18 Δεκ 2009

displaying modernity vii

Greek prehistory has thus been tamed by modernity to fit its notions. Its obscure signs give way to interpretations splendidly familiar: through the eyes of Modigliani, even an eyeless triangular head can be beautiful and – furthermore – look meaningful; and Cycladic art has been stretched to accommodate both the subscription – mostly western, detached and scientific – to the rigour of modernity and Greece’s belief – chiefly metaphysical, romanticized and emotive – in its cultural singularity.

For the Greek nationalist imagination, the silent, featureless, poignantly blind faces of the Cycladic figurines functioned (they still do) as double-faced mirrors reflecting the country’s “antiquity” and its “modernity” at the same time.

As far Christian Zervos and his fellow Greek modernists were concerned, Cycladic art would be the perfect exponent of Classical Greek values at a time when the art of that period was falling from grace, overburdened by the damning accusations of academism and stagnation. Though this kind of archaeology may be criticized (and indeed it has been) as severely handicapped by internal incoherence, this is mainly due to the way (western) historians have been taught to treat cultural expressions of nationalism. What Greek archaeologists and intellectuals were aiming at, was to compromise the “objective” modernity of their culture, as it was produced by the scientific rigour of archaeology, with the “subjective” antiquity of their homeland, as it was brought into existence by their collective national imagination. As the historian Benedict Anderson has acutely pointed out, it is such kinds of paradoxical situations, inherent in the structure of nationalist thought yet unable to be remedied by it, that help us identify the nation as a “political community” imagined by its members. In Greece, this process of imagining the nation was subject to an instinctive urge to embrace modernity (which for many may have simply meant “modernization”), while at the same time placing an emphasis on the nation’s Hellenic identity (in the hope that Greece’s glorious past was to guarantee it a splendid future). For Greek intellectuals, the West had to be counter-attacked and conquered; therefore they strove to construct a national artistic idiom which would be modern and un-Western at the same time. In this, predictably, they emulated ideological developments elsewhere, namely in new states in Asia and Africa emerging after a long anti-colonialist strife. As a nation-state of the “second generation”, Greece was bound to structure its national identity on an antithesis to occidental orthodoxy, even though Greek intellectuals themselves thought of their nation (and the state accommodating it) as genuinely “European”. As it has been observed by a Greek historian, “in case [post-colonial nations] did not wish to view themselves through the eyes of the West, they had no other choice but to view themselves as a reaction against the gaze of the West.”

Cycladic archaeology served as a powerful tool in Greek nationalist discourse of an eternally Hellenic past, and afforded ample imagery for the nation’s appealing representation by applying its modern aspect to Hellenic antiquity.

Most, if not all, national projects in the field of archaeological research or cultural management subscribe to this goal, often including in their official rhetoric statements to that effect; the Benaki Museum is one such good example, as well as the Museum of Cycladic Art, attracting fierce critique by many by whom it is seen to promote ‘modern national self-esteem and identity’.

Lamenting lost archaeological context, since the Museum houses artefacts from the market, hence of dubious provenance, many take a rather firm stance, suggesting that despite efforts on behalf of the Greek state to keep Cycladic art in Greece – or achieve the return of stolen artefacts – ‘one may doubt if Athens, Greece, really is a more natural resting place for a Cycladic figure than Athens, Georgia’, as was claimed in a paper 15 years ago or so.

This assessment is, of course, accurate: The Museum of Cycladic Art, inaugurated in 1986 by none other than Melina Merkouri herself – the fabulous actress-turned-politician who counted Manos Hadjidakis and Yannis Tsarouchis among her personal friends –, pays fitting homage to one of modernity’s most central fixations: collecting. At the same time, it eagerly subscribes to the ideas of continuity and singularity of Greek art from antiquity to the present.

The Greek authorities, ‘on behalf of the Greek nation’, encouraged Dolly Goulandris to start her Collection in the 1960s, hoping to ‘repatriate’ illicitly exported antiquities. The Museum’s charter from 1986 outlines, the way the Benaki Museum’s one did in 1930, as its main goal ‘the promotion of prehistoric, classical, and modern Greek art’, with a particular reference to the Aegean Sea. In this, the Museum of Cycladic Art, and the official Greek approach to Cycladic art in general, is found by its critics in violation of the code of practice acceptable by scientific archaeology: it is nationalist rather than scientific, its approach is metaphysical rather than rationalist, in other words such projects are thought to violate the very modernity they appear promoting.

I fear that in our attempts to rescue archaeology from the perils of its cultural and ideological appropriation (or misappropriation, as some would argue), we tend to forget archaeology’s debt to one of modernity’s main – albeit often underestimated – components, namely Romanticism, to whom nationalism, empiricism, and individualism, all can be shown to be related. All these components have shaped Cycladic archaeology as we know it: a discipline inspired by the conviction that, as with the rest of Greek archaeology, rigorous methodology and positivist discourse is bound to lead to valid, objective results; that comprehensive analysis of the material remains reveals the national character of the people that produced them; that, finally, this character is masterfully and authoritatively expressed by a single man, their creator. Cycladic archaeology as a twentieth-century phenomenon shared the fortunes, blessings, and tribulations of modernity itself; and the rift created between the ‘metaphysical’ and the ‘positivist’ discourses in its study, is yet another battle in the post-colonial wars.

Championing scientific reason and rational, detached, approach to Cycladic (or any other “national” art for that matter) is in fact a good way to claim modernity from the hands of its non-western appropriators. Rationality has long been identified (by Edward Said and others) as a key intellectual issue raised by Orientalist discourse in an attempt to define, isolate, study, and therefore control the Orient on behalf of Western episteme. It is also a useful discriminatory tool between ‘them’ and ‘us’, the subjects of study and its agents, especially when the former refuse to keep quiet. Said has of course been rightly criticised of upholding a simplistic duality between an oppressor-West and an oppressed-East, the latter still keeping remarkably silent. Like Anderson, Said seems to believe that non-western imagination was colonized by the West, a thesis deconstructed by many, mostly scholars from non-metropolitan academic centres. They, rightly, resent the notion that the post-colonial world is bound to a ‘perpetual consumption of modernity’, arguing that, in fact, nationalism in communities outside the geographical area of the West (but still within its colonialist influence) fashions a “modern” national culture that is nevertheless not Western. This is a remarkably multi-dimensional and highly unpredictable discourse (I doubt, though, whether Said would be surprised to hear that): if Greece as a nation is an imagined community, it is brought into being precisely at the moment when the Cycladic figurines shed their colourful aspect, lose their original aesthetics and are isolated from their anthropological contexts in order to become “abstract” and “modern”. And, it should be noted, the nation is already sovereign, even when the state is under the political or economic control of the West (be they the European Union or the International Monetary Fund), even under the cultural supremacy of such metropolitan centres as London, Paris, or New York.

I feel that those critics wishing to rescue Cycladic art from the hands of Greek nationalism behave like a bunch of grumpy-old materialists: too busy trying to contextualize all things ancient, they miss textuality in the very epoch when it is at its strongest: our own. We have by now learnt to accept that the archaeologies we produce are generated in the mill of controversy, rebellion, and shared fantasy and that, far from dealing with ‘reality’, they are meant to help their audience deal with their own experiences of culture, time, and mortality.Projects such as archaeology are meant to confirm identities and re-enforce national ties, inscribing the nation’s locality onto the bodies of its subjects (a process we could refer to as ‘the production of natives’).

In other words, if culture is ideological, then ideology is cultural: it becomes an integral part of our object of study, rather than acting like a contagious virus jeopardising its scientific integrity. As Jean Baudrillard once observed, “things discover us at the same time that we discover them. At the moment when the subject discovers the object, the object makes a reversible, but never innocent, discovery of the subject. More – it is actually a sort of invention of the subject by the invented object”.
displaying modernity: i, ii, iii, iv, v, vi, vii.

11 Δεκ 2009

displaying modernity vi

So this is how Cycladic art has today has acquired a Hellenic identity and a modern façade. It has now become familiar to the public and scholars alike, and this seems to have influenced the way it is studied, as part of the Greek continuity discourse. Renfrew’s processualist approach in The Emergence of Civilization (1972) gave way to a freehand assessment of Cycladic art in his Cycladic Spirit (1991), commissioned by the Museum of Cycladic Art, where Cycladic figurines are compared in terms of technique, style, and aesthetic outlook to Archaic korai and Byzantine icons, in apparent agreement with the views of Hellenic continuity presented here (remember how various aspects of the “primitive” had so much pleased modernist aesthetes in the 1920s and 1930s). Renfrew may sincerely believe (as he actually claims) this comparison to be ‘a processual one’, nevertheless it should be pointed out that Cycladic Aegean on the one hand and the Byzantine Empire on the other have very few, if at all, structural or systemic features in common; they are simply both labelled ‘Greek’, and are strategically placed on the same linear sequence – one as the distant forefather of the other. Can ‘art’ exist in a vacuum?

And this even though the Mediterranean of the fourth, third and second millennia BC has produced many other forms of small-scale sculpture, figurines, predominantly female, which might provide a better processual comparandum for their Cycladic counterparts.

Discarding, moreover, the magnifying lens of modernist aesthetics, could we not argue that the persistence of certain types in Cycladic art (some stuck around for five or six hundred years if we are to believe standard typological chronology), far from suggesting a ‘careful adherence’ to some mystic canon or law of proportion surviving over the ages is in fact a symptom of stagnation and insularity?

Our readings of antiquity are open to a multitude of imperceptible notions, a fact that makes our business much more complicated. By accepting Cycladic artefacts as a priori ‘beautiful’, we implicitly recognise the authority of modern aesthetics on the subject; similarly, emphasizing the role of the Aegean as a timeless factor in the creation of Hellenic culture might betray our subconscious exposure to romantic notions of environmental determinism and its racist implications. A touch of aestheticism seems quite appropriate in most cases: as in the straightforward catalogue of the Cycladic antiquities of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, subtitled The Captive Spirit. Is this a comment to smuggling and illicit trading of Cycladic antiquities? If so, where is the ‘Free’ Spirit supposed to reside?

Colour, in the form of red and blue pigments added onto the surface of the statuettes and other marble Cycladic artefacts, naturally posed a serious threat to their reading as objects of pristine simplicity and virginal clarity, as their modernist enthusiasts would very much like to view them. Known to archaeology since the days of Tsountas, added pigments were always somewhat ignored in the studies of the figurines.

Recently, however, detailed chemical analysis of once painted and now washed-out surfaces has produced considerable results and the promise for a breakthrough in the near future. Even though the general consensus seems to remain that colour was meant to increase the naturalist aspect of the statuettes, by adding facial and other anatomical features or enhancing their lines and contours, while a discussion of pigment-enhancement is virtually absent from many other accounts, some convincingly maintain that the overall impression of a fully-fledged Cycladic figurine would be even more abstract, certainly less naturalistic than what they now look like, having lost their original pigments.

I feel that it is exactly by the negation of this stereotype – simplicity of form, clarity of line and so on – that we may gain a point of entrance into the Cycladic pictorial realm. As many cultural historians have suggested, the way to begin to understand an alien culture is to look for instances where its messages are most opaque, ignoring indications – often misleading – of superficial familiarity. I would think that this type of investigation, employing methodology of related, albeit hitherto ignored by archaeology, disciplines such as Cultural Anthropology and Sociology is bound to be more fruitful. During the most part of the twentieth century archaeologists proceeded to scrutinize Cycladic art in the light of modern science, producing scholarly accounts under different schools of thought: empiricist, functionalist, processualist. A positivist assessment was essential to the hellenocentric narrative (as it provided the necessary element of ‘proof’) as well as the ‘modern-archaeology-as-science’ one, as it legitimized the discourse and confirmed the authority of the scholar undertaking it; inevitably, such discourses tell us more about their authors rather than their supposed subjects. This approach, applying its standard taxonomic devices, excelled in a particular field which I propose to discuss next: the invention of the Cycladic ‘author’ the genius behind the spirit, an import from Classical archaeology, which – despite its lukewarm reception by many of the leading figures in archaeology – seems tempting for many students of Greek prehistory even beyond the Cyclades.

As a modern concept, Cycladic art is in dire need of the artist: the author, the creator-genius to whom we can attribute not only works, but concepts and ideologies as well. Modern art-criticism, starting off some time in the nineteenth century, proceeded to establish ‘the author’ as a central figure to our understanding of art and culture, contemporary or ancient. An anthropocentric reading of the past has thus being developing, based on the study of creations (artefacts, works of art, literature) and their creators. Ostensibly rooted in rationalism, this new approach was emphatically empiricist.

The persistence of connoisseurship in the second half of the century, aided by a general reluctance of historians of ancient art and classical archaeologists to engage in theoretical discussion, threatened to monopolize classical-archaeological studies; more to the point, it was exported to less ‘art-historical’ subjects, such as art or craft produced by provincial workshops in the Greek and the Roman world, or even Prehistoric archaeology which has been subjected to the same art-historical approach. Cycladic art was, of course, the main beneficiary of this trend, which helped shape its ‘modern’ profile – hence the need to discuss this problem here. An emphatic plea in favour of the individual in Greek prehistory was made by Christine Morris in 1993, strongly – though not quite convincingly – arguing that personal styles are discernible in prehistoric arts, based on art-historical observations. Earlier, [in 1977 and 1987], an American scholar (Pat Getz-Preziosi) had proposed a similar approach to the study of Early Cycladic sculpture (including the rather less diagnostic collared jars nicknamed Kandilas!), an arrangement accepted by many, including Renfrew, who also spoke of ‘Masters’ in prehistoric Aegean.

This, seemingly systematic study of what are perceived as ‘individual hands’ in Early Cycladic sculpture, based on measurements and stylistic peculiarities diagnosed on the statuettes themselves, to be attributed to their sculptors’ individual idiosyncrasies is continued to the present day (blatantly ignoring, at its demise, the risks imposed by the possibility of fakes among the largely unprovenanced pieces it “classifies”). Although connoisseurship in Cycladic art has been criticised by many, and in various degrees of severity, two main arguments seem so far to have been employed: one sees the whole approach as a ploy on behalf of the international art market in an effort to enhance ‘artistic’ significance of the surfacing pieces (all, by definition, products of illicit digging, and thus permanently lost to their archaeological context) and, as a result, to multiply their monetary value. Needless to say, international market practices afford a great support to this accusation, since such attributions to ‘masters’ and ‘workshops’, presented in auction catalogues as a matter of fact in most cases, are routinely treated as part of the piece’s ‘history’, and used to justify the ridiculously high estimates quoted. These critics thus insist that artistic merit (in any way we might define it) ought to be eliminated from this equation.

Another, rather more moderate, line of thought questions the ‘feasibility’ of attribution studies, and places a strong emphasis on the subjective character of stylistic analysis, preventing the scholar from exercising archaeology as an ‘objective episteme’. This rather instinctive reaction to a tremendously popular scholarly exercise betrays a somewhat narrow-minded, empiricist reluctance to accept somebody else’s equally empiricist findings. Some dismiss aesthetic appreciation of Cycladic sculpture as a trope of contemporary ‘sensibilities’, and are of course right to do so, they even miss, however, the essential modernity of this very project. Many archaeologists seem to believe that ‘the archaeology of the islands’ is cleanly detached from the discourses of experience – be that ancient, modern, or post-modern. Aesthetic appreciation was the raison d’être behind the invention of Cycladic Culture, and the stylistic approach is not a mere trope in Cycladic studies; through both its attractive potential and its grave shortcomings, it expresses the wish, inherent in modern scholarship, for the imposition of control and order over vast quantities of ‘silent’ material. The desire to establish an overall rational ethos, in its Weberian sense, is evident in archaeology’s claims to ‘scientific objectivity’: coherence, consistency, and effectiveness have long been identified as the ambitions of modern episteme, in an effort to establish long, linear, and assuring historical narratives that ‘make sense’.
displaying modernity: i, ii, iii, iv, v, vi, vii.

4 Δεκ 2009

displaying modernity v

Organic continuity in Greek art – pre-classical, classical, byzantine – is thus taken for granted, and used to redeem Classical Greece in view of its prehistoric self. Only implicitly does Zervos, in his Art in Greece, give a reason behind the singular (if not uniform) grandeur of Greek art: it would have to be the natural spectre, the landscape. No other factor determined the Greek spirit more poignantly than the landscape, the plains, the mountains, the sea, and above all the light, the light of Greece. Continuity of landscape is all we need to establish the uninterrupted sequence of Greek art-history, even if we cannot really argue that it was the same “collective consciousness” of the Greek city-state that actually produced the spirituality of Cycladic sculpture.

This strongly emotive language evokes the enthusiasm of Greek intellectuals over the potency of the Greek landscape and its mystical powers. Through their politically unstable, and in parts quite shallow rhetoric, monotonously repeated for the benefit of anyone who would care to listen, Greek intellectuals and their fellow-Hellenists attempted to develop a bi-focal strategy: on the one hand, to prove – or merely state – that Greek art was still valid as a stimulus to modernity, that the “Greek miracle had not yet outlived its life-cycle”; and on the other to claim the Greekness of what had recently come to be highly valued by European modernists: Greek prehistory.

This is a conscious effort on behalf of Greek thinkers, at home and abroad, to claim the ethnic origin of prehistoric Hellas, in order to consolidate its (and theirs) European identity. As the international avant-garde was appropriating Cycladic art, in particular, it was fitting to remind them that what they treasured so much was actually Hellenic, therefore they had Greece to thank for it.

Modernity had espoused Greek Neolithic and Cycladic art because it was not Greek; Zervos was now arguing that the Europeans should learn to love it because of its Greekness – its hellenicity to be exact; and with it, restore Classical Greece to its former glory. Since archaeology was being claimed by modernity, as one of the modern sciences par excellence, Greek modernists had to come up with an archaeology of their own.

Greek modernist intellectuals, like their fellow-compatriot painters and poets, constructed their vital space allowing for the ample presence of Greece’s past. Rather than a symptom of the nation’s embarrassing parochialism, its devotion to antiquity could pass as the main trait of its singularly modern nature – idiosyncratic but admirable nonetheless.

Christian Zervos maintained close contacts with the avant-garde painters in Greece, enabling them to communicate with the ideas developed abroad. His ideas on the singular essence of Hellenic art – Cycladic to Byzantine – are well within the ideological framework emerging in Greece in the 1930s. Greek painters in particular were heavily influenced by the discussion on hellenicity in the 1930s and 1940s. Sensitive to tradition, they turned to the past, resurrecting techniques and motifs from ancient and medieval Greek art and trying to pick up the thread with folk culture in the post-Byzantine period. Eclectic and cosmopolitan, these painters (most of whom also designed for the stage, including performances of ancient drama) created their own version of hellenicity in their art, faithful to the concept of continuity in the Greek tradition from antiquity to the present. Tsarouchis, Moralis, Nikolaou, and the afore mentioned Ghika became the main exponents of this movement, combining their cosmopolitan outlook with their idiosyncratic approaches on the Hellenic (ancient, modern, timeless).

Yannis Tsarouchis, in particular, perfected an idiom based on Byzantine and traditional Greek painting, which he however applied to motifs borrowed from ancient Greek art.

His characteristic homoerotic images of naked or semi-naked sailors and soldiers converse with the erotes of Greek reliefs and vases. Major and minor artists, of progressive or conservative disposition, seemed now more and more often to be making the obligatory stop at Greek antiquity at least once in their career. Others perfected a more persistent and authentic rapport with (their own perceptions of) Greek antiquity, notably Moralis or Nikolaou.

Nikos Nikolaou actually dwelled on Cycladic art, especially the figurines. His many essays on the monochromatic, stony-faced versions of a contemporary Hellenic face betray a sincere intellectual as well as aesthetic interest.

He also produced an extensive series of stones painted with facial features, in an idiosyncratic rendering of one’s impression of a finished Cycladic head.

At the same time Greece was gradually regaining its prehistory, as the frank efforts of Greek and international archaeologists were finally bearing fruit, and Greek prehistory was becoming a fully-fledged scholarly subject – built as a proper scientific discourse. Cycladic artefacts were excavated, catalogued and published, and were now scientifically interpreted as remnants of a pre- (or proto-) Hellenic Aegean culture.

Thus, (as stipulated by Christos Doumas in 1991), ‘by the early 1960s Cycladic culture had firmly staked its claim to a place among the major civilizations and its study became increasingly thorough’. This study endeavoured to arm Cycladic archaeology with a system cemented in rationalist (hence heavily empirical) archaeological discourse, a self-evident narrative which would “make sense”. Sophisticated taxonomies were introduced to the study of the figurines, providing us with elaborate genealogical trees spanning across the millennia – though ignoring anything that was created beyond the Aegean, anything that did not ooze this vibrant hellenicity I just spoke about.

These genealogies are based primarily on stylistic criteria empirically employed onto a disparate mass of material largely produced through pillaging, thus leave little room for results based on archaeological data. The widespread faking of Cycladic figurines (the more we like them the more we collect them and the more we collect them the less we are likely to come across legitimate specimens in the market, not to mention unquestionably authentic ones) has caused a severe handicap in our attempts for scientific study. Still, these art-historical, quasi scientific and blatantly empirical classifications persist to the present day, forming the basis of our museum displays. The National Museum in Athens, for example, offers in its recently refurbished Cycladic gallery a mix of aestheticised displays and others based on taxonomical systems, including a complete “taxonomy case” illustrating a typological genealogy produced through macroscopic observation and stylistic analysis.



displaying modernity: i, ii, iii, iv, v, vi, vii.

27 Νοε 2009

displaying modernity iv

Hellenicity was to be espoused by artists such as the painter Nikos Hatzikyriakos Ghikas who – though his work may look superficially cubist – repeatedly claimed that Hellenic continuity remained his artistic reality: Greek light, landscape (turning every stone into a piece of sculpture), the precedence of light over colour and geometry over contour, proportion and spirituality, all eternal gifts of the land of Greece to its inhabitants. For some critics, Ghika’s work constitutes “a metaphysics of Greek nature”.

Greek modernists had nonetheless been quite successful in establishing connections with the West – mostly the vibrant Parisian circles – through the good services of a number of Greek ex-patriots who were active there. In 1934, Christian Zervos, the Greek émigré who established himself in France in order to become one of the leading art critics of his time, had published his L’Art en Grèce, an eclectic album of photos of Greek artefacts from the third millennium to the fourth century BC, published on the occasion of the IVth International Congress for Modern Architecture, which was organized in Athens in July 1933.

In the book’s polemic introduction, Zervos argues that Greek art is a single phenomenon, spanning from the depths of Aegean prehistory to the present day, and expresses his anger at ‘those historians of art who never showed some sincere affection towards the radiant youthfulness of Greek art’. A loving turn towards this art, he continues, would assure those art historians a grand advantage in view of what he calls ‘their illusions of the library’. In this and his later texts, Zervos is thus channelling into the heart of modernist Paris the angst of his fellow-Greek intellectuals who saw Hellenic prehistory, especially the by then much-admired Cycladic art, being usurped by international modernism as an anti-Classical, thoroughly un-Greek phenomenon. According to Zervos, it was the land itself that generated Greek art, it was the landscape that formulated ‘the Greek spirit’. A Cycladic figurine, he claims, a vase, a bronze artefact from the Geometric period, an Archaic statue, all anticipate those elements essential to the style of the Parthenon. The subsequent publication of L’Art des Cyclades in 1957, dedicated to Christos Tsountas, establishes scientific knowledge regarding the culture and its figurines, which he styled ‘poems in marble’.

And this is how, as treasured possessions of mankind at large, as splendid “poems in marble” and as the majestic prequel to Classical art, that these artefacts are exhibited today in the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens, the world’s largest Cycladic collection in private hands. You can watch a virtual tour of the Cycladic Gallery, showing at the Museum’s own website (click on the image above for a link to the page), starting in the depths of time – it would seem – to place the viewer in a sea of calm waters and playful dolphins, and then inside the museum’s ostentatious Cycladic Gallery, where the figurines are shown detached from any archaeological or anthropological context (which at any rate would be admittedly difficult to produce since all artefacts must be assumed to come from illicit excavations), but are, instead, projected against dark backgrounds, imposingly lit, as if beamed down from an extra-terrestrial world dedicated to aesthetic perfection.

This is precisely the reading for Cycladic art that Christian Zervos had so strongly supported: abstract though beautiful, un-Greek though ever so Classical and positively “Hellenic”.
displaying modernity: i, ii, iii, iv, v, vi, vii.

20 Νοε 2009

displaying modernity iii

Cycladic art appealed to the modernist desire for the 'primitive', seen of course from a western perspective. The Cycladic figurines portrayed mortal or divine beings of strikingly human form, and well within the human scale (we estimate that the largest among the figurines come pretty close to what at the time must have been life size). They portrayed social functions and attitudes, not specific individuals, but they may have stood en lieu of people, in the same way voodoo-dolls are thought in some cultures to encapsulate a person's 'aura'.

At any rate, Modern artists, who - it should be noted - missed vital information, for example the extent to which colour was part of a figurine's appearance, turned to the abstract form of Cycladic figurines in their effort to create a new means of expression.

Prehistoric art, as well as 'primitive' art of their time (African, Oceanic, Native American) interested the Modernists, so much so that several frequented Museums or Auction Houses where such artefacts were exhibited or offered for sale; in fact Modigliani, Giacometti and Picasso are known to have owned African works of art, and Moore was famously photographed handling a Cycladic figurine at the British Museum. They took Cycladic sculptors to have mastered natural form through their intellect, thus identifying the essence, not the superficiality of their prototype. The essential was what Modernists sought to express through their art. Though the result of a slight misapprehension, and construed on the basis of a westerner's pre-conceived notions, modernist appreciation of Cycladic art was nevertheless deep, so much so as to become meaningful.

For them – for us – this was (and is) the “new beauty”, to replace the by then conventional, over-abused, and trivialised models of Renaissance art, itself based on the Graeco-Roman tradition (usually taken for solely “Greek”). Centuries of over-abuse had trivialised the Graeco-Roman artistic ideal, which now looked conventional and overtly graphic; Greece had now become ‘the enemy’ (a phrase I am borrowing from Henry Moore).

In 1926 the pioneer ethnologist Georges-Henri Rivière had published his polemic archaeologisms, where he celebrated the death of ‘the Greek miracle’; intriguingly, the final blow had been dealt, according to him, by that ‘parricidal daughter of humanism’, archaeology herself. Archaeology, claimed Rivière, had finally woken the korai with Khmer smiles that lay sleeping under the foundations of the Parthenon; excavation had uncovered pre-Pyramid Egypt, pre-Columbian Americas, China’s empires; and he concluded: ‘we have joined to this broader knowledge the disgrace of artistic liberalism: enough of worthless eclecticism!’ This manifesto was political as well as aesthetic; it expressed a frustrated call for a break with tradition, a demand to contemporary culture to change the way it views itself through its perceived past. For those critics and artists Cycladic art was inspiring because it was not Greek – as a matter of fact it stood as a negation of the Greek norm.

In the meantime, Greek intellectuals were striving to establish a new cultural and political identity for a new nation-state, anxious to broadcast what I have called elsewhere its own “singular antiquity”.

Prehistory was, on the other hand, a very different case altogether. Since the last decades of the nineteenth century, archaeology had been uncovering traces of Greece’s prehistoric past, including the cultures that flourished in the Aegean. In the 1870s Heinrich Schliemann had shown that Homer’s Troy was not merely a myth, and proceeded to do the same with Agamemnon’s Mycenae, this time on Greek soil. Greek intellectuals were initially indifferent, if not hostile to Schliemann’s cavalier attitude and enthusiastic conviction that he had “gazed upon the face of Agamemnon”, Mycenaean civilization however was to be attached to the Greek sequence very soon, and so were its Minoan and Aegean counterparts. Following Schliemann’s discoveries, Greek archaeologists set off to investigate Greek history through systematic excavation and thorough publication of finds. Their reaction to widespread orientalist attitudes of the time led to the concept of a timeless ‘Greek spirit’, running across Greek history from the depths of time to the present day, and the notion of Greece being the cradle of European civilization.

So, by the 1930s, when Greek intellectuals were embarking on a self-confessed route to a “new humanism”, Greek nationalist rhetoric had produced a very strong narrative for Greece’s historical and cultural physiognomy: it was based on the nation’s antiquity, its natural and uninterrupted continuity, and above all its very ... Greekness, untouched by time and remaining untainted through the ages. Greek intellectuals in the 1930s regressed easily to hellenocentric radicalism, actually reviving the environmental determinism of the beginning of the century.

It was now somehow becoming obligatory for Greek intellectuals or artists to declare their fascination with the landscapes of Attica, the colours of Greek nature and, above all, the sea. The Aegean becomes at this time – and remains to this day – the new point of reference for the Greek consciousness; it is given primacy of place in poetry, significantly in the works of Odysseus Elytis, whom one of the strongest theorists of this generation, called “a mystic dawn over the Aegean”. A new mythology emerges from the waves of the Aegean and the rocks of its islands, a new Hellenic physiognomy, to be credited with all the precious qualities of a vibrant – and quickly idolized – spirit, usually referred to as Hellenicity.
displaying modernity: i, ii, iii, iv, v, vi, vii.

13 Νοε 2009

displaying modernity ii

This stress on continuity, from Cycladic to Classical art, and from then on to Byzantium and Modern Greece, has been essential to the construction of Greek national identity in the late nineteenth and throughout the twentieth century, and remains in use with no signs of subsiding. Greek culture (as monitored through its expression in art) and history (as evidenced by its declaration through culture) are emphatically poised to begin in the depths of prehistory and culminate with us, modern Greeks, ambivalent as we might be when we come to face challenges such as the end of modernity, or perceived threats such as globalization.

Clearly, however, Cycladic art was not always readily accepted into the Greek sequence. Cycladic figurines have been known since the 18th century, when they were viewed as obscure artefacts of uncertain significance.

It was only later, by the end of the 19th century, that research undertaken by such pioneers of Aegean Archaeology as Theodore Bent and Christos Tsountas established their true identity (as Cycladic antiquities from the Bronze Age), and date (the 3rd millennium BC). Even then, Cycladic figurines failed to attract the interest of scholars (or collectors for that matter). Until as late as the 1920s or so, antiquity was still viewed through the looking glass of neo-classicism: compared to later Greek art, Cycladic culture seemed primitive, and its art was dismissed as barbaric. New views on art, professed by the artists of the time, and further research, now undertaken on more scientific grounds, established Cycladic Art as a truly remarkable cultural phenomenon, of historical as well as aesthetic value.

What archaeologists term the 'Early Cycladic Culture', flourished on the islands of the Cyclades from about 3200 to 2000 BC. According to archaeological evidence, during the 3rd millennium BC the Cyclades were relatively well populated, organised in small communities. The islanders were good sea-men, and communication between the islands was frequent. The islands' mineral resources allowed to the people of the Cyclades the production of tools and weapons, while the abundance of white, good-quality marble encouraged its wide use for the creation of artefacts and implements of functional or symbolic nature. Among these, the figurines are – to us, today, – by far the most distinctive Cycladic creation because of the great numbers in which they are found, the variety of sizes and types and the significance we may assume they held for their owners.

Although the marble statuettes obviously represent human, mostly female, figures, we may not be certain as to whether they represent mortals or immortals. The figures are nude and, though schematic, are marked by an idiosyncratic realism. The torso is complete, bearing the crucial parts of the human anatomy. An emphasis is often placed on genitalia and facial features, notably a long, triangular nose.

Other examples can opt for a sometimes striking realism. Eventually, then, archaeology helped establish Early Cycladic Culture as one of the main stages in Aegean prehistory. It took, however, a much more circumspect way before Cycladic craft was accepted as “art” in the twentieth century. Specifically, it had to be discovered by some of the leading exponents of the modernist movement in art, such as Pablo Picasso, Constantin Brancusi, Amedeo Modigliani or Henry Moore, who saw in it what they had already found in other “tribal” or “primitive” arts, past and present: it was abstract, lucid, and essential.

What is beautiful about Cycladic art? To the eyes of a 5th-century Athenian, a Cycladic head may have looked absurd. 18th- or 19th-century aesthetes judged them simply “unsightly”, “repulsive”, “appalling”. Our established understanding of the culture that created these artefacts enables us, today, to grasp their importance as material remains of a flourishing civilisation. What attracted Modernists to Cycladic art, however, was not their appreciation of archaeological or anthropological data (and as a matter of fact these have been considerably revised since the days of Picasso and Modigliani).

Photos of Cycladic artefacts taken from C. Renfrew C.: The Cycladic Spirit; Masterpieces from the Nicholas P. Goulandris Collection (New York).
displaying modernity: i, ii, iii, iv, v, vi, vii.

9 Νοε 2009

Παγκοσμιοποίηση & Εθνική Κουλτούρα

Η ημερίδα «Πολιτισμός, Παγκοσμιοποίηση, και Εθνικές Κουλτούρες» που διοργάνωσε ο Σύνδεσμος Υποτρόφων Α.Γ. Λεβέντη (Ελλάδας) στις 4 Φεβρουαρίου του 2008 έδωσε την αφορμή να συγκεντρωθούν τα κείμενα που παρουσιάζονται εδώ. Στις τοποθετήσεις των ομιλητών εκείνης της ημέρας προστίθενται και νέα κείμενα, ώστε το ολοκληρωμένο, πλέον, βιβλίο να επιχειρήσει μια – πρώτη – απάντηση στο ερώτημα: κινδυνεύει αυτό που ορίζουμε ως «εθνική κουλτούρα» από την επικράτηση της Παγκοσμιοποίησης;

Πρόκειται για ένα θέμα αιχμής, που απασχολεί ευρύτατες ομάδες του ελληνόφωνου κοινού. Πέρα από τους εμπλεκόμενους επιστημονικούς κλάδους (ιστορικοί, αρχαιολόγοι, ανθρωπολόγοι, πολιτικοί επιστήμονες, κοινωνιολόγοι), ο διάλογος περί παγκοσμιοποίησης προσελκύει το ενδιαφέρον των Μέσων Μαζικής Ενημέρωσης και των «μη ειδικών».

Δεν είμαι σίγουρος ότι οι απαντήσεις σε τόσο ρευστά ζητήματα είναι δεδομένες ή εύκολο να δοθούν∙ ελπίζω όμως ότι τα κείμενα που ακολουθούν προσφέρουν ένα πρώτο δείγμα διαλόγου για ένα θέμα που ενώ συζητείται συνεχώς, δεν προσεγγίζεται με την ψυχραιμία και την εγκυρότητα που απαιτείται. Κεντρική θέση στη διαμάχη, ως βασικά επιχειρήματα των αντικρουόμενων πλευρών, όσο και τελικά διακυβεύματα της ίδιας της διαμάχης αυτής, αποτελούν αφενός το παρελθόν, ως συλλογικό κτήμα και ιδεολογικό έρεισμα, και αφετέρου η μνήμη, ως συγκρουσιακός τόπος μεταξύ των «ιδιοκτητών» του παρελθόντος και των διεκδικητών του.

Οι εργασίες του τόμου κινούνται γύρω από αυτούς τους δύο άξονες:

Ο Σ. Πεσμαζόγλου μιλά για την «αντι-παγκοσμιοποίηση», την προβολή δηλαδή των εθνικών στοιχείων από τους εγχώριους παράγοντες, με τις πολιτιστικές, πολιτικές και κοινωνικές συνέπειες που αυτό έχει για την περίπτωση της Ελλάδας.

Ο Γ. Χαμηλάκης απαντά στο ερώτημα κατά πόσο απειλείται η εθνική κουλτούρα και μνήμη, καταλήγοντας στο συμπέρασμα ότι οι ίδιοι οι όροι της παγκοσμιοποίησης (για παράδειγμα οι ηλεκτρονικές επικοινωνίες και το Ίντερνετ) ενισχύουν το εθνικό φαντασιακό.

Η Α. Τηλιγάδα στρέφεται προς το – πολυπλοκότερο – παράδειγμα της Κύπρου επιχειρώντας να διερευνήσει τις διεργασίες για τη «διάσωση» της εθνικής ταυτότητας από την απειλή του (παγκοσμιοποιημένου) Άλλου στον χώρο του Πανεπιστημίου.

Ο γράφων πραγματεύεται τις προκλήσεις που δέχεται το οικοδόμημα του κλασικού πολιτισμού, αλλά και το επιστημολογικό πρόγραμμα της Αρχαιολογίας, υπό το βάρος των πιέσεων της αγοράς πολιτισμικών αγαθών (τουριστική βιομηχανία, προβολή πολιτιστικής κληρονομιάς κοκ).

Τέλος, ο Δ. Παπανικολάου γράφει για τον τρόπο που η ρητορική περί εθνικής «ιδιομορφίας» εφαρμόζεται στη δημιουργία και την σχηματοποίηση της εθνικής κουλτούρας από την οποία στη συνέχεια και αναπαράγεται, κοινότοπα, είτε – σήμερα – ως όπλο κατά της παγκοσμιοποίησης είτε έναντι άλλων απειλών όπως, παλαιότερα, η αφομοίωση από τον δυτικό τρόπο ζωής.

6 Νοε 2009

displaying modernity i

Here is the first part of my lecture "Displaying Modernity: Cycladic Art as a 20th c. (Cultural) Phenomenon" which was co-sponsored by the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology and the Modern Greek Program, and delivered at the University of Michigan on October 28 (Greece's National - OXI - Day nonetheless!). I'm grateful to Vasilis Lambropoulos, Artemis Leontis, Laurie Talalay and everybody in Ann Arbor for their warm welcome).

Aesthetics was essential in forging the concepts of the “classical”, the “Greek”, or indeed the “Hellenic”, and Classical art – the glistening torsos, the half-ruined temples, the whimsically coloured vases – became powerful tools in an intensive exercise in cultural symbolism. Besides these, however, the Greek nationalist imagination sought to appropriate other forms of Greek art, not actually Hellenic as such, but powerful enough in order to convey the messages it wished to promote. Furthermore, by extending its hegemony over the art of the Minoans, for example, and the Mycenaeans, or indeed the earlier art of the Cycladic islands, Greece claimed a suitably significant and aesthetically pleasing prelude to its classical self.

My topic is Cycladic art, its appropriation by Greek nationalism and modernist aesthetics at the same time: seen through the filters of the highly romanticized Greek rhetoric in the 20th c., it comes out as thoroughly “Hellenic”, though if we are to believe its modernist enthusiasts, it is anything but. These opposing claims have resulted, I would argue, in Cycladic art’s re-emergence – as a matter of fact in its outright creation – as a full-blown 20th c. cultural phenomenon, both in Greece and the modern world at large.

Cycladic art as an archaeological, historical, as well as an artistic phenomenon, has long now been used as the first milestone in the long and fascinating saga of Greek (Hellenic) Culture, as this has been constructed by the modern Greek state in the last couple of centuries or so. In this continuum, [Cycladic] plays counterpart to [Modern], by standing at the far end of a sequence of arts and ideas, as well as the men who expressed the latter through the former.

The conviction that life speaks through art permeates Greek archaeology, surreptitiously having acquired the status of a self evident truth:

One of the most popular Greek museums, the Benaki, maintains in its most recent guidebook that, starting off with the Prehistoric room (including a small number of Cycladic figurines and other third-millennium artefacts), ‘the visitor will follow, step by step, the historical development of Hellenism as it unfolds through the millennia’. Talking as it does of an ‘exciting journey’ and a ‘true epic’ this idiosyncratic statement offers an eloquent description of the way modern Greece undertakes its own archaeology, as an exercise – often painstaking but ultimately rewarding – in deep soul-searching and courageous self-cognition.

And it is the Benaki Museum, the Hellenic museum par excellence, which – in its own words – strives to illustrate ‘the character of the Greek world through a spectacular historical panorama’, as advertised by its own website. The blurb goes on to specify the time span covered: ‘from antiquity and the age of Roman domination to the medieval Byzantine period, from the fall of Constantinople (1453) and the centuries of Frankish and Ottoman occupation to the outbreak of the struggle for independence in 1821, and from the formation of the modern state of Greece (1830) down to 1922, the year in which the Asia Minor disaster took place’. It is clear from this text that, throughout Greek history, only the contributions of the Hellenes to Greek culture and art are legitimate; all others are conquerors waiting to be charmed by the Greek spirit rather than likely to advance it.

The recently refurbished permanent exhibit at the Benaki Museum spans from Cycladic art to the two Nobel and the one Lenin prize won by Greeks, all for poetry, and ends with a Karagioz screen and figures looming in the background, a spectre, as its Cycladic counterpart, of another culture familiarized by the Greeks through tradition, translation, and inertia.

displaying modernity continued: ii, iii, iv, v, vi, vii.

31 Οκτ 2009

spooked!

Several months since my last post, I thought I might resume my blogging, after a busy spring semester and an even busier summer (having started a dig up in Argos Orestikon didn’t help much either).

Can’t say I’m here to stay, but we’ll see…

I spent last week in Ann Arbor (while preparations for Halloween were well under way), as a guest of the University of Michigan Modern Greek Program in order to give a paper on “Cycladic Art as a 20th c. Phenomenon”. My lecture, co-hosted by the University’s just re-fitted splendid little Kelsey Museum, discussed – according to the blurb (they call it “blah” over there) – “ways in which Cycladic art has been rehabilitated, re-evaluated and in effect constructed by scholars and museum curators throughout the 20th century, both in and out of Greece, as a truly ‘Hellenic’, ‘European’, and ‘modern’ cultural phenomenon”.

In the next couple of weeks I will post most of my text here – based on some work I published before (mostly here) and on work I might develop further and publish in the future.

Why Cycladic Art? For one, because I’ve spent a few years of my life working in the “world’s greatest small museum”, the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens, a post that opened my eyes to the power of ancient imagery for modernity, as well as the ways in which the past may be invented through “tradition, translation, and inertia”, as I will be arguing in the posts to come.


So take a look at pages 6 & 7 of my passport: what’s wrong with this picture?

First and foremost, the fact that a citizen of Greece, a member-state of the European Union since the early 1980s, is still required to apply for a visa in order to visit the United States.

Then that, unlike most other state documents, which tend to look frightfully boring, Greek passports have been vamped up to look like museum catalogues: page after page of images from Greece’s glorious past, complete with legends (“Κυκλαδικά Ειδώλια”, “Αθηναϊκή Τριήρης”, “Παρθενώνας” – or as the case might be Greece’s invented traditions: “Αφή Ολυμπιακής Φλόγας”).

To be fair, the visa document is also well illustrated: the Lincoln memorial (dedicated: 1922), the US Capitol (built between 1793-1829), a few Corinthian columns here and there, and a tiny reference to the “Liberty Bell” (famously used to summon citizens of Philadelphia to a public reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 8, 1776). History illustrated, yes, but these are “American” images, put together to suggest what is so great about the country you are taking such pains in order to gain entry to. In the Greek passport (absurdly designed for foreigners’ eyes even though it is meant to be had by Greeks and Greeks alone) the past is so overwhelming it makes you wonder whether the country is still inhabited.

What is Greek about Cycladic Art? What is Cycladic about Modern Greece? Fear not – I know the answers to these questions, as will be revealed soon enough.

Welcome back then, and read on!

Displaying Modernity i
Displaying Modernity ii
Displaying Modernity iii
Displaying Modernity iv

24 Απρ 2009

Whose Culture? Indeed.

Cultural heritage has increasingly become the focus of fierce controversy and the question “who owns antiquity” a hotly debated one. Here, and elsewhere, I have been dealing with nationalist claims to cultural patrimony (in Greece or elsewhere) trying to argue that these very claims have shaped the world we know – or at least have certainly forged the identities under which we get to know it.

Nationalism is of course a four letter world by the book of “advanced” societies or interested parties, such as those dealing in antiques trade (which, of course, involves looting, and destruction of archaeological sites, designated or not). On the other hand, ethics of study, publication and promotion are a great bone of contention when it comes to illicitly excavated and exported antiquities; international trade of antiquities has become a lucrative business, compared by some to the trade of arms or drugs. As many other such fields of illicit action, dealing in antiques has been involved in entrepreneurial initiatives such as money laundering. It is admittedly a murky business, often entailing – further to the destruction of sites and loss of archaeological contexts – the exploitation of people. As I am quietly contemplating the hypocrisy lurking behind the politically correct frenzy of castigating any scholar or artefact suspect of “contamination” with the un-pure (any artefact not properly provenienced for almost a century) I can’t help noticing that “the other side” have managed to retaliate with some highly hypocritical arguments of their own.

The book Whose Culture? The Promise of Museums and the Debate over Antiquities (ed. J. Cuno, Princeton University Press 2009) appears to be making “the strongest case yet for an internationalist approach to the protection and ownership of ancient cultural heritage, and against its nationalization by modern states on political and ideological grounds”. In fact, it is a blatant attempt to reiterate claims put forward by colonialism, which one would have hoped could be rehearsed only within the confines of university seminars in 2009.

First, I must say I was shocked to find someone like John Boardman in the list of contributors, but then relieved to realise that he is the John Boardman I know – his text, on “archaeologists, collectors, and museums” is elegantly poised on the angle of the archaeologist / researcher who points out (as we all must) that we cannot “punish” antiquities – as tainted products of illicit trade – when we are unable to punish their traders, or better still prevent their illicit excavation altogether. In that he utters harsh, but well-placed words against the philistinism of those who have opted for such a hard-core stance, which they indeed seem to be exploiting politically in the last ten years or so. But this is only a small part of the whole argument, and – regrettably – the book has a lot to “offer”.

The rest of the book is pretty much a dishonourable attempt to convince the reader that “nationalism” is the opposite of “enlightenment” and that in the world of cultural management there are those (nations?) who know how it’s done and “such nations [which] may lack the additional physical (i.e. museums and storage facilities) and human (i.e. professional registrars, curators, and conservators) resources needed to acquire and care for the large quantities of objects held by collectors and dealers.” (Merryman, p. 184-5). I guess the solution in order to redress this horrible inequality would be to colonize (again?) those poor nations with an army of “professional registrars, curators, and conservators”... (If that were to be the fate of my country, I would be happy for the BM to keep the sodded Elgin Marbles; what am I saying? I would take the rest of it back to England myself). Truth of the matter though, Mr Merryman, is that “such nations” have been given the blessing of such an army of “professional registrars, curators, and conservators”, duly serving as the founding fathers of (their) nation as we speak.

As usual, rhetoric is indicative of the book’s intentions: the same Mr Merryman contrasts “Cultural Nationalism” (which he claims to be the source of “nation-oriented policies”) to “Preservation, Truth, Access” (the ideals behind an “object-oriented policy” he champions). I cannot be bothered to comment on the despicable – yet diaphanous – ideological games behind the distinction introduced here (and on chapter-headings nonetheless: pp. 186-7).

Elsewhere, such innocent (or are they?) slips of the tongue are simply funny: as with Mr M.F. Brown who, arguing that the modern museum is far from being a colonialist outpost, contends that “museums [...] played a key role in convincing citizens of the metropole that far-flung peoples possessed admirable qualities – tenacity, creativity, deep histories of self-governance, perhaps even an aesthetic or spiritual genius” (my emphasis). Well, guess what Mr Brown: they can even read!

What emerges as the book’s underlying principle – in fact it is its barely disguised gimmick – is the belief in the “encyclopaedic” museum, vowing to shape “the citizens of the world” (though strictly of the First World, and there only the citizens of a few select cities in it. Ah, and tourists, of course). Long now understood as “spaces of observation and regulation” (by T. Bennett, and others) museums cannot escape their deeply un-humanist agenda despite efforts to change their rhetoric (changing their politics might help, however). But the good authors of Whose Culture would have none of that – the turn towards on extrovert museum would be the end of civilization as they know it (or at least the end of cavalier archaeology, imperialist-born and colonialist-trained, in favour of disciplines such as cultural studies, perhaps, which they of course detest).

I’ll end this with Phlippe de Montebello of the MMA, who argues (again) that it is the object, not the context that matters. For this, he enlists a text from 1870 (the book’s cultural age and place, indeed) on the “encyclopaedic” museum: “true art is cosmopolitan. It knows no country. It knows no age. Homer sang not for the Greeks alone but for all nations, and for all time.” The idea that the past belongs to “us” is as strong today as it was in 1870 (or in 1770 for that matter). Pity that some of us cannot realise the processes under which this collective “we”s have come to be forged. Instead they babble on about “true art” and the “encyclopaedic museum”.

Pretty sad, really.

10 Απρ 2009

athens street art (con'd)

More athenian street art, all from a little street down-town called "Avramiotou". It's packed with tiny bars, very lively at night but quite different during the day featuring not much else than abandoned property and a few derelict buildings (plus the vacant shells of the afore mentioned bars, waiting for the next night):






20 Μαρ 2009

Ρυθμοί Μεγάλοι

Μια φοιτήτριά μου στο Ανοικτό Πανεπιστήμιο με παρότρυνε να σχολιάσω το εγχείρημα του ΣΚΑΪ για την ανάδειξη των 100 Μεγάλων Ελλήνων. Δεν προτίθεμαι να το κάνω γιατί πιστεύω ότι η όλη επιχείρηση γελοιοποιείται από μόνη της. Ήρθε όμως στο νου μου μια άλλη "λίστα", σε ένα λιγότερο γνωστό, αλλά μάλλον περισσότερο επιτυχημένο μέσο - ένας κατάλογος όπου συγκεντρώνονται κάποιοι άλλοι "Μεγάλοι", κάποιοι που θα πίστευε κανείς ότι έχουν πια ξεχαστεί. Μήπως τελικά επιχειρούμε γιγαντιαία και αποφασιστικά βήματα προς τα πίσω;

Έλεγα και παλαιότερα πως, παράλληλα με το δόγμα της ιστορικής συνέχειας του ελληνισμού, καλλιεργείται, ήδη από τις πρώτες δεκαετίες του περασμένου αιώνα, η πεποίθηση πως η πολιτισμική ιδιαιτερότητα του έθνους οφείλεται, εκτός από την ιστορία του, και στη γεωγραφία του. Συνεπικουρούμενη από τις εικαστικές τέχνες, αλλά και την ποίηση και την πεζογραφία, η πεποίθηση αυτή έχει σφραγίσει τόσο την εγχώρια όσο και τη διεθνή εικόνα της Ελλάδας, σε βαθμό που σήμερα να είναι αδύνατο να απαλλαγούμε από αυτήν και τα στερεοτυπικά της παράγωγα. Η πίστη πως η ελληνική – όπως και κάθε άλλη φαντασιακή κοινότητα – είναι «παιδί της φύσης» αποτελεί προϊόν του περιβαλλοντικού ντετερμινισμού που επηρέασε βαθύτατα τον γερμανικό, κυρίως, ρομαντισμό και επηρέασε βαθύτατα και τους Έλληνες ρομαντικούς, με κορυφαίο παράδειγμα τον Περικλή Γιαννόπουλο, η ελληνολατρική διδασκαλία του οποίου υιοθετήθηκε και από τη «γενιά του τριάντα».

Η μεταφυσική αυτή πίστη στην ιδιομορφία του έθνους, για την οποία επιστρατεύεται αφενός το αρχαιοελληνικό πνεύμα και αφετέρου η ελληνική γη, προβάλλεται ως αντίδοτο στην «ξενόφερτη» νεωτερικότητα, την οποία ταυτίζει με τη Δύση και αντιμετωπίζει με εσωστρεφή περιφρόνηση και ξενοφοβική αλαζονεία. Δεν είναι τυχαίο ότι, στις μέρες μας, ο Περικλής Γιαννόπουλος γνωρίζει μεγαλύτερη αποδοχή απ’ ότι στην εποχή του, όταν η αδιαφορία των συγχρόνων του τον οδήγησε στη διαβόητη θεαματική αυτοκτονία του το 1910. Η αμετροεπής ρητορική του θεωρείται, φυσικά, «όπλο κατά της παγκοσμιοποίησης» και του «εξευρωπαϊσμού» του έθνους, και έχει εμπνεύσει ακόμη και … τραγούδια, όπως το αυτοαποκαλούμενο «σκληροπυρηνικό χιπ-χοπ» άσμα Ρίμες απ’ ατσάλι του καλλιτεχνικού διδύμου Αρτέμης-Ευθύμης (στο οποίο γίνεται υμνητική αναφορά και στους λεγόμενους «κολλυβάδες», τους σκληροπυρηνικούς αντι-διαφωτιστές αγιορείτες μοναχούς του 18ου αιώνα!).

Οι δύο καλλιτέχνες - αυτοαποκαλούμενοι ο διαλεχτός της άρνησης (Αρτέμης) κι ο ακριβογιός της πίστης (Ευθύμης) επιχειρούν να δομήσουν - και το καταφέρνουν - ένα άκρως ρομαντικό προφίλ, βασισμένο στο έπος του απομονωτισμού, της ξενοφοβίας και της ηρωικής οπισθοδρόμησης («πίσω ολοταχώς!»). Ακούστε:


video


Ρίμες από ατσάλι - Ρυθμοί μεγάλοι

[…]Πάνω από την μετριότητα,
ψάχνουμε για πνευματικότητα
κι αυτό το γνωρίζει η χιπ-χοπ κοινότητα
Ζητάμε πρότυπα που οικοδομούν προσωπικότητα
κι όχι τα καθιερωμένα χιπ-χοπ στερεότυπα.
Παραδοσιακός και επαναστάτης εν τω άμα,
Και καμία προπαγάνδα,
δεν αρκεί για να το σταματήσει,
στο 'χα πει, αλλά δεν είχες εννοήσει,
ότι δεν είμαι ο Έλληνας που έχεις συνηθίσει!
Και διατηρώ ακόμα,
μέσα στην σηπεδώνα,
την ελληνική γραμμή
και το ελληνικό το χρώμα
όπως, πριν από έναν αιώνα,
ο Περικλής Γιαννόπουλος
τ' αντίθετο θα 'ταν αισχύνη, θα 'ταν όνειδος!

Το ξέρεις!
Δεν θα καταφέρεις, να με συνεφέρεις!
Ρομαντικός, όπως ο Μάρκος Ρενιέρης!
Δεν αλλάζω δρόμο
και αν κρατάς μικρόφωνο για την ΄κονόμα,
το κρατώ για τον Κωνσταντίνο Οικονόμο!
Δηλώνω: δεν μ' εμπνέουν τηλεοπτικοί λαπάδες
μα, πνευματικές λαμπάδες
όπως οι Κολλυβάδες!
Το χιπ χοπ με έχει στρατιώτη,
απ' την μέρα την πρώτη,
Όπως η αττική διάλεκτος είχε τον Μιστριώτη!

Επιμελώδημα:

Μεσ' απ' το σκοτάδι
πάλι βγάζουμε κεφάλι.
Πάλι ρίμες απ' ατσάλι,
πάλι ειν' οι ρυθμοί μεγάλοι.

Σε αυτά τα κείμενα, η νοσταλγία για το ελληνικό παρόν καλλιεργείται μέσα από την επίκληση στις αξίες του παρελθόντος, όπως «η ελληνική γραμμή και το χρώμα» του Γιαννόπουλου, η ορθοδοξία κ.ο.κ., με τη μορφή «λίστας» των μεγάλων αντιδραστικών (να, λοιπόν, ποιος μπορεί να θυμάται σήμερα τον Μιστριώτη!). Φτάνουμε έτσι στη σύμπηξη ενός νέου δόγματος περί της ελληνικής διαφοράς, μέσω μιας ψευδώς ιδιοπρόσωπης προσέγγισης στον εθνικό μυστικισμό, η οποία υιοθετείται από τη ρητορική του ελληνικού εθνικισμού, κυρίως στην πεζή εκδοχή του. Η διάδοση του Ίντερνετ ευνόησε ιδιαίτερα παρόμοιες φωνές, οι οποίες κυριαρχούν στον κυβερνοχώρο, δίνοντας την εντύπωση πως η Ελλάδα κατοικείται από φανατικούς ελληνολάτρες που αγρυπνούν στις επάλξεις περιμένοντας την «παγκοσμιοποίηση» να αλώσει τις αξίες του έθνους αλλοιώνοντας τα προαιώνια χαρακτηριστικά της φυλής. Αν και η πλειονότητα αυτών των δράσεων – συνηθέστερα με τη μορφή ιστολογίων ή διαδραστικών φόρουμ – δεν αντέχει σε σοβαρή ιστορική κριτική, φαίνονται να επιτελούν ένα βασικό σκοπό, παρέχοντας διέξοδο στη συλλογική εθνική απόγνωση κάποιων περιθωριακών (προς το παρόν;) ομάδων. Αναπόφευκτα, το δίπολο «εθνική ταυτότητα» και «παγκοσμιοποίηση» αποτελεί το σχεδόν αποκλειστικό πεδίο δράσης τους.

Η γραφικότητα αυτών των εξάρσεων δεν θα πρέπει να μας παρασύρει στην εκ των προτέρων απόρριψη της πολιτισμικής τους αξίας. Όσο κι αν η αισθητική τους ενδεχομένως δεν μας αφορά (είναι σαφές ότι οι Ρίμες απ’ ατσάλι, για παράδειγμα, δεν είναι γραμμένοι για ιστορικούς μιας κάποιας ηλικίας), τα «οργισμένα» αυτά πονήματα μάς υπενθυμίζουν ότι οι κοινότητες στην περιφέρεια της Δύσης – ή σε πολιτισμική και πολιτική εξάρτηση από αυτήν – προχωρούν, όπως ειπώθηκε και στην εισαγωγή του παρόντος τόμου, σε μη δυτικές, ιδιοσυγκρασιακές ενδεχομένως αλλά πάντως αυθεντικές εκδοχές της νεωτερικότητας, πέρα από τον έλεγχο των μητροπολιτικών κέντρων από τα οποία εκπορεύεται η «κανονική» εκδοχή της (το άσμα των Αρτέμη / Ευθύμη κυκλοφορεί από την «mainstream» Heaven). Έτσι, η αστραπιαία διάδοση του εθνικιστικού ιδεώδους πέρα από τα γεωγραφικά και πολιτισμικά όρια της Δύσης οδήγησε στην ανάδυση εθνικισμών σε ευθεία αντιπαράθεση με την ηγεμονία των δυτικών αποικιοκρατικών δυνάμεων (και την πολιτιστική τους πρωτοκαθεδρία).

Είναι, τελικά, η παγκοσμιοποίηση αυτών των κινημάτων που τα καθιστά αναγνωρίσιμα.

Όμως θα συνεχίσω συστηματικότερα στο προσεχές μέλλον.

13 Μαρ 2009

Η διάθλαση των οριζόντων (iii)

Δεν είναι τυχαίο ότι μεγάλο κομμάτι του διαλόγου για την παγκοσμιοποίηση διεξάγεται περί και εντός των όρων και των ορίων του εθνικού κράτους και με τελικό διακύβευμα αυτό που ονομάζουμε εθνική κουλτούρα.

Αν η παγκοσμιοποίηση επαγγέλλεται έναν «κόσμο χωρίς σύνορα», γεωγραφικά, πολιτικά και πολιτισμικά, δεν αποτελεί θανάσιμο πλήγμα για το «χαϊδεμένο παιδί» της Ιστορίας, το εθνικό κράτος; Κι αν αυτό είναι όντως έτσι, πρέπει να πολεμήσουμε για να σταματήσουμε την οδυνηρή αυτή εξέλιξη ή μήπως να αναστενάξουμε με ανακούφιση για το τέλος μιας ξεπερασμένης πραγματικότητας;

Οι απόψεις, και πάλι, διίστανται δραματικά: υπάρχουν, κατά πρώτον, αυτοί που θεωρούν ότι το εθνικό κράτος δεν κινδυνεύει από το τέλος της νεωτερικότητας διότι δεν αποτελεί πνευματικό της τέκνο, αλλά την προοικονομεί και την προετοιμάζει. Για άλλους, το εθνικό κράτος είναι δομικό στοιχείο της παγκοσμιοποίησης, την υπηρετεί και την εμπεδώνει. Άλλοι πάλι, που δηλώνουν απόλυτα αντίθετοι με τον επιθετικό κορπορατισμό και την ισοπεδωτική ιδεολογία βάσει των οποίων οργανώνεται το πρόγραμμα της παγκοσμιοποίησης, επιμένουν πως – παρά τις εγγενείς ή επίκτητες αδυναμίες του – το εθνικό κράτος «ίσως είναι η μόνη πολιτική δομή που μπορεί να προστατέψει τους λαούς του τρίτου κόσμου από το ολοκληρωτικό σύστημα που επιχειρούν να εγκαθιδρύσουν τα ολιγοπώλια». Είναι, άλλωστε, κοινή παραδοχή πως η παγκοσμιοποιητική στρατηγική, εστιάζοντας στις υπερεθνικές δράσεις, οξύνει τα τοπικά προβλήματα, είτε θέτοντάς τα σε παγκόσμιο ορίζοντα (π.χ. συγκριτικές διαφορές Βορρά – Νότου) είτε, απλά, αγνοώντας τα. Ακόμη όμως και όσοι, όπως ο Giddens για παράδειγμα, θεωρούν ότι η παγκοσμιοποίηση (την οποία ο συγκεκριμένος μελετητής αναγνωρίζει ως «εγγενές στοιχείο της νεωτερικότητας») δεν απειλεί τη νομική υπόσταση του εθνικού κράτους ούτε τη φυσική του παρουσία, παραδέχονται ότι απειλεί παρ’ όλα αυτά την πολιτιστική του αυτονομία, άποψη που βέβαια συμμερίζονται πολλοί και στην Ελλάδα. Η ανεμπόδιστη διάχυση ιδεών, επιρροών, αλλά και πρακτικών στην οικονομία, την τέχνη, τη διασκέδαση, τον ελεύθερο χρόνο, τους κοινωνικούς θεσμούς, συντελεί στη δημιουργία μιας παγκοσμιοποιημένης κουλτούρας, βασισμένης λίγο, ή καθόλου, σε αυτό που έχουμε συνηθίσει να αναγνωρίζουμε ως «εθνική κληρονομιά».

Παράλληλα, με την ενθάρρυνση των Μέσων Μαζικής Ενημέρωσης, το κοινό διεκδικεί ενεργό ρόλο στην επαναδιαπραγμάτευση του παρελθόντος, στη διαχείριση της κοινής πολιτισμικής κληρονομιάς, αμφισβητώντας την άλλοτε αδιαφιλονίκητη πρωτοκαθεδρία θεσμών, κρατικών συνήθως, όπως το πανεπιστήμιο ή το μουσείο. Συγκροτείται έτσι, σε επίπεδο εθνικό («ντόπιοι») ή υπερ-εθνικό («τουρίστες»), ένα οργανωμένο καταναλωτικό κοινό τού συλλογικού πολιτισμικού κεφαλαίου, που συνειδητοποιεί, σταδιακά, τη δύναμή του ως αμέσου ή εμμέσου χορηγού της πολιτισμικής έρευνας την οποία και εννοεί να ελέγχει (επαληθεύοντας την πρόβλεψη περί ωσμώσεων που κινούνται «από κάτω προς τα επάνω». Δεν είναι ίσως τυχαίο ότι η συζήτηση γύρω από τον πολιτισμό συχνά περιστρέφεται γύρω από τα «πολιτισμικά» – κατά το «καταναλωτικά» – αγαθά. Αντίθετα, η πλειονότητα των διανοουμένων, πανεπιστημιακών ή θεσμικών φορέων αντιμετωπίζει με δυσπιστία την είσοδο του «υψηλού» πολιτισμού (αρχαιολογία, καλές τέχνες κλπ) στον παγκοσμιοποιημένο κόσμο της μαζικής κουλτούρας, των μέσων μαζικής ενημέρωσης και της αγοράς, προειδοποιώντας για την αλλοτρίωση του πρώτου από τον δεύτερο. Επικαλούνται, επικουρικά, την κοινότυπη πλέον αντίληψη ότι τα φαινόμενα αυτά είναι υπεύθυνα για τα εκφυλιστικά συμπτώματα των κοινωνιών του όψιμου καπιταλισμού, τις οποίες βλέπουν να δελεάζονται από το επιφανειακό, το ρηχό, το εφήμερο και το εμπορικό.

Πόσο κινδυνεύει η (εθνική) κουλτούρα από τη χρήση της και την ώσμωση που αυτή επιφέρει; Πρέπει, εν τέλει, να φοβόμαστε αυτό που ο Fredric Jameson και άλλοι αποκαλούν «Ντισνε-οποίηση» (Disneyfication) της κουλτούρας; Ή, αποδεχόμενοι ως πραγματική την ανάγκη επαναδιαπραγμάτευσης του συλλογικού παρελθόντος μέσα από την αναδυόμενη κουλτούρα της παγκοσμιοποιημένης μνήμης (που έχει πλέον απεξαρτηθεί από τα παραδοσιακά κέντρα ελέγχου), να ασκήσουμε το δικαίωμά μας στην διάκριση και την επιλογή μέσα (και) από τους μηχανισμούς της μαζικής κουλτούρας και των media; Κινδυνεύει πράγματι αυτό που αντιλαμβανόμαστε ως «εθνική κουλτούρα» από τις εξελίξεις σε έναν κόσμο όπου τα ίδια τα άλλοτε κραταιά εθνικά κράτη παραχωρούν οικειοθελώς τμήμα της κυριαρχίας τους σε υπερεθνικούς (οικονομικούς, πολιτικούς, πολιτιστικούς) φορείς;

Παραδοσιακά ορίζουμε την κουλτούρα ως ένα σύστημα ποιοτικών χαρακτηριστικών και των δομών που τα συνέχουν. Οδηγεί αυτή η παραδοχή στην κατασκευή και ενδεχομένως και τη «θεοποίηση» ενός απολιθωμένου παρελθόντος; Η Ελλάδα ειδικότερα, μια χώρα όπου ο διάλογος για τη διάσωση και προβολή του παρελθόντος καταλαμβάνει σημαντικό τμήμα της εντόπιας πνευματικής ζωής, πώς μπορεί να αντεπεξέλθει στις προκλήσεις που θέτει το παγκοσμιοποιημένο τοπίο; Η συζήτηση περί παγκοσμιοποίησης αναγκαστικά εγγράφεται στη συζήτηση περί της μετα-νεωτερικότητας και των ορίων της νεωτερικότητας. Είτε δηλαδή αποδεχόμαστε ότι το μοντέρνο και το μετα-μοντέρνο αποτελούν στάδια μιας ιστορικής συνέχειας ή ασυνέχειας, είτε θεωρούμε το δεύτερο τη διάψευση του πρώτου, καλούμαστε να αναθεωρήσουμε τις βεβαιότητες που έχουν παγιωθεί στη συνείδησή μας σχετικά με τη νεωτερικότητα καθώς η προβληματική προβάλλεται πλέον στον παγκόσμιο ορίζοντα. Η συζήτηση αυτή δείχνει ότι η νεωτερικότητα αγγίζει τα όριά της, όχι τόσο τα χρονικά, όσο τα γεωγραφικά.

Η παρούσα εμπειρία χαρακτηρίζεται από «ασυνέχειες», «ανισότητες», «μειονότητες» (όρους που δανείζομαι από τον Homi Bhabha) και την πολυφωνία που αυτές συνεπάγονται. Η «εξαγωγή» - ειρηνική ή μη – του νεωτερικού ήθους από τα μητροπολιτικά κέντρα στα περιφερειακά δημιούργησε, διακόσια χρόνια τώρα, μια νέα πραγματικότητα η οποία χαρακτηρίζεται πλέον από γενικευμένη ρήξη. Κάθε άλλο παρά καταδικασμένες να είναι εσαεί «καταναλωτές της νεωτερικότητας», οι μη δυτικές κουλτούρες έχουν προχωρήσει σε αυθεντικές, ιδιοσυγκρασιακές, μη δυτικές εκδοχές του μοντέρνου, τις οποίες διεκδικούν. Η Ελλάδα, ως μια χώρα στις παρυφές της Δύσης, σε μόνιμη σχεδόν πολιτική και πολιτισμική εξάρτηση με τη Δύση, αλλά και σε ρήξη (επίσης πολιτική και πολιτισμική) με αυτήν, προτάσσει αυτό που αντιλαμβανόμαστε ως «εθνική κουλτούρα» ως αντίδοτο στις επιβουλές κάθε ανοίκειας επιρροής. Έχοντας διαγνώσει σε αυτό που ορίζουμε ως «κουλτούρα της παγκοσμιοποίησης» τον συγκρητισμό και τον εκλεκτικισμό ως δύο βασικές πνευματικές ποιότητες, αντιδρούμε βίαια στο ενδεχόμενο να αλλοιωθεί το εθνικό πνευματικό στίγμα – αυτό που προβάλλουμε ως αυθεντικό, ενιαίο, συνεχές, προαιώνιο, γεωγραφικά και φυλετικά καθορισμένο.

Κεντρική θέση στη διαμάχη, ως βασικά επιχειρήματα των αντικρουόμενων πλευρών, όσο και τελικά διακυβεύματα της ίδιας της διαμάχης αυτής, αποτελούν το παρελθόν – ως συλλογικό κτήμα και ιδεολογικό έρεισμα – και η μνήμη – ως συγκρουσιακός τόπος μεταξύ των «ιδιοκτητών» του παρελθόντος και των διεκδικητών του. Όσο οι εθνικές δυνάμεις αισθάνονται ότι η πολιτισμική «ιδιομορφία» που τις συνέχει και τις αιμοδοτεί απειλείται από την παγοσμιοποιητική ισοπέδωση, τόσο επιχειρούν να προβάλουν, ως πνευματικό αντιστάθμισμα και ελιξίριο πολιτιστικής μακροζωίας, αυτό που οι ίδιες ορίζουν ως «εθνική κουλτούρα».

Η ειρωνεία έγκειται στο ότι τα μέσα που μετέρχονται για το σκοπό αυτό, είναι τα ίδια τα αποκηρυγμένα μέσα που λειτουργούν ως όπλα της παγκοσμιοποίησης: η γλώσσα της αγοράς, οι στρατηγικές της επικοινωνίας, και το δέλεαρ του καταναλωτισμού. Όσο οι τοπικές βιομηχανίες, θύματα της παγκοσμιοποίησης της αγοράς, παρακμάζουν – κάτι που βιώνουμε στην Ελλάδα με αυξανόμενους ρυθμούς τις τελευταίες δεκαετίες – τόσο η ανάγκη να εκμεταλλευτούμε οικονομικά (μέσω του τουρισμού) το εθνικό «παρελθόν» καθίσταται ολοένα και πιο επιτακτική. Λέγεται συνεχώς, ήδη από τη δεκαετία του 1980 νομίζω, πως «ο πολιτισμός αποτελεί τη βαριά βιομηχανία της Ελλάδας» δήλωση που επαναλαμβάνεται κατά κόρον από τους υπουργούς πολιτισμού και τουρισμού της χώρας: ίσως είναι καιρός να αντιληφθούμε τη ζοφερότητα αυτής της διαπίστωσης που συνιστά, κατά τη γνώμη μου, αποδοχή συντριπτικής ήττας.

Ήδη από τις πρώτες δεκαετίες του εικοστού αιώνα, η ανάδειξη, μέσω του «εξωραϊσμού» και των αναστηλώσεων, της μνημειακής πολιτιστικής κληρονομιάς στην Ελλάδα ήταν ρητά συνδεδεμένη με την επαγγελία της τουριστικής ανάπτυξης, είχε δηλαδή τον χαρακτήρα της «προς τα έξω» και όχι «προς τα μέσα» προβολής του εγχώριου πολιτισμικού κεφαλαίου, με εκπεφρασμένο σκοπό την εξαργύρωσή του.

Πολιτικά, αλλά και πολιτισμικά, το εθνικό κράτος φαίνεται «πολύ μικρό για τα μεγάλα προβλήματα στη ζωή, και πολύ μεγάλο για τα μικρά». Καλούμαστε να αποφασίσουμε ποιος εχθρός είναι δεινότερος: το παγκόσμιο κεφάλαιο και η κοσμοπολίτικη πολιτισμική αγορά, ή η εθνική μονόπλευρη στενομυαλιά; Ενδεχομένως να πρέπει να αντιμετωπίσουμε τα νέα προβλήματα με νέα όπλα, και στη διαδικασία αυτή να επανεξετάσουμε τη συγκρότηση της εθνικής κουλτούρας. Αν αντιμετωπίζουμε την εθνική κουλτούρα ως ένα σύνταγμα στοιχείων απολιθωμένων στο προαιώνιο παρελθόν, καθαγιασμένων από την Ιστορία, είναι σαφές ότι κινδυνεύει από την παρούσα ρήξη με τον χρόνο. Η μετατόπιση της οπτικής ευνοεί, υποθέτω, την εκ νέου προσέγγιση στην οντολογία της εθνικής κουλτούρας, πέρα από την αποκρυσταλλωμένη ματιά άλλων εποχών.

6 Μαρ 2009

Η διάθλαση των οριζόντων (ii)

Η συζήτηση γύρω από την παγκοσμιοποίηση τέμνει τη συζήτηση περί μετα-νεωτερικότητας, και σε ορισμένα σημεία ταυτίζεται με αυτήν. Από τη μια μεριά τοποθετούνται οι αναλυτές που ανήκουν στη μαρξιστική παράδοση, για τους οποίους η παγκοσμιοποίηση είναι ένα ακόμη (αναπόφευκτο;) στάδιο στην εξέλιξη του ύστερου ή ύστατου καπιταλισμού, όπως άλλωστε και αυτό που ονομάζουν μετα-μοντέρνα κατάσταση. Όπως παρατηρεί σε ένα κείμενό του ο Fredric Jameson (ο οποίος πάντως εντάσσεται δυναμικά σε αυτήν την κατηγορία μελετητών, αν δεν είναι και ο κεντρικός εκπρόσωπός της), ακόμη κι αν μας ενθουσιάζουν τα τεχνολογικά επιτεύγματα, θρηνούμε την απώλεια της δόξας του μοντέρνου – τις δυνατότητες που χάριζε ο μοντερνισμός στην τέχνη, την υποχώρηση της Ιστορίας από το βάθρο του θεμελιώδους ερμηνευτή της ανθρώπινης ύπαρξης, και – κυρίως – το τέλος τού κατ’ εξοχήν νεωτερικού πεδίου συζήτησης (και διαμάχης) όπου οι μεγάλες ιδεολογίες κρατούσαν τη δύναμη και το κύρος των μεγάλων θρησκειών άλλων εποχών. Όλα αυτά για να καταλήξει στη διαπίστωση ότι «η παγκοσμιοποίηση είναι μια επικοινωνιακή σύλληψη, που συγκαλύπτει και διαδίδει εναλλάξ πολιτισμικά ή οικονομικά νοήματα».

Αναπόφευκτα, παρόμοιες περιγραφές του παγκοσμιοποιημένου πεδίου επικεντρώνονται στον ρόλο των παντοδύναμων πολυεθνικών εταιριών και την εμπλοκή τους στις οικονομίες του Τρίτου Κόσμου, τον αποσταθεροποιητικό – κατά την εκτίμησή τους – ρόλο των υπερεθνικών οργανισμών και της παρεμβατικής δράσης τους σε παγκόσμιο επίπεδο (μέσω των νέων, πανίσχυρων, διακρατικών συμφωνιών που ενεργοποιήθηκαν κατά τη δεκαετία του 1990), και γενικότερα στις στρατηγικές και τους μηχανισμούς του διεθνούς κεφαλαίου το οποίο διατρέχει κουλτούρες και σύνορα.

Από την αντίπερα όχθη, αρθρώνεται ένας εξίσου δυναμικός αντίλογος, ο οποίος, εκτός από το να αλλάζει τους όρους του παιγνιδιού, διαμορφώνει εκ νέου τη «γεωγραφία» της συζήτησης, μεταφέροντάς την τόσο σε νέα επιστημονικά πεδία, όσο και σε νέα κέντρα διακίνησης ιδεών. Ένας αριθμός μελετητών – κυρίως κοινωνικών ανθρωπολόγων και πολιτισμικών ιστορικών – διατυπώνει την αντίθεσή του με την οπτική των αναλυτών της άλλης πλευράς, κυρίως αυτών της μαρξιστικής παράδοσης τους οποίους κατηγορεί για «εκ των προτέρων κατανόηση των παγκόσμιων ιστοριών». Αναφέρομαι στον Arjun Appadurai, τον πασίγνωστο πλέον Ινδό ανθρωπολόγο (με μακρά σταδιοδρομία σε αμερικανικά πανεπιστήμια), ο οποίος ήδη από τη δεκαετία του 1990 παρουσίασε μια καινοτόμο θεωρία για αυτό που θα μπορούσαμε να ονομάσουμε – καταχρηστικά ενδεχομένως – «παγκοσμιοποιημένη μετα-νεωτερικότητα», βλέποντάς την ως αποτέλεσμα διάχυσης ιδεών και διασποράς ομάδων, της δημιουργίας αυτού που ο ίδιος ονομάζει εθνο-τοπία (ethno-scapes), νέων πολιτισμικών οντοτήτων που απειλούν τη νομιμότητα και την υπόσταση του παραδοσιακού εθνικού κράτους (κάτι που ο ίδιος ο Appadurai δεν απεύχεται).

Σε πιο πρόσφατα κείμενα, ο ίδιος μελετητής αλλά και άλλοι, προτείνουν μια καινοτόμο προσέγγιση στην προβληματική γύρω από την παγκοσμιοποίηση: πέρα από τα όρια της Δύσης, έξω από τα παραδοσιακά κέντρα παραγωγής και διακίνησης ιδεών (δηλαδή τα αμερικανικά ή εν γένει «δυτικά» πανεπιστήμια), πέρα από την κατεστημένη οπτική της διάκρισης μεταξύ «προηγμένου Βορρά» και «υποανάπτυκτου Νότου», έξω από την παγιωμένη ανάλυση περί «δημοκρατικής Δύσης» και «θεοκρατικής Ανατολής» κ.ο.κ. Αντιπαρέρχονται τη διαφωτιστική αντίληψη περί «μητροπολιτικής» επιστήμης, συγκεντρωμένης σε ένα ή ολίγα προνομιούχα κέντρα γνώσης (που λειτουργούν και ως πόλοι έλξης για τα «φωτισμένα» μυαλά εκτός Δύσης, δημιουργώντας έτσι την ίδια τη διασπορά επιστημόνων που τώρα απειλεί την πρωτοκαθεδρία τους) και ομιλούν περί παγκοσμιοποίησης, ναι, την οποία αποδέχονται και υποδέχονται με αισιοδοξία, αλλά μιας παγκοσμιοποίησης, όπως την ονομάζουν, που κινείται και εδραιώνεται «από κάτω προς τα επάνω», και κατά συνέπεια από την περιφέρεια ή και τους αντίποδες της μητροπολιτικής Δύσης προς το κέντρο της. Προσβλέποντας σε αυτή την αλλαγή της οπτικής, προσδοκούν στη δημοκρατία εκ νέου (όχι απαραίτητα δυτικού τύπου, διατιθέμενη προς εξαγωγή, με ειρηνικά μέσα ή μη) και θεωρούν ότι δικαιούνται να ονειρεύονται την, επί τέλους, πραγμάτωση της ουτοπίας.

Ο διάλογος είναι συναρπαστικός, όσο και βασανιστικά αμφίρροπος: ποιο είναι το διακύβευμα της παγκοσμιοποίησης; Το τέλος της νεωτερικότητας ή η θριαμβευτική εγκαθίδρυση του «μετά»; Η σπαρακτική διάψευση της ουτοπίας ή μια «διαθήκη» εκ νέου «καινή»; Πρέπει να αγωνιστούμε για την παλιννόστηση των νεωτερικών βεβαιοτήτων ή να αποδεχτούμε με εγκαρτέρηση (ή και ενθουσιασμό;) την οριστική αναίρεσή τους; Ζούμε την διεύρυνση των οριζόντων ή τη διάθλασή τους;