Building poetics of relation from the Maltese bridge | Hubertus von Amelunxen

As its second year in Malta gets underway with a spring session of seminars, public lectures and exhibitions, Teodor Reljic speaks to the president of the European Graduate School, Prof. Hubertus von Amelunxen, about why Malta was chosen by the Swiss-based humanities school, and what lies ahead

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Teodor Reljic
10 April 2017, 8:00am
Hubertus von Amelunxen speaking at this year’s edition of the Campus Book Festival. Photo by Nemanja Mitrovic
Hubertus von Amelunxen speaking at this year’s edition of the Campus Book Festival. Photo by Nemanja Mitrovic
Appropriately enough for a president of what some have called the “rock star university” of the European humanities, the European Graduate School’s Prof. Hubertus von Amelunxen invokes one of the landmark philosophers of the 20th century to illustrate why the school has chosen Malta as it sought to extend its remit beyond its native Switzerland last year. 

“You have to be on the bridge to see the shore, as Martin Heidegger might say. And as you very well know, Malta has always served as a great bridge for various cultures and civilisations across history…”

Visibly excited about what lies ahead for the school during this, the second leg of its Malta journey after it had planted roots at Fort St Elmo, Valletta in 2016, Amelunxen doesn’t however let the bridge metaphor stand on its own, offering a more concrete example as to why Malta is important for a school like the EGS. 

“The bridge that is Malta allows you to see Africa… and this is immensely important for us. Because Africa is a region that Europe has, historically, destroyed. And the only way forward I see now is for Europe to start to conceive itself anew alongside Africa. If we don’t do this, if we continue to build the walls that we are building, Europe will collapse completely – it would be a total catastrophe.” 

Aware that his viewpoint may not be shared by all, Amelunxen expresses his support for the open borders policy his native country – Germany – has cultivated when it came to dealing with the influx of refugees, and expresses his dismay that other European countries did not follow suit. Chiefly because, “I also believe that if the EU tries to homogenise, it will fail.”

Photo taken during a showcase of Anthony McCall’s Line Describing a Cone
Photo taken during a showcase of Anthony McCall’s Line Describing a Cone
Seen in this light, the European Graduate School’s adoption of Malta as its second residence – as of this year, the EGS will be occupying its spot at Fort St Elmo also in April, as opposed to just October – is a symbolic gesture that can strive towards a more tangible ripple effect in the cultivation of its intellectual milieu. 

“The second reason for choosing Malta is down to what I’d like to call the ‘poetics of relation’ that are relevant to our work. Given that Malta is currently hosting the EU Presidency – during a particularly trying time for the continent – is important for us as well, and it strengthens our resolve to have an academic programme that is as politically engaged as it can be, and that we continue to strive for ways to be active and involved in the discourse in Malta,” Ameluxen says, adding that a third and final reason – a more “down to earth” reason – for the Fort St Elmo branch is to ensure the EGS retains EU accreditation, as changing academic realities in Switzerland no longer guarantee that for the school. 

The school is slowly eking its way into the consciousness of the Maltese intelligentsia and students of the humanities, though Amelunxen is hoping that more Maltese students will hop on board soon enough. 

“However I do understand that being a university that runs entirely on tuition fees can be a problematic thing, which is why we are looking into offering scholarships to prospective Maltese students. Although depending solely on tuition does guarantee our autonomy as an institution, I am very much aware that our fees can be quite high, and we are looking into ways of addressing that.”

Of course, the aforementioned ‘rock star’ status of the EGS also helps to draw attention to the institution and its work. I myself can attest to this – as a keen and nerdy English undergraduate, I was dazzled to stumble up on the EGS’s YouTube channel, which offered up a selection of talks by some of the most au currant thinkers of our time, with the likes of Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou, Jean Baudrillard and even filmmakers like Wim Wenders, Terrence Malick and John Waters having delivered lectures for the school. The EGS’s pedigree on this count was strongly illustrated even in Malta, when the celebrated thinker of gender politics Judith Butler delivered a public lecture on which bodies are more ‘grievable’ than others at the Mediterranean Conference Centre in Valletta last year. 

Amelunxen is, however, wary of “fetishising” this element of the school’s enduring appeal, and insists that although it may operate on what appear to be the fringes of the academic hegemony, the EGS – which is split into two faculties: Arts, Health and Society (AHS) and Philosophy, Art and Critical Thought (PACT) – is still very much a proponent of “academia” when it comes to the kind of work that is expected of its students. 

“So I really wouldn’t like to succumb to commodification… we are happy to have these artists and thinkers on board, but not because of any celebrity status they might enjoy, but because they are truly engaging thinkers,” Amelunxen says, but he cannot quite suppress his excitement for an upcoming EGS event… launching, as it happens, at Fort St Elmo tonight. 

Opening at 19:00, the EGS will welcome the celebrated artist Anthony McCall to present his 1970 masterpiece, ‘Line Describing a Cone’. The launch will be followed by a public lecture by McCall on April 11 at 20:00, entitled ‘Solid Light, Dark Rooms’, and the exhibition will be rounded off with a closing performance and reception on April 12 at 18:30 – with all events taking place at Fort St Elmo. 

And on April 11 and 12, two concerts on a Stradivari violin delivered by Gilles Colliard and Robert Young will explore the relationships between music, mathematics and the architecture of Valletta. 

For more information and a full programme of events, log on to: https://goo.gl/69WZgf

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Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...