Melancholy science, poetry, and music

The Greek Generation of the 2000’s moves in ellipses comparable to those traced by Adorno’s “melancholy science.” Its steps are uncertain, wavering from dance to funeral march to lullaby, like Sokolov’s lento pace in Chopin’s early mazurka (1827):

As amply documented in the brand-new landmark anthology Futures, edited by Theodoros Chiotis, the Left melancholy of this poetry, specifically, its disenchantment with history as covenant, explores the practices of a “good life” without hopes for revolutionary redemption. The “Dedication” of Adorno’s Minima Moralia (1951) begins: “The melancholy science, from which I make this offering to my friend, relates to a realm which has counted, since time immemorial, as the authentic one of philosophy, but which has, since its transformation into method, fallen prey to intellectual disrespect, sententious caprice and in the end forgetfulness: the teaching of the good life.” The melancholic Greek poetry seeks the authenticity of an immanent ethics.

The dominant mode of Adorno’s book (subtitled Reflections from Damaged Life and written in 1944-47) is dispirited inversion. For example, its title alludes to Aristotle’s Magna Moralia, the designation “melancholy science” to Nietzsche’s The Joyful Science, the section title “The Health unto Death” to Kierkegaard’s The Sickness unto Death, and the aphorism “the whole is the false” to Hegel’s “the whole is the true” (Phenomenology of the Mind). A similar kind of dispirited inversion is used with comparable virtuosity and insight by writers like Bulgarian Julia Kristeva and American Judith Butler, who develop their own post-Freudian theories of melancholy, as well as French Simone Weil and Canadian Anne Carson, who explore “decreation” as “the undoing of the creature in us.” Their scholarly, philosophical and literary work can provide a very complex and resonant framework for the study of Greek female poets. Since we have been talking here about music and dance, as well as “History,” we may listen to the last poem* of the collection Χορευτές/Dancers (2014) by Cypriot Eftychia Panayiotou whose work is thoroughly immersed in musical forms and meters.

Minima Moralia is dedicated to Adorno’s “other self,” his friend Max Horkheimer. The work’s “Dedication” explains: “The immediate occasion for writing this book was the fiftieth birthday of Max Horkheimer on February 14, 1945. The composition transpired in a phase in which, due to external circumstances, we had to interrupt our common work. The book wishes to proffer thanks and fidelity, by refusing to recognize the interruption. It is testimony to a dialogue interiéur: there is no motif herein, which does not belong as much to Horkheimer as to the person who found the time for formulation.” These words are perfectly appropriate for this blog too, which is dedicated to my “other self,” the pianist Pantelis Polychronidis. Since “due to external circumstances, we had to interrupt our common work,” my entire blog “wishes to proffer thanks and fidelity, by refusing to recognize the interruption.” It would be true to stress that “there is no motif herein, which does not belong as much to [Polychronidis] as to the person who found the time for formulation.” It would be also true to stress that equally indispensable friends make much of today’s Greek poetry an eminently collaborative pursuit and achievement.


* Eftychia Panayiotou:

“Η μάρτυρας τραγουδά την αλήθεια” (pp. 51-2)/“The truth” (Chiotis pp. 27-8)


Life in the rubble,

your glass eyes weep centuries.

You have escaped

dreams’ rags.

On the tracks of postwar bombers,

you trespass on strangers’ homes.

Before the pillage you stand



Do not scream as the flash goes off.

Fear seals and sews

shut the eyes of History.

The hands, do not place them on the ears.

Paleolithic lovers summon you.

Which corpse had they embraced in their wailing,

which danger squawk had petrified their gazed

they will attest to.


Airdrops, footfalls and tears;

they hound you.

The lunacy you sought,

to upraise your head.

If you are in or out will always elude you.

But from your lungs, eavesdropper,

birds speaking foreign tongues will burst forth.


Singing you build

and solely with force,

with your chords shaking

cracking rocks,

for a woman who –

striding on the sand

for a spear which –

drew two snails.


You will confess, you will declare that

it was magic


over the void)

and that  she was yours,

yours when,

a riddle amongst the rocks,


once upon a time

going under.

December 1, 2015

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