ΣΑΛΠΑΡΕ… (SAIL)

“We are born with the sensibility of a given period of civilization. And that counts for more than all we can learn about a period.”                                                                               Henri Matisse

Korina Gougouli

Korina Gougouli

It’s generally not a good idea to write out of anger. But Wolfgang Schäuble probably doesn’t deserve any subtle allusions. As my dear friend Christina says he is someone who insults our aesthetics. While the German press seems to think we are not particularly delicate in our references to Mr. Schäuble and his government, perhaps, for once, they might consider their own faux pas. Tonight there is an airing of a satire in Germany, it was referred to on the Greek news tonight (check out zdf_neo) for a show. One interesting reaction is that half the media says it satirizes the Germans, and the other half says it’s really savaging the Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, I think that means it’s speaking to the moment.

Meanwhile back at home, we found out that Mr. Venizelos and all his entourage bought some very expensive cars during the crisis and no receipts have been found for these purchases  which, after Syriza’s election, were estimated at 750 thousand euros, that was the price for Venizelos’ (the previous finance minister) security car, and this at the time that Venizelos and his group were telling us about the importance of getting receipts to fight the black market and show loyalty to the Greek state. What to say, we are used to these kinds of stories as we live in the land of Polyphemos, the Cyclops who tried to sink Odysseus’ escaping ship. This makes it all the more refreshing that Yanis Varoufakis gets around on a motorcycle.

Nevertheless, it isn’t particularly amusing to be told by Mr. Schäuble that we aren’t keeping our word when the newly elected government lets him and the Eurogroup know that we are not willing to live the inglorious death by debt that the previous Samaras government to say nothing of the Papandreou government were more than willing to finance. Something that didn’t go that badly for the German economy. 

The austerity measures have been about saving the banks and not the Greek state. Slavoj Žižek says it best. Talking to Christina tonight who was reading me Žižek’s piece, we were saying what really irks Mr. Schäuble and Ms. Merkel is the fact that Alexis Tsipras’s government and Yanis Varoufakis as his finance minister, is refusing the play the victim-game. What George Papandreou and Mr. Samaras had in common (besides the rumor that they were roommates in college with its suggestion of Absalom Absalom!), was their willingness to plead helpless and needy. You can’t make up these scenarios — Mr. P falling against Ms. M’s bossom in footage taken from 2010 as he spoke of his country’s corruption (hey, you want to say, you’re the PM.. why are you running to Germany to solve your internal problems? Clean your own dirty laundry.), and Mr. S blogging after he lost the election to Syriza that the Greeks should listen to Ms. M if they really cared for their country.

Since Mr. Schäuble is so determined to teach a lesson, let me say that what really riled him was was that Yanis Varoufakis brought up the touchy subject of Michalis Christoforakos and his role as the CEO of Simens Hellas.

A huge chunk of money was involved. Since money is the subject of discussion as is tax evasion and corruption. Because Christoforakos had German citizenship as well as Greek, he dodged the Greek authorities when he was called to court. The German authorities decided not to hand him over to be tried in Greek courts for the Simens scandal. Apparently this was one of the reasons the conversation went south. Maybe it didn’t help that Varoufakis was not wearing a tie. In general, the feeling seems to be one of relief that someone is actually talking directly to the issue at hand, which is that this debt is not sustainable and never was.

Mr. Papandreou (who signed on the Troika) and Mr. Samaras (who out-troikaed the Troika) were not willing to address the root of the economic crisis, which was the fact that the country was run by a select group who were themselves implicated in the tax evasion, corruption, and compromised roles of their positions of power. Maybe it is one of the reasons that Mr. Schäuble was upset by Varoufakis’ questioning of the fact that Mr. Christoforakos was never turned over to the Greek authorities. Speaking truth to power generally doesn’t go very well. Look at Edward Snowden, and what happened to him.

Alicia has a lovely piece in the TLS today about the general mood since the elections. Most of the conversations I hear on the streets, and on the metro are about money. Today was the last installment for last year’s EN.Φ.Ι.Α. taxes for property. There was also a solidarity tax and one other, whose name I forget. It has all been quite overwhelming. I was lucky enough to get a second job. Other people I know have had to sell what they had. And others didn’t have anything to sell, and some of those people are on the streets. Here’s what the Greek poet Kiki Dimoula has to say in her new collection, ΔΗΜΟΣΙΟΣ ΚΑΙΡΟΣ (PUBLIC TIMES) – her poem “ΔΡΑΚΟΝΤΕΙΑ ΜΕΤΡΑ” (DRACONDIAN MEASURES) suggests where the austerity measures have brought us, the translation is mine:

I have three mothers.

One lives in a dark truth

the other in a black and white photograph

and the third opposite me reflects

the imprisoned glassy

eye of my mirror.

Even if the mirror cracks

and the photograph is lost

still that one will remain

the one who lives in a dark truth.

 

 

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“Είμαστε όλοι ανάπηροι” (We are all cripples)

IMG_4171 Each day for the past week, and today too, I come across moments that speak of what this year has meant for so many. What make them “Greek.” That they are taking place during the holiday season in a city and country that has seen and continues to battle its economic ravage, that there is a tenor to the overlay of the poignant, heroic, and absurd that recalls the George Seferis poem “The Container of the Uncontainable” which in Greek is “H XΩΡΑ ΤΟΥ ΑΧΩΡΗΤΟΥ” – for some reason Keeley & Sherrard have translated “Xωρα” as “Container” — it is also Greek for “country”. The first line of the poem from the Keeley/Sherrard translation that kept resonating: “Bells like coins falling sound today all over the city/between each peal a new space opens/” The week before Christmas I’d gone to see The Depression Era exhibit in Gazi at the Benaki museum, and also Rosi Braidotti had come to give a lecture on the occasion of the Greek translation of her Nomadic Subjects. Both Braidotti’s talk and the Benaki exhibit were cartograhies of new spaces as much as they expressed the uncontainable aspects of people and their worlds within topographies of advanced capitalism. This next to a photo titled «Burnout» at the start of the exhibit: IMG_4148 These are statistics. What elides their chilling factuality? At the Athens Bakery next to work where I go to get lunch (the bakery now has economical cooked meals along with its breads and pasteries). There was chickpea soup for 4.80 euros that day. At the cashier I stare at a pastry of feta and tomatoes and consider getting this too; Alexandros who works at the bakery is at the register. «How much are these?» I say, and he puts it into the bag with my soup. «4.80» he says, and repeats when I ask again, since I realize he hasn’t added the feta and tomato pastry, «4.80» he says again. Athens, after 5 years, is still at the center of the Euro-crisis, though it is also very much its own space, as I am with others in line at the post office. People are tabulating the year’s gains and losses. Mostly people talk of ways the government could have made things better. I am waiting for my turn to send Christmas cards. There’s a lot going on in the streets, and there seems to be more grandparents pushing children in strollers than usual. More cars jumping the pavements to park where there is no parking space; the space in front of the post office is reserved for pick-ups and drop-offs. I see a woman get out of a car and remove the No-parking sign as a small blue car drives up. She speaks with an accent when someone asks what she’s doing. She is making room for a coiffed 70ish year old motioning us to move out of the way so she can park. I see the sticker on her windshield for the handicapped. The woman helping her is from Romania, and brings out her two crutches from the backseat. A heavyset woman gets on her two crutches rather gingerly and makes her way into the crowded post office as another car drives up right next to hers. The guy’s on his cell phone and barely looks the way of the grandmother pushing a stroller who is now yelling that he’s blocked the pavement completely. He backs up into the traffic, still on the cell, then drives back up on the pavement as another stroller is about to negotiate the pavement. At that point he rolls his eyes, still on the phone. I say, “not only are you parking where you aren’t allowed but you have an attitude.” Someone nods next to me, and continues the conversation with the man who is saying he too is handicapped. But he has no sticker on his car, and seems to move fluently into the crowded post office after he gets out of his car. The man who spoke to him says, “We’ll never learn. It’s why we’re in this situation.” A younger guy next to me says, “we’re all handicapped at this point.” The woman who had gone in on her two crutches, now comes out looking pleased to have accomplished her task. Meanwhile the post office director is outside and sees the cars have parked in the no parking space and grabs the battered sign with a look of complete frustration. “They’re handicapped,” someone calls out, and he shrugs as the Romanian woman motions to people to move so her charge can back out again. But as she gets into her car and gives her her crutches she says, “I had to send those 20 euros, my children need it.” The man next to me hears it too and shakes his head, “She can barely walk and here she is driving.” I take this as a euphemism for his admiration of her purposefulness. “Some women are petty dynamic,” he goes on and I smile. The time it takes to make the effort to help out, what can slow us down, somehow our humanity feels implicit in this. Like the body. Like the brokenness of our streets and sidewalks, the coming up short in our calculus of empathies. Near work an elderly and decently dressed man was yelling at the top of his lungs, “This is the country for the low life!” Drug addicts were shooting up on some benches. A woman yelled back, “Say it like it is father!” I don’t agree, I think what we see is the wound and woundings that have brought us to another place, and another way of understanding time. Time is not so much money as it is the exchange of what money can’t buy, cliché as that expression is. At the cash register yesterday a woman ahead of me didn’t have enough to pay for all her groceries. The overworked and clearly exhausted cashier started to subtract what she wasn’t going to pay for: a book, a shaker of salt, a box of cornflakes, two pairs of socks. The cashier was doing the math to see at what point she could stop subtracting as the young woman who was with her perhaps 10 or 12 year old son was counting out change. “I have some more in the car,” she said, and the woman at the register said, “It’s okay, 53 euros right?” “52.80 cents” she said, and the cashier took it, and wished her a happy new year. The Seferis poem is short: “Bells like coins falling sound today all over the city/between each peal a new space opens/like a drop of water on the earth: the moment has come, raise me up.//” IMG_4180

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To Fill Absence

“The more comfortable you feel in the world, the blunter the instruments with which you approach it. Because everything has become so evident, you’ve stopped seeing anything. Exile gives you a chance to break free.”

Costica Bradatan, “The Wisdom of Exile”

 

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The spaces of dream and desire open and imbue what is not with what might be as we travel — I did a lot of traveling last month & sometimes the reality felt more dreamlike than real. Dimitra says we are increasingly “in between spaces” – our internet lives connecting us virtually (and not quite) with what might be understood as a third space – in that triton genos or third ‘genre’ of Plato’s ancient Timeaus, a contiguity of interfaces, we are receptacles shaped by what enters and reshapes. Never fixed, I was never exactly in one place, traveling and talking about the essays in Ruin. But unfixed one can also come undone. What I saw, where I was, could feel flattened into a kind of Baudrillardian simulacra of the real except for when I was with people I knew. The headlines as I passed newsstands or picked up a paper were as surreal as ever, yet in those train stations, airports, subways, they became signifiers of worlds never physically close enough to change anything. I kept moving on, past a prostrate Sierra Leone woman with her devastated expression “Reaching toward her Sister” who is dead, and Olivia Newton John, just below her image, who says “Live Happy.” My subject sense was abject in its porousness as I wept when a metro card machine wouldn’t take cash and I couldn’t remember the zip code of my parents’ address (asked by the machine to verify the address where my VISA had been issued). I was talking of ruin as a dialectic, not a fait accompli of past, or in H.D.’s words from her Trilogy

“there, as here, ruin opens

the tomb, the temple; enter”

Finding entrances in the torn is a way to read and understand being in the world. Ruin as fragment and remains is also ruin as temple. The poet and critic Susan Stewart notes “the inherent violence of all representation, which reifies or fixes its object,” from “The Ruins Lesson.” There were chilling realizations as I traveled through highly digitalized spaces controlled by zip codes, pin #s, passwords & paid time allotments, feeling like a statistical blip in ways that sanitized brokenness and erased connections to the human. In the name of efficiency and safety we couldn’t get out of a parking space because “you’re only given 10 minutes to leave.” We had used up the allotment after paying; we had opened the trunk to rummage for something. After paying for some envelopes in STAPLES I’m intrigued by the ream of paper that is my receipt telling me at the end of various subtractions and additions and online log-ins that I can get a $2 rebate; time is of the essence but time is lost in the minutiae of detached moments.

How we see as travelers and how we’re seen in those worlds that remove the personal (or can’t afford it in the way a surgeon might focus on the medical task at hand, a doctor trying to save lives, not any one particular life), made intimacy precious for its surprise. Besides the surveillanced efficiencies there was the clean chill of the Tacoma hills, the palpable heaviness of noise in NYC, the goodness of seeing friends, pieces of conversation from anonymous passengers … “That’s so cool,” I hear repeated by a woman siting next to someone on the flight to Seattle. I gather he is a musician, I hear him saying “… I’m a single guy… I never dreamed of going to Seattle.” I am suspicious (and perversely envious) of those who travel in complete self-possession. David and I speak of the existentialist nature of the traveler, the resonance of departures as one leaves the known for the open-ended place of the as yet to be named. The psychoanalyst-writer Adam Phillips says there are moments of identification that “collect” one – the gaze that recognizes and empathizes? the kinship in the ‘kin(d)ship’? Susan Stewart spoke of what can’t be ruined as we spoke of states of ruin, that it is in language itself, and poetry in particular. Ποíησις, “to make” in Greek, a verb before it became a noun, the essence of the transformative (and transgressive) quality of language.

Traveling brought on crisis. Again in Greek κρíσις (krisis), means judgment, that the word is used liberally to speak of “the Greek crisis” is ironic based on its etymology – a noun for critical understanding and perception. In one of the talks on my trip a Greek sociologist discussed her shock at coming across the term, “disambiguation” a word apparently used regularly in EU documents. “You might as well get rid of language,” she said. Disambiguity is what one might yearn for in the uncertainties of travel, in moments of krisis, when borders unsettle and the given is given up, probably as true for hedge funders and Wall Street loan sharks as for someone madly in love. Poetry finds its own tongue.

 

 

 

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Slowing Down Time: Tino Sehgal’s exhibit in Athens

“… a qualified life, a particular way of life… Aristotle can certainly speak of a zoē aristē kai aidios, a more noble and eternal life (Metaphysics, 1072b, 28), but only insofar as he means to underline the significant truth that even God is a living being…”                                                                              Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer

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Tino Sehgal does not take airplanes apparently; he is ecologically aware, and more than sensitive about preserving the environment among other things; he is also keen on the possibilities of people falling in love during his pieces. Love like traveling on cargo ships will give life another perspective. Slow it down long enough to keep in the space of the beloved, the space of his or her scent for example. And like a beloved’s touch and conversation, such moments could change you and your own orientations to space and time. Sehgal’s “This Progress” is taking place in the Roman Agora in Athens through October. Four generations will walk a visitor to the site on a path symbolic of that age group’s timeline, beginning with a child that asks the visitor entering the Agora if he or she would like to follow as he or she opens the conversation about what progress might mean. This is a piece that was also done in New York in 2010 at the Guggenheim. What’s different is that Tino, and Asad Raza (who set up and directed the piece in Athens), chose the open-air agora of antiquity for the work.

One of us wants to know what to do if a visitor gets impatient, what to say if we are asked about where or how to follow. Tino says these are the interesting moments, something is happening when the visitor is disoriented by how to act, suddenly left to his or her own intuition with a complete stranger; we are too often pre-scripted in our roles with each other. Asad adds at another point, that these “interjections” are opportunities for saying things we might not say to anyone else, to test the dialectic in which neither person is in a predefined interaction. He’s right, too, that there are increasingly fewer spaces in our 21st century world for the spontaneity of an exchange with a stranger that might startle us into fresh thinking.

I was in the third age group of adults, before the older adult finished the walk with the visitor, and our role was to interrupt the conversation the visitor was having with the teenager; some out-of-the-blue kind of statement had to have some relation to the overheard conversation (but w/out referring to any of the key words…); – what was I going to say to the overheard word “… water”; or “… difficulty traveling”; I said, “I find my personality changes depending on the language I’m speaking.” The visitor happened to be a British schoolteacher now working in Egypt. She said she felt so much more “flirty” when she spoke in French.

I had to pick up a box of books from Greek customs a week or so ago and had been shocked by the amount I was supposed to pay; the customs fee seemed exorbitant. I explained this to the very tired looking man who chain smoked as I spoke to him. He listened and checked on what looked like a frequently thumbed bunch of curled pages, and then smiled rather shyly and repeated that he understood. Obviously I wasn’t the first person to be talking to him like this. I then went to several different people for several different stamps. But I realized too it wasn’t just about getting the signatures, there was conversation, if brief, with each person. “Books,” one of the women said, “you see, because it’s something good for us the customs man lowered the fee.” I smiled. It was a nice thought. The entire time I was going through the routine of getting the books each person was advising me how to manage it so I would pay less. I finally paid next to nothing though I spent a good part of my morning there. I would have spent the whole day there if I’d had to, but the strange thing was I left feeling as if I hadn’t wasted my time. People really didn’t have to help out if they didn’t want to; and when we started a conversation there was always a connection. It was the sort of thing I discovered during my couple of days as a participant in Tino Sehgal’s project. The ambition of his “constructed situations” is to allow for discoveries.

To take time out of the mechanized moment, walk in the midst of the ruin – which we were literally doing without any mention of the agora itself – to stumble on some of the pleasures of our exchanges with each other, means we slow down enough to engage with the conversations we’re having. There’s also the chance of falling in love.

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Intimacy

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“Which is to say love enlarges; it annexes affectionately; at its utmost it dissolves all boundaries.”

Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

 

I’ve been living with my daughter’s kitten for the past three weeks while I’ve been apartment-bound after surgery; because of a metal pin in one of my toes I can’t go very far. It was one of those chance accidents that can remind us of the body, that is, how we need and live with it in space and time. My foot took on object status — a thin metal hook that juts out of my toe reminds me of this “thing” that is also a practical necessity for healing the bone. Suddenly my restricted ability to move, that is walk, created too an intimacy with my environment in ways that before were more abstract. For one I was physically dependent on people — my daughter’s patient willingness to pick up groceries for me, a friend who fit me into her schedule to drive me to the doctor twice for a change of dressing. I was also very grateful to those friends who made the trek over to keep me company. The protruding pin made me think of Frida and the horror of the freak accident on a tram which sent a rod through her back that fractured her spine and caused lifelong paralysis and grief. My accident was inconsequential in comparison but nevertheless there were consequences. I’m not used to being immobile let alone apartment-bound. My consciousness of time changed. My sense, too, of more visceral dependencies – how arrogant we can be in our assumptions of freedom.

The kitten’s energy around the apartment was both energizing and maddening… her prancings and fleet movements gave dimension to the day, as did the breeze that quickened toward evening, and the late afternoon light on the balcony. Things I am less conscious of during my full workdays in town; I managed to understand something of proximities, too. The proximity of the body’s needs and how these connect us to things beyond ourselves; I was doing some reading. Finished Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby and Brenda Shaughnessy’s Our Andromeda, a fabulous collection; this from her poem “Liquid Flesh”:

What is the point of other people,
Being so separate, if we can’t
Help a person get that pain

Will stick its shiv into anything,
Just to get rid of the weapon
And because it can? For if we share

Ourselves then they, too, must
Also be in so much pain.
I can hear it. Oh, my loves.

Yes, “my loves” were the lesson of these days, to come closer to them. But as Solnit writes: “Merging is dangerous, at least to the boundaries and definition of the self.” When those boundaries are edged, contested, pained.. how close does one get? The approach mined with various warnings of the self’s gradual loss of border and boundary. For Frida, her body’s pained shape, the catalyst for inimitable art. I was also reading blog posts and keeping up with the news. Learned that the vote to bring in the IMF/troika was less than what was, and still is, constitutionally mandated, some 50 votes short of what would have legally passed to have made this intervention a constitutionally upheld decision; another example of Papandreou’s negligence of the state’s body — his assumption, or presumption, of a freedom now crippled.

Solnit continues, of this meeting at the boundary of the self, a space of possibilities when there is empathy. Why do we have boundaries in the first place – to distance, keep some semblance of wholeness where wounds take us apart? But in our piecemeal state will we more readily recognize the other? Here’s Shaughnessy again, from “Mermaid’s Purse”: “The self is the self yet bigger than itself./Indebted. And subordinate// to its fragments,/” Indebted is what I felt continuously, but it is not a comfortable feeling. We’re raised in the west to be independent and self-sufficient. We shirk the idea of too much dependency as a sign of weakness, even cowardice. I am realizing though that the greater courage is to understand these self-sufficiencies are built out of a respect for the deeper common ground, a recognition of our insufficiency. Everything the tragedy of our leadership in these crisis years have failed to do, as they have othered, rather than embraced the common ground of the state’s crippled body, which is as true for how northern Europe has “Orientalized” the periphery and Greece in particular.

It was strange and enlightening to take myself out “crutching” one evening; that is I had had too much of cabin fever and decided that hobbling down the street with the crutches my daughter had brought me would give me some peace of mind. Life was a lot more mobile with the crutches, though no one really thought I’d go for a walk with them. I was sometimes amused as people looked my way. A stray cat seemed intrigued, and followed me for a while. A man coming out of an apartment paused for a few seconds without saying anything, and someone getting into his car seemed to consider asking me if I needed a ride though he never said anything. I’d not experienced this before and it was a lesson of how the less-than-whole body is viewed, how too I viewed myself in that state, which was impatiently and somewhat stunned that I probably wouldn’t do very well in solitary confinement. I thought though of that sense of proximity to our less-than-whole state, that Solnit also describes as “this amorous engagement with the unknown.” Unknown is also unfamiliar which is part of the challenge of proximities to what we can’t control. In the Faraway Nearby Solnit keeps coming back to the ways we distance what pains us, yet it is in that space that we also learn of what connects us. In Greece, for example, there is now a humanitarian crisis of medical resources. Food too, which was never an issue since the war years, has become scarce for many. There are collectives coming together in various neighborhoods of Nea Ioannia, Kato Patissia, Exharhia, among other areas in Athens. You can get a decent meal for 3 euros. Coffee for 50 cents. These initiatives have become necessities for survival. A German commissioner for hospitals and “patient issues” Wolfgang Zoeller called the results of the time frame imposed by the troika’s measures, “scandalous.” And “impossible to carry out.” Solnit has a long discussion of leprosy in her book and its numbing effect on its victims. They can’t feel the infected parts of the body because of the nerve damage: “The nerveless part of the body remains alive; but pain and sensation define the self; what you cannot feel is not you; what you cannot feel you do not readily take care of; your extremities become lost to you.” The pained body reminds us of our less-than-whole states, we should more readily unveil those shapes, teach ourselves to feel them.

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All the King’s Men (& everyone else)

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To contemplate an absence or near-impossibility of redemption seems counter to something essentially human and the impulse of hope. H.D. writes, “ruin everywhere, yet as the fallen roof/leaves the sealed room/open to the air,//so through our desolation,/thoughts stir, inspiration stalks us through gloom://” and this as London is being bombed in 1942. After the first round of mayoral elections in Athens last Sunday with the Golden Dawn candidate (I can’t bear to name him) getting 16.12% of the vote, hopelessness feels palpable. The rage vote it is called again, with SYRIZA (the Coalition of the Radical Left) almost winning with 20% of the mayoral vote, and the current PASOK governor getting just 1.06% more than that . The level of disgust with the human costs of austerity to say nothing of its futility has made for these extremities; and a destitute state has made for insanity rather than economic recovery.

Hopelessness is un-western (almost said ‘un-American’, that too) in that it speaks to circumstances that remain unchanged. Even in tragedy the terms of sacrifice are invested with hope. The language I find almost intolerable to listen to has become the charade of optimism from the current Samaras government that continues to insist on the country’s [economic] success story. As they so doggedly follow the policies of the ECB in Frankfurt and Germany’s punitive measures, Samaras’ “Politics of Obedience” to quote Etienne de La Boétie’s treatise, is a bitter perversion of La Boétie’s: “I think I do not err in stating that there is in our souls some native seed of reason, which, if nourished by good counsel and training, flowers into virtue.” Etienne is quick to note that this seed when “stifled and blighted,” as it has been in the last four years of austerity, will be “unable to resist the vices surrounding it…” As one pre-election site notes: “The government has continued to back big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings that have created record unemployment and deep poverty.” If SYRIZA’s Tsipras is trying to make this Sunday’s May 25 elections into a referendum on austerity, he is unfortunately fueling reactive paranoia – that his government would pull us out of Europe (as if Europe itself knows what it is doing anymore), that he will shut down the private sector, that his people are “all” from the old PASOK hegemony. There are bits and pieces of truth in the morass of misinformation, but one thing is certain he has the backing of alternative voices in Europe, and we’ve too long seen the tired scripts of neoliberalism’s savagery and unquiet dying.

The late Roberto Bolaño’s writing is invigorating to me because he is unflinching about unredemptive circumstances, and expresses how systems of corruption and hopelessness make for radical singularities; his characters have an agency that is often anarchic in a fundamental sense of what it means to be Αναρχικός: the speaker in By Night in Chile laments: “how long do you think you can go on like this, Chile? Are you going to change beyond recognition? Become a monster?” So where in Bolaño’s novels is the energy of the human; for me it’s in a sexuality of core truths, his characters’ head on or sideways collisions with their social/cultural environments, and sexual because always at fierce play with the physical (and emotional) intersections of power and desire. This in Bolaño’s novels always complicates and splinters and makes of his speakers very multivalent beings. For me one of the gifts of entering into his worlds is that he shows how messy situations produce messy characters. Within the political context of today’s Greece, Bolaño is, I think, an example speaking for an overt anarchism of the spirit. That is, it is in such times that the likes of Adolph and resurgences of the Neo-insane speak of things like “purity” and “success” as if such concepts maintain mythic integrity in the midst of the true morass of chaos.

I was quickly zapping between TV channels (Samaras is talking in Syntagma tonight, a last pitch for his ND vote on Sunday), but instead of him I come across two clips: the former psychopath leader of GD (now in prison for Pavlos Physsa’s murder), is screaming, “For Greece to become clean it needs to rid itself of all the rot…” and then a clip of SYRIZA that says “Let’s return Greece to the Greeks…” so here we have it again, the appalling discourse of “cleansing” – as if so called impurities could be divorced from the myriad factors that have brought us up to our “contaminated” present. Bolaño again (from his opus 2666): “The Greeks, you might say, invented evil, the Greeks saw the evil inside us all, but testimonies or proofs of this evil no longer move us. They strike us as futile, senseless. You could say the same about madness. It was the Greeks who showed us the range of possibilities and yet now they mean nothing to us. Everything changes, you say. Of course everything changes, but not the archetypes of crime, not any more than human nature changes.” Some of the latest archetypes of crime include such success stories as the government’s move to sell beach front.

“Consent” La Boétie argues, is actively engineered by those in power, which then makes the use of force unnecessary. Servility becomes routine, viewed as some factuality as opposed to a construction that has been imposed: “custom becomes the first reason for voluntary servitude.” And in Montaigne’s “Measuring Truth and Error” (who I did not know was La Boétie’s best friend until David mentioned it, David who is a Montaigne disciple), the same fact: “The habitual sight of things makes the mind accustomed to them; it feels no wonder and asks no questions about what is constantly before the eyes.” So what will disrupt the habitual, and let us (make us?) see what is quite clearly “before our eyes.” Two weekends ago at the Athens Polytechnic, where resistance in 1973 to the military junta brought down the government, the “Crisis-scapes: Athens and Beyond” conference took place. Speakers from Helsinki, London, Utrecht, and elsewhere talked about the example of Athens. Sarah Green from the University of Helsinki spoke of the city as inherently transnational, an “edgy space” with potentials for transformation: “The neoliberal machine,” in her words, “is not as organized as we may think… a lot of it is negotiated,” and thus terrible as the consequences of these imbecilic decisions have proven to be, “hope and contingency is where there is a space of not knowing what’s going to happen next.”

The neoliberals haven’t tired of describing the hell of what would come next if we didn’t vote for them, but the whole drama here is that their so-called solutions have led us further down the path to nowhere. Friends are voting according to conscious and survival. The rage vote of 2012 vote is still alive but some are confusing dawns with deep nights, and some of us just want to strip the masks from the self-satisfactions of the Creons whose only understanding of power is to keep it. Antigone buries her brother Polyneices against Creon’s orders. Having decided that of the two brothers fighting for the throne, Eteocles and Polyneices, the rebel brother, Polyneices, would be left unburied though Tiresias warns Creon this will displease the gods. Antigone goes against (άναρχο) the value (αρχη) of Creon’s power (εξουσία) and buries Polyneices against his wishes. She is willing to die for what she believes to be right and hangs herself. While Creon has kept the power he aimed to protect, his son Haemon (engaged to Antigone) has stabbed himself after Antigone’s hanging, and Eurydice, his wife, has also killed herself. Creon remains king of Thebes as he realizes belatedly the tragic costs of protecting his order while Antigone wanted redemption.

 

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PASCHA

“I am retracing the footsteps of the photographer. He bears in advance the mourning for Athens, for a city owed to death, a city due for death, and two or three times rather than one, according to different temporalities: mourning for an ancient, archeological, or mythological Athens, to be sure, mourning for an Athens that is gone and that shows the body of its ruins:”

Jacques Derrida, Athens, Still Remains, The Photographs of Jean-Francois Bonhomme

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This year’s Easter was one of those years when the Orthodox and Catholic/Protestant calendars merged, the word “Pascha,”Πάσχα in Greek, from the Hebrew Pesah (Passover), the culmination of Christ’s passion, a celebration of his resurrection in New Testament scripture, and for the secular like myself, the rituals still resonant with mystery. If not the Pascal mystery according to scripture, the mysteries of passage and transformation in more figurative terms; this from Wikipedia: “Some scholars refer to Assyrian “pasah” – appease or Egyptian “pa-sh” – remembrance or “pē-sah” – the blow. The Bible links “pesaḥ” with “pāsaḥ” – two literal meanings are: to limp and to perform a ritual dance around a sacrifice (1 K 18:21.26). Figuratively it may be understood, “to jump”, “to pass”, “to spare”.”

“To jump”, “to spare,” but also “ – appease” in a context of remembrance, [of] “—the blow” – it all seemed especially acute as I had just returned from a teaching sojourn in Germany, and then a brief few days in London, places seemingly unaffected, as least not visibly, by the crisis. The bodies of those cities looked quite unscathed. Outside a pub in London I noticed three souped-up sports cars, one a Lamborghini, another a Jaguar, as they zipped by, some beautiful people jogging, some running with knapsacks. In the tube, a pregnant woman was given a seat when she showed a pin issued by the metro authorities that said BABY ON BOARD. I found it rather Fahrenheit 451-ish, the idea that one “was not obliged” to give up a seat unless the pregnant woman wore her badge. The overt wealth in that area some blocks from Paddington, the locked parks, signs that directed seemingly obvious reflexes: LOOK RIGHT. LOOK LEFT. None of it would have been as unsettling as it was if I was not, too, thinking of Athens, the felled body a predatory corporate world was feeding on. The solvency of late capitalism, buoyed by outrageously unsustainable loans given to the likes of economies like that of Greece’s, has resulted in what Giorgio Agamben describes in Homo Sacer, as a state of abandonment from a law, or nomos, of significance, laws that would signify being as sovereign. Rather, this “pure form of law is only the empty form of relation,” i.e. you need to have a badge saying the obvious for anyone to offer you a seat. This constitutes “a zone of indistinguishability between law and life…” (59) What then will “appease” “— the blow” to a body of culture, put a history (a history of being?) to these erasures of sovereignty?

I was moved by a woman at the supermarket cash register whose face seemed familiar, who recognized me and seemed to have understood that I’d been away since she smiled and said, “How are you?” And then the repeated, “Kali Anastasi” (loosely, “Happy Resurrection” which sounds rather post-Beckett in English and quite unburdened), a wish given all through holy week, at the bank, in stores, at the post office. There was a gentleness, and relational overture, in this wish as we went about our chores, as I felt again that I was back in a space where people assumed the common ground rather than the space of difference. Not to romanticize this, but to use it to think in the wider political context of how, in a young scholar’s words, “the progressive uniformity of mores and customs…[has contributed to] the concentration of political control, economic production and critical theory in increasingly fewer centers of decision making,” (Boris Vejdovsky, “Your Myths Shall be My Myths: Translating God, Nation and Self”). Vejdovsky argues for a need to “pay attention to the singular, the idiosyncratic” as a way of re-thinking the meta-narratives of cultural belonging.

On Good Friday I’d gone to the Proto Nekrotaphio (the “First Cemetery”) for the Epitaphios, the service in which the Ephitaphio is carried outside of the church, symbol of the Christ body after its having been taken down from its cross. The Epitaphios is always covered in spring flowers, sprigs of wild rose, orchids, lemon and orange blossoms, jasmine; we walked through rows of history. There was Alekos Panagoulis, the activist who had been murdered in 1976 by the Junta at the age of 36. I was surprised to see how young he had been, his legacy being mythic of that period of resistance. There was General Makriyannis, who had taught himself to write so he could write his memories of the Greek War of Independence (1831). There were others. The cemetery is gorgeous. It is where the poets are buried too, Elytis, Seferis. Near the front is also Andreas Papandreou. I gave pause to what now reads as a dark irony, written on his grave is: Η ΕΛΛΑΔΑ ΑΝΗΚΕΙ ΣΤΟΥΣ ΕΛΛΗΝΕΣ (GREECE BELONGS TO THE GREEKS).

A savage indifference to the sovereignty of the individual let alone that of nation states defines our moment in late capitalism, as resources keep going into ever fewer hands. A recent Princeton study attests to as much: “America’s political system has slowly transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy.” It is so easy to take the significances of small, quotidian gestures for granted; they speak for what is being lost in these meta-narratives of the global. A recent piece in The New York Times on the graffiti in Athens documents some of the discourses of these gestures in the city’s visual art, a language of anguish inscribed over the body of the city. Any mourning speaks of passage, of a movement toward another state of being. One can only hope the promise of transformation might also be a resurrection. We left our lit candles inside the church, what held them in place were wheat grains, rather than sand.

 

 

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