“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
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.