Today we visited the palace at Knossos and the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. Knossos is considered the cradle of the first European civilization and is believed to have been continuously occupied for 8000 years from the Neolithic through to the Byzantine period. As I said in my last post, I’ve been reading Derrida’s The Beast and the Sovereign lectures, so I see beasts and sovereigns everywhere. Or perhaps, it’s Greece, so beasts and sovereigns–beast-sovereigns, sovereign beasts–are everywhere. Knossos and its environs are the ancient Minoan site of the beast and the sovereign, of the beast who opposes the sovereign and of the beast who is sovereign, of the sovereign who appears as the beast and as the sovereign who becomes sovereign by defeating the beasts. This is the place of the Minotaur and of Zeus. I’ll get to Zeus in another post–we’ll be visiting his birth place and his place of rest (Zeus died!) in a couple days. Read more
Posts tagged ‘Greece’
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.
The Arab-Islamic Gift: Translating Western Culture OR Thanks for the Roots of Western Culture, Savages, Now Scram.
About twelve different things converged this week to make me excited about thinking about the Arabic and Islamic contribution to Greek translation history. Obama gave a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast referencing “terrible deeds in the name of Christ” to which critics responded that that wasn’t representative of Christianity and that it ignores how the Crusades were provoked by Muslims, never mind that claims that violence done in the name of Allah is not representative of Islam are roundly dismissed or that it isn’t so obvious that Christianity created liberalism. Chris Kyle, the hero of American Sniper, regularly refers to the Iraqis he is killing at a sniper’s distance as savages in that film that has spawned a whole new round of people eager to do violence to Muslims. The standoff between Europe and Greece over debt is currently being negotiated raising questions of what Greece’s relationship to Europe is. I just wrote the course description for my medieval philosophy course next semester that will take up Christian, Jewish and Islamic commentators of Aristotle. I’ve been re-reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X for a reading group I’m doing on campus for Black History Month with some other faculty and students and I was just yesterday reading the middle chapters about the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X’s efforts to recast the history of race relations and religion. I’ve been teaching about how social context affects perception in my philosophy of race course. Into this constellation of thoughts and events landed an essay by Azzedine Haddour from the 2008 edited collection Translation and the Classic: Identity as Change in the History of Culture. Haddour’s essay, “Tradition, Translation and Colonization: The Graeco-Arabic Translation Movement and Deconstructing the Classics,” returned my attention to some themes I was thinking of last summer in terms of the question of ‘ownership’ of the Greeks (which I blogged about here and here). Haddour argues that the Arabic role in the transmission of Greek texts to us, and through Greek texts, Western culture, is effaced when it is considered merely passive, as a conduit that moves what is “ours” through “them” to get it safely back to” us.” Not only was it not passive, Haddour argues, but Arabic culture brought us many of the knowledge practices that we today think of as quintessentially “Western” and Christian: the inquisitive spirit and the primacy of the text. If he’s right, we have Arabic Islam to thank for the tradition of textual criticism.
We were supposed to get home on July 3, but we didn’t finally get here until yesterday because our flight was cancelled in Philadelphia. I grew up in Philadelphia, and still have family there, so this wasn’t all bad. We were able to push our flight back one more day so we could spend July Fourth with my brother, his wife and her family. They live north of the city in farm country so it was nice to get out of the concrete jungle and see some grass after the unbearable heat of Athens. They have neighbors who own a dairy farm who set off their own quite impressive firework show. It wasn’t quite the Northern Liberty drug dealers show that I saw a couple years ago from a friend’s roof, but it was good.
It seems fitting that we were stuck in Philadelphia on our way back from Athens. Read more
Yesterday was our anniversary and our last full day in Nafplio. Today we are off to Athens for two days, where we hope to see Aristotle’s Lyceum, which has only recently opened, and the National Archaeological Museum. On Saturday, we took our last excursion in the Peloponnese, this time to Epidauros which has the largest and best preserved Greek theater. Read more
At the end of our time in Athens, I posted here about the marginalization of modern Greeks in the last several centuries of global work in Ancient Greek philosophy. That post sparked a long and lively debate over on my Facebook wall with another philosopher that encouraged me to think more carefully about how ‘ancient philosophy’ has come to be constructed. Last weekend, in the middle of our good times in Neapoli which you can read about here and here, I raised this question about the relationship between modern Greeks and ancient Greek philosophy, literature and tradition generally with our friend Kosmas Raspitsos, whose book on the Latinization of ancient Greek thought is not unrelated to this question. Kosmas works on German philosophy and ancient Greek philosophy and the history of the philosophy of language and translation, and he’s a modern Greek who is interested in the question of how the disconnect between ancient and modern Greek has been produced, so he was perhaps the perfect person to ask. We spent a good chunk of our time talking about this issue so I’m writing this follow up post to share some of what I learned. Read more
In my last post I was singing the praises of the local host and guide over a guidebook. Fittingly, I suppose, I spent the rest of the day working on the debate Aristotle stages in the Politics between those who support the rule of law and those who would advocate the rule of human beings. Read more
We’ve been pretty happy with our guide books to Greece — Rick Steve’s Athens and the Peloponnese and the Blue Guide for Greece — but there’s just no comparison to a real live local who knows and loves a place and its people. This weekend, we drove to Neapoli. Read more