I prefer not to ... share!

“I prefer not to ... share!”. When steirischer herbst borrows from Herman Melville’s dissident Bartleby for its leitmotif in 2014 it is because we are torn – between the knowledge that we need to share more and, at the same time, need to give up more if we want to stop the richest and poorest of the planet from drifting even further apart. We know that we need to change our ways, very specifically in our private lives as well as the subject of our habits as consumers, the way we conceive our children’s training and careers to an ethical reality check. In view of discussions on privatisation, nationalisation, common property, and open society in the broadest sense, the crucial question is: am I willing to share at all? What and how much? Only the losses? The profits, too? And if so, with whom? The question then is how we really understand community and to which groups we have a feeling of belonging.

That’s not just a personal question. The identity crisis of Europe, that group to which most of us belong, has escalated in increasingly aggravated economic conditions in which sharing has become the central politically charged issue. It is about economic questions, the definition of what goes to make Europe, what holds it together, and what gets shared with whom. It is about inclusion and exclusion, about constantly drawing borders. After all, the geographical map of Europe is different to one drawn up on the basis of economic, social criteria. Not to mention Europe’s demarcation and increasing isolation from the rest of the world. “I prefer not to share!” may be the majority of those who indulge in growing nationalism – as long as they don’t belong to the economically weak member states. But while Europe is preoccupied with its own affairs, very different, new maps are being drawn beyond the bulkhead, maps that redefine the dimensions of cultural Eurocentrism in terms of its global significance.

Yet sharing is an integral part of our everyday lives. It is the new buzzword in the age of social media. In our virtual connection with the world, we are constantly encouraged to share what seems important to us and at the same time defines us. If you don’t share much, your status drops. If you don’t share at all, you are regarded with suspicion. Not sharing is no longer an option in today’s digital world. But where do I go today if I do not want to share, if I do not want to communicate or network, if I want to get out of the vast group of supposed friends and communities? Where does this path of a categorical “I prefer not to” lead us? Out into the woods, straight to jail or can we only disappear in the system? Can there be individualisation without diminishing solidarity? What needs to happen in order for us to really give something up – even if it hurts?

As always, ambivalent considerations have shaped the leitmotif of steirischer herbst, forming the point of departure for dialogue with artists, curators and artistic partners of the festival, leading to a programme of many voices. These considerations run like a red thread through the 2014 steirischer herbst festival, now clearly visible, now more subtle or surprising.