The Greek poetry of intermittent insurgency

In an earlier post titled “After the Event” I mentioned that, commenting on Alain Badiou in his Intermittency: The Concept of Historical Reason in Recent French Philosophy (2102), literary scholar Andrew Gibson calls the “intermittency” of the epochal Event “the reason of history:” unpredictable revolts suspend historical time but the scarcity of such ecstatic revolts induces melancholy. In response, philosophy deals with the interruptive Event (the date of reason with history) while literature deals with the subsequent melancholy (the remainder of that date), which in our time is caught between pessimistic revolutionary messianism and affirmative neoliberal consensus.

Melancholy in itself is neither pessimistic nor optimistic since skeptical awareness of the disenchantment of the revolution and the loss of the messianic under conditions of defeat and dispersion may lead to a recasting of the theory-praxis dialectic in the institution of commons. As cultural theorist Bejamin Noys argues in The Persistence of the Negative (2010), melancholy is a practice of negativity as immanent critique informed by a historicism of difference and deterritorilization.

The Greek Generation of the 2000’s has been composing a poetry of the melancholic history of intermittent insurgency, a revolt which functions irregularly as it starts, stops, and starts again. Thus it is engaged in a major project of cultural (literary, artistic, and critical) critique of teleological (linear) history and organic (circular) poetry. Here is an elegy by Stamatis Polenakis for the Greek insurgency which opens a collection tellingly titled “The Steps of Odessa”:

Σταμάτης Πολενάκης: “Ποίηση 2048”

 (Τα σκαλοπάτια της Οδησσού, p. 7, 2012)

Τόσο πολύ εχρεωκοπήσαμε σύντροφοι

που ώς και τα ξενοδοχεία

τα χτισμένα από τα κόκκαλα των νεκρών,

τα ωραία παραθαλάσσια
ξενοδοχεία που φτιάξαμε με τα αργύρια

της προδοσίας του Πλουμπίδη,

ως και αυτά ακόμα, εγκαταλείφθηκαν

και σαπίζουν κάτω από τη λάσπη και τη

βροχή. Ούτε αυτή η εποχή είναι εποχή

για ποίηση: πληρώνουμε ακόμα

με νόμισμα Εμφυλίου.

The poem is an explicit revision of a famous epigrammatic poem by canonical poet Nikos Engonopoulos, published in 1948, which begins:

Νίκος Εγγονόπουλος: “Ποίηση 1948”


τούτη η εποχή

του εμφυλίου σπαραγμού

δεν είναι εποχή

για ποίηση

κι’ άλλα παρόμοια:

σαν πάει κάτι




ως αν

να γράφονταν

από την άλλη μεριά



“The trauma of the revolution” (p. 1), which is the focus of Jean-Philippe Mathy’s Melancholy Politics (2011), has been haunting much of the late modern world. The current Greek project of negative poetics converses with similar projects of the “desolated Left” striving for a “habitable” one, such as the British quarterly Savage, launched earlier this year, which introduces itself as follows:

“About Us

Salvage is a quarterly of revolutionary arts and letters.

Salvage is edited and written by and for the desolated Left, by and for those committed to radical change, sick of capitalism and its sadisms, and sick too of the Left’s bad faith and bullshit.

Salvage has earned its pessimism. Salvage yearns for that pessimism to be proved wrong.

Salvage brings together the work of those who share a heartbroken, furious love of the world, and our rigorous principle: Hope is precious; it must be rationed. […]

Salvage is not the foundation of a future Left. It may be a time-capsule for one. […]

Salvage strives for a habitable Left, one that deserves to survive. […]”

This statement may be one (ethical) way to position a melancholy critique of the “intermittency” of Greek history under conditions of Left rule but not governance, of the missed date of irruptive revolt with history. Another (sonorous) way may be Schumann, as rehearsed by friends/collaborators Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (Ch. 11, on the deterritorialization of the refrain by rhythm, of their A Thousand Plateaus, 1980); or Brahms, Schumann’s friend/collaborator, as rehearsed by Pantelis Polychronidis and myself (on how an andante espressivo can surge and explode a sonata into a cadenza).

December 5, 2015

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