Wednesday, December 21, 2011

An Analysis of Hilary Sideris' Poem "Geometry"

Hilary Sideris's [poem] "Geometry". . .  deploys exceptional poetic economy to engage with the hyphen. A highly ambiguous piece with a multiplicity of semantic nuances, the poem presents hard interpretive challenges, requiring careful reading. I cite "Geometry" below in its entirety:

How can you be the you who called
the table of contents the plate
of compliments, who named the water
bottle baba wayo? Tonight we cram

isosceles, scalene & how the rhombus
differs from a square. I love your
getting-wavy hair, the way your lashes
graze the page, their half-moon curve,

like your father's, when you nod off.
I don't know which I prefer: math
from your mouth or your textbook's
definition of a line, the part where

it goes on in both directions forever.

The poem interrelates two unlikely practices: an explicit reflection on language, most strongly communicated in the speaker's incredulity over a string of incomplete and misplaced translations, and a math tutorial. At the start the reader is also confronted with doubt: who speaks to whom in the poem, who is the speaker and who is the addressee? Is it possible that there is more than one addressee? If so, how can the reader tell? This seeming indeterminacy brings to the fore the question of speaker, audience, and identity. Who speaks incorrect English? Who creates poetry in English? What is the place of Greek in the text? Where is the hyphen located, if in fact it operates at all?

The opening lines pose a puzzle, demanding the reader's careful navigation. The utterances plate of compliments, and baba wayo seem to point to two distinct linguistic registers. The former evokes a semantic slippage from "table of contents," a misplaced translation that might be committed by an adult whose command of the host language is partial. Could it represent a foreigner who inhabits English awkwardly? The latter most certainly points to an infantile effort to grapple with basic rules of phonetics. Could it represent an immigrant's grappling with the fundamentals of pronunciation? Alternatively, is it that it records a baby's incursion into spoken language? Or is it that "you" refers, perhaps, to both? It is difficult to tell. One element, however, is for certain. The incomplete grasp of English refers to a reality in the past. The speaker's incredulity ("How [End Page 284] can you be the you") leaves no doubt that those linguistic inadequacies represent a memory of a situation that has been spectacularly rectified.

To begin unraveling the identity of the addressee, let us note the speaker's objectification of the "you" that she addresses. As I mentioned, the expressed incredulity communicates dramatic transformations in linguistic fluency over time. Could this double reference of the second person pronoun also serve as a playful pun signaling the operation of two different subjects? One character from the pair in the poem represents the recipient of the tutorial, who in all likelihood is a young student, old enough to handle language. The poetic persona's connection with this subject is conveyed through the language of loving intimacy. The language borders on eroticism, but is also a language of affect that a parent might use to fondly address a child, ever attending to transformations in physical features ("your getting-wavy hair"), comparing mannerisms with the father's ("like your father's, when you nod off"), sprinkling adoring compliments ("I love . . . the way your lashes / graze the page"). On the other hand, if indeed there is a second addressee, this might be none other than the speaking subject, the objectified self of the speaker's monologue. But how can we tell? At this juncture I will take a detour, to attend to the poetics of the text before I proceed with the question of the poetic persona's relationship with the hyphen.

A reader with no interest in identifying the operation of the hyphen in "Geometry" could approach the poem as a reflection on language. The text certainly invites analysis on the ways language operates as both a constraining and liberating medium. The opening stanzas, for instance, point to the poetic potential of misnaming. The play of words and meanings is an activity which immigrants or children may unintentionally produce and poets often strive to create. Seen poetically, the bending of rules may delight a poet in the slippage between "table of contents" and "plate of compliments." Once measured against semantic rules, however, misnaming generates incredulity and the immediate impulse for correction. Misplaced poetic license seems to require immersion in rules and rationality, urging for a tutorial in geometry, a science of measuring and logic. The speaker fires in rapid succession images of symmetry, in fact she densely packs images of linear containment (isosceles, scalene, rhombus, square), which could be read as a metaphor of society's power to contain poeticity through socialization in linguistic conventions.

The narrative shifts from the practice of logical analysis to the language of emotion through images of linearity to references that turn into arcs and arches. The contrast is brought about through a marvelous economy of expression, as linearity gives way to curvature: "I love your / getting-wavy hair, the way your lashes / graze the page, their half-moon curve." The teaching of logic is superseded by the expression of affect.

Still, the poem evokes duality only to explode it, challenging conceptual dichotomies. Although it initially evokes linearity as a metaphor of logic and containment, it later also recognizes it as a sign of infinity. Math textbooks indeed define a line as an extension without end in two directions. Seen metaphorically, and in the context of my analysis, this geometric infinity aligns with the [End Page 285] potential of language—through the very craft of poetic world making—to create innumerable new realities. If language contains, it is the poet's task to enable flights of imagination. One must command the rules of language, however, in order to move into the realm of the infinite possibilities of poetry.

But the question persists, is there a hyphen in the text? The editor's decision to hyphenate Greek-derived American poetry motivates a reading that insists in excavating the hyphen within the poem.¹ Evidently, the tutorial cramming also crams the poem with Greek-derived English words: geometry, isosceles, scalene, rhombus. Greek certainly inhabits the poem in English, and it does so in cascading abundance. Still, this presence does not necessarily make the poem a Greek-American one, since words like "geometry" and "isosceles" have been naturalized into English. Neither does the Greek in English reveal anything about the speaker's relation with the hyphen. Though there is certainly popular and institutional memory of this historical association, the hyphen in this case is fully embedded in the dominant language. In this respect it is invisible, marking no Greek foreignness (difference) in the text.

If the poem reflects on language via a tutorial in geometry, it is precisely on the uses of language in the poem that one may look to trace the hyphen. The speaker brings generous attention to the Greek language, as I mentioned, packing the poem with Greek-derived terms in English. The marking does not only take place in the title. There is textual attention, in fact, to denote the difference between Greek in English and English, evident in the form and content of the following two lines: "isosceles, scalene & how the rhombus / differs from a square." "Difference" is marked in the clustering of the Greek in English and aligned in a single stanza, further highlighted by the "difference" between the Greek "rhombus" and the non-Greek square, the latter even placed in a different line. The architecture of the two lines functions as a sign differentiating Greek in English from English. As I will explain in fuller detail later, the hyphen appears as difference within sameness.

We can speak here about an inferential presence of ethnicity, a presence that is not announced by literal references to a Greek experience or identity, but implied by allusion and inference. A key to this inferential presence is located in the speaker's relationship with the Greek language in English. The litany of Greek-derived words such as "isosceles" and "scalene" is not neutral; the experience of hearing it spoken during the tutorial generates deep emotions. The speaker's tenderness toward the addressee is extended to include affect toward the sound of Greek in English ("I don't know which I prefer: math / from your mouth or . . ."). The utterance of words approximating Greek sound² generates affect, characteristic of a speaker's attitude towards the mother tongue. The speaker is no stranger to Greek after all. The possibility that the poetic persona herself is the "you" who once was a stranger to English confusing "plate of compliments" with "table of contents," could be now more confidently asserted, based on a poetics of "ethnic" affect.

The speaker is no stranger to English either. In fact, she is at home in this language too, as her admirable command of English, the linguistic plasticity, and the stunning economy of writing, clearly demonstrates. But there is more. [End Page 286] The naturalization of Greek into English enhances the poetic prospects in the host language. Just abbreviate a Greek-derived word, mathematics, and listen to the homonymic potential emerging in the juxtaposition between math and mouth: a mouthful poetics. The sound of spoken Greek in English and the sound of the homonymic pair math / mouth are simultaneously celebrated. The poet craftily showcases poeticity in English in a manner that cannot totally be separated from Greek.

But let us not mistake this reading as a final one, bringing closure to the poem. As my analysis demonstrates, the text is open-ended, hospitable to multiple interpretations. This is indeterminate poetry whose ambiguity in fact must be seen as its defining feature that serves a key purpose: it resists being contained within any single interpretation, being squeezed within a single category. To the question, "is this hyphenated poetry?" the poem may consent to an interpretive strategy that decodes the hyphen within its lines, but also to a reading that neglects to pay attention to the hyphen. Actually the speaker's unresolved dilemma ("I don't know which I prefer") only highlights the multiplicities of her affiliation. The poetic persona may cherish both Greek in English (the sound of "rhombus"), the poetic potential of combining Greek in English with English (math-mouth), and creating poetry in English (the metaphorical association of the infinite part of a line with the infinite possibilities of poetry I identified earlier). The poem, moreover, intimates the historical and cultural link between English and Greek. Thus the text explodes any attempt to contain it within a single ethnic or national category. In my reading, this is American poetry, and Greek-American poetry, and American-Greek poetry, and transnational poetry, all at once.

What does the poem tell us about the hyphen? In her double inhabitation in Greek and English, the speaker experiences a sense of "doubleness," of similarity and difference.³ She relates to Greek-derived words both as naturalized words in English—because she is at home in English; and as an affective site—because of her particular cultural affiliation with Greek. In this respect, ethnic identity is not experienced in terms of an absolute binary opposition (American/Greek). It does not signal pure otherness. Instead, Greek identity ("difference") is generated in relation to the dominant language (naturalized Greek in English). In this configuration the hyphen entails the production of new meanings—the experience of affect toward terms that others may read neutrally—within the dominant system of representation. It produces difference within sameness.

This particular construction of the hyphen underlines the power of an "ethnic" subject to attach new meanings to an object; to multiply the meaning of a sign, and as a result denaturalize it. In this manner, the poem posits difference as a constructed entity, always experienced or spoken about from a situated perspective. "Difference" is not naturally available; it is contingent instead upon historically and culturally situated subjects. Greek in English becomes a sign marking difference only from the point of view of the speaker, whose particular cultural biography turns Greek in English into an affective site. For the poetic persona, "isosceles" no longer points to a mere triangle with equal sites, but additionally as a location of emotive identification. Greek readers of the poem may feel this way too, and perhaps venture into discovering other situations to [End Page 287] apply this meaning-making process. The social implications of this insight are worth noting: encountering the host language and culture does not necessarily equal alienation. One could always resignify (translate) a "foreign" reality into one resembling the familiar, making life in the host society more spacious.* "Geometry" brings this point home. Poetry and ethnicity in the poem intersect to produce new sites for the hyphen to assert itself.

1. A caveat is in order here. One must resist confusing the poet, one with a Greek surname, and the poetic persona, and assume that the latter, the speaker, is Greek. As contemporary literary criticism instructs, the operation of the hyphen must come into play within the text itself, not outside of it.

2. This situation presents of course an imperfect equivalence, as the sound of isosceles in Greek and English is not identical. Once again, inhabiting two languages at once brings about the issue of translation (see Van Dyck, Karen. 2000. "Greek Poetry Elsewhere." Gramma: Journal of Theory and Criticism. Special Issue on Contemporary Greek Poetry, edited by Michalis Chryssanthopoulos, Ekaterini Douka-Kabitoglou, Lizy Tsirimokou. 8:81-98).

3. On the notion of "doubleness" see Hall, Stuart. 1996. "Cultural Identity and Cinematic Representation." In Black British Cultural Studies: A Reader, edited by Houston A. Baker, Jr., Manthia Diawara, and Ruth H. Lindeborg, 210-222. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

*. Pioneer Cretan immigrants in Utah and Colorado, for instance, likened the regional mountain ranges with those in the ancestral island, producing affinity with the new place and thus alleviating the shock of their migration displacement. The meaning of place is denaturalized in the process of turning an American landscape into a point of reference for diaspora Cretan identity.

[Excerpts from my essay "Reading the Hyphen in Poetry," Journal of Modern Greek Studies, Vol. 29(2), 2011: 279–290.] (

Monday, December 12, 2011

"Who's Afraid of the Greek Diaspora?" An Exchange

What is the place of the Greek diaspora in Greece's political life? Two points of view, one by the editor of the National Herald (TNH) and the other by a reader, take up the question from different angles:

1) By A.H. Diamataris, Editor, the National Herald, NY:

Ted Spyropoulos, U.S. Regional Coordinator of the World Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE) wrote an article in this past weekend’s Greek edition of TNH entitled “Ομογένεια, η μεγάλη απούσα” (The Greek Diaspora is the Big Absentee) that deserves special attention.

In his article, Mr. Spyropoulos, a Greek-American with progressive ideas, along with lots of successful undertakings to show for himself – including some of the most important initiatives in recent decades regarding our Community issues – touches upon important issues in the relationship between the Greek American Community and the Greek homeland.

Among other things, he expresses his disappointment over the fact that the Greek Diaspora has not been utilized, and he questions why “the political leadership in Greece has not put the question of where the Greek Diaspora stands during this critical juncture in the country's history to the Greek Parliament.”

He adds that “it should be understood that neither the Greek American Community nor the Greek state need to dominate one another. On the contrary, both sides would benefit from mutual support, coordination, and cooperation. It is time that we overcome the national division between ‘us and them’ and start operating with a collective vision.”

Mr. Spyropoulos’ three main points are absolutely correct, and all share the common indisputable fact that Greece, and to a lesser extent Cyprus, never wanted to utilize the Hellenic Diaspora in any essential way. On some occasions, they were compelled to recognize certain personages (i.e., Archbishop Iakovos), because their influence on public opinion was simply so great that they could not do otherwise. They wanted to promote their policies to the Diaspora in certain extraordinary situations, but they never dared to make this cooperation official and they never “coordinated” with the Diaspora. They never wanted to recognize it as an official, essential interlocutor.

And the reason for this reluctance to utilize the Diaspora and give it an official role is simple: they fear it. Granting the Diaspora an official role and naming Greeks abroad to important government posts, i.e. prime minister, president of the republic, cabinet ministries, etc. represents a threat for the majority of the politicians operating inside Greece. They fear that utilizing Greeks of the Diaspora would open the floodgates and usher in healthy forces aimed at cleaning up the country, which would mean that the politicians back in Greece would lose their ability to exert political influence (in the form of corruption) because of the selflessness of Greeks abroad, which has been cultivated by the environments in which they live. Simply put, it would mess up their entire operation.

That is why even the few members of the Diaspora who have been given secondary positions, are, with few exceptions, examples of Greeks abroad to be avoided, and share a very similar mentality with the politicians inside Greece.

A similar example can be found in the attempts that some Greek businessmen are making to get the country to return to the drachma. They simply want to control the national currency, like they did back in the day.

There is only one way to overcome the obstacles being raised by Greek politicians to upgrading the role of the Greek Diaspora to some official capacity: by forcing their hand.

The Greek Diaspora must gain such strong representation that no political party would dare to ignore it.

Only then will it be taken seriously.

2) Response by Elissaios Paul Taiganides,

I have responded briefly to an earlier editorial of yours on the same topic as today's blog [below], but this time I like to go into details.

After I gave the banquet address at a national convention of environmental engineers in the early 1970s at Purdue University in Indiana, the word got around to the few Greeks on the faculty in Lafayette that a Greek had given a humorous speech . So I got an invitation to the home of professor of mechanics and hydraulics Dr Lianis. He was helping Andreas Papandreou who was in Diaspora trying to get support for his political cause and the overthrow of the anachronistic military junta that had usurped the power of governance from his father.

I listened politely but I was too busy with my career in engineering academia to get involved in politics. 15 years later I was visiting Singapore where I had managed a United Nations environmental project for a decade and was returning on short visits as consultant. The Greeks in town insisted that I join them to a lunch where the newly appointed Greek Ambassador to Japan was to be. I did not recognize him [he had grown a beard], but he recognized me.

Prof Lianis was the newly appointed Ambassador; he had arranged to remove Singapore and Malaysia from the Thailand Embassy and bring it under his umbrella. He sought my advise on the key politicians in these countries where I had worked and cultivated high level friendships. I introduced him to some people both in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur where I had also served for several years.

Ambassador Lianis brought me up to date; he had returned to Greece with Papandreou after 1974 giving up his professorship. Worked to get Andreas elected; served as a parliamentarian unelected but appointed [Vouleftis Epikratias]; run for a seat in Naoussa, got elected, got appointed as a minister, and finally became ambassador having developed close relationship with Papandreou who on his way back from Australia, as a prime Minister, stopped in Singapore [I was told by the local Greeks that Andreas supplied his newly acquired home with electronics, furniture and gifts for his girlfriend a Liannis relative].

The moral of the story is that if the Greeks of Diaspora want to be appointed Ministers they have to work for a political party and get elected or appointed as is Ms Elena Panaritis of who left her job in Washington to work for the Papandreou team.

After all, Papandreou, Samaras, Papademos et al are fruits of Greek Diaspora.

So I do not see the point of Mr Spyropoulos of SAE complaining that prominent Americans are not appointed in leadership political posts in Greece. Greece makes it possible for everyone of us in Diaspora who can prove to be descendants of Greek blood to enter politics and fight for our political ideas. Only a military junta can appoint as ministers Greeks of Diaspora without going through elections, with disastrous consequences, of course.

We need to enter into the dance [Prepei na mpoume ston horo]. We stay outside in our comfortable jobs unaffected by the politics of Greece; we advise, we criticize as most of us did about a brilliant politician, distinguished American University professor Andreas Papandreou calling him un American and even communist. (printed by permission)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Νίκος Αλεξίου, «Δίνη»

Αστόρια της μετανάστευσης
και τώρα μιας καλύτερης ζωής

Ανατολικά της νύχτας
ένας κρυμμένος ποταμός
περνάει με ορμή
κάτω από την ψυχή σου
τίποτα δεν μένει στο νερό
δεν κρύβεται τίποτε
μόνο ο σκοτεινός βυθός
στο μάτι του ψαριού

Astoria immigrant city
Astoria for a better life

τα χρυσά σου χέρια σιώπησαν
σπασμένα κλειδοκύμβαλα
ξέχασα τη μακρινή μου ταυτότητα
στο κλειστό πιανοποιείο
έσπασαν κι οι πολύχρωμες χάντρες
σκόρπισαν παντού,
τι χρώμα έχει ο θάνατος
στη Νέα Ορλεάνη;

Ό,τι ήταν στέρεο σωριάζεται
σαν τις ζωές μας


Από την συλλογή, Κυκλικά Τραύματα, Σ.Ι. Ζαχαρόπουλος, 2011: 41-42.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Facebok = Η Εμπορευματοποίηση της Φιλίας

Τα συμφραζόμενα: Ανατρέχοντας το facebook παρατηρεί κανείς πως ο μεν ποιητής έχει 15,650 φίλους, ο δε λογοτέχνης 14,313. Ο μέγιστος αριθμός που πέτυχα ήταν 125,566, και αντιστοιχούσε σε έναν σταρ, κάτι μεταξύ ακαδημαϊκού και πεζογράφου με τηλεοπτική αύρα, που στη φωτογραφία φαινόταν σαν να ρουφούσε την επιτυχία με καλαμάκι. Το σημαντικό της ιστορίας είναι ότι οι επιλεκτικές πληροφορίες που οι εν λόγω άνθρωποι των γραμμάτων και της τέχνης μοιράζονται με το κοινό (με τους «φίλους») έχουν να κάνουν κυρίως με τις λογοτεχνικές επιδόσεις τους (ομιλίες, δημοσιεύσεις, αφιερώματα, βιβλία, κτλπ). Έχουμε εδώ ένα παράδειγμα όπου το μήνυμα στον «φίλο» είναι άρρηκτα συνδεδεμένο με την προώθηση των οικονομικών και κοινωνικών συμφερόντων του καλλιτέχνη, με τις μετοχές του στην πολιτιστική αγορά, την εκτόξευση της αξίας του στη βιομηχανία κουλτούρας. Και ενώ ίσως τα μάτια μας εσκεμμένα αποφεύγουν τις διαφημίσεις στο περιθώριο της συγκεκριμένης σελίδας, ας φρενάρουμε την οθόνη για ένα λεπτό να σκεφτούμαι ότι το μήνυμα προς τον φίλο αυτό καθ' εαυτό, αυτό το μήνυμα είναι η διαφήμιση. Η μοιρασιά με τον φίλο λειτουργεί διαφημιστικά, και επομένως εμπορεύσιμα. Κάθε ματιά πίσω από τον τοίχο είναι και μια ηδονοβλεπτική πρόσβαση στη μυθολογία του ειδώλου, κάθε φίλος και ένας πιθανός πελάτης. Είναι κι αυτός ένας αόρατος τρόπος με τον οποίο το facebook προωθεί την εμπορευματοποίηση της φιλίας μπρος στα μάτια μας.¹

¹ Για εκτενέστερη ανάλυση, δέστε Gregory Jusdanis' "Friendship as Commodity"  (
 Η Σχετική Στιχοπλοκή:

Φίλοι τώρα φυλάνε τα φυλλαράκια της τιμής μας

Φίλοι φιλάνε τις φυλλορροούσες φραγκοσυκιές μας

Φίλοι φυλλομετρούν τις καταθέσεις στα φυλλοκάρδια μας 

Οι φίλοι φιλαράκια μου φαλιρίζουν

Friday, December 2, 2011

Ποίημα για την Αστόρια – Poem for Astoria

Υπόσχεση Ανqρθογραφίαs ή Inferential Ethnicity

Κατευθυνόμενη σφαίρα το Q
stops the conversation in its tracks

Θρύψαλα το κ σε άναρχα ν
λείψανα δύο c το ε που ξεκίνησα
το θ να χρειάζεται χαζαπλάστ

Κραδάζει η 31st,
οι θαμώνες του συλλόγου «Βατοπέδι»
σα να συγχρονίζονται με το αλλού
που κάποτε ονομαζόταν ΣΕK

«Αθλητικός Όμιλος Κωνσταντινουπόλεως»
«Μπαρ Το Αγκίστρι»
Olympic Laundry
Steki Estia

Baptisms and Christenings To Noufaron
«Ομιλούμε Ελληνικά»–η επιγραφή
πριονίζει το t στο σταυρουδάκι του
βαφτίζεται ο δούλος του Θεού Δημήτριος-Jimmy

Το Seaburn
πελεκίζει δίγλωσσα ράφια
που δεν ξελαφρώνουν με τίποτα

ρίγανη σουβλάκι swarma empanadas
το Indian Goddess
σαν να τρώει μια σπιθαμή curry από το

Q και N lines
οι μεζέδες σου,
δολώματα πολυγλωσσίας

«Οποροπολείο Ο Κήπος»
αλεξίσφαιρη αντίκα
για μια προφορικότητα ήδη κιόλας
στην εντατική

Mike’s Brunch Οmelets
στη βιτρίνα
καταπίνουν εν ριπή οφθαλμού
τα διασκορπισμένα φωνήεντα
στην άκρη του ματιού στάζοντας

καταφερτζού της διαφοράς
πολυεθνική σουπιά μου εσύ
σου το χρωστώ·

ένα απογευματάκι που σήκωνε καμπαρντίνα Midwestern επισκέπτη

λαμπιόνια παρέταξες
ξεφάντωμα ξεφλούδισες

παράδοση επιδόρπιο τράταρες
ορεκτικό του μέλλοντος ξεφoύρνισες


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Αστόρια – Astoria

Στο κύμα που πάει τους έχασαν, πότε ήρθαν ξέχασαν. Κοιτάν τη ζωή, βρήκαν γη πριν πάνε στην Αμερική,
στη μέση ακριβώς, μια θεόρατη, μια πόλη-νησί
Τώρα πια δεν είν’ ούτε 'δω ούτε 'κει στη μέση ακριβώς, η Αστόρια
Στις γιορτές μοιράζουν τις ευχές
στην υγειά σας, στην υγειά σας
γράφουν γράμματα σαν προσευχές
και ρωτάν για τα δικά σας
Ποιός ποιός πήγε πού ποιός ποιός ξέρει πώς περνάει
Ο κόσμος περνάει τον έχασαν, πού πηγαίνει ξέχασαν
Κοιτάν τη ζωή. Σιωπή στα δυο σπασμένη,
με ξένη φωνή στη μέση ακριβώς, σαν επώνυμο
πού 'χει χαθεί το μισό του μόνο είν’ ακόμα εκεί
μονάχο, μικρό και ανώνυμο
Στις γιορτές μοιράζουν τις ευχές
στην υγειά σας, στην υγειά σας
γράφουν γράμματα σαν προσευχές
και ρωτάν για τα δικά σας
Ποιός ποιός πήγε Πού Ποιός ποιός ξέρει πώς περνάει

Στίχοι: Βασίλης Νικολαΐδης
Μουσική: Στάμος Σέμσης
Ερμηνεία: Eli Paspala

Live with David Lynch and Stayros Lantsias

Με Μαρίνα Σκιαδαρέση in the context of fighting immigrant prejudice in Greece

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Visualizing Greek Identity in the U.S.


3:30-5 PM


Βλέμματα υπερωρίας 
σιλουέτες στα κάρβουνα to go·
«φως φανάρι
δίκης ζευγάρι»
στάζει λίγδα το μενού
από στόμα σε στόμα 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Chancellor Katehi: A Transnational Moment

«... προσέθεσε, κάνοντας αναφορά και στα γεγονότα της 17ης Νοεμβρίου του 1973 στην Αθήνα, όταν η χούντα έστειλε τα τανκς για να ρίξουν τη σιδερένια πύλη του Πολυτεχνείου. «Ήμουν εκεί και δεν θέλω να το ξεχάσω» τόνισε στους φοιτητές του Ντέιβις.»

Monday, November 21, 2011

Local vs National Bylaws

From the Salt Lake Tribune, by BY SCOTT D. PIERCE AND ERIN ALBERTY

Holladay • After death threats, litigation and a church meeting supervised by police, members of the Greek Orthodox Church of Greater Salt Lake voted Sunday against adopting the bylaws of its national hierarchy.

The seemingly technical issue has thrown the church into an ongoing emotional dispute that culminated at Sunday’s general assembly. Hundreds of people turned out, and some were not allowed in the doors of the Diamond Z. Miles Multi-Purpose Center.

“It’s very heated. People are getting upset,” said church member Mary Kontgis. “My mom [is] 90 years old. She’s just beside herself. It’s dividing the community.”

“I’ve never seen so many Greeks in my life,” said Bob Baliban. “Honest to God, they must have come from Idaho and Wyoming, too. I think the Mormons must be getting a kick out of this.”

Members of the local parish, which includes both the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Salt Lake City and the Prophet Elias Church in Holladay, have clashed over whether to bring local church bylaws in line with Greek Orthodox Uniform Parish Regulations. Opponents fear the move would take control of the local finances away from local members.

Parish council members dispute those claims, saying adopting the bylaws would only codify the way the church already makes decisions.

Church member voted on two resolutions that would have adopted the new bylaws, rejecting them approximately 60 percent to 40 percent, parish council president Jim Mylonakis said.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Mylonakis said. “We will see what directives we’re going to receive.”


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Greek Names, Old and New Technologies of Americanization

Η καταναγκαστική Αμερικανοποίηση Ελληνικών ονομάτων στις αρχές του 20ου αιώνα (αλλά και αργότερα, για λόγους οικονομικής και κοινωνικής επιβίωσης των μεταναστών) έχει θρηνηθεί σα μια οδυνηρή καρατόμηση. Πώς να ήταν διαφορετικά όταν στον βωμό της πραγματιστικής αφομείωσης θυσιαζόταν κάτι τόσο κοντά στον πυρήνα της ταυτότητας; Παπαδόπουλοι γίναν Παπ, Κατριπούληδες Κατρ, και Αγγελόπουλοι Αγγελοι.

Το κουτσουρεμένο επώνυμο συνεπάγεται μια απόσταση από τον εαυτό, μια αποξένωση που βιώνεται, τελικά, σα μία ανωνυμία. Έτσι ακριβώς όπως το πιάνει το τραγούδι «Αστόρια»:

«[Οι μετανάστες] Κοιτάν τη ζωή. Σιωπή στα δυο σπασμένη,
με ξένη φωνή στη μέση ακριβώς, σαν επώνυμο
πού 'χει χαθεί το μισό του μόνο είν’ ακόμα εκεί
μονάχο, μικρό και ανώνυμο»

Από την άλλη μεριά, όσοι κράτησαν το όνομα τους ακέραιο, σήμερα εκφράζουν δημόσια την υπερηφάνειά τους για αυτήν την οικογενειακή απόφαση. Η περίπτωση της Μελίνας Κανακαρίδης μου έρχεται στο μυαλό, καθώς και του Τζορτζ Στεφανόπουλου.

Ας σημειώσω ότι η εμπειρία του να ζεις στην Αμερική με ένα «εθνοτικό» επώνυμο απαιτεί δημιουργικούς τρόπους επικοινωνίας, ένα είδος πολιτιστικής μετάφρασης.

Το παράδειγμα του Michael Kalafatas είναι ενδεικτικό:

"By conservative estimate I have spelled my name 25,000 times … the receptionist in my office, when asked to spell my name, would say, “Kalafatas: All the vowels are A’s, and it’s ‘K’ as in kiss, ‘l’ as in love, ‘f’ as in fudge, ‘t’ as in toffee, and ‘s’ as in sugar.” Somehow I never spelled it that way. In America the subtext of spelling an “ethnic” name is the act of an outsider trying to spell his way in" (The Bellstone, 192)

ή, ακόμα, το παράδειγμα του Αμερικανού ποιητή Jaswinder Molina:

«During the introductions that preface each event, even the organizers who’ve invited me have difficulty getting my name right, and in one school library, I enunciate it over and over again. I say, “Jas as in the first part of justice; win as in the opposite of defeat; der, which rhymes with err, meaning to be mistaken.” I say, “JasWINder,” lilting the second syllable, and smile as about a dozen audience members mouth each syllable along with me until they feel they have it right. When they do, they grin broadly.» (

Θα περίμενε κανείς ότι η εποχή μας, με την έμφαση στις ρίζες και το δικαίωμα αυτοπροσδιορισμού θα ενθάρρυνε την διατήρηση Ελληνικών επωνύμων. Αλλά η ιστορία επιφυλάσσει ειρωνικά γυρίσματα. Το τελευταίο κεφάλαιο περικοπών ονομάτων δεν έχει γραφτεί ακόμα. Αυτό που γράφεται (κυριολεκτικά και μεταφορικά) διαδραματίζεται με τους όρους της νέας τεχνολογίας. Παραθέτω το σχετικό παράδειγμα (χωρίς σχόλια), από το μπλογκ της Stephanie Nikolopoulos, a New York based writer:

"You Know You're Greek When... Your Name Is Too Long for Twitter"’re-greek-when…-your-name-is-too-long-for-twitter

«From Μπρούκληδες to Brooklynites»

«Ο Αλέξανδρος Κιτροέφ, ιστορικός που ειδικεύεται στη μελέτη της νεοελληνικής συνείδησης και ταυτότητας διαπιστώνει ότι η κρίση μας βάζει στον αστερισμό ενός νέου συσχετισμού δυνάμεων, στην Ελλάδα και σε όλο τον κόσμο. ... Ο καθηγητής ιστορίας και διευθυντής του Κέντρου Ειρήνης και Παγκοσμιοποίησης του Haverford College στην Πενσυλβάνια των ΗΠΑ μίλησε για τις διαφορές στην ελληνική ομογένεια την Τρίτη 15 Νοεμβρίου στο Αμερικάνικο Κολλέγιο Αθηνών με τίτλο «From Μπρούκληδες to Brooklynites- a Greek American History.

Κύριε Κιτροέφ μιλήσατε στην Αθήνα για την ελληνική ομογένεια, την παλιότερη και την τωρινή. Ποιες ομοιότητες και ποιες διαφορές παρατηρείτε;

Η Ελληνο-αμερικανική ομογένεια που αριθμεί περίπου 1,2 εκατομύρια ανθρώπους είναι πράγματι μια πολύ διαφοροποιημένη ενότητα. Η πρώτη γενιά είναι οι καθεαυτό μετανάστες που γεννήθηκαν έξω από τις ΗΠΑ και μετανάστευσαν εκεί την περίοδο 1890-1924 όπως και την περίοδο 1950 - 1974. Η δεύτερη γενιά είναι η πρώτη που έχει γεννηθεί στις ΗΠΑ και η τρίτη γενιά είναι τα εγγόνια των ελληνογεννημένων. Υφίσταται ακόμη και τέταρτη γενιά, που δηλώνει με υπερηφάνεια ελληνική καταγωγή. Η «γενιά» του κάθε μετανάστη καθορίζει την φύση της «ελληνικότητας» του καθένα. Οι ελληνογεννημένοι, (έχει εκλείψει βέβαια η πρώτη γενιά) διατηρούν μιά άμεση σχέση με την Ελλάδα – πρόκειται για έλληνες που ζουν στο εξωτερικό, εκ των οποίων οι πιο μορφωμένοι έχουν προσαρμοσθεί/ ενσωματωθεί στη Αμερικανική κοινωνία, στην επαγγελματική τους ζωή και μερικά στην οικογενειακή και κοινωνική τους ζωή, ιδίως εάν δεν έχουν παντρευτεί με έλληνα η ελληνίδα.»

Thursday, November 17, 2011

On Ethnic Writing

Here is a recent high-brow take on ethnic writing:

"First-generation American writers often have two stories to tell. There's the story of their inspiration and the quest for a discipline to give form to their imaginings. Then there's a more constricted tale: the arrival myth. How did my parents get here from Hungary or Nigeria or China, say, and at what cost? The children of immigrants sometimes feel a kind of moral responsibility to address their parents' struggle. And that sense of duty can saddle the work with a reverence that makes it feel ponderous or didactic, drained of the very thing that moved them to write in the first place: imagination. So it's especially exciting to find first-generation American artists who don't traffic in guilt or remorse, and who can laugh ..."*

Let's unpack: According to this piece, the immigrant past stifles the creativity of an "ethnic writer." The experience of family functions as a constraining, albeit moral force, bogging down ethnic writers. The excerpt above creates a normative category, ethnic writing, frames it as a handicap, and then proceeds to praise an exception that the author discovers.

But this approach hides more than it reveals. The fact that "ethnic writers" are fundamentally frustrated by the dominant society's label of them as authentic bearers of ethnicity and therefore are seen as uniquely qualified to write about it (and only about it) is never acknowledged in the above excerpt. (see,

In other words, what is a mainstream expectation is diagnosed as an ethnic problem, which in turn is criticized as a symptom of its own making. The fact that ethnic writers often imaginatively deal with their immigrant past is not given due credit.

There is nothing new in this formulation, ethnic writing is routinely devalued as lesser than "mainstream" American literature. Ethnic arts are labeled inferior to national arts because of the former's ethnographic obligation to entangle the past. Painful immigrant memories demand a voice that compromises artistic freedom. Ethnic writers are "condemned," held liable for compulsively visiting this past (and criticizing the dominant society, one might add).

Such framing of ethnic writing is an artificially fragile (and ideologically suspect) category. This becomes clear once we probe any realist national narrative that takes as its subject the narrator's difficult past. Are there no examples in American art where the narrator or the artist delve into their ("non-ethnic") family's economic hardships, injustices, dislocation, eviction, despair, or displacement?

When "ethnic" writers write about a painful past are lesser artists. Does the same apply to "American" writers who feel the moral responsibility to explore their family's adversities?

To summarize in a manner that can easily be memorized, here is a template that could anchor any discussion on ethnic writing:

There is mediocre ethnic writing delving into the past and there is great ethnic writing delving into the past. There is mediocre national writing delving into the past and there is great national writing delving into the past.

And let us then proceed to interrogate the notion of an independent "ethnic arts" category, to investigate instead its permutations with American arts. For instance, is Jeffrey Eugenides's
Middlesex, a novel organizing itself around the immigrant past, a Greek-American or an American work of art? And let us consider that this might be a misleading question, as this novel, like so many others, can be simultaneously claimed as ethnic and national, not solely one or the other. Let us view, in other words, American art as an experience of border crossing, not a pure category.

* Hilton Als. "Double Talk: Two Comedies of Miscommunication." The New Yorker, Nov. 7, 2011: 86.

Ελλάδα: Προς μια Νέα Μυθοπλασία

Το παρακάτω, που έχει δημοσιευθεί πριν τρία χρόνια (10/5/2008), είναι νομίζω εξίσου επίκαιρο σήμερα: 

«Εδώ καράβια χάνονται βαρκούλες αρμενίζουνε.» Με αυτή τη λαϊκή ρήση θα μπορούσε κάποιος να αντιδράσει στη συνεχιζόμενη αντιπαράθεση περί «Ελληνικότητας». Η εύλογη απορία του θα ήταν «τι συνεισφέρει τούτη η συζήτηση στην αγωνία αυτού του τόπου σήμερα, όταν η περιβαλλοντική κρίση, η χαμηλομισθία, η υποαπασχόληση, η κοινωνική παράλυση και η δυσπιστία πιέζουν για πολιτική λύση και όχι για ακαδημαϊκή ενδοσκόπηση;».

Η σύντομη απάντηση είναι ότι το θέμα «ταυτότητα» δεν είναι ανεξάρτητο από την πολιτική. Η ταυτότητα μάς προσδιορίζει και επομένως κατευθύνει τη δράση μας. Το ερώτημα λοιπόν τι είδους ταυτότητα προκρίνουμε, είναι ακραιφνώς πολιτικό. Γι΄ αυτό και διακυβεύονται τόσα στον «διάλογο» για την Ελληνικότητα.

Προς τα πού να στραφούμε λοιπόν για ένα καινούργιο όραμα ζωής, αν λάβουμε υπόψη μας και την κατάρρευση των αξιών; 

Συνέχεια εδώ,

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Καιροί Αυτοκριτικής

πάνω στον πάτο
πατώ έναν αφρό που
η βαρύτητα αποπλάνησε
με γλυκό κουταλιού
σε κρυστάλλινο πιάτο
ανύποπτος δήθεν 
αφήνω αποτύπωμα
στα άπλυτα των νόμων

Monday, November 14, 2011

Labada Interracial Love

Just in case corporations decide to break the inter-racial love taboo here is a background for their commercials

Σε περίπτωση που οι πολυεθνικές αποφασίσουν να αψηφήσουν το ταμπού της διαφυλετικής αγάπης να ένα σκηνικό για τις διαφημίσεις τους

Φτάνει πια η εξίσωση εθνότητας με αίμα

Τόσες πειστικές εργασίες που αποδεικνύουν ότι η πολιτιστική ταυτότητα και συμπεριφορά ουδεμία σχέση έχουν με το αίμα· τόσες περιπτώσεις ανθρώπων γεννημένων σε μια εθνότητα που για διάφορους λόγους δεν ταυτίζονται με αυτήν· τόσα ιστορικά παραδείγματα στα οποία η εξίσωση της εθνότητας με αίμα έχει οδηγήσει σε ανθρώπινα δράματα. Κι όμως η ιδεολογία αίμα = εθνότητα επιμένει να αναπαράγεται. 'Οσο πιο φυσικά εκφράζεται ο συσχετισμός, όσο αναδιπλώνεται στο όνομα του εθνοτικού συμφέροντος, όσο επιβεβαιώνει την αισθηματική αλληλεγγύη του διασπορικού με την Ελλάδα, και όσο πιο επιφανής είναι ο φορέας της, τόσο πιο ισχυρά αυτή η τόσο εύκολη αλλά και τόσο απόλυτη συσχέτιση νομιμοποιείται:

"Τα τελευταία χρόνια ο Αλεξάντερ Πέιν νιώθει «όλο και πιο Eλληνας». Oχι ότι δεν ένιωθε πριν, στο κάτω-κάτω Eλληνας της Διασποράς είναι. «Ακούγοντας όμως πια σε καθημερινή βάση τις ειδήσεις ή διαβάζοντας την εφημερίδα, ή μιλώντας με τον κόσμο, νιώθω μέσα μου να πονάω για τα όσα γίνονται στην Ελλάδα και αυτό υποθέτω συμβαίνει γιατί το αίμα μου είναι ελληνικό» λέει σήμερα. Ο Πέιν είχε αρκετά χρόνια να έρθει στην Ελλάδα και το βρήκε ειρωνικό που ήρθε στην «πιο τραυματική εβδομάδα της σύγχρονης ιστορίας της». Αυτό όμως που τον σοκάρει περισσότερο είναι τα όσα μαθαίνει μιλώντας από εδώ και από εκεί, όχι από τις εφημερίδες: «Δεν διαβάζεις στις εφημερίδες για τις αυτοκτονίες, ούτε και για τους μαθητές που δεν έχουν μαθητικά βιβλία, ή που λιποθυμούν στην τάξη επειδή δεν έχουν να φάνε στο σπίτι. Ολα αυτά τα πράγματα σε κλονίζουν, σου ραγίζουν την καρδιά». Συν τοις άλλοις, έχει πιάσει τον εαυτό του να υπερασπίζεται την Ελλάδα σε συζητήσεις: «Ναι, νιώθω κάπως πιο προστατευτικός απέναντι στην Ελλάδα. Οταν ακούω να κριτικάρουν με μια φοβερή προχειρότητα την Ελλάδα εξοργίζομαι και τους λέω “αν κάποιος έχει το δικαίωμα να κριτικάρει την Ελλάδα αυτός είμαι εγώ που είμαι από εκεί και όχι εσείς”». Ο Πέιν θέλει να εγκατασταθεί κάποια στιγμή στην Ελλάδα και να γυρίσει μια ταινία στη χώρα μας. Μεγαλώνοντας στην Ομάχα άκουγε τη μητέρα του να μιλά ελληνικά, αλλά τα δικά του είναι «ελληνικά νηπιαγωγείου. Είχα αυτήν την αόριστη ιδέα να μετακομίσω στην Ελλάδα για ένα εξάμηνο, να μάθω καλά τα ελληνικά μου και να ζήσω σαν Ελληνας. Εχω την αίσθηση ότι η ελληνική γλώσσα θα ξεκλειδώσει το DNA μου. Η γλώσσα είναι το σημαντικότερο κλειδί της ταυτότητας, της γνώσης και του χιούμορ. Και κάποια στιγμή θα ήθελα πάρα πολύ να γυρίσω μια ταινία στην Ελλάδα»."