We Were All About Collapse

“—and not simply by the fact that this shading of/forest cannot show the fragrance of balsam,/the gloom of cypresses,/” Eavan Boland “That the Science of Cartography is Limited” In a Time of Violence


Collapse is what months of this year have been about… the months spilling into strange lacunae of location and time and dream and sudden waking shocked arrivals. A constant state, perhaps, for one on the run, either from lands like today’s Syria or in continual displacement.

There have been lessons in all this, changes in border-shifting expectations of what constitutes security, or trust. After the exhilarations of a hopeful January election when Alexis Tsipras heading SYRIZA’s anti-austerity voices so confidently claimed their fight against the troika’s crippling measures, those hopes were completely crushed. The horrifying cat and mouse game of withheld loan tranches resulted in a summer of capital controls and near total economic collapse. It is hard within this vortex of realities to speak outside of them.

I guess I’m trying to find language to express why it feels difficult to talk of change at this level. So many economists, writers, Hellenists flocked to Athens to cover variations on a theme of disaster. And then there was the influx of refugees from Syria and Libya, which continues.

What marks boundary to the refugee? The traveller might, or can, return to a place of departure. None of this applies to the refugee, a continual traveller, always outside his or her point of origin, always expelled or departing.

The job environment I was a part of for the last 8 years fell apart. Two colleagues, and two of my closest friends in Athens, were fired. What was new wasn’t so much the uncertainties, as a sense of some fundamental integrity being exploded. It’s not easy to describe to those who have not experienced such dismantlings. Getting through a moment can come down to providing a blanket or having a conversation. Someone like Dionysis Arvanitakes, a baker on Kos, gave away 200 pounds of bread daily to refugees.

My daughter spent the summer working with groups helping refugees, I spent it working and traveling, and trying to keep myself emotionally intact as what I knew would again change. Seams, and borders, the porousness of trauma — as the thin-edged fabric of mind and flesh were often overrun I imagined what it might be to confront the intractable. The inflexibility of a Wolfgang Schäuble, the supposed pragmatism of a Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who personifies the lack of imagination and leadership of the Eurogroup machine (he had to amend his CV after being appointed finance minister because he never really got a Masters from Cork College University). The whole Euro drama which started and remains centered in, and on, Greece, is a family drama too, more like Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” than a Greek drama with its promise of catharsis. Why is it that when dramas are so obviously out of control there seems to be the most reluctance to solving them.

Things have changed fundamentally in the emotional landscape of the country. It makes certain kinds of behavior uglier than usual when contrasted with the initiatives of people like Dionysis Arvanitakes. Margaret Papandreou chose to promote her newly published book titled   Έρωτας και Εξουσία (Eros and Power). I was amazed given the circumstances, to say nothing of backstories regarding PASOK’s years of clientelism. Talking to C always gives me perspective, and she said very simply, “not everyone’s capable of suffering.”

As children and families are brought, or washed up, on the Greek shores, the small, necessary gestures of survival have provided a new understanding for scales of empathy. C says it’s the excesses she worries about as countries collapse and the imbecilities of power and ego assert their hegemonies. I opened Alphonso Lingis’ Dangerous Emotions, to this paragraph: “Awakening is proud and hopeful. The interruption of continuity makes possible the leap, with all the forces of the present, into what is ahead. It makes possible hope, the awaiting what cannot reasonably be expected.” C and I were talking about Virginia Woolf who C mentioned had always aspired to write “the novel of the moment,” C says she’d like, one day, to write “the novel of the unexpected.”

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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