinterpreted in reference to the supposedly immutable characteristics of a western, eastern, northern or southern Europe. Stark disparities have unquestionably accrued across the continent’s complex history. And the contextually bound long-term processes of cultural formation, which make it possible to perceive and orient oneself e.g. in a distinctively western Europe along the Rhine or central, yet somehow already eastern—note the tenuous elasticity in play—Europe along the Danube, are doubtlessly real. The hydrocentric remapping of cultures from the view of European watersheds can attend to the like by subdividing its units of analysis into relevantly discrete areas of inquiry—on offer here is a tentative four-part delineation yielding Rhine/Atlantic, Baltic, Danube/Black Sea, and Mediterranean/Adriatic spaces. While such a categorization can convey water’s longstanding influence on civilizational development and cultural evolution, it stakes no claims as to nature as a solely determining factor. Nor is it undertaken to posit, reify or reinforce any cardinally ascertained separations or to divide and seal geographically determined cultural spaces off from one another. Eschewing methodological nationalism, the hydrocentric approach operates with relative distinctions first to reflect and then work up as well as work off divisions with an eye towards reducing or mediating them via the institutionalization of antagonisms in a conflictual, social, and expansive democracy.[15] As European philosopher Étienne Balibar, who has theorized such strategies, frequently reminds us, Europe does not have borders, it is one.[16] His seminal conception of a “Borderland Europe” shows that while the world-systems theoretical focus on center-periphery relations of the kind taken up in distinctions between European norths, souths, wests, and easts can still be wielded in geographic terms to address political-economic relations of power, the concept of crossover (“‘overlapping folds’, or nappes superposées”), which builds on Balibar’s grasp of Europe’s ubiquitous social borders, reformulates center-periphery relations in non-geographic terms. “Crossover” reveals each and any site, space or nation of “Borderland Europe” to be internally complex, comprised of movements of difference and irreducible heterogeneity.[17] This of course also holds for each of the proposed four large geo-cultural watershed areas as well as their relationality vis-à-vis one another. What is more, Europe has inner and outer borders also, and the hydrocentric approach to European Studies necessarily moves not only across nation-states in attending to processes of transnational interaction and transformation accompanying European unification, but also necessarily against and beyond its geographically perceived and hegemonically conceived outer limits.


Western vs. East-West Europe

While the fourfold geo-cultural delineation of Europe according to Rhine/Atlantic, Baltic, Danube/Black Sea, and Mediterranean/Adriatic watersheds is as tentative as it is incomprehensive, it both illustrates more concretely the practical payoffs of operating with such units of analysis as well as the larger theoretical considerations they compel, not least towards reviewing current cosmopolitan and post-colonial conceptions of Europe. Each watershed can help focus research as well as pedagogical endeavors, generating pioneering studies that probe the relevant historical, cultural (including literary, cinematic, musical, or otherwise artistic), and environmental dimensions of life. Of the four, the Rhine/Atlantic is clearly a problematic outliner: the amorphous moniker can hardly encompass waters from the North Sea through the Channel and Celtic Sea to the Bay of Biscay, even if it is intended to designate a large area of relation and contestation. Scaled down to the riparian zone, the Rhine itself has commanded considerable attention. Not only Febvre’s study, but more recent works such as Hans Jürgen Balmes’ Der Rhein: Biographie eines Flusses,[18] Simon Winder’s Lotharingia,[19] the Rhein anthology edited by Marie-Louise Plessen,[20] and Mark Cioc’s Eco-Biography of the river,[21] not to mention historical studies such as James M. Brody’s Popular Culture in the Public Sphere in the Rhineland, 1800-1850, addressing Rhenian receptions of the French Revolution and post-revolutionary Napoleonic era,[22] among many others, might serve as valuable sourcebooks. This being said, within a Europe whose centers and peripheries are asymmetrically related, the Rhine watershed may appear the most hegemonic of spaces insofar as it figures as the EU’s home and houses its governmental institutions: while this may symbolize post-nationalist reconciliation, it also reflects and reinforces the EU’s historically western orientation. The west-east divide has arguably proven the most pronounced and politically intractable of the new Europe, not least given eastern European countries’ ascension to the EU on terms previously established in and by the West. This speaks to the value of siting different forms of west-east relation and traverse as well as re-inscribing cardinal distinctions into one another on the model of Balibar’s nappes superposées. The comparatively peripheral Baltic in Europe’s farther north, for example, underrepresented in attention and scholarship vis-à-vis the other regions, evinces its own local and global, historical and contemporary significance, from its ancient multiethnic origins through the Viking Age to the Hanseatic League and early maritime-oriented forms of urbanization, the October Revolution in Petrograd/St. Petersburg/Leningrad and the rebellion in Kronstadt, the Scandinavian social model, complex relations between the EU and Russia, and much else, for which studies such as Michael North’s The Baltic: A History[23]as well as Hansjörg Küster’s Die Ostsee: Eine Natur- und Kulturgeschichte[24] can perhaps serve as initial guides. The Baltic’s northern envelopment of a west-east fault line is mirrored by the Danube’s traverse of such division farther south. Both areas of inquiry can contribute to the vibrancy of European Studies by collaboratively constructing and executing the multidisciplinary research that each watershed, by the very nature of its environmental and cultural, multilingual and multinational features, demands. While fortuitously positioned, Magris’ is but one voice in the Danube’s chorus and cacophony. His work tests the waters of a vast reservoir of definitely Danubian, not necessarily (just) German, Austrian, Hungarian, Croatian, Serbian, Rumanian, Bulgarian, etc., natureculture, as I have been able to explore with students in the multidisciplinary course I teach on the Danube in the “Communities and Identities” component of Colgate University’s Core Curriculum. Originally co-designed with Marijeta Bozovic, the curricular innovation, has among other things facilitated a focus on the fraught legacies, dissolutions, and implosions of non- and transnational political states in Danubia, from the Ottoman and Habsburg empires to the first and second Yugoslavias, that remain germane to questions of European integration today …


Mediterranean thinking

Finally, whereas each of these three watersheds invites the investigation of Europe’s outer limits, as references to the Atlantic, Russia, the Black Sea, the Ottoman Empire (or Asia Minor) suggest, it is the turn to the Mediterranean that has most forcefully augured a redress of imbalances along the continent’s north-south axis, facilitated the theorization of Europe’s geopolitical and economic relations to its immediate neighbors, and compelled a reexamination of its past colonial and present neo- and post-colonial dimensions. To be sure, while the north-south divide proves of no less than global significance and the Mediterranean figures as a continental divider, the very name of Europe’s southern sea underscores its conjunctive location in the middle of Eurafrican and adjacent to Near Eastern lands. Mediterranean thinking puts European Studies in a position to muster a critical reconstruction of the sea’s historical and contemporary functions. While I have not yet delved into Fernand Braudel’s The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II for the hydrocentric project, sociologist Franco Cassano’s more recent Southern Thought clearly encompasses the Mediterranean as an inner-European south pitted against the perceived normative status of a northern Europe diagnosed and decentered by the author.[25] Like Iain Chambers’ Mediterranean Crossings,[26] Cassano’s book aims to bolster the potentials of pluralism, dialogue, and moderation at and in Europe’s most diverse sea. While Cassano tempers fantasies of oceanic freedom based entirely on technology with a moderate and moderating relation to a sea on which land and water remain in (Aegean) archipelagic abeyance,[27] his musings may prove more wishful than binding, the very concept of Eurafrica being a case in point. Exposing the neo-colonial underpinnings of the 1950 Schuman Declaration, in itself a pivotal step in the early postwar years of European integration, Peo Hansen and Stefan Jonsson have drawn attention to the EU’s continuation of Europe’s long history of baneful exploits in Africa,[28] which contributes to the migration crisis witnessed on the Mediterranean in the age of Frontex and complicates the notion that the word “post-colonial” marks any definitive watershed in time.[29] While this term is called upon to do more conceptual labor than can be canvassed here, Gurminder K. Bhambra has observed an ominous cleavage between cosmopolitan conceptions of Europe, which accompany political and philosophical discourses of unification oriented towards the historical diversity of the continent’s longstanding states and cultures, and multicultural or post-colonial conceptions of Europe reserved for the diversity of the rest of European states’ actually existing populations, a distinction that dovetails with Stuart Hall’s observations of the fault line dividing people “of” vs. “in” Europe and with Balibar’s account of “membership in historical communities (ethnos) and the continued creation of citizenship (dēmos).”[30] For such divisions to be overcome, for their service to the kinds of European neo-colonialism within and without detected by Bhambra and others to be interrupted and ultimately sublated into a more tenable, just, and inclusive postcolonial cosmopolitanism,[31] Europe will itself have to digest, learn from, and confront the far-reaching repercussions of its colonial history.[32] In his contribution to Europe’s self-critical reorientation, Balibar, who has relatedly underscored the importance of a “growing consciousness of the realities of colonial history,” drops anchor in the space of a “Euro-Mediterranean Ensemble” as a bounded, yet not predetermined, but rather open and nonexclusive context in which to work progressively against intercontinental cultural fault lines and Frontex hegemonies and towards mutual recognition and the construction of broader civil peace.[33] Just as the continent’s riparian waters refuse separation from the seas into which they flow and the whole planetary dimension of the earth’s water cycle of which they are a part, neither Europe nor any learning that occurs there can end on its retrenched lands. The view from the waters offers different perspectives and possibilities.



The general geo-cultural framework for European Studies proposed in this piece supplements the focus of Issue 23 of EuropeNow: Water in Europe in and the World, which addresses water from environmental, scientific, political, and economic perspectives.


Matthew D. Miller is Associate Professor of German at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York. His first book The German Epic in the Cold War: Peter Weiss, Uwe Johnson, and Alexander Kluge appeared in 2018 at Northwestern University Press. He has published articles and book chapters on twentieth and twenty-first century Germanophone literature and culture, co-edited Watersheds: Poetics and Politics of the Danube River, and is working on a new project on the literature and politics of the first Austrian republic with a focus on Red Vienna. 



[1] For a recent overview of the crises engulfing Europe, see Lars Jensen, Postcolonial Europe (New York: Routledge, 2020), especially chapter 4.

[2] Ivo Andrić, The Bridge on the Drina, translated from the Serbo-Croat [sic] by Lovett F. Edwards (1959, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977), 208-9. Appeals to divine providence, ironic or not, endow the novel with a key dimension of its epic scope, examples of which can be found on pages 120, 230, 246, and 313-4.

[3] Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty (Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2007), 54 and 29.

[4] Lucien Febvre, Le Rhin: Histoire, mythes et réalités, ed. Peter Schöttler (1935, Paris: Librairie Académique Perrin, 1997), 11, 235, 146, 81.

[5] Uwe Rada, ed., “Geschichte im Fluss: Flüsse als europäische Erinnerungsorte,” Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, accessed August 6, 2021, I thank Timm Beichelt at the Europa-Universität Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder) for bringing my attention to Rada’s work.

[6] Uwe Rada and Andrej Ivanji, eds., BRIDGES of Remembrance: Danube: history in the flow of the river (Beograd: Publikum, 2013), 7, “Geschichte im Fluss,” accessed August 6, 2021, English translation amended. Particularly noteworthy in Rada and Ivanji’s Danube collection are the multidirectional contributions to the memory of Vukovar by Croatian and Serbian authors.

[7] Claudio Magris, Danube, trans. Patrick Creagh (1986, New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2008), 33.

[8] Magris, Danube, 33 and 23.

[9] Indicative of Magris’ paradoxical odyssey is his likening of writing to Danubian flow (25), the early reduction of the first person singular (26), as well as the quest to become no one (156-7).

[10] Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Modernity (Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2000), 221.

[11] Bauman, Liquid Times, 7, 24, and Bauman, Europe: An Unfinished Adventure (Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2004), 121.

[12] Oskar Negt, Gesellschaftsentwurf Europa: Plädoyer für ein gerechtes Gemeinwesen (Göttingen: Steidl/ifa, 2012), 51.

[13] Bauman, Liquid Modernity, 39-41, and 51.

[14] Bauman, Liquid Times, 26.

[15] Étienne Balibar, We, the People of Europe? Reflections on Transnational Citizenship, trans. James Swenson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), 223-4.

[16] Balibar, We, the People of Europe?, 219.

[17] “There is no ‘center’; there are only ‘peripheries’. Or, better said, each region of Europe is or could be considered a ‘center’ in its own right, because it is made of overlapping peripheries, each of them open (through ‘invasions’, ‘conquests’, ‘refuges’ [sic], ‘colonizations’, and ‘postcolonial migrations’, etc.) to influences from all other parts of Europe, and from the whole world. This creates a potential for ethnic and religious conflicts, but also for hybridity and cultural invention,” Balibar writes in “Europe as Borderland,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 27, no. 2 (2009): 190–215, 199-200.

[18] Hans Jürgen Balmes, Der Rhein: Biographie eines Flusses (Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer Verlag, 2021).

[19] Simon Winder, Lotharingia: A Personal History of Europe’s Lost Country (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019).

[20] Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland und Marie-Louise von Plessen, eds., Der Rhein: Eine europäische Flussbiographie (New York: Prestel Verlag, 2016).

[21] Mark Cioc, The Rhine: An Eco-Biography, 1815-2000 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2015).

[22] James M. Brody, Popular Culture in the Public Sphere in the Rhineland, 1800-1850 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

[23] Michael North, The Baltic: A History, trans. Kenneth Kronenberg (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015).

[24] Hansjörg Küster, Die Ostsee: Eine Natur- und Kulturgeschichte (München: C. H. Beck, 2002).

[25] Franco Cassano, Southern Thought and Other Essays on the Mediterranean, eds. and trans. Norma Bouchard and Valerio Ferme (New York: Fordham University Press 2012), 3.

[26] Iain Chambers, Mediterranean Crossings: The Politics of an Interrupted Modernity (Durham: Duke UP, 2008).

[27] Cassano, Southern Thought, 17-18 and 25.

[28] Peo Hansen and Stefan Jonsson, Eurafrica: The Untold History of European Integration and Colonialism (New York: Bloomsbury, 2014), 120.

[29] Stuart Hall, “When was ‘the post-colonial’? Thinking at the limit,” in The Postcolonial Question: Common Skies, Divided Horizons, eds. Iain Chambers and Lidia Curti (New York: Routledge, 1996), 242-260.

[30] Gurminder K. Bhambra, “Whither Europe?”, Interventions 18, no. 2 (2016): 187-202, 197, Stuart Hall, “‘In but not of Europe’: Europa and its Myths,” Soundings: A journal of politics and culture 22 (2002): 57-69, and Balibar, We, the People of Europe?, 9.

[31] Bhambra, “Whither Europe?”, 199.

[32] On this, see also Paul Gilroy, “Europe Otherwise,” in Postcolonial Transitions in Europe: Contexts, Practices and Politics, eds. Sandra Ponzanesi and Gianmaria Colpani (New York: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016), xi-xxv.

[33] Balibar, We, the People?, 223 and 230-1.



Photo: Aerial view of the Danube river shore in summer, Dobrogea, Romania | Shutterstock


Published on November 9, 2021


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