Sunday, July 21, 2024

Το διασπορικό φαινόμενο και τα ερμηνευτικά του πλαίσια στην Ελλάδα


Οι παρακάτω σκέψεις της Ολυμπίας Αντωνιάδου* για την Ελληνική λογοτεχνία της μετοικεσίας στο γαλλόφωνο χώρο του 20ου αιώνα προσφέρουν ένα αδιαπραγμάτευτο ερμηνευτικό πλαίσιο για τις ευρύτερες διασπορικές σπουδές:“[Η] μεταναστευτική λογοτεχνία δεν μπορεί να χωρά «στο εθνοκεντρικό ερμηνευτικό σύστημα, επειδή λειτουργεί με τους δικούς της λογοτεχνικούς λόγους, θέτει καινούργιες ερωτήσεις που με καινούργιες μεθόδους οδηγούν σε καινοτομικές απαντήσεις» [77]. Οι συγγραφείς που μελετήσαμε δεν διαθέτουν μια ελληνικότητα που να προσανατολίζεται απλώς στις ελλαδικές πολιτισμικές νόρμες [78]. Στα σύγχρονα πλαίσια της παγκοσμιοποίησης και της πολυπολιτισμικότητας, η λογοτεχνία του εκπατρισμού μετατρέπεται σε μεικτή λογοτεχνία όπου ο συγγραφέας δεν μιλά πια μόνο για τις ρίζες του αλλά και για την ιστορία και τη ζωή των συμπατριωτών του στο εξωτερικό και φτάνει στο σημείο να συγχέει τους χώρους – πατρίδα και χώρα υποδοχής –, αναδεικνύοντας στοιχεία της δικής του κουλτούρας, συχνά ήδη μεικτής, τα οποία εισάγει στο ξένο λογοτεχνικό τοπίο.”

Συνομιλώντας με θεωρητικούς της διασποράς από τον χώρο των πολιτισμικών σπουδών, η Αντωνιάδου εξηγεί όρους όπως «συνοριακές περιοχές», «συνοροχώρα», «νέες εθνότητες», πολιτική της αναπαράστασης, «μεταχμιακός Ελληνισμός» μεταξύ άλλων, αποδεικνύοντας την χρησιμότητά τους στην κατανόηση της διασπορικής υποκειμενικότητας, ιστορικής εμπειρίας, και αναπαράστασης.

Η εργασία της Αντωνιάδου αποτελεί ένα παράδειγμα από μια σχετικά ευρεία γκάμα βιβλιογραφίας στα ελληνικά η οποία συνομιλεί με σύγχρονες θεωρητικές προσεγγίσεις. Τα περισσότερα από αυτά τα ερμηνευτικά πονήματα (και γνωρίζουμε τον τεράστιο μόχθο και χρόνο που απαιτεί η ενασχόληση με την θεωρία – και η μετάφρασή της στα ελληνικά) όμως έχουν περιθωριοποιηθεί στον ευρύτερο δημόσιο λόγο. Οι μεθοδολογίες του «εθνοκεντρικού ερμηνευτικού συστήματος», όπως παρατηρεί η συγγραφέας αδυνατούν να τα κατανοήσουν και να συνδιαλλαγούν μαζί τους.

Ως αποτέλεσμα, εννοιολογικά πρωτοπόρες εργασίες και έργα για την διασπορά είτε αμελούνται, είτε περιθωριοποιούνται. Είτε ακόμη χειραγωγούνται από εθνο-κεντρικές ερμηνείες. Μια παράπλευρη απώλεια είναι ότι δεν υπάρχει σοβαρή εκλαΐκευση αυτού του Λόγου και η ανάλογη μύηση του κοινού σε νέες έννοιες. Λογικό επακόλουθο, θα έλεγε κανείς όταν ο ερμηνευτικός κριτικός λόγος περί διασποράς δεν καλλιεργείται επαρκώς στην χώρα, αλλά και κάποιες φορές υπονομεύεται;

Απαιτείται λοιπόν μια ευρεία συζήτηση περί εννοιολόγησης της διασποράς ιδιαίτερα σε τούτη την ιστορική συγκυρία που το ενδιαφέρον για την αναπαράστασή της στην Ελλάδα αυξάνεται ραγδαία (για παράδειγμα το πρόσφατο οδοιπορικό στην ΕΡΤ, η νέα προσπάθεια δημιουργίας μουσείου Διασποράς στην χώρα, το κάλεσμα για την ενδυνάμωση των διασπορικών σπουδών στο ελληνικό πανεπιστήμιο, το ενδιαφέρον σημαντικών περιοδικών και του τύπου προς το θέμα) και η οποία συγκυρία απαιτεί νέα ερμηνευτικά εργαλεία για να αποδοθεί η πολυπλοκότητα του φαινομένου. Το ζητούμενο είναι η αποφυγή επιτέλους της περιχαράκωσής της διασποράς σε εθνικά στεγανά τα οποία την εγκλωβίζουν σε Ελλαδικά ιδεολογικά πλαίσια – και που τόσο στενο/χωρούν τους ανθρώπους που έχουν βιώσει το πολυφασματικό «διασπορικό δράμα»…

Θα υπάρξει συνέχεια…

Γ. Αναγνώστου
Ιούλιος 2024

* Ολυμπία Γ. Αντωνιάδου, «Λογοτεχνία, διασποροποίηση και συνοροχώρες: η περίπτωση της ελληνικής λογοτεχνίας της μετοικεσίας στο γαλλόφωνο χώρο του 20ου αιώνα». [Δυστυχώς δεν έχω στην κατοχή μου τα πλήρη βιβλιογραφικά στοιχεία]

Monday, June 24, 2024

Για την θεσμική ενδυνάμωση των διασπορικών σπουδών (συνέντευξη στο ΕΝΑ)


Πώς ενδυναμώνεται η δημόσια σφαίρα και πώς προκαλείται αναστοχασμός από τις μελέτες για τη Διασπορά; Μπορεί να αποφευχθεί το «καλούπωμα» της Διασποράς στο συμβατικό πλαίσιο της νοσταλγίας και της επιτυχίας; Ποιο μπορεί να είναι το μέλλον των Διασπορικών Σπουδών και ποιο των Ελληνοαμερικανικών; Και πόσο «κοντά» είναι τα ελληνικά πανεπιστήμια στη δημιουργία πανεπιστημιακών Τμημάτων για τη μελέτη των ελληνοαμερικανικών τεχνών, της ελληνοαμερικανικής πολιτικής και κουλτούρας;

Δέστε, https://www.enainstitute.org/publication/%ce%b4%ce%b9%ce%b1%cf%83%cf%80%ce%bf%cf%81%ce%b9%ce%ba%ce%bf%ce%af-%ce%b4%ce%b9%ce%ac%ce%bb%ce%bf%ce%b3%ce%bf%ce%b9-1-%cf%83%cf%85%ce%bd%ce%ad%ce%bd%cf%84%ce%b5%cf%85%ce%be%ce%b7-%ce%bc%ce%b5/

Γιώργος Αναγνώστου
Ιούνιος 2024

Monday, May 20, 2024

Writing for the Community (Ethos magazine, Spring 2024)–– Diasporic Labor: “Greek Melbourne” as a Center of Hellenism


“Diasporic” institutions require labor; we know this all too well. Organizing a Greek festival, running community educational programs, and participating in organizations all demand considerable energy and resources. Building, expanding, or sustaining institutions without continuous work is impossible. 

The labor is both physical and cultural. As a faculty member working in a Greek American academic unit—a Modern Greek Program—I am familiar with the demands of this kind of work. But nothing had prepared me for the scope and scale of labor needed to contribute to the cultural vitality of a diaspora until I visited Melbourne, Australia.

In Autumn 2023, I was invited as a Fellow at the University of Melbourne for a series of talks and seminars. Upon arrival, I was also embraced by the city’s Greek Community. New friends introduced me to the Greek aspects of Australia’s 2nd-most-visited city, offering tours of immigrant neighborhoods, and taking me to social events. They created opportunities for me to interact with cultural leaders, educators, authors, poets, and scholars. My six-week stay in the city was filled with delightful interactions.

Travel often opens ways for sojourners to see the world anew. My experience in Greek Melbourne was not an exception: it reconfigured how I think about diasporic identity. Prior to visiting, I primarily thought of diaspora as the scattering of people from their homeland and the subsequent connections with their ancestral origins and culture across generations. And also as experiences of cultural betweenness and mixing. But my encounter with Greek Melbourne added a new layer to my mental map of a diaspora.

It is not rare to hear or read in commentaries in the media the Greek Melbournian view of their παροικία (community) as a center of Hellenism. Not as a cultural periphery to Greece (the so-called “metropolitan center”), as some see it conventionally, but Greek Melbourne as a cultural center—one among many.

A diaspora as a center of Hellenism! I was intrigued. What was it that gave these Melbournians the right to this weighty claim? What makes a diasporic community a center?

The παροικία has a population of approximately 180,000 people, having the largest Greek-speaking population outside Greece. But demography and a high percentage of Greek speakers alone do not make for greatness. Something else validates this claim to distinction. As I gradually realized, it connects with the rich Greek cultural presence in the city.

A critical mass of individuals turns to the arts and learning to explore and express the community’s history and contemporary culture. It is a form of labor—we could call it cultural activism—that creates a multifaceted cultural landscape. It consists of staging plays, designing murals and installations with Greek Melbournian themes, exhibiting photography, organizing film festivals, creating venues for literature and poetry, and coordinating community-sponsored seminars hosting academics.

A community cannot boast itself as a cultural center without an understanding of itself. The official Community operates a forum called Greek History and Culture Seminars for the purpose of sharing academic research with the public. Greek Australian topics are numerous. It has financed research resulting to a book on its history. 

An illustration of investing in self-knowledge is the Community’s support in establishing a Senior Hellenic Lecturer in Global Diasporas at the University of Melbourne. This is the first time that an endowed academic position is dedicated to the study of the Greek diaspora.

Greek Melbourne utilizes the arts to honor its migrant past. An installation of five Greek-style columns in the suburb of Brunswick pays homage to domestic immigrant labor. Each column is “delineated by a cage of galvanized steel uprights and mesh. It is filled with recycled ‘kitchenalia’ toasters, kettles, saucepans,” some donated by immigrant families.

Cooking provides sustenance and contributes to the continuity of a culinary tradition. The utensils require continuous labor: washing, scraping, and maintaining to maximize their life span. The memorial makes tangible this mundane reality, emblematic of the immigrants’ struggle for survival.

But the immigrant past is not idealized. The play Byron’s Life, which I was fortunate to watch, exemplifies the “growing up Greek” genre. It dramatizes the dilemmas, ambivalences, and anxieties of a Melbourne-born Greek male who struggles to find a measure of balance between the Australian culture pulling him toward one direction and his “Old World” surroundings toward another.

A thriving center of Hellenism produces notable literature. Melbourne-born novelist Christos Tsiolkas has earned international acclaim. Poet π.O. is “a legendary figure in the Australian poetry scene” and “a chronicler of Melbourne and its culture and migrations.” In 1992, author and educator Helen Nickas founded Owl Publishing in Melbourne, a venue aiming “to nurture, study, translate and disseminate Greek-Australian literature.” The online magazine Kalliope X publishes Greek Australian and Greek poetry while supporting a variety of multicultural writings. The literary journal Antipodes, launched in 1974, is “the longest published, bilingual periodical circulating in Australia.”

Clearly, the claim of Greek Melbourne as a center connects with the emergence of the city as a center of Greek cultural production. It involves the support of the arts and scholarship enriching the understanding of the community’s history and culture. 

But diasporic institutions and identities cannot be taken for granted. Diasporas continuously negotiate new conditions, must respond to new challenges, and, in turn, may need to reinvent themselves anew. They require the involvement of the next generation. This condition engenders concern, even anxiety, about the cultural future.

A recurrent topic of conversation among Melbournians I spoke with during my visit was precisely this concern. Will there be a new generation of journalists, artists, scholars, and educators to keep documenting, reflecting, and interpreting the ever-changing diaspora? Who will be creating and curating the archives? Will there be a diasporic museum and a center of diaspora studies? What are the best practices for promoting bilingualism? There are no easy answers. Involving the next generation is certainly a necessity. However, as we know all too well, creating a robust cultural future for a diaspora requires yet another layer of demanding diaspora labor…

Yiorgos Anagnostou
Spring 2024

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Greek Immigrant women and the Castle Gate Mine Explosion (1924)–A Tribute II

The Politics of Life and Death: Working-Class Greek Immigrant Women and the Castle Gate Mine Disaster—A Tribute

Keywords: Early 20th c Greek immigrant working class in the United States; coalminers, mine disasters and impact on families; Greek working class women; industrial capitalism, death politics and biopolitics; Greek American historiography.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

On the "Greek American Queer Narrative"–Seminar response


Response to Theodora Patrona’s (Aristotle University) talk, 

“Boy Meets Boy and Girl Meets Girl: Foregrounding the Greek American Queer Narrative” 

(SNFPHI, University Seminar in Modern Greek)  

by Yiorgos Anagnostou

I thank the University Seminar in Modern Greek, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Public Humanities Initiative (SNFPHI), and the Program in Hellenic Studies, for making this event possible. I express my appreciation to Dimitris Antoniou for inviting me and for including Ergon in the collaboration. The following is a somewhat revised version of my seminar response.


***

Today’s event creates a much-needed forum for critical peer review in Greek American and diaspora studies. I approach this meeting as a public workshop for a project in its early stages. I do realize the risks involved in making one’s early research public; however, I see it as my responsibility to offer critical commentary, which I view as constructive feedback.

The title of Dr. Patrona’s talk is “Boy Meets Boy and Girl Meets Girl: Foregrounding the Greek American Queer Narrative.” The phrasing “Girl Meets Girl and Boy Meets Boy” recalls a trope commonly used in the context of queering the genre of romantic comedy. It destabilizes the heterosexual norm “Boy Meets Girl,” directing attention to lesbian and gay sexual desires (1).

The title also connects Greek America with the category “queer.”

I appreciate the author’s interest in what she calls “queer Greek American subjectivities.” Dr. Patrona’s work highlights a corpus of four texts—two works of fiction and two memoirs (2)—and reflects on the subjectivities these texts narrate. She builds on recent conversations on this topic and offers further insights via a close reading of the texts. In the broadest terms, the research contributes to a subject about which we have scattered and scant knowledge.

The talk foregrounds the experiences of persons embodying non-normative sexualities in relation to several institutions, both “ethnic” and “non-ethnic”: the family, community, church, public school, and the medical establishment. In the 1970s, 1980s, and well into the 1900s, the power of these institutions sought to regulate and punish “uncomfortable desires” (3). Violence was inflicted upon non-normative bodies, harming the persons it sought to discipline. Normative institutions scarred and traumatized individuals, creating heavy “psychosocial burdens.”

Dr. Patrona’s analysis contributes to our understanding of the effects of oppressive social discourses on non-normative subjects and, in turn, how these subjects act upon domination to articulate opposition, seek healing, and fashion the Self in resistance to normative expectations. For the autobiographers, writing their story is an act of reclamation and liberation. The talk focuses on their personal negotiations with the immigrant and the broader world. These are life-defining personal projects involving agency in the making of and finding balances within multifaceted selves.

The angle of the analysis of all four texts zooms on the inner and social battles associated with the fashioning or reinventing eclectic selves. Here, we find ourselves in the domain of parental power—and more specifically dyadic relations like mother-son or father-daughter—trauma and agency. This is a theoretical and cultural domain that requires deep probing.

While the analysis focuses on oppressive institutions, I wonder about the function of liberatory social spaces in the making and performance of queer subjectivity. Where, specifically, do subjects opt to make their sexuality public, and what considerations play out in their decision? In Annie Liontas’s novel Let Me Explain You, for example, the character’s choosing of the social space for her “coming out” is purposeful, taking into consideration not only the needs of the Self but feelings about beloved others. It will be productive then to examine this process of performing sexuality within the texts under investigation. What social spaces are available and how do characters negotiate prohibiting settings?

It would be productive too, to extend the discussion and include the public spaces in real life where the authors find allies and create inclusive communities.

At this extra-textual level, it is the publishing industry that offers the space for the authors to engage with complex issues, such as family violence, cruelty, mental health, and uncomfortable sexual desires, which, one must note, the Greek American public sphere largely hides. We can benefit from a cartography of queer subjectivity and its negotiations in the public sphere.

In this respect, interconnecting the factual with the fictional might produce valuable insights. To what communities and social relations do the characters and the narrativized selves participate, and what does this tell us about the social geographies of the Greek American Queer Narrative?

To add yet another dimension on the question of queering the Greek American public sphere: Toward its conclusion, the talk mentions the pioneering work of Leah Fygetakis. This raises the question about how the four texts in the talk relate to the insights and questions posed by pioneers in the field of Greek American sexuality. In her essay “Leah with an “H” or How I am Jewish, But Not Really” (4) Fygetakis shares her longing for a US Greek lesbian community, which was not at the time available to her. She finds a sense of partial belonging in a community based on sexuality but not ethnicity.

In the context of second-wave feminism, Constance Callinicos participates in an intercultural and sexuality diverse gathering of women who subvert in private traditional gendered dictates in folk dancing. If the North American “politics of gay and lesbian liberation hinge on strategies of queer visibility” (5), it seems to me necessary to probe the question of “queering the Greek American Narrative” in connection to practices negotiating visibility in particular pasts. Where was the narrative articulated in the 1970s and in the 1990s? Where is it performed now? Have there been any changes in the power relations and institutional realities that mediate it? In other words, the diasporic narrative calls for historicization.

The corpus of the four texts in today’s talk renders queer subjectivities visible. What kind of cultural and political work does this visibility perform? From my perspective, this visibility interrogates the grand ethnic narrative of family cohesion and success. It demonstrates families failing their non-normative children; depression and violence lurk behind the veneer of the model Greek ethnicity. In naming these processes, the texts produce knowledge confronting the truth of foundational Greek American narratives. They expose the harm that revered institutions do by hiding or demonizing situations that cause individuals to bleed. If queering a narrative in the broadest sense means resisting essentialism (6), and if, indeed, it means identifying practices within a group that the group denies or rejects, then this corpus queers the ethnic or diasporic narrative.

But this is my reading. I would like to hear more from Dr. Patrona about what she calls “Greek American Queer Narrative,” the kind of political work it performs.

The focus on queer subjectivities produces hidden or suppressed truths. We may wish to think deeper about the politics of alternative truths. I have in mind the specificity of interventions that particular genres enable. Autobiography, for instance, produces knowledge that can be utilized as evidence to undermine grand ethnic narratives.

Along these lines, can we think of how queer literary and popular culture could undermine normative Greek America? This inquiry will benefit by exploring the work of authors with different politics of queerness offering different strategies of intervention. We could probe the broader transnational field: the fiction of Christos Tsiolkas, for example and his politics; the films of Anna Kokkinos; Zack Stratis’ film Could Be Worse! The poetry of Olga Broumas. I wonder about the place of David Sedaris in this conversation. What do we make of Gus Constantellis’s bold––“on your face”––Greek Brooklyn queer comedy

This returns us to the question of a queer public sphere. It is important to bring these Greek Australian, Greek American, Greek, and other texts into conversation to explore the range of context-specific strategies authors use to undermine diasporic normalizations. There is scholarship comparing Greek and Greek Australian queer films (7). The comparative approach will hopefully attract scholars globally, empowering diasporic queer studies.

I now turn my attention to theory. Dr. Patrona’s talk enters a field of knowledge notable for its political and theoretical sophistication. Terms such as “queer,” “lesbian,” “gay,” “homosexual,” “identity,” are not self-evident categories. They are debated rigorously, producing a nuanced understanding of the work these categories perform. This theoretical field has a genealogy and is vastly complex.

To identify some contours of this terrain: Queerness is a theoretical and political project deconstructing binaries and resisting essentialisms. It recognizes identities as fluid and unstable. A thread in this conversation, therefore, rejects identity-based renderings of sexuality as a practice reproducing essentialism. Some theorists find the term “queer” problematic for their projects. They use expansive definitions of the term “lesbian” to foreground the historical specificity of lesbians and lesbian culture, noting that this specificity is not acknowledged “by the categories ‘queer’ and ‘gay.’” Hence the uneasiness about lesbian specificity being obscured by “supposedly ‘gender neutral’ categories like ‘queer’” (8). Still, individuals involved in same-sex love in Greece reject the category “lesbian.” What is more, since the 1990s, we have witnessed a theoretical and cultural “shift from gay to queer” (9). Scholars theorize queerness as an embodied experience.

The talk today seems to employ the terms queer, lesbian, and gay interchangeably. Greek American analysis of queer material needs to situate it in relation to the academic field “queer studies.”

In closing, I wish to refer to another domain the talk enters. Dr. Patrona’s presentation refers to it as “ethnic,” though toward the conclusion, there is mention of a “transnational angle.” The reference to transnationalism inevitably introduces the domain “diaspora” in connection to queerness.

I introduce the term “diaspora” purposefully, because of the analytical possibilities it offers. Diaspora connotes geographic and cultural mobilities, inviting us to explore negotiations of sexuality in connection to time and place. There is rich scholarship on the intersections of queer and diaspora studies, guiding this key question: what is at stake in queering diaspora? Here, in the interest of time, I will only mention that interconnecting sexuality with histories of mobilities raises questions of how ideas of sexuality travel, and how they are shaped via border-crossing; how sexual non-normativity generates desires to emigrate, and how material and symbolic conditions at the new home shape articulations of sexuality in specific spaces. Based on my reading of Joanna Eleftheriou and Annie Liontas’s work, their accounts invite this kind of inquiry. One negotiates non-normativity differently in a village in Crete and Philadelphia, Cyprus and New York City.

I will stop here. I thank you once again for providing me with the opportunity to think about these issues and for participating. I’m looking forward to the conversation. Thank you.

February 28, 2024

Notes

1. Kelly Ann McWilliam, Girl Meets Girl: Lesbian Romantic Comedies and the Public Sphere. PhD Dissertation. University of Queensland, Australia, 2006).

2. The four texts are, Annie Liontas’s Let Me Explain You (2015), Angelo Surmelis’s young adult novel The Dangerous Art of Blending In (2018), Dean Kostos’s memoir The Boy Who Listened to Paintings (2019) and Joanna Eleftheriou’s This Way Back (2020).

3. Mandy Treagus, “Queering the Mainstream: The Slap and ‘Middle’ Australia.” Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature 12.3 (2012), 1.

4. Leah Fygetakis M., “Leah with an ‘H’ or How I am Jewish, But Not Really. Women & Therapy 33, 3–4 (2010): 418–24.

5. Meg Wesling, “why queer diaspora?” Feminist Review 90 (2008), 40.

6. Mandy Treagus, “Queering the Mainstream,” 2.

7. Dimitris Papanikolaou, “New Queer Greece: Thinking Identity through Constantine Giannaris’s From the Edge of the City and Anna Kokkinos’s Head On.” New Cinemas: Journal of Contemporary Film 6.3 (2008): 183–96.

8. Kelly Ann McWilliam, Girl Meets Girl, 14.

9. Dimitris Papanikolaou, “New Queer Greece,” 183.


Thursday, May 9, 2024

On the Causes of the Castle Gate Mine Disaster (1924): Human Life, Science, Government, Industrial Capitalism, and the Law


“On 8 March 1924, in the second major mine disaster of the twentieth century in the Utah coal fields, 172 men lost their lives, including one worker who inadvertently inhaled deadly carbon monoxide during the rescue efforts. At 8:00 A.M. two violent explosions ripped through the Number Two Mine of the Utah Fuel Company, located at Castle Gate in the canyon north of present-day Helper and Price, in Carbon County.”

Janeen Arnold Costa, “Castle Gate Mine Disaster,” Utah History Encyclopedia, 1994 (https://historytogo.utah.gov/castle-gate/)

***

This year’s honoring of the centenary of the Castle Gate disaster inevitably invites us to revisit the question regarding the causes of the deadly explosions. As a regional, national, and transnational––given that a large number of the victims were immigrants––tragedy, the calamity pressed mining experts, researchers, government entities, and mining-related institutes for an explanation, which, in turn, connects with the ethnical question of culpability. Who was responsible, and could this catastrophe have been avoided?

A part of my ongoing tribute to the disaster, this posting summarizes and reflects upon an important writing on the topic, Mark Aldrich’s “Preventing ‘The Needless Peril of the Coal Mine’: The Bureau of Mines and the Campaign against Coal Mine Explosions, 1910-1940.” (Technology and Culture, 36: 3 [Jul., 1995)]: 483–518). [Unless otherwise noted, all citations below are drawn from this article.]

An authoritative work based on a rich corpus of archival sources, “The Needless Peril of the Coal Mine” discusses the issue of mining safety at the time in connection to the three major agents involved and the power relations within which they operated––the US Bureau of Mines, coal mine operators, and lawmakers.

***

An urgent issue preoccupying the US Bureau of Mines early in the twentieth century was the development of technologies to reduce the risk of mine explosions producing human wreckage. In 1907 alone, by November, “200 men had been killed in ten major disasters” (483). There was more at stake than human suffering. The significant higher rate of fatalities compared to those in Britain from 1906 through 1910 made the country’s mining conditions “the wonder of the world mining community” (488), casting a blow on national pride. The following excerpt illustrates the degree of humiliation:

“Writing in 1903, the English Colliery Guardian excoriated the United States for a ‘general disregard for life that would never be tolerated here.’ Five years later the journal commented on Monongah: ‘There is one record to which our transatlantic cousins may lay claim without fear of emulation; for in the matter of safeguarding its workmen, the United States enjoys the unenviable reputation of being the most backward of the civilized nations’” (488).

The recuperation of the US mining industry’s reputation was part of the bureau’s vocabulary in the articulation of its mission. It deplored the destruction “of life and waste of resources” not only as ethically unacceptable but also as attributes “which now characterize and bring discredit upon American mining” (491).

The bureau, formed in 1910, advocated scientific knowledge as the means to prevent “the loss of life and waste of resources” in mining. It operated under the conviction that its research about technological improvements would enlighten coal managers and lawmakers who, its progressive vision assumed, would embrace it: the “bureau had no power of inspection or supervision, but was to cooperate with mining interests, providing them the technological support needed to reduce the ‘needless perils’ and other wastes of mining” (491).

Speaking to the Coal Mining Institute of America, the bureau’s engineer Herbert M. Wilson elaborated on the principles and role of the institution he served:

“‘That the Bureau will have no authority to enforce the adoption of its recommendations is not a matter of concern,’ [he] explained. It was even a virtue: ‘Such authority would jeopardize its chief purpose-the making of impartial investigations.’ In the Progressive vision, once ignorance was banished, good results were sure to follow, and Wilson concluded with a summary of the Progressive credo. ‘The largest influence [of the bureau] can only be through the acquisition and publication of impartial which should appeal to … the industry and to an intelligent public opinion,’ he claimed” (492).
But “[m]atters did not turn out to be quite this simple” (492).

***

All evidence regarding the causes of mine disasters in the first quarter of the twentieth century points to the unwillingness of major coal corporations to embrace the scientifically proven safety measures recommended by the bureau. In 1923, one year before the Castle Gate disaster, Dan Harrington, the bureau’s chief of health and safety, “had bluntly pointed out to the management,” that “Castle Gate used watering in haphazard fashion, and it was dusty and dry” (508). Dust and dry conditions were a lethal combination, and indeed, one structural cause of this disaster is attributed “to inadequate watering down of the coal dust from the previous shift’s operation” (Costa, https://historytogo.utah.gov/castle-gate/. On the inadequacy of the sprinkling water system at Castle Gate see also “Castle Gate Mine Explosion,” http://www.carbon-utgenweb.com/castlegatex.html.)

In its early years and more strongly since 1915, the Bureau was alerting coal operators about the ineffectiveness of watering as the means of controlling coal dust, which by 1911 mining experts had shown to be a major cause of explosions. The solution was application of rock dust, which, according to scientific experiments conducted by the bureau and in Europe, was proven to render coal dust nonexplosive (409).

Examples from mining realities boosted the bureau’s credibility. The case of the Old Ben mine in Illinois, which exploded in 1921, “offered tangible evidence about the capacity of rock dust”––which it management had applied since 1917––“as a major deterrent.” (514). A few operators had started utilizing this technique as early as 1915. And when the 1923 disaster hit Dawson mine in New Mexico, its coal managers privately acknowledged that “the sprinkling had been deficient” and “there was too much [coal] dust” causing the disaster on the site––the second in a decade––killing 120 miners. (520). But, despite this knowledge and Harrington’s alert, “with the coal market depressed,” the Castle Gate management “had done nothing” (508).

Cost was the major reason for the inaction of many coal companies resisting the implementation of the bureau’s recommendations. The economic calculus drove a politics of death in which large scale destruction of laboring bodies was deemed an acceptable risk:

“Economic incentives were probably more important than legal changes in encouraging the spread of rock dusting. Explosions could be extremely expensive, for they often destroyed the mine. Harrington estimated that the bill for Castle Gate came to considerably more than $1 million. Still, with explosions rare, operators could easily ignore their potential expense” (513).

The following narrative in reference to the post-Castle Gate corporate death politics illustrates the persistent rationale of minimizing operation costs at the expense of investing for the safety of miners:

“In 1932, the president of Jewel Ridge Coal, a Virginia operator, informed the bureau that the explosion of two other mines in that state during the past year ‘would not be sufficient reason for us to go to the expense … of rock dusting.’ Bureau engineers were frustrated by their inability to use publicity to pressure recalcitrant operators. In 1930, three explosions claimed the lives of twenty-three Utah miners, including five at the New Peerless mine. ‘It is unfortunate,’ Harrington remarked with uncharacteristic restraint, ‘that the public is not given the information which we have concerning the conditions in mines which are bound to lead … to occurrences like that at Peerless.’ Other bureau engineers were less diplomatic: ‘Every damn one of [the operators of mines that exploded] should be indicted for involuntary manslaughter,’ one of them growled. In spite of such laggards, rock dusting gradually spread until, at its prewar peak in 1937, 43 percent of all miners worked in mines” (515).

***

If industrial capitalism was responsible for prioritizing profit over human lives, the Law was also complicit. The comparison of how England and the United States diverged in implementing mine safety measures is telling. It boiled down to the question about the power of the sate flexing its muscle to regulate the power of coal operators. “In Britain, with safety a national matter, the companies’ power was diluted. In America, by contrast, regulation was the province of individual states where the operators constituted a powerful faction” (489fn.12). The difference was in the role of the State in placing safety first over corporate profits. While Britain “had required rock dusting in 1921” (510), United States law succumbed to management pressures to refrain from this legal requirement.

In 1924-25, the bureau, aided by the United Mine Workers of America, a union organization, built on the Castle Gate disaster as a catalyst for an aggressive campaign––“a good stiff fight” as Harrington put it––at the legal front of mine safety. It resulted to significant accomplishments as several states––Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Utah, Indiana, and Wyoming––passed rock-dusting laws. Utah’s was “the most strict,” in “direct response to Castle Gate … requiring rock dusting in all mines and specifying the required percentage of incombustible matter” (513).

“The Utah Fuel Company began an ambitious campaign to prevent explosions at Castle Gate after it cleaned up from the blast of 1924. Similarly, John Ryan of Mine Safety Appliances noted that right after the Mather (Pennsylvania) number 1 mine blew up in 1928, taking the lives of 195 men, his company received a rush order for rock-dusting machines … and three other nearby coal companies” (515).

“But some operators proved impervious to either expertise or experience” (515). The advancements were fought back by the lobbying power of corporations:

“The effects of most state laws were largely nullified, however, because they allowed companies to substitute watering for rock dusting. McAuliffe, president of Wyoming’s Union Pacific Coal, admitted that the Wyoming law was due entirely to the miners’ lobby, as the operators had ‘moved heaven and earth’ to prevent it. They were unsuccessful, but did manage to incorporate a provision allowing watering as an alternative, which the Chief Mining Engineer of the technological Branch of the US Geological Survey ‘termed “ridiculous’”” (513).

***

The Castle Gate disaster is one of many examples of lawmaking compromising its principles, even colluding with corporate interests in the context of industrial capitalism. The result was unspeakable horror for thousand of human beings. The bureau’s progressive vision for an enlightened mining industry neglected early on the function of power relations to regulate social and economic issues. Its commitment and vision, however, underlines the operation of two Americas at the time: one of a community fighting to safeguard fundamental rights for laborers; and another engaging in a death politics motivated by profit, refusing to address the needless peril––so costly––of the Coal Mine.

Yiorgos Anagnostou
March-May 2024

Saturday, April 13, 2024

A diasporic structure of affect and name branding


The desire for a positive image and the associated branding, the longing for distinction, the thirst for joyful pride, the want for seamless belonging, all fostering access to a mode of cultural power; they generate a structure of affect that rewards those who feed it while displaying severe intolerance to those who advocate its reflexive examination.

One implication? Consent to this structure of affect, invest in public relations with its vast social networks, hone the appropriate oratory, bring it home, and, voila, a celebrity cultural commentator.

(Και έρχεται η στιγμή ν' αποφασίσεις με ποιους θα πας και ποιους θα αφήσεις...)


Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Το Αμερικανικό και το Ελληνικό Όνειρο σε Δελεαστικό Ταγκό


Δεν θα έχουν ξεφύγει από παρατηρητές του δημόσιου λόγου στην Ελλάδα φαντάζομαι οι αυξανόμενες αναφορές του «αμερικανικού ονείρου» σε συνάρτηση με την πραγματοποίηση του «ελληνικού ονείρου». Αυξάνεται η πολιτιστική παρουσία αυτής της συσχέτισης σε εφημερίδες, περιοδικά, συνεντεύξεις, ταινίες, κτλ.

Με άλλα λόγια παρατηρείται η μεταφορά της Αμερικανικής ιδεολογίας της οικονομικής και κοινωνικής κινητικότητας μέσω της ατομικής επιμονής και προσπάθειας και μόνο (bootstraps) στην Ελλάδα σε συνθήκες έντονης εφαρμογής νεοφιλελεύθερων πολιτικών. Ενδιαφέρον είναι ότι συγκατανεύουν σε αυτήν την ιδεολογία και άτομα που δημόσια τοποθετούνται στον ευρύτερο αριστερό χώρο. Οι κοινωνιολογικές και δομικές διαστάσεις του θέματος ακυρώνονται μέσω «χαριτωμένων» (και τόσο μα τόσο αφελών) προσωπικών καταθέσεων αλλά και αισθητικά συναρπαστικών αφηγημάτων.
 
Πέρα του απελπιστικά πολιτικού σουρεαλισμού του θέματος, για εμάς τους αναλυτές του φαινομένου είναι πλέον φανερό ότι η μελέτη της Αμερικανικής και Ελληνικής κοινωνίας δεν απέχουν τόσο όσο θέλαμε να πιστεύουμε.
 
Αλλά και σε αναλυτές της παγκοσμιοποίησης, ιδιαίτερα όταν Ελληνικά πολιτιστικά προϊόντα που ασπάζονται την ιδεολογία bootstraps εξάγονται με ελληνικό «περιτύλιγμα», ενδυναμώνοντας τις ιδέες του νεοφιλελευθερισμού παγκόσμια. Θα ήταν ενδιαφέρον να εντοπίσουμε αντιστάσεις τόσο στην εγχώρια κριτική (προς το παρόν δεν βλέπω κάτι συγκροτημένο αλλά μπορεί και να κάνω λάθος) όσο και αλλού.


υ.γ. Σκέφτομαι πόσο υβριστικά προσβλητικό είναι το αφήγημα του bootstraps προς άτομα τα οποία έχουν υποστεί συστηματικές και συστημικές διακρίσεις, που έχουν πιαστεί σε δίκτυα φτώχειας και δεν διαθέτουν το οικονομικό αλλά και πολιτιστικό κεφάλαιο (κανείς δεν αρχίζει από το μηδέν, στοιχειώδης κοινωνιολογία). Άτομα που έχουν κακοποιηθεί. Ή ακόμη προς άτομα που επέλεξαν να αντισταθούν σε ηγεμονικά αφηγήματα και εξουσίες––αντί για εξαργυρώσιμους τεμενάδες στο κατεστημένο––μια στάση με μεγάλο προσωπικό και επαγγελματικό κόστος.