Eros in Crisis (following Theodor Adorno in four quotes)

IMG_2726Someone has to take a risk.
But that needs courage.
What if you have courage, but no hope?
— do you need courage for hope?
It depends on the risk, I guess,
on how much you want to risk
what you don’t have.

1) “Love you will find only where you may show yourself weak without provoking strength.” We were having a conversation about relationships when Christina quoted Theodor Adorno’s line. It sounded like an awkward translation, but it seemed, besides a way to talk about vulnerability, a way to describe the generally sadistic treatment of Greece’s economic fragility by its lenders. There was certainly no love in this union, despite all the rhetoric of salvation – the crisis in Cyprus proved as much, if there were still any doubts. The troika’s priorities has been to assert economic power that seems to grow exponentially to the shrinking economic and social viability of the nation, or economy, being “saved” – or more to the point, dominated. Assumptions of superiority and entitlement were nowhere more blatantly demonstrated than when the troika et al, with no forewarning decided on a 10% cut into all savings and bank accounts in Cyprus to avoid default (a decision that was only stopped by the Cypriot parliament’s unanimous vote of “No” on March 19, 2013. Even if the troika finally did come into the picture because Russia closed the door on any lending (after firm chats with Berlin), it was a passionate and devastating effort on the part of the people, and those in government to withstand the overnight leveling of the economy. We were at Christina’s listening to updates from Cyprus over speaker-phone since Christina is Cypriot and her family was giving us on-site accounts of what was happening. Pensioners announcing they were willing to give up their pensions, or most of it, “to keep the troika out”; a woman saying she had lost her children to war, “given them to the nation” she said during the 1974 Turkish invasion, and didn’t want that sacrifice to go in vain. The troika’s blatant interventions into the economic sovereignty of nations, demonstrates its appalling presumption of entitlement as much as its flagrant disregard for people’s lives and the consequences to them as a result of these interventions. So we were having a conversation about love in the midst of the politics. Or eros. I was remembering Milan Kundera’s Book of Laughter and Forgetting, and The Unbearable Lightness of Being, two novels that deal with eros, among other things, during the Soviets’ domination and invasion of Czechoslovakia during the Prague spring of 1968.“There is no eros without crisis, it is the definition of crisis” Christina said at some point. It was certainly what went on in the Kundera novels. Is it that combination of vulnerability and then, simultaneously the need to connect (because of vulnerability?) that becomes eros, the overture in the moment of dissolution? Adorno’s quote was poignant, and (for some reason) impossible in the context of the present crisis that seems more and more pathological, a power play for economic control over the other (i.e. the weakened PIGS) as opposed to any show of empathy and true aid.

2) “Intolerance of ambiguity is the mark of an authoritarian personality” is a clearer expression of austerity and its current sadomasochistic paradigm, more like a Sadeian plot than scenarios from a Kundera novel– as the troika refuses to revisit an agenda that is proving punitive rather than therapeutic.  So what does anyone do who is caught in this noose – I suppose recognizing it for what it is, is a small source of sanity. The other thing, too, is that the measures are forcing many of us to try and articulate what we feel strongly about, and defend the principals even if we can’t change the politics. I have a friend who has not been paid in 9 months. She manages because she lives with her boyfriend whose pay has been slashed but he still has a paycheck. She has not managed to pay any of the solidarity taxes for 2013 as a result. When she went to get her salary statement to submit this year’s tax statement she was told she had two choices. Either she could get a statement saying she had been paid the past 9 months (which risked never getting the 9 months of salary still owed), or she could get a statement saying she had only been paid for 5 months of 2012 and have to nevertheless pay a penalty for the outstanding taxes. In this relentless downward spiral the focus is ever becoming what ultimately gives us some connection to what we care about, the things that make us “us” or at least recognizable to ourselves as the troika’s measures continue to “other” the eurozone’s weaker members. They are not “within sniffing distance” (economically and socially) to use Elizabeth Ames Staudt’s phrase in her brilliant post on empathy and its discontents regarding the Boston marathon tragedy. Friends have taken on a quiet defiance, gathering for shared meals and drink on the weekends, helping each other out when and where possible. One of my students said “even if it’s my last 5 euros I’m going to spend it out with friends.” This need to be near and for one another is marking and shaping our lives.

3) “Every work of art is an uncommitted crime.” My tattoo is not an expression of an uncommitted crime, but it is a small artifact with an aesthetic produced of some pain. I have been thinking of reactions to it, and that any tattoo is a marking. Several people asked if I was comfortable with its permanence, what I felt about having it with me, on my body “forever.” This is one of its attractions for me; that it is a marking of permanence, a metaphor of flesh damaged to become something else. I think of tattoos as a way to love our markings, the scar as a part or precondition of beauty. My tattoo is an olive branch, something I have wanted for some time but only decided to have done when one of my students told me her cousin was a tattoo artist. Alexandra said, “what if you leave Greece or don’t want to think about Greece at some point…” I answered that I wanted to “have it with me,” olive trees wherever they happen to be are my favorite trees, and I adore olives. It’s not just about Greece, it’s about what you want to be, or are, marked by, and how we are inevitably marked by what we love. Recently the former Prime Minister George Papandreou was asked to appear in Athens to speak to the fact that nothing was done during his tenure with the names on the “Lagarde list” of potential tax evaders. He said he had nothing more to say than what he had stated in a letter to the committee. He wasn’t brothering to come back to Greece, obviously he too was marked in the drama of Greece’s crisis but he was still refusing his and his government’s responsibility in the saga. Now geographically removed he is also proving himself out of “sniffing distance” of the country’s trials, more of crimes than art, to paraphrase Adorno, will inevitably mark his place in its history.

4) “Love is the power to see similarity in the dissimilar” — I wanted this post to be about the idea of eros as an overture out of damage, how we use the marks to our bodies, and psychologies, to become something else, something that transcends the tragedy, or transforms the ugliness. J was telling me that now that there’s no money some of the administrators in the national theatre where she works are withholding payments. It was like Elina’s story. She was sure “some money existed” but they didn’t give it to the people it was owed to. Another S&M scenario in which people are being held hostage in forced dependencies. “It’s pornographic” I said to Elina, when she was describing the “choices” she was given regarding her salary, or lack of it. She shook her head. “Pornography needs a confidence of power,” she answered. Pornographic was what was happening with the troika and their viewing of cultures outside their own; looking at spreadsheets and numbers as opposed to the human costs of those spreadsheets and numbers. “We’re just castrated” she said. “There’s no confidence of power here, not with us or any one in our government.” We agreed that pornography is about the decadence of power, its narcissisms. “So no one falls in love in these times?” I ask. She smiled, “Yes of course they do but the lover is…” She was thinking. I said “tender?” She shook her head, “No, not tender, not tender at all. Things are a lot more cerebral now. It’s about being smart more than tender.” I laughed. She was still smiling; it was a playful and sly smile. In the brutal world, which is the world of sustained austerity, the idea of tenderness probably sounds sentimental if not absurd. What one hoped for was recognition, recognition of the absurdity, the intelligence to understand this. It required the ability to articulate that “we know” what is happening to us. The smile says: “we see what we’re up against, even if we’re following the rules”; this is the tension of eros. “You have to be attuned to your partner,” Costa tells us as we learn our tango steps. Tango is a dance of intuitive understanding, “the dance of the street,” Costa explains, one that was never learned formally.” We were having our Monday night class. “If you’re not attuned to your partner…” Costa was demonstrating the role of the “cavaliero” who always leads, “she won’t move with you. You could push her here or there but she won’t have the soul to move with you.”

About akalfopoulou

Author of three poetry collections, a book of essays, Ruin, Essays in Exilic Living, and most recently, A History of Too Much (Red Hen Press 2018).
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