Returning to Greece (Did We Ever Leave?)
Today, I travel to Crete, an island in Greece where evidence of human occupation dates back to the beginning of Neolithic Period (c. 7000 BCE). Returning to Greece metaphorically is a return to those things I take to be fundamental: democracy, equality, justice, philosophy, eros. But it’s a strange time to be traveling to Greece. On Sunday, the Greek people voted to reject the plan presented by the Eurozone powers, the Troika (the European Commission, the IMF and the European Central Bank), which would have rejected the democratically-elected Prime Minister Tsipras’s plan to fund the debt by taxing corporations and rich people and required the debt be funded by taxes on middle and working class Greeks. As Slavoj Žižek said of the “Oxi” (No) vote:
The No in the Greek referendum was thus much more than a simple choice between two different approaches to economic crisis. The Greek people have heroically resisted the despicable campaign of fear that mobilised the lowest instincts of self-preservation. They have seen through the brutal manipulation of their opponents who falsely presented the referendum as a choice between euro and drachma, between Greece in Europe and “Grexit”.
Their No was a No to the eurocrats who prove daily that they are unable to drag Europe out of its inertia. It was a No to the continuation of business as usual; a desperate cry telling us all that things cannot go on the usual way. It was a decision for authentic political vision against the strange combination of cold technocracy and hot racist clichés about the lazy, free-spending Greeks. It was a rare victory of principles against egotist and ultimately self-destructive opportunism. The No that won was a Yes to full awareness of the crisis in Europe; a Yes to the need to enact a new beginning.
It is to this Greece that I am returning. As I plan, people have told me to bring American dollars, to be sure to get plenty of Euros. I’m reminded of what one of our friend’s friends said to him last summer when we were visiting and they were trying to coordinate plans. As they were talking on the phone, the friend’s friend said, “Are you with the agents of imperialism?” I’ve been thinking about how not to be an agent of imperialism. I’m not sure it’s something I can accomplish by acting in a particularly non-imperialist way, though I can of course do that. In a real sense as an American traveling to Crete to learn and to enjoy and to accrue further credibility as a Greek scholar for the time I’ve spent there, I am an agent of imperialism. I carry it around in my being, just as I carry whiteness around in my being. I’m hoping at the least to be reflective of that too, especially in this time.
I’ll be traveling through Crete for five days and then to Naxos from which I will take a day trip to Delos and Mykonos. I’ll try to blog as often as I can. From Naxos, I’ll return to Crete for one more night before flying to Italy. In Umbria, Italy, I’ll be attending the Collegium Phaenomelogicum where I will facilitate a text seminar for a week-long lecture course on Derrida’s The Beast and the Sovereign lectures. Derrida’s remarks on Carl Schmitt’s critique of globalization seem relevant to this moment in Greece:
The world of globalization would then be a strategem, a false concept or a concept forged in order to pass off some particular interest as a worldwide or universal interest, pass off the interest of one nation-state or a restricted group of nation-states as the world, as the universal interest of humanity in general, as the interest of the proper of man in general. After having asserted that “humanity as such…cannot wage war because it has no enemy, at least on this planet…The concept of humanity excludes the concept of enemy, because the enemy does not cease to be human being–and hence there is no specific differentiation in that concept”–after having asserted this, i.e. that the concept of humanity cannot be a political concept or the basis for a politics, Schmitt goes on to try to show that in fact, wherever this concept is put forward in the pursuit of war (and there would be so many examples today), it is a lying rhetoric, an ideological disguise tending to mask and smuggle in nation-state interests, and therefore those of a determinate sovereignty. (The Beast and the Sovereign, Vol. 1, 71-72)
…What is terrifying, according to him, what is to be feared or dreaded, what is schrecklick, scary, what inspires terror, because it acts through fear and terror, is that this humanitarian pretension, when it goes off to war, treats its enemies as “hors la loi [outside the law] and “hors l’humanities [outside humanity]” (in French in Schmitt’s text), i.e. like beasts: in the name of the human, of human rights and humanitarianism, other men are then treated like beasts, and consequently one becomes oneself inhuman, cruel and bestial. One becomes stupid [bête], bestial and cruel, fearsome, doing everything to inspire fear, one begins to take on the features of the most fearsome werewolf (let’s not forget the wolves), because one is claiming to be human and worthy of the dignity of man. Nothing, on this view, would be less human than this imperialism, which, acting in the name of human rights and the humanity of man, excludes men and humanity and imposes on men inhuman treatments. Treats them like beasts. (73)
Crete, the land of bulls, bull-men, gods, and trickster women, seems like a good place to think on these things.