All the King’s Men (& everyone else)


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.


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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1 Response to All the King’s Men (& everyone else)

  1. I am afraid we are incapable of cleansing the film of rot on us, brought on by decades of blind gorging on what was a comfortable status quo for many….no solution is within my reach and yet I have to go vote…Samaras is not the answer, Tsipras is not the answer certainly Venizelos is not the answer.. I see no solution even though I must create one with my vote. .

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