Europe is a conjuration. A Romantic, Slavic, Saxon composite ‘banded together by an invocation’ – arguably less an ‘oath’ than a ‘conspiratorial plot’.

But does ‘Europe’ conjure anything itself? 

Perhaps you can get a sense of the place. But what sense to use?

*

It will be quickly apparent, if predictions for Armageddon are correct. 

We will have donned universal rags of taupe and abandoned cars to combust at regular roadside intervals. The only available power that’s not arcing from severed cabling will feed screens in the window of the surviving high street outlet of the newly-invigorated TV rental sector – permanently channel-hopping to journalists in front of European landmarks. The Eiffel Tower, Big Ben and the Coliseum. Single images shorthand for capital cities that stand, tendentiously, for state. 

The sights prevail.

*

We see people off on trips to see the sights. We go sightseeing, visiting to view. 

But these things we see differently. Saying summons sights that suggest nothing categoric. In one telling, ‘Britain’ is Big Ben and beefeaters, ‘Italy’ the cartographic boot bordering the ‘France’ that is a mid-continent square, with ‘Spain’ the sunshine and smiling. 

What chance ‘Europe’? In only scant ways is it widely seen in one way by many –perhaps only and first ‘up’ on a map on which America’s ever to the west and Australia always somewhere into which Europe can fit. Down under, bottom right. 

*

Online travel service, Trainline, asks ‘what’s on your horizon?’ to summon visions of opportunity in European travel. So, where do you see yourself going? Is outlook as simple as what you look out on in transit – tunnel mouths, airport arrivals or the grimy docks of acquisitive raids on wine-warehousing ports? 

Do enough of the many share suitable similarities to suggest the same sights? Or is Italy, like France, at first-summoned sight as much its Alp as its coast or basilica? 

Some have seen the sights we share as neither ‘in’ nor ‘out’, but politically ‘forward’, or metaphorically ‘up’. But the golden ring of stars signifying the terrestrial politic on fields of blue can make no more claim to be the universally-envisaged symbol of summary than the scatter across the actual firmament persuasively suggests Orion’s belt. 

*

What, then, is to be seen similarly, if singular signs for nations are hard to find? Can there be there a single sight to see for ‘Europe’ and a singular vision with which to view?

Perhaps not Eurovision.

And any message of international friendship in the amateur gaming rhetoric of television’s Jeux Sans Frontières simply concealed the reality it shared with other jingoistic conquesting, explored in Euro confrontations for championship and cup. It didn’t survive a revival attempt.

Veni vedi vici.

*

While no two explanations of European civilisation could realistically align, some aspects have surfaced with reliable consistency. Not least the frequency with which creative industry across continental Europe has been deployed on ambitious attempts to conjure a universal vision –so, such cultural endeavours might provide us with suitable sources for what we symbolically seek.

These cultural collectives articulated novel external worlds by lurching through the shared legacies of heritage and natural environment, coloured increasingly by emerging insights from the human interior. They cyclically mined either what had gone before or offered a refreshed anticipation of what might come.

Neo-Classicists’ high-minded simplicity in culture, art and politics and the Romantics’ exhuming of the widespread lore of more common folk, arguably brought into view some ways of living and feeling as if all were one under the influence of some unifying depictions of what we might together be seeing. 

But if the surviving visuals of those paintings and pillars are now readily available for all, it’s as likely via the gift shop as you leave, as in any canon of mnemonics to conjure up our elusive universal.

*

What you see is what you get, and the talk is often of ‘taking’ a look. Souveniring what we see, with camera or memento. But what understanding of the significance of such artefacts can be shared without an original taker’s input for meaning or taste? Holiday liqueurs are invariably undrinkable at home. 

*

Is it time for less evasive sources? Something impersonal and commonly available. A shared foundation on which we can stand and see. And has the ‘negative space’, beloved of artists, anything to teach us about tricking our sight into seeing things as they are, rather than as we assume they look? That might mean more than the common land of which we all take advantage, but at which we rarely look down.

What can you see of the sea from there?

Some might see the Mediterranean Sea, itself a negative space, nominally defined as the opportunity cost of not being a landmass. This sea is, for the Athenian, the sea that surrounds, but for the Venetian it is the sea embraced instead by land. 

Seeing the same sea but not seeing the sea the same.

*

Is there perhaps a difference-blindness dwelling elsewhere…in mark, making or myth?

*

Notwithstanding the rainbow that is no longer available, a colour palette will prove unsatisfactory – you can be authoritatively but depressingly blue, seem fortunate but still envious in green, see matrimonial bliss as others mourn, or be left seeing red, loved or else endangered by revolutionary socialism. 

*

Amidst their public pomp and posture, many of the peacocking ‘new’ musicians of Britain’s early 1980s popular culture, used the elusiveness of a true European sensibility as their trope in tunes to conjure a future into which all could optimistically project themselves out of the sombre and pervasive austerity they shared.

John Foxx serenaded it After the Rain, Thomas Dolby’s Europa was accompanied by Pirate Twins, Landscape’s European was a Man, Japan’s a Son, but as Ultravox’s New Europeans could be found as frequently on a quiet rain-washed street as a crowded sun-bathed beach, soon the ‘feeling is gone ... and means nothing to me’.


Questing then through a common cultural heritage, for something which can be seen in common but that’s not commonplace. Seeking the symbolic around which to rally, perhaps there’s some heraldic emblazon to serve as a sign, similarly composited like Europe into a mythical beast – griffin, basilisk or cockatrice – a signature look ‘that spells European’.

Perhaps we seek something more active. An icon with agency. Not just for all to see now, but that would also help us see better together. 

We might see something in that.

*

One thing many cultures have generated – individually or collectively – is a dragon. While detail may differ, definitive characteristics appear shared across otherwise disparate cultures and one eloquent universal is clear. Dragons are creatures in and of themselves and born of supernatural energies, not hippogriff-style composites where identifiable earthborn components remain in view.

‘Dragon’ delightfully embodies that entanglement between signifier and signified, between meaning and its vehicle. And as it derives from Aryan and Sanskrit signifiers of ‘sight’, via Ancient Greek’s δράκων, drákōn, for ‘I see’, might ‘dragon’ then provide the prevailing sign we can embrace as commonplace for what we might see as ‘Europe’? Something supernatural to sign the supranational, offering salutary unity to anotherwise centrifugal continental vision.

To see and be seen.