Professor Salgó Publishes Book on the European Union’s Symbol Politics

Professor Salgó's new book "Images from Paradise"

Professor Salgó’s new book “Images from Paradise”

Professor Eszter Salgó just published Images from Paradise: The Visual Communication of the European Union’s Federalist Utopia,  a book that explores the intersection of aesthetics and politics.

Most political projects promise and seek to foster the illusion of the reappearance of the lost state of harmony, unity, and fullness; what differentiates them from each other is their image of the sublime Garden of Eden and how their members fantasize about bringing back the lost idyll. The European Union is no exception; since the end of the Second World War, at the core of the integration process, there has always been a (paradise) dream.  The scarce consideration of the federalist vision of the European Union, as a special space where the Promised Land will soon materialize, reveals academics’ and policy policy-makers’ disregard of the key role that imagination and fantasy, sacred and profane, play in the top-down construction of the (utopian) idea of Europe. Professor Eszter Salgó’s book contributes to filling this gap.

Images from Paradise explores the sacralization of European politics—how the European elite have turned the political ideology of federalism into a soteriology, how they have appropriated from religion the function of myths (Part 1), symbols (Part 2), and rituals (Part 3). The official visual narratives of the European Union constitute the main object of her inquiry – the iconography of the new series of euro banknotes and the videos through which the supranational elite seek to generate “collective effervescence,” allow for a European carnival to take place, and prompt citizens to pledge allegiance to the sacred dogma of the “ever closer union,” thereby strengthening the mythical sources of the organization’s legitimacy. Drawing upon the disciplines of politics, anthropology, psychoanalysis, aesthetics, and cinema studies, Prof. Salgó new publication (by Berghahn Books, New York and London) presents a new way of looking at the “art of European unification.”

Dávid Németh’s (Hungarian University of Fine Arts) collage, prepared explicitly for Prof. Salgó’s book, includes references to Pieter Bruegel’s Tower of Babel and to a Greek drawing from the 1920s depicting the abduction of Europa by Zeus. In a playful and evocative way, it alludes to many of the key themes of the book and anticipates Prof. Salgó’s critique of the EU’s federalist utopia and her belief that a democratic political order must leave room for the Dionysian dimension.

A lecturer in Political Science and International Affairs, Professor Salgó holds a B.A. and an M.A. from Corvinus University in Budapest, and a Ph.D. from the University of Rome “La Sapienza.” In her research, she explores how both conscious and non-conscious emotive experiences relate to public and political life. She studies the many ways desire, fantasy, and emotions figure in the realm of politics, with special emphasis on periods of tension and conflict.

Prof. Salgó attended the Sixth Annual Interdisciplinary Conference on Critical Theory – Fictions of History, at CUNY University, in New York. In her paper, she further elaborated on Joseph Weiler’s idea, according to which the legitimacy of the European Union is rooted in the messianic. Prof. Salgó illustrated the organization’s attempts to kindle people’s hope and faith in an imminent European rebirth and shift citizens’ allegiance from the nation-state to the EU by investing in its symbol politics and assigning to the myth of (seductive) Europa and (seduced) Zeus a central role in its narratives.

In September she will present at the 2017 Convention of the Postcolonial Studies Association (organized by the School of Advanced Study, Senate House, University of London). Prof. Salgó will explain how EU institutions’ visual narratives aim to convey citizens a new story of abundance, fulfillment, and homecoming. She will argue that the campaign videos, with their structure and symbolism (often centered around the “sacred gaze” of the mythological princess, Europa), anticipate the betrayal of the promise of a new, democratic, idyllic Europe and reveal the supranational elite’s authoritarian approach.

In October Prof. Salgó will attend the 2017 Annual Millennium Conference – The Politics of Time in International Relations at London School of Economics. Her paper – Mythical Time in International Politics: Interpretive Approaches to the Study of the European Union’s Politics of Transcendence, challenges the view that the concept of enchantment belongs to the past. Relying mainly on Eric Voegelin’s political theory, anthropological insights and on psychoanalytic perspectives, it considers nostalgia for paradise as a yearning intrinsic in human nature and politics as a realm where people’s desire to experience transcendence is played out.

Professor Salgó will be teaching World Politics at JCU in Fall 2017.