The Parthenon Bomber: Biopolitics, Heterotopia and Reframing History
Category : book reviews , Modern Greek Aestheticism & Antiquity
Talk / Presentation Given at the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, University of Oxford, November 2017. Under the supervision of Dimitris Papanikolaou, Associate Professor in Modern Greek and Fellow of St. Cross College
Basic article to which this rough presentation owes most of its structure and points is Vassilis Lambropoulos’s Unbuilding The Acropolis in Greek Literature in the Volume:
Classics and National Cultures, Edited by, SUSAN A. STEPHENS AND PHIROZE VASUNIA. Oxford : Oxford University Press, pp. 182 – 198. Available at the link below:
1) A society, as its history unfolds, can make an existing heterotopia function in a very different fashion; for each heterotopia has a precise and determined function within a society and the same heterotopia can, according to the synchrony of the culture in which it occurs, have one function or another.
2) The heterotopia is capable of juxtaposing in a single real place
several spaces, several sites that are in themselves incompatible. Thus it is that the theater brings onto the rectangle of the stage, one after the other, a whole series of places that are foreign to one another;
3) Heterotopias are most often linked to slices in time—which is
to say that they open onto what might be termed, for the sake of symmetry, heterochronies. The heterotopia begins to function at full capacity when men arrive at a sort of absolute break with their traditional time.
Michel Foucault, Heterotopia, From: Architecture /Mouvement/ Continuité , October, 1984;
(“Des Espace Autres,” March 1967, Translated from the French by Jay Miskowiec) pp. 5-6.
Hellas, the most classical country in the world, is a topos of architectural and sculptural ruins. This is true, especially of Athens, Greece’s cosmopolitan capital, with its crowning Acropolis. In modernity’s secular imagination “this ground is holy”. Certainly, the Acropolis was holy for ancient Athenians, too, but in a very different sense. In the modern period, artists, diplomats, and scholars have conjured up a different spiritual landscape in their descriptions of the place. Travel annotations, letters, journals, these texts make the Acropolis European, the traveler Hellenic. This is one of many patterns of expression, thought and practice commonly found in texts. Hellas is a heterotopia, a space set apart precisely because it contains classical ruins. The Acropolis is the most frequented and the most formidable place, the one in which all meet their measure of sacredness, harmony, beauty and grandeur. A place of homecoming, from home. Here one finds unexpected reversals of colonial powers’ self-representation as mother to pockets of civilization outside the West.
Artemis Leontis, Topographies of Hellenism – Mapping the Homeland (Myth and Poetics), Cornell University Press, 1995.
A rethinking of the role that a piece of art can play within a city.
Minimalistic narrative strategy, with a collection of documenta, realia, each of which plays a different and significant role in forming the whole story.
A 21 year old X.K. has a messianic mission; he will relief the city of its eternal weight, of the most renowned monument of western civilization. He will blow up the Parthenon.
The short novella was first published by a rather alternative publishing house, in 1996, Anatolikos.
The first version was slightly far from the Archive style that we have today. Yet, it was still written in a scattered, post-modernist manner.
The differences from the older text are the addition of the reference to the surrealist poet Yiorgos Makris, who, at the age of 21 and a little before Dekemvriana and the greek civil war, wrote a utopian call for the blowing up of the Parthenon, as a political act against progonopliksia, the emotional stain connected to the ancestors. Makris considered this the main reason for the ideological and intellectual fall of the modern greek people.
Written in bits and pieces, like a puzzle that the reader is supposed to solve, with real or made up evidence and exhibits, testimonies and witnesses narrations, the narrative is built in a kaleidoscope manner; the bomber decides to destroy the Parthenon following an old call, inspired by a surrealist poet and intellectual. He believes in the rather romantic ideal of “Creative Destruction”.
The modern hellenic identity is being questioned; who are the modern Athenians? Where will they go without the main monument of their so-called ancestors ? What life will they lead ? The blowing up of the Parthenon is a liberating act; now the modern Greeks are able to choose, to act upon their lives in their own, liberated way. The eidolon of themselves is no longer their. The security guard that testifies on the bomber cannot believe his eyes. He accuses himself of not having taken enough care of the archaeological site. But in the end of his testimony, he wonders “Have I said it correctly?”
It is this correctness that is vital to what the bomber wants to destroy; a national narrative has been formed, on to all of the Greeks are pre-supposed to abide by. They all have to be “correct”, they all have to follow the national rules concerning the monument. They cannot question, they cannot disagree, they have to follow the state’s opinion on this national treasure.
The liberty that derives from the act of destroying is enormous. Everybody considered the monument impossible to overcome. Now that it is no longer there, everyone can create their own narrative. No longer connected to what has been, but focusing on what will be from now on.
The monument was the mirror, up until the moment of its destruction. All of modern greeks were obliged to see themselves on that mirror. But was that something possible ? For the Bomber, it was utopia. Therefore, he had to destroy the mirror, so that the greeks would no longer see the Eidolon of themselves, but their real identity would be revealed.
At the online edition of the book, Chryssopoulos makes connections with the dadaist movement and the Paris Communa, painters that wanted to destroy monuments. Also, he describes briefly the surrealist poet Nikolaos Kalas, who also called for the destruction of the monument, only a few years before Yiorgos Makris. But it is Makris who foresaw the tourist industry taking over, the modern materialistic world ruling over the city scape, in a continuum, throughout the civil war, after the civil war, throughout the Military Junta and after the Junta in Greece.
It has always been the Greek national illusion, according to Chryssopoulos, the schizophrenic present, a certainty that kept going, no matter how the political situations changed in Greece. A
national labour camp, that never seized to exist. In the hands of every man in power, the Monument took shape in the forms the Authorities longed for. Everybody believed (and still does) that the monument belonged to them, so they were able to use it as evidence and proof of belonging, of ancestry and of continuation.
But our Bomber believes that all of Greeks have been living on borrowed time. The myth, the constitutional of myth of the modern greek state, is just a borrowed made up fairy tale. This is why, using the monument whenever we were in need or in awe, whenever we felt small or poor, was just an excuse for not inventing our own selves of today.
Creation needs Destruction, the writer believes, we must stop turning back and through destruction start looking forward. The Bomber is not a paranoid criminal, or monstrous charmer. His actions are not irrational. He believes in sabotaging the old, so that everyone will have now the ability to bring the new forward.
The same way the Monuments comes to pieces, in a quite similar manner the book is structured;
We start off with a poem, written by a friend of Yiorgos Makris, Then we have a possible monologue of the Bomber. Testimonies of the Bomber’s neighbors and acquaintances. News coverage of the act of Bombing. The whole “terrorist” so to say proclamation of Yiorgos Makris, edited. Other, real testimonies concerning the Proclamation of Makris, by friends of his and other underground figures of Athens, like Leonidas Christakis, editor of the magazine Ideodromion. The security guard’s testimony. A list of the people to which the Bomber referred to, presumably from police document sources. Photos of Yiorgos Makris. Other Athenians testimonies, watching the Blowing Up of the Parthenon from the News. The sentence and the shooting of the Bomber, by troops who almost did not believe that had shot a man.
Then, on the online edition of the book there are additions which make it intertextual and multimedia friendly. The excerpts and snippets make the book of the print version intertextual already, but here we have some extra photos of different Parthenons and also a bibliography of other writers and creative minds who wanted to destroy the Parthenon, or other monuments.
I believe that the writer wants to oppose to the Oneiric Archaeology that seems to constitute the national narrative in Greece. Greeks, and the greek state, choosing the name “Hellenes” as opposed to the closer-to-reality “Graeci” formed a national discipline, a national imagination to which the national body keeps the Parthenon as a core. It is the sacred mission and obligation to participate in this; it is not something to be used by academics or archaeologists only. It is everyone’s job to adore the Parthenon and to feel humble in front of it. It is the national treasure, the central national treasure, and all antiquity findings are to be called “treasures” as well.
Politicians drop their original identity and adopt the politician-archaeologist persona. They are obliged to become everything connected to their ancestors. They are prophets of a possible promise of enrichment through the ancients.
The recent live concert of the band Foo Fighters at the Herod Atticus Odeon is just another proof of this national narrative. Even the singer of the band revealed that “this is a concert we will remember and treasure for the rest of our lives!” The rock star’s ideas do not differ much from the ideas behind the occult economy that seemed promising, the national hope for salvation that occurred during the Amphipolis excavation in the national (public and private) media in Greece.
Our ancestors are there when we need them, They conquered the world and today, they can possibly be resurrected, come back again to rescue their descendants in their darkest hour, the hour of the Crisis and the fall of the economy. This is why the bomber wants to destroy this imagined solution, because he know that this is an imagined community, a nationalism built up on a socially constructed idea, that here we have this big ancient thing, the Parthenon, and not only is it ours, it is US ! It is our collective property and hope.
Here I must make some remarks on why I consider the structure of the book as an archival impulse. The failed vision of the Parthenon is what the writer is trying to recoup. He wants to turn it into an alternative scenario of social relations, amongst the greeks. He seeks to transform the no- place of his archive into the no-place of utopia. Since the topos of the Parthenon will no longer be there, the excavation site will turn into a construction site. Together, the greeks after the Blow up of the monument will create their own identity. Liberated from national treasures and fixed ideas. So far, the culture has been melancholic, view the past as something sacred. Now it will be something more then the traumatic experience of the past.
The archive aims for reinvention; as very well mentioned its mood is “characterised by depression, dissociation, pragmatism, cynicism, optimism, activism, or an incoherent mash”
This fits perfectly for the Bomber. He is depressed and a cynic. He wants to destroy, therefore he becomes an activist, a bomber. He is optimistic about the future. Now the Greeks, the modern Athenians will be free ! They are allowed to re-invent themselves. They talk about the past and it remnants not in order to find a solution but as a practice of re-invention, and they do so against all odds; they will be creative and optimistic.
The Bomber has a pervasive sense of urgency; it makes an iconoclastic return to the past; Hence the connections with the term “Archive Trouble”. The length of the book is small. This happens because the book makes a statement, and the statement has to be urgent . Brief. Cut to pieces. And handed on to the public, like a proclamation. The Bomber reframes historical and political understanding of the monument. He alerts us to the modalities of a history in the present. What is the Parthenon now ? is the question of the Bomber.
The novella does not answer. It questions national reassurances. It stands against the national narrative, the official materiality of the monument. In a very creative manner, Chryssopoulos uses an older text, the surreal proclamation of Makris, within a new modality, a post-modern manner. Hence, as Archive Trouble does, he recontextualises while accepting that its own context, the Crisis, is inescapable.
Chryssopoulos uses photos, advertisements and other media in his book. Therefore, as Archive Trouble does, he takes into account and interacts with the surge in information flow. The Bomber’s archival poetics presuppose a public interaction with this flow of images and data from different sources, questioning information from the past, the whole national idea of the Parthenon as the Treasure. He creates personal, novel and agonistic archives.
Archive Trouble aims to “unearth” hidden voices or lost patterns. And this, in The Parthenon Bomber, is done with the lost voice of the poet Yorgos Makris. One book, leads to the other, after reading the Parthenon Bomber, we feel the need to read the writings of Yiorgos Makris in total. The archival structure of the book aims for incompleteness, it does not creat a fuller archive, but lays bare the constitutive incompleteness of the historical archive itself. The book makes the reader want to read more. And of course, it does criticize institutional archives, institutional symbols and institutional time. The reader has to participate in writing and reading the book, filling in the gaps between the testimonies with his/her creative imagination. The bomber’s testimony itself if full of irony, and the whole book is pastiche. We do have a genre playfulness and the forms of different types of literature are mixed.
Here, concluding, I must say that the writer does not seem to find anything positive in the Parthenon itself. The Bomber seems to hate the monument. Alas, the Security Guard seems to believe that the Bomber loved the monument. This position I will take myself. Since the book allows you to read it from many perspectives, I will believe that yes, the Bomber loved the Parthenon but could not bear the nationalistic ideas built around the monument. Therefore, he decided to solve the Archive Trouble and destroy the monument.
If we take into account only the nationalistic fever around the Parthenon, yes, we do have to destroy it. If that would liberate us from idea groups like the Golden Dawn. Yet, I believe that such would not be a solution. Probably education and the knowledge that every nation is an imagined community, as Benedict Anderson put it, would liberate us from such fixated thoughts.