By Anna Giulia De La puppa
“...Bacause your heart still breaks apart when you listen to clarinet
Come, my love, come
let's do another Greek
who will forget with songs
who will excuse her mistakes, like us,
because Greece wounds us as no one”
Charis Alexiou, The Greek (1999)
In this text what I am trying to deal with is a complex cluster of sentiments, moral norms, implicit narratives, aesthetic perceptions, collective beliefs constituting the Greek nation, as a “solid community moving itself throughout history” in Benedict Anderson's terms (Anderson 1983).
In this sense, I believe worthy to be underlined how the construction of this dispositive not simply affects the way gender roles are socialized and practiced in modern greek society, but also and more interestingly how this is actually gendered since the really beginning and can hardly be understood out of this perspective.
It is easily verifiable that throughout the long period of economic crisis, gender scarcely appears both in the mainstream narrative and in the academic discourses about crisis. When it does, most of the time, it is in terms of salary inequality or lack of appropriate welfare state, often in the perspective of the biological predisposition to motherhood, and so linked with the difficulties of greek families, and so on and so forth. It is not that all these features are not real, but what I would like to point out today is something more eradicate in greek society, something the actual recession has simply exacerbate, even if it seems to remain unseen.
As Alexandra Halkias pointed out:
Gender, moreover, ostensibly invisible (...) is nonetheless omnipresent, in its most sexist forms, and constitutes privileged ground for the expression and management of profound trouble at the level of the national imaginary. (Halkias 2015)
I would like to argue, in addition, that both the automatic link between women and family conditions in time of crisis and the uncritical biological assumption of what “woman” means, can be seen as interesting quasi-freudian shifts precisely enlightening this imaginary.
But what's this national imaginary we are talking about?
One of the most discussed phenomena throughout the greek crisis was, in fact, the unprecedented success of far right discourses and the rise of Golden Dawn. I argue that there are important, although not evident, connections with the wide and prismatic “Syntagma square movement” of 2010, and the antipolitical thrust belonged to part of this mobilization. It may remind of what Giuliano Santoro, using the theoretical tools of the Italian philosopher and philologist Furio Jesi, writes about “5 Stars Movement” in Italy: it has been able to speak to people at a loss of words, with a sort of abracadabra. As for advertising language, there is no need for these words to be true, but they aim to an uncritical and totalizing approval (Santoro 2012). In this sense, in order to comprehend the affirmation of Greek far right today, I believe that the understanding of social bases is pivotal and it can be possible only through the deconstruction of Greek identitary dispositive, a central aspect of which is its biopolitical gendered construction.
In doing so, I pose a particular attention on language, both in terms of rhetorics and of vocabulary. In this I found particularly interesting Furio Jesi analysis of “right wing culture”. Furio Jesi's main interest was the function of Myth and Mythology in European (and indoeuropean) culture. He researched the permanence and the instrumental usage of classical mythology in modern European culture. He has postulated the concept of “mythological machine”, which I find very useful in my inquiry. Precisely at the intersection between myth and language, and so in the production process of myth, where the relationship power/knowledge takes place, the mythological machine is described as the appointed dispositive to convert a mythological material in a common heritage of truth. In doing so, it actually invents myths on the bases of what Jesi calls “ideas without words”. They are
Simplified images of reality, providing easy answers to any kind of doubt. (…) They define authoritatively ideal models and crystallization of identities. (Jesi 2011)
In “Right-wing culture”, a book Furio Jesi published back in 1979, a year before he tragically and prematurely died, he analyzes the hidden hallmark of Italian neofascism, comparing fascist and nazi heritages in this perspective. And he argues that (1) There is no “myth”, but only “mythological material” variably manipulated (technicized) for contingent purposes. (2) The “origin” is always an ex-post invented moment. (3) There is no possible critical thought where ideas without words exist. (4) The far right wing thinkers are never respectful and need to be unmasked. (5) The perpetual evocation of “pureness” “ancientness”, “highness”, having just a perlocutive function, has always a kitsch aspect in its aim to evoke “spiritual splendor”.
In this sense, every unquestionable assertive discourse, and so authoritarian and “mythical” in their establishing a presumed “natural” state of being, is “right-wing distinctive”.
Filotimo, seems to conform to this description.
Impossible to be translated (literally it corresponds to “love for the honor”), Filotimo mirrors the foucaultian argument according to which a state, in order to well
function, needs specific embedded power relations between men and women, as well as between adults and children. Filotimo's first philological evidence is traced in Thales (VII cent. B. C. ), who defined it as much fundamental for a Greek person as breathing.
In current usage it indicates someone's “right behaviour” in the social dynamic, and it consequently defines his or her role and social identity.
Sometime ago, I found myself in a very uncomfortable discussion with an educated person, during which I was accused to betray my foster country, the cradle of European culture. The bone of contention was that I claimed Athens used to be little more then a village during the Ottoman Empire. I was not filotimi, I've been said. It was the first time I heard this word and it was related to my attitude toward Greece as a country and its historical memory. No matter if my remark was right -as it was- or not, this memory is true as long as it is perceived as such by Greek people.
The image of Greece as the cradle of European culture, already enough biopolitical I woud say, is, indeed, a central feature of Greek state's founding ideology, even though it is based on a reification process. Again, it has been used many time both from Greek people and from foreigner commentators in this time of crisis to express the anger of the Greeks betrayed by Europe from one side (the son betraying the mother), and the scorn of Europe for the “lazy borrower” and its glorious past (a parental decay) .
But it has deep and internal roots, too. In the common rhetoric of contraposition, everything in Greek society considered to be spurious and jumbled has to be attributed to Ottoman, turk heritage. An heritage that has disrupted the harmonious order of western antiquity, and the embedment of this process does not lack in sexual references. In this sense is worthy to be considered the reified dichotomy of Ellinismos and Romiossini (as Romoi used to be the definition Greeks gave of themselves during the ottoman empire), where the first (masculine noun) is always connected with the proud, public values of virility and the second (feminine noun) relegated with the womanly private, tawdry sphere (Herzfeld 2005).
This dichotomy is precisely what Filotimo is all about.
There is a video made by OxiDay foundation, a Greek-American foundation dealing with the divulgation of Greek culture in America. It is called “Filotimo, the greek secret”.
In it, Filotimo is described as the immortal value allowing Greece to be always “to the right side of history”, embedding all the positive human values that, it is claimed, constitute “greekness”.
Not at all by chance, the name of the foundation recalls the day when the dictator Ioannis Metaxas refused to allow Mussolini troups to enter Greece. Metaxas was a fascist dictator himself, who took the power with the coup d'etat of the 4th of August 1936, and always exalted by Golden Dawn members, whose political principles reflect Metaxism as main inspiration. In the video Metaxas is always identified as “prime minister” and never as a dictator, nor his coup d'etat is ever mentioned.
OxiDay foundation is not a fascist organization, it just reflects, accumulates and spreads the mainstream Greek culture toward a Greek-American public. It is actually part of the Greek nationalistic mythological machine, and Filotimo in its undefinability, is a perfect material, the absolute idea without words.
Filotimo appears to be an everlong values for Greek society, even though in the passage between rurality an urbanity it acquired new features, less openly patriarchal but always linked to a traditional way to conceive social relationships and stances (Avdela 2002). In these, the centrality of the family (taking along an ubiquitous rhetoric about the shared blood of the greek ancestry and the innate features of greek mentality) as the first and more important core of Greek society remain uncontested and it is the main vehicle for social transmission of values like filotimo.
Of course, it appears crystal clear that women and men are filotimoi in different ways, depending on the social, always sexualized position they occupy in the social dynamic. It has much to do with gender roles definition as historical and unalterable values.
The heterosexual representation of the greek nation as a family where the submissive womanliness has to be conquered by proud virility is precisely where the nation and the construction of the sexual bodies meet up.
In this sense and to conclude, I would like to stress the necessity not just to consider gender as a fluid, cultural concept, of course, but most of all to pay serious attention to the roles it implies. More then gender identities, implying canons to align with, being more normative and for this reasons more comprehensible by the state, the analysis of gender roles and their moulding through social interactions, I argue, can show the social dynamics as the main field of the biopolitical struggle.
Anderson, Benedict (1983), Imagined communities reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism, Verso, London-New York
Avdela, Efi (2002), Dia Logous timis. Via, Synaisthimata kai axies stin metemfiliaki Ellada, Nefeli, Athens
Halkias, Alexandras (2015), 'Democracy and Greece-in-crisis. Contesting masculinities take center stage', in “Finestra sul presente”, Rivista telematica di studi sulla memoria femminile DEP n°27, Venice
Herzfeld, Michael (2005), Cultural Intimacy. Social poetics in the Nation-State, Routledge, New York
Jesi, Furio (2011), Cutura di destra, Nottetempo editore, Roma (or. 1979)
Santoro, Giuliano (2012), Un Grillo qualunque, Castevecchi editore, Roma
Diatribe is an online journal created by a collective who consider antagonistic politics to capitalism and authoritarianism
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