Peter Wessel – Polyfonías

I went to a concert/poetry reading at the Danish house in Paris, the institution in charge of promoting Danish (not only but mainly) culture in France. Peter Wessel, a Danish born poet who lived in France, Spain, California, and who knows where else, was performing with Mark Solborg, a Danish/Argentinian composer, guitarist and musician, and Salvador Vidal, a Spanish clarinetist, percussionist. They recently won the second prize of the international art competition organised by the Spanish ministry of culture to mark the European year: They released a CD in 2008 entitled “Polyfonias”.

Peter Wessel
Peter Wessel

Peter Wessel creates his own poetry, as most poets do, but not the way most poets do. “Dentro de mí / viven cuatro personas, each / with their own voice,/ su propia / lengua,/ sa propre langue./ Hver med sit eget sprog / og sin egen stemme.” There are four poets inside Peter, four voices uttering words, in their own langue. Of course, the issue is immediately that one needs to understand and speak these four languages in order to hear the poet out. I have the chance to be born Danish, to have been raised in France, to have learnt Spanish at school and spent some times in Spain, and having studied in England. The four Peters travelling in one Wessel, spoke to me. I heard him out.

The musicians were not there for creating some easy listening background. They were actively involved in setting the atmosphere, underlying the music of the voices, creating a space between bass and high pitches, linking the four voices of the voice in a universal language, interrupting the polyfonias with a few re-conciliating solos.

The poetic experience is as much a philosophical consideration of the cosmopolitan mélange. As many solutions, as many problems. Peter says, the poet must embrace multiculturality and not defend “ethnic purity” of his language from foreign words. Still, the language in question is a “national language”, giving a feeling of identity, belonging to a tribe, uniform and indivisible. That is the conundrum of this mélange. If we take it as a multi-something mélange, it is a compartmented mélange, but is it really a mélange. If we take it as a pluri-something mélange it is a mélange, but in the end, do the original elements subsist?

The cosmopolitan mélange? It must still find a way… Perhaps something of the individual identity. But the need for cohesion, for community? It comes naturally with the individual. But the need for an overall institution, guardian of the cohesion of a language? They’ll still be there, as long as some individuals feel the need for an overarching authority to regulate their lives. Others will feel free. Many have already started a new revolution. Many new poets are speaking in polyfonias of voices, not only with “foreign” voices, but with “vernacular foreign” voices. New expressions, based on “foreign” ideas, new modes of expressing, new ways of constructing words, sounds, feelings, adopted from “foreign” modes of life, already form a re-articulated “national” identity, a cosmopolitan nationality, connected with other cosmopolitan nationalities, into a worldly cosmopolitan cosmopolitanism.

Peter Wessel’s page on myspace.

Ottmar Ette (University of Potsdam) The Scientist as Weltbürger: Alexander von Humboldt and the Beginning of Cosmopolitics

Excellent article on Humboldt and cosmopolitanism, arguing that the ‘Weltbürger’ was a scientist and the scientist a ‘Weltbürger.’ This reminds me of my own research on the use of the term cosmopolitan and citizen of the world in eighteenth century France. Very often people would use it as a moniker to claim a position of universal truth, a certain neutrality of view in international debates, and certainly a position of positivity as a subject. Very sketchily this position was made possible — this is my contention — because of the central position that humanity took in the discourse, and the general belief in the universality of reason. Every person through reason could ponder the laws of universal truth, without any particularistic bias. This is the fundament of positivity and its connection to the cosmopolitan. However, I argue that cosmopolitan and cosmopolitanism are two different things, and cannot be equated to one another. The apparition of the word ‘cosmopolitanism’ is a late nineteenth century invention, contemporary with the social embeddedness of nationalism. Since nationalism claimed the particular, the fixed, the boundary, cosmopolitanism, based on the travelling cosmopolitan became the general, the world, the moving, the boundaryless. Some US/THEM differentiation.

Here is the link on Humboldt and cosmopolitanism:

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