Varieties of Hellenism

Four recent books approach Hellenism from very different angles to discuss ways in which Greek identity and its past are constructed.

Trophies of Victory (2016) by Leslie Shear is a monograph that deploys scholarship to examine Hellenism as victory (of the ancient Greeks).

The Parthenon Bomber ([1996] 2017) by Christos Chrissopoulos is a novella that deploys literature to examine Hellenism as burden (of the modern Greeks).

The Classical Debt (2017) by Johanna Hanink is an essay that deploys critique to examine Hellenism as debt (of the West).

Liquid Antiquity (2017), co-edited by Brooke Holmes & Karen Marta, is a platform that deploys curatorship to examine Hellenism as flow (of scholarship).

These four perspectives complement my own in The Rise of Eurocentrism: Anatomy of Interpretation (1993) where I analyze the role of the Hebraism/Hellenism dialectic in the self-understanding of modernity.

June 25, 2017

Posted in General Culture, Greek Literature, Hellenism, The "Greeks" | Tagged

How critical theory arrived in Greek writing through poetry

My interview to “Reading Greece” on New Greek Poetry and Modern Greek Studies

June 27, 2017

Posted in Crisis, Greek Literature, Greek Poetry, Greeks, Hellenism, Left, Melancholy

A dialectic of contraries, rather than opposites, in four 2017 Greek poetry cycles

Μια διαλεκτική των εναντίων, παρά των αντιθέσεων, στην ποίηση του 2000

Τέσσερα ελληνικά ποιητικά βιβλία που μόλις κυκλοφόρησαν δείχνουν με μεγάλη ενάργεια πως η βασική διαλεκτική λειτουργία της ποίησης του 2000 δεν είναι η αντίθεση δύο όρων (όπου ενυπάρχει η ελπίδα της συμφιλίωσής τους) αλλά η εναντίωσή τους (που κρατά τους δύο όρους σε ασυμφιλίωτη ένταση). Αυτή η λειτουργία της διαρκούς έντασης μεταξύ θέσης και αντίθεσης φαίνεται στο γεγονός πως, αν και όλα αυτά τα βιβλία περιέχουν ένα κύκλο ποιημάτων, κανείς από τους τέσσερεις κύκλους δεν ολοκληρώνεται και δεν εξισορροπείται. Διατηρούν μια έντονη εσωτερική ένταση τεχνικών και κωδίκων η οποία αντιστέκεται τόσο στην κακοφωνία όσο και στην εναρμόνιση. Πρόκειται για μουσικο-ποιητικές συνθέσεις αντιμαχόμενων δυνάμεων που αυτονομούνται στον ετεροπροσδιορισμό τους.

Συγκεκριμένα (και πολύ σχηματικά)

στο Εσύ: τα στοιχεία (2017) του Βασίλη Αμανατίδη έχουμε διαπραγμάτευση με ποικίλη τυπογραφία του “εσύ” και του εναντίου του (που δεν κατονομάζεται αλλά στέκει έναντι),

στο Ο άνθρωπος τανκ (2017) του Γιώργου Λίλλη έχουμε διαπραγμάτευση με πολλαπλές τεχνοτροπίες του “άνθρωπος τανκ” και του εναντίου του (που στέκει και αυτό απέναντι),

στο Εξυπερύ σημαίνει χάνομαι (2017) του Γιάννη Στίγκα έχουμε διαπραγμάτευση με αλεπάλληλες γνωματεύσεις του τίτλου (με τον παράδοξο μεταφραστικό του ισχυρισμό)

και στο Gloria in Excelsis (2017) του Χάρη Ψαρρά έχουμε διαπραγμάτευση με ετερόκλητες ομοιοκαταληξίες του τίτλου (και του λανθάνοντος ελληνικού πρωτοτύπου).

Βλέπουμε πως η ρητορική της εναντιότητας η οποία διατρέχει τόσο θεματικά όσο και μορφικά τους τέσσερεις αυτούς κύκλους ποιημάτων αγγέλεται ήδη στους ίδιους τους τίτλους των οι οποίοι χρησιμοποιούν μια ρητή ή έμμεση διαλεκτική αντιπαλότητας για να οριοθετήσουν ο καθένας το ερωτικό, πολιτικό, υπαρξιακό, θρησκευτικό ή άλλο πλαίσιό του.

Η διαλεκτική αυτή ένταση που γενικά διατρέχει μεγάλο μέρος της νέας ποίησης δεν πρέπει με κανένα τρόπο να γίνει αντικείμενο συμφιλιωτικών ερμηνειών οι οποίες ανακαλύπτουν συμμετρία, ενότητα και αρμονία των αντιθέτων όταν οι συγγραφείς επιδιώκουν να κρατήσουν τους δύο ενάντιους πόλους σε αντίπαλη, προβληματική σχέση. Είναι κάτι στο οποίο πολύ σωστά επιμένει και ο “έτερος εαυτός” μου, ο πιανίστας Παντελής Πολυχρονίδης, σε όλες τις συνεργασίες μας.

Η διαλεκτική μονάδα της νέας ελληνικής ποίησης δεν είναι η αντίθεση αλλά η αμοιβαία εναντίωση δύο όρων. Μέσα στον ορυμαγδό τέτοιων ενδογενών αψιμαχιών, όπου η εσχατολολογική αποκατάσταση παραμένει ανέφικτη, η κυρίαρχη διάθεση του φιλοσοφικού ριζοσπαστισμού είναι αναπόφευκτα η μελαγχολία της δυσπιστίας. Όμως αυτή η ασυμβίβαστη μελαγχολική διαλεκτική, αντί να προκαλέσει παράλυση, φέρνει “ανανέωση”, όπως περιγράφει ωραιότατα ο Πέτρος Γκολίτσης ο οποίος, καθώς και πολλοί ομότεχνοί του, αντιλαμβάνεται τη διαλεκτική πολυδιάστατα — ως ποιητής, μεταφραστής, κριτικός, δοκιμιογράφος, ζωγράφος, οικονομολόγος, συνεργάτης κλπ. Το διεισδυτικό δοκίμιό του “Η Μπρεχτική πανουργία μιας ποιητικής ‘γενιάς’: Η ποίηση των πρωτοεμφανισθέντων τα τελευταία είκοσι χρόνια”, που δημοσιεύεται στο τεύχος Ιουλίου του περιοδικού Θράκα, τελειώνει με μια coda που διαβάζεται φωναχτά:

“Τρυφεροί με τον τρόπο τους, μες στον θυμό, τη μελαγχολία και τον σαρκασμό τους λοιπόν, απέναντι στον πόνο, τον τρόπο και τα καμώματα των συμπολιτών και των συγκαιρινών τους, με λόγο κυματιστό, στέρεο ή παλλόμενο, κάποτε μονοκόμματα επαναλαμβανόμενο, μες στα σπασίματα, τις καταβυθίσεις και τα άλματά του, με εναλλαγές του φιλικού τόνου προς μια κάποιου τύπου ηρωική ή ημι-ηρωική έξαρση, με μια προφορικότητα που επίσης προσθέτει δίνοντας νεύρο, ξεσπούν άμεσα καλώντας μας προς μια εν γένει μετατόπιση. Βάζοντας ή και καλώντας μας επιπρόσθετα προς τη θέση τους. Με τον δροσερό και κοφτό τους λόγο να γίνεται, τελικά, ο φορέας μιας ανανέωσης.”

21 Ιουνίου 2017

Posted in General Philosophy, Greek Poetry, Melancholy | Tagged

“Η κρίση της ποίησης και η μελαγχολία της αριστεράς”

“The Crisis of Poetry and the Melancholy of the Left,” a study, solicited by the distinguished Greek quarterly Poetics, of the new Greek poetry based on several essays on the same topic that have been appearing in this blog.

όλο το κείμενο στο σύνδεσμο αυτό:

ΠΡΩΤΟΣΕΛΙΔΟ ΑΡΘΡΟ

Posted in Culture, Greek Poetry, Left, Melancholy

Α melancholic ethic

In all kinds of work associated with Robert Schumann a ruminating protagonist draws on melancholy as an ascesis of affect to practice a post-classical critique of repetition and identity.

We see this role everywhere, from the Byronic unrepentant hero in his Manfred, op. 115, a “Dramatic Poem in Three Parts with Music” [1848] (now available as a film by Johannes Deutch, 2011), to Martin Geck’s Robert Schumann: The Life and Work of a Romantic Composer [2010] to Sophia Kapsourou’s four-act Greek play Schumann (2017), starring both the composer and a 21st-century pianist who jumps into the Rhine during the Robert Schumann Competition in Düsseldorf.  This central figure of 19th-century European culture is not sad or despondent but ethically melancholic.

We can find an excellent framework for the ultimate melancholic composer in the conclusion of “1837: Of the Refrain”, plateau no. 11 of Deleuze & Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus [1980], dated after the year of the first edition of Schumann’s Études Symphoniques, op. 13, for solo piano: “In Schumann, a whole learned labor, at once rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic, has this sober and simple result: deterritorialize the refrain. Produce a deterritorialized refrain as the final end of music, release it in the Cosmos — that is more important than building a new system. Opening the assemblage onto a cosmic force. In the passage from the one to the other, from the assemblage of sounds to the Machine that renders it sonorous, from the becoming child of the musician to the becoming-cosmic of the child, many dangers crop up: black holes, closures, paralysis of the finger and auditory hallucinations, Schumann’s madness, cosmic force gone bad, a note that pursues you, a sound that transfixes you. Yet one was already present in the other; the cosmic force was already present in the material, the great refrain in the little refrains, the great maneuver in the little maneuver. Except we can never be sure we will be strong enough, for we have no system, only lines and movements. Schumann” (350).

“Schumann” indeed since he does not have the canonizing strength and the legislative authority to build a system, as Beethoven or Brahms did. His melancholy is the mood of a critical rhythm that deterritorializes the dominant refrain/ritornello/ritournelle (in the authors’ terminology) of modern monumentality. It can be heard in the legendary piano commentaries concluding many of his lieder, like the conclusion of “The Two Grenadiers” (here starting at 3:58), or in the piano accompaniment of the second stanza of Wehmut/Melancholy, op. 39/9 (here between 0:56-1:44). I owe to Dr. Pantelis Polychronidis, my other self, the most enlightening conversations on this topic.

Being “cosmic,” not universal, Schumann operates not as a towering solitary genius but as a “melancholy assemblage” of “lines and movements” that gathers in overlapping milieus extraordinary men and women — writers (Jean Paul, Heine), composers (Liszt, Brahms), musicians (Clara Wieck, Joachim), friends (Florestan and Eusebius), patrons, listeners, and many others. It is his melancholic view of the self in a “mental theatre” (Byron) that makes him a nodal point in the incandescent constellation of 1848. His is an example of those modes of melancholy that, instead of isolating people, bring them together to ask rhythmically/critically who reforms and who rebels after revolution and remorse.

June 14, 2017

Posted in Classical Music, Melancholy | Tagged , , ,

Melancholy as a mood of critique

Recent surveys of melancholy in the arts, literature, and thought highlight its function more as an artistic convention and critical disposition than a “demon,” malady or experience:

Mélancolie : génie et folie en Occident (2005), edited by Jean Clair, is the massive catalogue of a large-scale exhibition at Grand Palais (Paris, 2005) and Neue Nationalgalerie (Berlin, 2006) that ranged from Sophocles’ Ajax to Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus.

The Tragic Muse: Art and Emotion, 1700-1900, edited by Anne Leonard, is the catalogue of a research exhibition at Smart Museum of Art (University of Chicago, 2011).

The Melancholy Art by Michael Ann Holly (Princeton UP, 2013) looks at the function of melancholy in the work of major 20th-century art historians.

Melancholy [1984] by László Földényi (Yale UP, 2016) is an encyclopedic survey of the temperament as illness, disposition, and energy from antiquity to Modernism.

When books like these (together with literary ones) are read in the context of current discussions of racial melancholy (Anne Cheng), “cultural melancholy” (Jermaine Singleton), and “strategic melancholism” (Guillaume Sibertin-Blanc), melancholy emerges as a rigorous ascesis of affect as well as a “critical discourse” (Mary Cosgrove) with serious political potential comparable to that of other techniques of disengagement, especially at times of left deafeat.  It represents the mood of post-revolutionary critique.  It can also encourage a tragic understanding of the revolution’s failure.

I owe my preoccupation with the practices of melancholy to one of its great virtuosos, Dr. Pantelis Polychronidis, my other self.

June 7, 2017

Posted in General Literature, Melancholy, The Arts

After the defeat of the Revolution

A challenging contribution to current discussions of the global predicament of the left has been recently published: Enzo Traverso’s beautifully written, well illustrated, widely learned Left-Wing Melancholia: Marxism, History, and Memory (2016). It is a study of left melancholia of a century of defeated revolutions which posits that “the history of revolutions is a history of defeats, because all of them have been followed by restorations, authoritarian turns, and Thermidorean reactions” (32). Its central figure is Walter Benjamin who combined the three M’s (Scholem’s Messianism, Brecht’s Marxism, and Warburg’s Melancholy) to counter Carl Schmitt’s Catholic “political theology” with his own Jewish “political theology,” namely, revolution as redemption and exodus from history.

Traverso’s book of melancholia reads as a companion to his The End of Jewish Modernity (2013), a book of mourning over the exhaustion of Jewish critical thought. Together they constitute an elegy for Mitteleuropa anti-mimetic and socialist radicalism. The author marks the collapse of that world by recalling the solemn mourning of communism in Theo Angelopoulos’ film Ulysses’ Gaze (1995) when a broken and fallen statue of Lenin traverses the Danube “leaving the stage of history” (79).

It is worth reading this study together with The Army of the Sleepwalkers (2014), the latest and in every respect grandiose 800-page novel (still not in English translation) by the “anonymous” Bolognese collective Wu Ming. It covers the years 1793-95 of French history, the “Reign of Terror,” focusing not on the external defeat of the revolution but on its self-defeat, the gradual bankruptcy of left governance. Though it reads as a novel, it is structured as a five-act Romantic tragedy (by, say, Victor Hugo or even Romain Rolland) to dramatize in a Mnouchkinian spectacle that dimension of history which Benjamin occluded and exorcised throughout his career, the tragedy of revolution.

As Traverso mentions in his melancholic study, Raymond Williams observed that “revolutions always tend to deny their tragic dimension” and they “never conceive themselves as tragic events” (52). Indeed, in his Modern Tragedy (1966) Williams noted that in modern times “the ordinary separation of social thinking and tragic thinking. The most influential kinds of explicitly social thinking have often rejected tragedy as in itself defeatist. … The idea of tragedy, that is to say, has been explicitly opposed by the idea of revolution” (63). This is a most interesting question: Why protect revolutionary failure from the consequences of hubris by ignoring any connection of defeat with tragedy?

Writing under the sign of left melancholy in the wake of what he describes as the collapse of communism, the paralysis of the “velvet revolutions,” the deadlock of the “Arab Spring,” and the exhaustion of the social movements, such as feminism, Traverso is renewing explicitly Daniel Bensaïd’s “melancholic bet” (234) in an effort to salvage the anticipation of utopia and keep the covenant of redemption alive in the age of Holocaustal trauma and its memory. Thus he proposes to replace Benjamin’s Jewish “political theology” with Lucien Goldmann’s Pascalian one, and the Messiah with the latter’s “Hidden God.”

On the other hand, by showing in their novel that the mesmerized forces of the counter-revolutionary sleepwalkers are already in power and that the time of the “Great Parody” has arrived, Wu Ming argue that, more than the melancholia over the defeated revolution (or lost election, failed referendum, and the like), it is the tragedy of the self-undermined left governance, the “Thermidor reaction” (be it in Paris in 1794 or in Athens in 2015), that is of urgent relevance to the predicament of today’s left.

May 25, 2017

Posted in Left, Melancholy, Philosophy, Revolution | Tagged , , ,